Trust me, you need an inverter

You might have noticed this Wagan Tech power inverter at Solid Signal recently. We’ve been featuring it pretty heavily in emails and social media. It’s a great deal, because it gives your car something you desperately need: outlets.

What is an inverter?

In order to understand what an inverter is, you need to understand the difference between direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC). There are plenty of articles that will give you a “deep dive” on this, but here are the two things you need to know.

  1. DC current is the simplest way to get electricity from point to point and it’s really efficient for short distances.
  2. AC current is different because the flow of electricity actually changes direction over and over. This makes it really good at traveling long distances but it’s more complex to make things work with AC.

I know some really old-school folks will scoff at that description because I know it’s vague and incomplete. But it does cover the high points and lets you know a bit of why cars run on DC and houses run on AC. Cars get electricity from a battery in the car. Houses get electricity from a power plant far from the house.

Yes I know, if your house has solar then you are generating DC right at the house. You’re then converting it to AC because that’s what your house needs.

An inverter is the thing that converts DC to AC. It sets up the alternations that gives alternating current its name. An inverter generally also functions as a transformer, converting low-voltage/high-amperage current to high-voltage/low-amperage current. Why? Your car battery has a lot of “amps” because amps are what’s needed to give the car’s starter the power to turn the engine on. A typical device plugged into a home uses more volts than amps because it doesn’t have to turn a 500-pound chunk of metal.

Again, there are a lot of deep-dive articles on volts and amps but I like to think of it this way. Volts will make your fingers buzz if you touch a bare wire. Amps will throw you across the room.

Why get an inverter for the car?

Pretty much everything you use at home plugs into an outlet. Very few things with the exception of cell phones have plugs that can go into the utility socket in the car (what we used to call a lighter socket.) If you want to use a computer, a plug-in light, or if you want to charge almost anything you’ll need a regular old power outlet. An inverter solves your problems. Plug it into the car and bingo, instant electricity for anything you want to do.

Almost anything. I have been reminded by a colleague that you can’t use an inverter to plug an electric car into itself and have it charge. Any more wiseacres in the audience? 

Why don’t cars just have this built in?

Well, some cars do. You’ll find this capability in some SUVs, but for the most part they don’t. I really can’t tell you why that is other than, it’s another thing that costs money to do and maybe they think people don’t want it. It seems kind of silly to me but oh well. Getting back to the subject of electric cars, you would think at least those would have inverters in them but… they don’t.

Of course, you can fix that easily. Solid Signal has a great selection of inverters in all shapes and sizes. Choose the one that works best for you from our selection of inverters for land and sea.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.