Can I Use My Car as a Generator?

When hurricanes, snowstorms, or thunderstorms strike and take out the power, it’s good to be prepared with alternative power sources to run the day-to-day necessities such as heat or to keep the refrigerator going. Shopping for a generator can be difficult as there are so many choices. Depending on the type of the generator you may lose the convenience of portability based on the generator’s size and weight. As a result, if you were forced to leave your home the generator may not make the trip. What if you could use your car? Would it be powerful enough to run more than just a phone charger?

Can I use my car as a generator? Yes, you can use your car as a generator. After a few simple and quick connections, a car can become a generator for emergency situations or become an alternate power source while camping, tailgating, or other activities.

Using a car as a generator involves a few simple steps, and we’ll walk you through what you’ll need to get started as well as the advantages and disadvantages of using a car to generate power.

When to Use a Car as a Generator

Whether you are looking to have emergency power during major storms or blackouts, or you just want to be able to operate some electronics, setting your car up to work as a generator is very simple and cost-effective.

Some common ways to use your car as a generator:

  • Back-up during outages for sump-pumps, lights, and refrigerators
  • Camping amenities like fans, blenders, radios, and more
  • Operating electricity and battery dependent medical equipment like CPAPs, powerchairs, oxygen machines, and more
  • Running portable TV’s and streaming devices while tailgating

NOTE: it’s important to mention that using your car as a generator requires action on your part. If your plan is to use it in emergency situations, especially with medical equipment, please know there isn’t an automatic fail-over and you must manually connect inverters to your car.

Power Inverters

An inverter is an electrical device designed to convert direct current (DC), such as the power found in a car, to alternating current (AC), which is the type of current used by most devices in your home.

Using a power inverter, connected to either your car battery or 12V connection quickly turns your car into a generator.

Types of Power Inverters

Power inverters come in many different sizes. Some power inverters are designed to be very portable and simple to use for short-term power connections, such as providing a traditional plug-in option for laptops, stereos, medical devices, and even some special-made small appliances.

When shopping for inverters be aware of the rated power for the devices you intend to use. If you purchase a 100W inverter you should not plug in something rated for more than 100W. For example, if you have two devices that demand 90W each, even though they’re both under 100W — they’re 180W when used together. So, you’ll need to unplug one while using the other. Or, grab an inverter with more watts.

Small power inverters can be connected directly to the 12V power supply found in your car. These small inverters typically come with one or two plug-in ports and even USB ports to charge devices quickly and easily. These simple inverters are perfect for those who need to power smaller devices.

100W Inverter

Pictured above is the Ampeak 100W Car Power Inverter is a 12V (DC) to 110V (AC) Inverter with 2.1A USB plugs. It is rated for 100W with Peak Power at 300W. An excellent inverter for day-to-day use.

Larger power inverters are connected to the car’s engine. They can be connected using traditional battery cables or hard-wired directly to the car’s power system. These larger inverters can produce much more power and therefore rely on heavy gauge wires that connect the inverter to your car’s battery.

These devices do come with a 12V cigarette lighter connection for smaller appliances, but you can’t rely on the 12V connection to power larger items. That’s why the invertor should be wired directly to the car battery with supplied heavy gauge wires.

2000W Inverter

For a bit more power, the Ampeak 2000W Power Inverter (pictured above) is a 12V (DC) to 110V (AC) Inverter with 3 AC Outlets with 2.1A USB plugs. A popular choice as the LCD screen keeps you informed of the input/output of the inverter. It is rated for 2000W with Peak Power at 4000W.

3000W Inverter

Again, the type/size of power inverter you need will depend on your intended use. Powering larger appliances (like a refrigerator) during storms or blackouts will require a larger power inverter like the POTEK 3000W Power Inverter (above) that is a 12V (DC) to 110V (AC) Inverter with 4 AC Outlets and 2 USB ports. It is rated for 3000W with Peak Power at 6000W.

How to use an Inverter Safely

Carbon Monoxide is a dangerous, odorless, and colorless gas that can kill. When using your car as a generator you should not use your car close to any space where the gas can accumulate like homes, garages, tents, campers, RV’s, and more. Use long extension cords so you have ample separation from the vehicle.

  • Ensure the car is parked 15 feet or more away with exhaust directed away from people or spaces where gas can accumulate
  • Keep inverter off, plug in your items, then turn the inverter on
  • Keep flammable gases and liquids away from the inverter
  • Never use the 12V power supply (cigarette lighter) for larger items
  • Keep inverter in a cool dry place during use to prevent overheating
  • Keep inverter in a place that promotes good ventilation
  • Use with safety extension cords rated for a minimum of 15 amps
  • Check before connecting battery operated devices to charge by the inverter as they may be damaged from increased power
  • Watch for overheating, if the unit shuts down from overheating, disconnect and allow the inverter to completely cool before reconnecting and restarting
  • Store the inverter, cords, and associated equipment in cool dry places when not in use

Advantages of Using Your Car as a Generator

Using a car as a generator has a few advantages compared to traditional generators. These advantages may influence the type of power converter you wish to purchase, include size and output potential. Advantages include:

  1. Easy to use – a power inverter does not require mechanical understanding to use, allowing anyone to connect and run a power inverter with ease
  2. Portability – a power inverter has a small profile making it very easy to travel with you. During outages, you may need to leave your home and your power generation can now travel with you
  3. Reliability – because you use your car every day, it is likely to start when you need it
  4. Runtime – your car has a much larger fuel tank and will run much longer than a portable generator
  5. No need to store fuel – generators require gasoline or diesel to power them. In order to have power when you need it, it requires keeping extra fuel on hand, which can spoil if not used. The gasoline in your car is regularly depleted and replenished, which means no spoilage.
  6. No Maintenance – inverters require no maintenance other than proper storage
  7. Noise – an inverter makes little noise with the cooling fan. Combined with the noise of your car idling is much quieter than a generator
  8. Adaptability – this device is great for emergency situations; however, it’s also great for camping, tailgating, or family parties. You’re more likely to use this setup on a regular basis than hauling around a generator

Disadvantages of Using Your Car as a Generator

Not everyone will find using their car as a generator appropriate for their emergency power needs. Some of the disadvantages associated with using a car to generate power include:

  1. Limited power – power inverters cannot produce enough power to connect and operate an entire home. Whole-house back-up generators can provide emergency power that kicks in automatically if power is lost to your home. These generators can run most home appliances and electrical devices with ease. Whereas, using a power inverter requires prioritizing only the most important necessities.
  2. Connectivity – power inverters have 110V plug-ins, which is great for items that rely on 110V plugs. It does not have 220V plug-ins, which are common with generators that make use of the wiring in your home. These types of connections are possible, but not without additional equipment and assistance from a licensed electrician.


When searching for alternative power sources it can be tempting to go with mainstream solutions. To be clear — we’re not suggesting that generators are not a good solution. We’re just suggesting an alternative for the sake of simplicity, portability, and affordability. By purchasing a small piece of equipment like a power inverter, you can easily convert your car into a generator capable of producing enough power to get you through an emergency. It just might be a good alternative to have in your arsenal for the next hurricane, snowstorm, thunderstorm, or camping trip. It may even be a good complement to a generator if you just want a redundant solution.

Either way, having a plan for creating power during outages is a good idea and I hope we’ve opened your eyes to a new option of using your car as a generator.

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