Car cigarette lighter Gadgets

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12V car power can provide electricity for laptops and most other electronics if you have the right hardware. Matthew Micah Wright / Lonely Planet Images / Getty

Depending on how much time you spend in your car on a daily basis, there are a lot of different types of electronics that you might want to be able to use on the road. Entertainment devices, like CD and MP3 players, GPS navigation units, and even DVD players can all be ran off of 12 volt car power, but there are a few factors that you need to consider before you start plugging in.

First, it’s important to understand the basics of your car’s electrical system.

For instance, the electrical system in your car, in most cases, provides 12V DC, which is quite different from the AC power you use at home. With that in mind, it’s also essential to understand that you have two main options for powering devices in a car: you can buy a 12V accessory outlet or cigarette lighter, or a installing a power inverter.

Within those constraints, the primary methods of using 12 volt car power to run your electronic devices on the road include:

Using 12V DC Outlets

The easiest way to power an electronic device in your car is via the cigarette lighter receptacle or a dedicated 12V accessory outlet, which are the two types of 12V sockets you can find in virtually every modern car and truck. As the name implies, these sockets started out as cigarette lighters, which worked by applying current to a coiled metal strip.

This current flow would cause the coiled metal strip to become red hot—hot enough, in fact, to light a cigarette on contact.

It didn’t take too long for inventive minds to find another use for cigarette lighter sockets, which are now also known as 12V accessory outlets. Since the sockets applies battery voltage to the center contact and ground to the cylinder, according to ANSI/SAE J563 specifications, 12V devices can be powered by a plug that makes electrical contact with those two points.

The standards are a little different from one part of the world to another, and the specifications for a cigarette lighter socket and a 12V accessory socket aren’t precisely the same, but 12V plugs and adapters are designed to work within a range of tolerances. Of course, fact that these sockets originated as cigarette lighters, and the corresponding sloppy tolerances, mean that there are a host of potential issues that can arise from using them as power sockets.

Today, some cars ship with a plastic plug or USB outlet in the dash outlet in lieu of the traditional cigarette lighter, and some sockets are even physically incapable of accepting cigarette lighters (either by being too narrow in diameter, too shallow, or via other means.) Plastic plugs are also available via the aftermarket for owners of older vehicles who prefer not to have a cigarette lighter in their car.

Powering Devices with 12V DC Plugs

While a cigarette lighter or 12V accessory outlet is the easiest way to power an electronic device in a car, the situation is greatly simplified if the device in question has a hard-wired 12V DC plug. These devices are specifically designed for use in cars, so you typically won’t even have to worry about power consumption or blowing fuses.

Devices that sometimes have hard-wired 12V DC plugs include:

Powering Devices with 12V DC Power Adapters

Devices that don’t have hard-wired DC plugs sometimes have 12V DC adapters or are compatible with adapters that you can buy separately. GPS navigation units, cell phones, tablets, and even laptops often fall into this category. And while you do have to be careful about how much amperage you draw with these devices, it’s still a relatively simple plug-and-play solution.

Devices that are often compatible with proprietary 12V DC adapters include:

