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In-Car Outlets: What Do You Use Them For?

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CARS.COM — In addition to USB ports for smartphone chargers and such, many cars offer power outlets to plug devices into, and with these outlets, an intriguing option for all kinds of in-car activities. Video games, cooking and hairstyling all come to mind, but can our everyday regular appliances work with these car power outlets or will my dreams of cooking a Crock-Pot of chili and crimping my hair in the car at the next tailgating party be dashed?

Related: Cars.com Names Top 10 Tailgaters

In a test, my 6-quart slow cooker pot didn’t work when I plugged it into the socket of my test vehicle, a 2014 Toyota 4Runner. This 4Runner model came with several 120-volt power outlets, and I was hoping to get dinner made on the go, which in my view could really revolutionize after-school-activity shuttling time with the kids. So, what do I need to do in order to make a meal in my slow cooker in the car?

It turns out I just need a better grasp of simple electrical device concepts. My cooker model is 120 volts but draws 240 watts in order to bring the heat — say watt? Yep, the watts for a device sucks from the socket matter. Most power outlets have a 150-watt maximum. That won’t work for my huge Crock-Pot, but it will heat my smaller snack-size model of slow cooker. But who only wants a snack-size slow cooker pot? No tailgaters with any self-respect, I can tell you that.

A stroll around my local Target store helped me iron out what kinds of small electric devices it had to offer that would work when plugged in to the outlets of my test vehicles: almost none — not even a travel hair dryer or itty-bitty curling iron. No cake-pop makers or single-cup coffee brewers. I found a coffee grinder that would work with an in-car outlet, but I had no way to actually make the coffee. What about a tea kettle to heat the water and then a French press to make the brew? Nope, most small electronic devices use at least 1,000 watts, and the tea kettles I looked at needed at least 1,500 watts.

That leaves small, lower-wattage handheld electronic devices and their charging apparatuses — one editor’s daughters have been known to charge their iPad battery with in-car outlets from time to time. However, larger gaming systems typically pull much more of a charge than 150 watts from the outlet.

I also checked blenders in case I’m ever in the mood for a vehicle-made margarita — a car-garita? — at my tailgating party. No blender fit the bill in terms of power parameters. At this point, I had gotten the message.

It appears that if I want to heat up a meal in the Crock-Pot in a Honda, or groom in a car or truck, I’m going to have to start using the 120-volt outlets with appliances made specifically for use in a vehicle and its wattage limitations. I guess that’s the price you pay to plug in to these in-car conveniences.

Cars.com photo by Sara Lacey

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