How To Convert A Car Battery Into A Power Outlet

The very nature of your job or your hobbies could have you spend a lot of time away from your home, or a place with mains electricity. You’re comfortable enough with the routine, but wouldn’t it be better if you could use some of your household appliances with you?

Problem is, that household appliance does not run on a battery, it needs a mains socket. On the other hand, you do have plenty of power, but it in the form of a car battery. The gear cogs in your brain start working out how to use the battery to power that television or laptop and you ended up here.

So, how to convert a car battery into a power outlet? For that, you will need an intermediary between the battery and the appliance you want to use. This intermediary comes in the form of a power inverter. This inverter will convert the power from the battery into power that your appliance can use.

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But isn’t electrical power just electrical power? Well, yes. The difference comes in the way that that power is delivered, and the reason why Edison and Tesla were rivals (Tesla won this one). There are two main ways in which electrical power is delivered. These are through Direct Current and Alternating Current. What are they?

1. Direct Current

To be able to understand these definitions, it would be prudent to look into what is, and how electricity works. Electricity is simply the flow of charge from one point to another. Every single thing on this earth is made of matter. Matter, is made up of atoms. These atoms also have properties such as mass, volume or density. They are also made up of components known as protons, neutrons and electrons.

These electrons in an atom are what are responsible for electricity. But for them to create electricity, they need to be able to move from their parent atoms and be drawn into an appliance that needs that power. This is where conductivity comes in and why metals are so important during generation and transmission of electricity.

In a battery, the electrolyte, sulfuric acid, is responsible for providing these electrons. Sulfuric acid will readily give up its negative charge. This negative charge will flow across the wires, therefore creating flow of electrons, better known as electricity.

Now direct current is the flow of electricity from one point to the other, in a single direction. That means that if the power is flowing from left to right, that is the only direction that it will flow in. A D circuit is similar to a NASCAR circuit where the vehicles only go in one direction.

That is why batteries only have two leads. The negative cable for power to flow out of the battery, and the positive lead for power to flow back into the battery. The direction of movement of the electric charge in a singular direction is what defines direct current.
Also, the power from a battery flows at 12 volts, which is far too little to power a household appliance.

2. Alternating Current

This is the other form of electricity. There won’t be much to say as you already have an idea of how electricity works. Alternating current though, is the most common form of electricity you will encounter. This is because it is cheaper to generate and transport great distances. This is also the reason why household appliances require AC current to run.

What alternating current simply means is that the direction of flow of power will change periodically. Visualize it this way, if you have a cable running from left to right, AC power will first flow from left to right, and then from right to left. This flow is like that of a canal where ships will sail in one direction at a time.

This change in the direction of flow happens so many times in a second that it would be difficult to observe. In the us, it happens as much as 60 times per second (Hertz is the unit of measure) while in the rest of the world, it happens at 50 times per second.

The voltages are also much higher than DC power. In the US, the AC current flows at 110 volts. The rest of the world transmits AC power at 220 to 240 volts.

The difference in this two power delivery systems is why you will need an inverter in between the battery and your household appliance. But how does it work? Simple. The inverter will convert DC power into AC power.

They achieve this by using a set of electromagnetic switches which will switch on an off in different directions, thus allowing the power to flow in different directions and voila! You have AC power. Well of course it’s not that simple, but that is basically how DC is converted to AC.

Tips for Buying an Inverter

Before getting yourself that important inverter, there are a few things that you need to look out for. Not all inverters are created equal and you need to choose one that will meet or exceed your needs.

You need to ensure that the inverter you buy is designed to work with car batteries. What this means is that they can take in the 12-volt power that a battery can give and then invert it to 110 volts. Most of these will usually be labelled.
Choose one that has both a set of clamps and a plug-in connector. This versatility will allow you to use it either with a standalone battery, or if it is still in your vehicle.
You will also need to check how much wattage the inverter can give out. Most household appliances use anywhere from 300 to 1500 watts. A desktop replacement laptop will use anywhere between 120 to 200 watts but other items like vacuum cleaners have been known to use 1200 watts and up. If you plan to use a food cooler in your vehicle, check the wattage it will require.

1. Direct current – Energy Education
2. Alternating Current (AC) vs. Direct Current (DC) – Learn at SparkFun Electronics