  • Cell phones
  • Laptop computers
  • GPS units
  • DVD players
  • LCD screens

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AVANTEK AVANTEK 3-Socket Cigarette Lighter Power Adapter DC Outlet Splitter with 2-Port 4.8A USB Car Charger
Wireless (AVANTEK)
  • Three 12V / 24V cigarette lighter sockets (DC outlets) provide a total power of up to 120W, enough for simultaneous use of a variety of portable appliances in your...
  • 2 USB charging ports with 4.8A total output enable you to rapidly charge two tablets or phones simultaneously at their full speed
  • Smooth and shiny plastic surface with streamlined appearance and 3 embedded blue LED lights make this car adapter / charger a perfect combination of functionality...
  • Designed with high safety standards: protective circuits and high quality components prevent the product or your devices from overheating or overloading
  • USB charging cables are not included in the package of this product; please use the cables provided with your electronic devices for connection.
VOLADOR 3-Socket 120W Car Cigarette Lighter, 12V/24V DC Outlet Car Power Adapter, 3.4A Dual USB Ports Car Charger for iPhone Samsung iPad and Other Devices--Black
Automotive Parts and Accessories (Volador Technology Co.,Ltd)
  • Three 12V / 24V cigarette lighter sockets (DC outlets) provide a total power of up to 120W, enough for simultaneous use of a variety of portable appliances in your...
  • Dual USB charging ports with total Max 3.4A (shared by 2.4A and 1A)output power for charging your iPhone, iPad, iPod, Samsung, HTC and all other usb devices with...
  • Smooth and shiny plastic surface with streamlined appearance makes this car adapter / charger a perfect combination of functionality and aesthetics.
  • Designed with high safety standards: protective circuits and high quality components prevent the product or your devices from overheating or overloading.
  • USB charging cables are not included in the package of this product; please use the cables provided with your electronical devices for charging.
MEIDI MEIDI 120W 3-Socket Cigarette Car Lighter Power Adapter DC Outlet Splitter with 12V/24V Dual USB Car Charger for Smartphones - White
Wireless (MEIDI)
  • Three 12v/24v cigarette lighter sockets (DC outlets) provide a total power of up to 120W, simultaneous use of to variety of portable appliances in your vehicle...
  • Separate buttons: Design a cigarette lighter for each hole a separate button when you want to use a cigarette lighter hole, just gently press the button to turn...
  • Smooth and shiny plastic surface with concise LCD screen to display charging status, vehicle battery voltage,considerate low voltage alarm.
  • Multi-function Dual USB Interface: Dual usb charging ports provides a 5V 2.1A current,single hole output of 2.1A current, and it will be autmatically allotted the...
  • Designed with high protection built-in 10A fuse and protective circuits prevent the product and your your device from overheating and overcharging,uninterrupting...
Te-Rich Upgraded 2-in-1 Cigarette Lighter Car Phone Holder Charger Mount for iPhone, Samsung Galaxy and More Android Smartphones - Lightning Cable, Dual USB, 3.1A Max
Wireless (Te-Rich)
  • CONVENIENT AND COMPACT - Built-in 8 pin lightning cable, don t have to carry around an extra cable wherever you go, tangle-free feature keeps cord clean and tidy...
  • RELIABLE CAR CHARGERS - One lightning connector and dual USB charging ports allow to charge 3 devices simultaneously(3.1A max totally) with intelligent output, over-current...
  • 360 DEGREE ROTATION - Flexible goosenack and adjustable cradle clamp, easy to view your device at any angle or orientation while driving
  • UNIVERSAL SETTINGS - Holds 44mm to 85mm wide smartphone or portable GPS including iPhone 7/6/6s/6S Plus/6/5/5s/SE, Samsung Galaxy S7/S6 Edge/S6/S5/Note 5/Note 4...
  • WHAT YOU GET - Te-Rich Upgraded 2-in-1 Car Phone Holder Charger with Built-in Lightning Cable, our worry-free 12-month warranty and friendly customer service
Cigarette Lighter Splitter, 2-Socket Cigarette Lighter Power Adapter with 3.1A Dual USB Car Charger for iPhone 7 / 6S, Samsung Galaxy S7/S6 Edge, HTC (Black)
Wireless (Qable Powerz(TM))
  • Superior Quality 1 to 2 Car Cigarette Lighter Socket Splitter Car Charger Power Adapter. One cigarette lighter sockets splits to two 12V / 24V DC outlets providing...
  • Equipped with Dual USB ports that deliver up to 3.1A of power for high-speed charging of digital devices such as iPhone, iPad, iPod, Samsung, HTC,GPSs, MP3 players...
  • Constructed with built-in anti-corrosion metal connectors, heavy duty copper wires and protective circuits and premium quality components to prevent overheating...
  • Made of high quality components with smooth and sleek finish and embedded blue LED light indicator making this car adapter/charger a perfect combination of functionality...
  • Allows 90-degree angle adjustment for optimum positioning. Our Twin USB/DC Socket Traveler s Adapter is constructed for years of service when used as intended.

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