How Many Watts Can a Car Outlet Handle?

March 1, 2024

Most of us use our car’s power outlets to charge up electronic devices like phones and tablets. But did you know there are a lot of other things you can plug into your vehicle’s power outlet as well? We’re talking about everything from electric defrosters and seat warmers to hairdryers and portable vacuums.

The cigarette lighter sockets in most vehicles are designed to provide somewhere between 12 and 14 volts of DC power. They are protected by fuses that are rated to handle up to 15 amps of current. The fuse blows if the amount of power the socket draws exceeds that rating. The actual voltage of the power in a vehicle’s accessory socket, however, is less than nominal “twelve-volts.”

Because of this, it’s important to keep an eye on how much you are drawing from your outlet so you can replace the fusible link when necessary. Fusible links are essentially thin metal wires that, similar to conventional fuses, break if they draw too much current. The good news is that a replacement fusible link isn’t as expensive as a new power outlet.

If you want to be extra cautious, you can buy a car adapter that will allow you to power even more devices than your vehicle’s built-in socket is capable of. The adapter is a large male-style plug with a center pin and metal contacts on the sides that is designed to tap into your car’s battery without needing an external converter. There are also power-splitting adapters that will let you charge multiple devices at once.

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Traffic Dave is on a mission to help traffic engineers, transportation planners, and other transportation professionals improve our world.
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