How to Use a Power Inverter in a Car, RV, Truck, Boat, or Home

By:Michael Johns

how to use an inverter

Power inverters continue to grow in popularity due to the dramatic increase of electronics in our day-to-day life.

You can use a power inverter for a wide range of things from an emergency power backup to on the go in a car.

It allows you to produce AC power anywhere, anytime, in order to run most appliances, devices, and gadgets.

It is important to learn how to use a power inverter correctly. This will help you to use it efficiently plus reduce the risk of harm to you and your electronics.

The wrong use of an inverter can lead to problems such as overheating or overloading which can damage anything connected to the circuit.

So let’s go through how to use a power inverter.

How to Use a Power Inverter

Let’s go through the important steps in using your inverter. Included below is the most important information plus links to helpful resources for extra guidance.

1. Choosing the Correct Size

The first thing you need to know is the size of your inverter. Adding to this, you need to know how much power you require for your electronics.

It’s very easy to identify the power size of an inverter as it will be listed in the product information. This capacity is measured in wattage, for example, 100W, 200W, 500W, 1000W, and so on. So if you have a 1000 watt inverter, this is the maximum power or wattage you can draw at any one time.

You must compare the power inverter wattage to the amount of power your electronics need. This could be the total wattage for one or multiple appliances. Appliances also have a wattage rating which is the amount of power they require to operate. 

If you have more than one device you want to run from an inverter you simply need to add together the wattage ratings for the total needed power. For example, TV (70W), smartphone (5W), Small Fan (40W) = 115W. So you would require an inverter with more than 115W capacity. It’s always best to add another 20% to give yourself a little extra power.

2. Voltage of Inverter and Battery

Now you know the wattage, you next need to check the voltage of an inverter against your battery. The battery and inverter must be the same voltage otherwise you will end up with overvoltage or undervoltage.

For example, if you have a 12V battery you need an inverter with 12V input. This is the most common size although you can have 24V and 48V options so be sure to double-check this. 

If you get this wrong your inverter won’t work. A 12V inverter on a 24V battery will become overloaded.

3. Connecting Your Inverter

Once you’ve confirmed the wattage and voltage requirements you can hook up your inverter to your battery.

This process isn’t too complicated and can even be done quickly with alligator clips. All you need to do is connect the red cable to the red battery terminal (positive to positive) and the black cable to the black battery terminal (negative to negative).

After you have connected the inverter to the battery you should be able to start powering your appliances.

To use an inverter in a car you can also plug it into the 12V cigarette lighter outlet. Many smaller inverters come with a cable for this connection. The power output will be limited to 150 watts with this method.

Finally, if you want to connect your inverter in a more permanent fashion you should also consider adding an in-line fuse for added safety.

4. Using Appliances with Your Inverter

Finally, you are ready to start using your power inverter.

Simply switch it on and if everything is correct you should get a green LED light. (A red LED light means you have a problem.)

You can plug in your devices and appliances to enjoy off-grid AC electricity. Modern inverters offer a range of outlets including three-pin AC, USB, Type-C, and even Wireless charging. You can use more than one outlet at a time, just don’t overload the wattage capacity.

Don’t be afraid if you hear the fans working as they will be keeping everything cool, particularly if you draw a lot of power.

5. Switch Off When Not In Use

It is a good idea to turn your inverter off when not in use. This is because inverters use energy to maintain their internal systems which include safety protocols, cooling, screens, and lights. If you leave an inverter switched on when connected then it will slowly drain your battery. This is a problem if you don’t have a regular recharging option like solar power.

Where Can You Use An Inverter?

The awesome thing about inverters is that they have a wide range of uses. You can produce AC electricity almost anywhere in the world. 

All you need is a DC power source such as a battery or solar panel. Then you can run electronics like phones, laptops, tablets, lights, fans, computers, speakers, tools, TVs, coffee machines, and much more.

The most common way to use a power inverter include:

100 watt power inverter for your car
You can plug an inverter into your car 12V outlet

Tips for Using a Power Inverter

Here are some extra handy tips for using a power inverter.

Keep Car Engine Running

When using an inverter with a car battery it is important to keep the engine running. This will keep the battery charged while you draw power to your inverter. 

It is not a good idea to try this with the engine switch off. You will deplete your car battery in less than 30 minutes as they are not designed for continuous power output. With a dead battery, you won’t be able to start your car, plus it can cause irreparable damage. Best avoided…

Use in Dry Loction

Inverters are complex electronic pieces of equipment that are not designed to be used outdoors in the rain. They are not waterproof so you should avoid any exposure to water. 

Getting water on the internal circuits and connections will quickly lead to short-circuits and other damage. If it does get wet you should turn it off and leave it to thoroughly dry.

Ensure Ventilation

Good ventilation is also key to using an inverter. The cooling system requires airflow in order to disperse the heat created during electricity conversion. You should be able to hear the fans when you draw a lot of power.

Place your inverter in a well-ventilated area. Don’t use it in confined spaces without airflow such as a box. Adding to this, ensure nothing is obstructing the vents and fans which expel heat and pull in cold air.

Avoid Direct Sunlight

Another thing that can cause overheating is exposure to direct sunlight. This can easily happen in a vehicle that regularly changes position. It might be wise to mount an inverter away from a sunny window. Direct sunlight adds excess heat to the inverter which will stop it from cooling itself effectively. Once it becomes overheated it will automatically stop working to protect internal circuits.

Listen for Strange Noises

One of the best ways to tell if your inverter is working correctly is to simply listen. Faults can usually be identified by sounds, some inverters even have audible alarms! Should you hear a strange noise coming from your device then check out this guide to ‘Inverter Making Noise’ to identify the problem. It could be a simple wiring problem, fan obstruction, or something more serious.

Don’t Drain Your Battery

When using a lead-acid battery with your inverter you should make sure not to completely drain the battery. In fact, some people even recommended never discharging more than 50%. This is because draining a lead-acid battery can lead to irreparable damage, you might not be able to recharge it again!

Final Words on How to Use a Power Inverter

I hope this article has given you a better idea of how to use a power inverter.

They are pretty simple to use devices that don’t require much maintenance.

As long as you ensure you have the correct wattage capacity and voltage then you shouldn’t have too many problems.

Simply hook it up to your battery, switch it on, and then you can run appliances just like you would at home. There are even AC outlets, just like in the electric wall socket in your house.