An inverter is a device that takes your car or truck current DC and turns it into AC. It allows you to plug a household device into your car or truck. Do you need one??? Maybe not but it can make your life easier.
While there are a variety of devices designed to work off your car current. Ranging from 12 volt cooking devices to chargers for your phone and other electronic devices an inverter can be very handy. From personal experience a 400 watt inverter which is the largest most cigarette lighters can handle. Will handle most small personal electronic devices including a computer as well as a small crock-pot. Some small TV’s may work on a 400 watt inverter but you need to read the instructions to see how many watts it draws.
Just because you have a 400 watt inverter does NOT mean you can have a 400 watt device. The 400 watts is the most it can handle as a draw under a long period of use age. Most devices when they first turn on can use half again to double their initial rating. The rule of thumb I use is add about 150-200 watts of initial start up draw per 500 watts used. No this is not scientifically tested it is just a rule of thumb I have found that works over the years of trucking and in my past life at an electronics store.
The once exception to this is my electric skillet. It draws about 1700 watts max. I have used it on a 1500 watt inverter (using my formula you should need a 2000 watt inverter to be safe.) I have found if I turn it on low and don’t go much above 300 degrees I do not seem to draw over a 1000 -1200 watts, even when it is first warming up which is the time of peak current draw.
I mentioned earlier about plugging an inverter into your cigarette outlet. You can do that with a small inverter or even with a larger one but It will not allow you to pull over 400 due to the cars electrical system. If you do try to pull over that much you will blow a fuse, or trip a safety system in the inverter.
Many companies with trucks have restrictions on the size or type of inverter than can be used. Inverters over 400 watts need to be hardwired directly to the battery in ensure safe operation. This needs to be done with heavy gauge wiring and should be installed by someone who is familiar with this type of electrical system to prevent a fire. Most companies if they allow a hard wired inverter only allow between 1000 and 1500 watts. The 2000 watt and up inverters require a more robust installation that many companies do not want to deal with. I have used 800 1500 and 2000 watt inverters on the truck. With the exception of the skillet everything I have can work on the 800 watt inverter. The 1500 and 2000 watt enables me to run more at the same time. Though a good rule of thumb only run one appliance at a time. It also saves on the battery drain when you use 1 appliance at a time.
Speaking of battery drain if you do not have an APU (generator) be sure to idle your vehicle or you will kill the battery. Inverters can be used in cars, pickups, big trucks, and most any motor vehicle. They can be used by truckers who live in their rigs, salesmen who travel heavily and want AC power in their car, construction and odd job people, as well as people who enjoy going camping with all the luxuries of home. For those who intend to use one in their personal vehicle, if the inverter is going to be used for anything much larger than a laptop it should be hooked directly to your car battery. Many inverters will come with the kit to install this way. If your not sure how to hook it up, check with a reputable mechanic he or she should be able to show you how to do it safely.
Hope you found the basics of inverters helpful. If you want to do much cooking or similar activities on the truck having the inverter is a useful if not essential tool. There are many manufactures out there. I have only used a couple of brands and have been happy with all of them. Two of the more popular brands among truckers seem to be the Cobra and the Power Drive. I have used both and both seem to be reliable. As with any device of this type read the manual and follow the manufacturers directions. If improperly installed the wiring can overheat and start a fire. If you are unsure how to install it safely seek help from a qualified and insured professional installer.
Please keep in mind all of the above advice is from personal experience. It is not intended to replace manufactures recommendations and instructions, nor to guarantee your companies policy. If you have any questions on this please seek advice from the manufacturer or from your company in regards to their policy.