Top 10 Appliances You Can Plug into Your Car

Your car isn’t an endless fountain of free power, but even stock alternators are typically capable of putting out at least a little more juice than the OEM accessories require to run. That extra juice is accessible through your cigarette lighter or dedicated 12 Volt accessory socket, and you’ve probably used it before, even if to just charge up your cell phone. But that humble little cigarette lighter socket is capable of more—so very much more. In fact, here’s a list of the top ten appliances and accessories you can plug into your car. Just don’t overdo it!

01
of 10

Personal Electronics

electronics in car
Personal electronics typically draw a relatively low amount of current, so they're perfectly suited for use with a cigarette lighter adapter. Sam Edwards / Caiaimage / Getty

How does it plug in: Cigarette lighter or inverter.
Do you need an inverter: No.

This is the gold standard, so it’s where everything begins. Since cigarette lighters were originally introduced, they have evolved into a de facto power socket for cars, and that has led to the industry-wide adoption of the cigarette lighter socket as a mobile power source for personal electronics.

If you have a modern cell phone, chances are any cigarette lighter charger with a mini USB connection will work with it, and other personal electronics will often run off a universal 12 volt USB adapter with little or no hassle involved.

02
of 10

Electric Heater

How does it plug in: Cigarette lighter or an inverter.
Do you need an inverter: Not technically, but you should.

There are a ton of reasons that most cars use heaters that rely on the engine’s coolant. It’s an incredibly simple process, the heat is there anyway—so it would just go to waste otherwise—and using virtually any other method would just needlessly complicate matters.

If your heater is on the blink, though, plugging an electric heater into your cigarette lighter might be a much more affordable option. The heat output isn’t going to be the same, but it might be enough to tide you over until the next paycheck.

03
of 10

Electric Defroster

How does it plug in: Cigarette lighter.
Do you need an inverter: No.

Rear window defrosters are electric already, but they break, and it’s often very expensive to repair a rear defroster grid. Front defrosters can also break if the blower goes out, or the heater and air conditioning break, in which case plugging in a 12 volt defroster might be a better solution than smearing the window with your shirtsleeves every morning.

04
of 10

Seat Warmer

How does it plug in: Cigarette lighter or direct wiring.
Do you need an inverter: No.

Some cars come with built-in seat warmers, but for the rest of us, they have portable units that can be plugged into a 12 volt socket. While they may not do a whole lot to actually warm you up, a pair of hot crossed buns can really do wonders for your perception of how warm you are on an especially cold commute.

05
of 10

Food Warmer

How does it plug in: Cigarette lighter or inverter.
Do you need an inverter: Depends on the unit.

Portable food warmers come in a ton of different configurations, but they’re all designed to perform the same function: provide you with a home cooked meal on the road. Kind of.

Basic units are just that—boxes that warm up your food. A little. Maybe if you’re lucky. Other devices are essentially portable 12 volt ovens, crock pots, or even microwaves. Of course, higher amperage devices sometimes require a more robust connection to your battery than the typical cigarette lighter socket provides.

06
of 10

Electric Cooler

How does it plug in: Cigarette lighter or inverter.
Dow you need an inverter: Depends on the unit.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have electric coolers. These devices aren’t true refrigerators, and often times they aren’t really all that great and taking warm things and cooling them down.

Others do that job just fine, while some are specifically designed to cool down cans. Of course, you can also find combo cooler/warmer units if you want to hit two birds with one stone.

07
of 10

Electric Fans

How does it plug in: Cigarette lighter, direct wiring, or inverter.
Do you need an inverter: Not unless you really want to.

So portable air conditioners that run off a cigarette lighter plug aren’t really in the cards, but a 12 volt can can do a great job of moving the air around in your car without actually cracking a window. Electric fans can also be useful in helping defrost windows in some situations.

08
of 10

Portable Vacuum

How does it plug in: Cigarette lighter or inverter.
Do you need an inverter: No.

Whether you’re looking for a miniature dirt devil or dust buster, or a small canister vac is more your style, nothing makes cleaning your car easier than a portable vacuum.

These units are typically underpowered compared to non-portable vacuums, but they’re a whole lot easier to use than stringing a power cord down to the curb.

09
of 10

Hair Dryer

How does it plug in: Cigarette lighter or inverter.
Do you need an inverter: Yes, unless you want to take forever.

Hair dryers require a lot of juice to run, so units that are designed to plug into cigarette lighters are typically pretty anemic compared to the ones you’re probably used to.

Still, something is better than nothing, and you can always pick up an inverter if you absolutely need to dry your hair right this instant.

10
of 10

Inverter

How does it plug in: Cigarette lighter or direct wiring.
Does it need an inverter: It is an inverter!

If you want to plug something into your cigarette lighter, and you can’t find a version that’s specifically designed for it, then an inverter is what you’re looking for.

Small appliances and electronics can be used with inverters that are plugged directly into cigarette lighters, while heavier loads require beefier inverters that are connected directly to the battery.