One of the most frustrating parts about long car trips is your devices running out of battery. Whether it’s your phone, a work computer, or the family iPad (sometimes the only thing holding kids together in the car), it’s vital to have enough juice to last until you arrive. With a limited amount of USB outlets, how do you get extra power sources into your car?
To install a power outlet in your car, you can wire the outlet through the dashboard and attach it directly to the battery. Alternatively, you can install a power inverter, which will convert your battery’s power to an appropriate strength for electronics.
Most of the time, a small power inverter like this one from Amazon will do the trick nicely. I have used one for over 20 years to power my laptop and printer in my vehicle. To run something bigger, like a mini-fridge, you will need something a little more robust.
This article will cover the two different ways to install a power outlet in your car. You can directly install an outlet (similar to the kind you use on walls) into your dashboard instead of your cigarette lighter. If that’s too difficult, you can install a small or large inverter with hookups for several plugins.
Before We Begin…
The key to installing extra power outlets in your car is compatibility. You have to make sure that the power from your battery isn’t going to overload your outlet or that what you’re charging doesn’t overload your built-in electronic adaptor. Either way, no matter how you decide to give yourself extra power, make sure that the voltage comes out even.
Installing an Inverter in Your Car
Installing an inverter is a lot less complicated than installing an outlet directly. That’s because an inverter changes the battery’s power or the cigarette lighter to the standard 110 volts of an electrical outlet. This method is more manageable than an outlet installation and will ensure that your plugs have the right amount of power.
The first decision you need to make when installing an inverter is what size you want. If you only want one extra outlet or charge a few smaller devices, you can buy a small inverter and plug it directly into your car. However, if you need more substantial charges and more power, you’ll need to wire a larger inverter directly to the battery.
Installing a Small Inverter
If the idea of connecting your battery to a new set of wires intimidates you, don’t worry! You can add an extra plugin or two without rewiring anything in your car. If you buy a high-quality inverter that plugs directly into your cigarette lighter, there is no need to open the hood at all. All you need to do is plug the inverter in and get on the road.
For a high-quality small power inverter, I recommend this one from Amazon. It plugs directly into the power adaptor, has two three-prong plugins, and a couple of USB outlets. The main reason I like this inverter is that it is compact, easy to install, and perfect for charging smaller electronics in your car (remember, don’t use smaller converters to charge heavy machinery, or you could damage your vehicle).
Installing a Large Inverter
You can use a large inverter for anything from an iPhone to a mini-fridge, making it ideal for camping or longer trips, as long as you can keep your car battery alive. It’s a similar process to installing a regular outlet – you’ll need to find a way to connect it to the car battery safely.
Place the Inverter (Glove Compartment, Trunk)
You can put your inverter in the glove compartment, underneath the seat, or in the trunk. Either way, you’ll need to screw it down into the bed of the car for secure placement. Generally, there are holes in the sides of the inverter for screws.
Find the Wiring Harness Behind the Radio
The wiring harness goes directly from the battery to the electronic parts of the car. If you can find this, you can wire your inverter directly to the battery without much stress. Usually, it’s located behind the radio or AC adaptor under the dashboard.
Attach the Wire to the Battery
Similar to a regular outlet, you’ll need to measure a length of wire a little longer than what you need from the inverter to the battery. Connect the cables to the inverter’s built-in wire (this makes it a little easier than an outlet).
You can attach the ends to the battery as you would an outlet or fuse the wire to one of the battery wires. The latter is a somewhat complicated process, so make sure that you know what you’re doing to connect the cables.
Close the Hood & Test Your Inverter
Once you have wired the inverter completely, you can close your hood and test your inverter. This is the easiest part – you need to make sure that the inverter isn’t taking too much power from the battery and that the battery isn’t overloading the inverter. If you’ve wired it correctly, you should be able to charge small and large electronics on the go!
Installing a Power Outlet In Your Car
If you want a beefier option that can run more powerful electronics, you might want to consider installing an outlet directly into your car instead of via a cigarette lighter.
However, the installation process can be tricky. That’s because you have to make sure that the wiring isn’t faulty and is appropriately placed. Always wire into a fused circuit – otherwise, it could short circuit and cause an electrical fire. You’ll be connecting an outlet directly to your car battery, so it’s essential to test the outlet once you’re finished.
Here is a quick video on how to install a power outlet into your car if you’re a more visual learner:
Find the Location of Your Outlet
To put an outlet in your car, you have first to find the best spot for it. You want it close enough to the battery so that you don’t have to string the wire through your whole vehicle and also within reach of anyone who needs a plug. Usually, the best spot is in the center console, between the driver’s and passenger’s seats.
Drill an Outlet-Sized Hole Into the Car
Once you’ve decided where you want your outlet, you need to drill a hole the size of your outlet into the car itself. First, drill a small pilot hole to ensure you aren’t damaging any pre-existing wires or circuitry. Then you can make a hole about the length and width of your outlet.
Wire the Outlet Directly to the Battery
Measure a length of wire between the battery and where the outlet will be, with a few extra inches on either side for safety. If your hole is in the center console, you should wire it directly to the battery. Every few inches, fasten the wire to a safe part of the car to prevent wire chafing or loose cables.
Mount the Outlet With Screws or Nuts
Position the outlet in its desired place, and mount it with screws or nuts. It might help to connect the wires before you screw it in entirely so that you can be sure that you have enough space to crimp the wires to the outlet properly.
Connect the Wires & Crimp the Ends
Connect your wires to the outlet itself first. Crimp the ends of the positive and negative cables to their appropriate places on the back of the outlet. Before the fuse is installed, crimp the other end of the positive wire to the battery’s positive terminal. Attach the negative wire to a “ground” or empty metal spot in the hood area.
Turn On the Car & Test the Outlet
Finally, insert the fuse into the fuse holder, and test your outlet. Turn the car on and make sure that the outlet charges well and doesn’t interact negatively with the other battery functions. Once you’ve tested it, you can use your new outlet as you drive!
An extra power supply in a car can make a huge difference, especially on long road trips or if you tend to work while traveling. Whether you decide to install a power inverter or an outlet directly into your car, you’ll be able to charge more electronic devices and have more flexibility in your life on the go.
For more, don’t miss How Much Do Rims Cost for a Car? (New and Used).
Hey, I’m Jim, and I’m the author of this website. I have been teaching people a wide variety of survivalism topics for over five years and have a lifetime of experience fishing, camping, general survivalism, and anything in nature. In fact, while growing up, I spent more time on the water than on land! I am also a best-selling author and have a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. I hope you find value in the articles on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or input!