Updated: October 5, 2015

Best Power Inverters

Why would anyone want a power inverter? With this one device, you can convert DC power to AC power. Direct current is the electrical power put out by batteries, solar panels, and fuel cells. However, most of our modern appliances need alternating current power in order to work. Having a power inverter, then, can allow you to power up every day electrical items using a DC power source such as your car or boat battery. You can use your car, a generator, solar panels, and batteries to power computers, TVs, and other electrical appliances. When camping, plug in and make yourself a nice cup of coffee. If your power goes out, tap into the generator and listen to updates on the radio or TV. Cook dinner. Make more coffee. You can have power whenever and wherever you want. Why wouldn't you want a power inverter? You will find endless uses for one, and it can come in handy in emergencies.
best power inverters

Browse the list of best-selling power inverters here.

How Does a Power Inverter Work? Power Inverters for Cars

To those of us who think AC/DC is just a band, it is helpful to know what that means in terms of power. If you licked your fingers and touched them to a car battery's terminal, you will be experiencing DC, or direct current, power. This is the direct power that is housed in batteries and generators. When you plug your laptop cord into the wall outlet in your home, you are tapping into AC, or alternating current, power. Before direct current power can be used in our electrical devices, an alternator needs to convert the power. In the US, our electrical appliances require 110 AC power (if you have gone abroad, you know that sometimes you need to have a power converter because other countries often use other electrical voltage). A power inverter turns DC power into AC power. So if you have a battery or generator, you can run any electrical appliance. If a storm knocks your power out, you can power a space heater, hot plate, radio, or other necessities. When camping, you can bring all the comforts of home. On long trips in the car, you can plug in your laptop or cell phone to charge. It really is a very versatile and useful device to have.

AC/DC Power Inverter, Car Power Inverter, AC Power Inverter - So Many Choices, So Little Time

So you're at Home Depot wandering around the power inverter aisle. What now? Check the number of outlets the AC power inverter provides. Many have one to three outlets. Do you need a car power inverter or one that is more permanent? Again, think about what you will likely be powering. Before you head out to buy an AC/DC power inverter, it is important to know specifically what type of inverter you need. For instance, you can buy a $30 power inverter from Home Depot, a $450 solar power inverter, or a $2,000 industrial-grade model. You can buy one for your solar panels to increase energy efficiency or one for your RV for use on vacation. The first question is, "What do I need this for?" A close second is, "How much can I spend?" Keep these two factors in mind as you are shopping.

Related to the first question is the type of product you are going to be using the inverter for most often. For instance, if you will need to run oxygen concentrators, fax machines, electric shavers, garage door openers, and high voltage cordless tool chargers, you will need a true-sine inverter. These produce power that is equal - or better - to that from the power grid. For virtually every other electrical appliance, a modified-sine inverter is sufficient. The power is not identical to that which comes from the grid. Instead of a smooth sine wave, it produces one that is choppy. These AC power inverters are perfectly capable of running everything from televisions to computers.

Also consider where you are going to use the inverter. If you want one that will plug into your vehicle cigarette lighter, you should use an inverter that is rated under 300 watts. If the 12-volt lighter has to draw more power than that, it will strain and eventually blow. But 12 volts is enough to power household appliances, computers, and TVs smaller than 27 inches. 600 watt inverters can also be used with 12-volt sources. They can power larger TV, household appliances, bread machines, and 5 amp tools. The next step up for large appliances, larger power tools, microwaves, toasters, and hairdryers requires a 1750 watt appliance. 3000 watts of power can handle nearly all household appliances and office equipment. The wattage you need will depend on the amps needed to run your device; generally power inverters are divided into under 300, 300, 600, 1800, and 3000 and above watts generated. To convert the amps your device takes to watts, simply take the amp number and multiply it by 120; that is your wattage.

How Much Do Power Inverters Cost?

There are a number of companies who make great power inverters. Consumer reviews rate them the most reliable and economical time and time again, even on the Internet. These companies include Xpower, Xantrex, ProSine, Magnum, Cobra, and GPSW. The 300 watt models can be found for $30 - $60; 600 watts for $100 - $120; 1750 watts for $200 - $400; and 3000 watts for $390 - $750. True-sine inverters are about $200 - $300. If you need an inverter to use with your car battery, a less expensive model is fine. Home Depot and other home stores have a large variety that will work well for your needs as well as be within your budget. Amazon.com has several models available, ranging from a new Cobra CPI 2575 2500 Watt Power Inverter (about $175) to a Whistler PI-400W 400 Watt Power Inverter for $25.85. The Cobra CPI 1575 1500 Watt model comes with a mid-range price tag of $95.00 (all Cobra models here). The Inverter Store, www.theinverterstore.com has AIMS 180 - AIMS 2500 Watt products available and they offer free ground shipping on certain items. Two other web sites to look at are: www.dcacpowerinverters.com and www.invertersrus.com.

No matter which power inverter you buy, it is only as good as the battery from which it draws power. Before you need to use your inverter, make sure your car battery or other source of DC power is in good condition. If you are using an inverter while driving, the battery should be able to draw enough power. Make sure to let your car run for about 15 minutes before plugging in your inverter. If you are using an inverter in a parked car, such as when camping, check the battery beforehand so you don't drain it. Whether you want to be prepared for power outages or just have some entertainment while roughing it in the woods, a power inverter is a great investment. Figure out how much power you will need for the devices you plan to plug in: for instance, if you will use your computer, which draws 100 watts, and your DVD player, which draws another 100 watts, you should add some extra wattage for power surges or spikes. A 300 watt inverter, then, will be ideal. After that, it is a matter of selecting a brand and setting a budget. You can get good inverters inexpensively, so it pays to have one, just in case.