Plug-in car heaters dwell in a strange in-between space where they will never equal the heating systems you want to replace, but they can still perform at least some useful function.

The main problem is that drivers often turn to plug-in heaters to replace or supplement a factory heating system that has stopped working correctly, and this is the type of heat output that simply cannot be matched due to the inherent limitations of plug-ins. car heaters.

With that said, there are two main options for plug-in car heaters, and they are definitely not created equal.

Types of connected car heaters

A first-class plug-in car heater is capable of pumping out massive amounts of heat, but many heaters in this category are not safe for use in confined spaces, and none are portable.

Another type of plug-in car heater is very compact and will work in the electrical system of a car or truck, but the heat output will not even come close to matching the factory heating system.

There is a third type, the plug-in heater block, but that is outside the scope of this article. However, technologies such as plug-in block heaters and remote starters, can also help you make your work more comfortable.

There are also two different types of plug-in car heaters:

  • Residential space heaters 120 V : These are electric heaters designed to be connected to the wall. The ability of these devices to generate heat is limited only by size, and large electric heaters can heat much larger spaces than the interior of a car.
  • Portable car heaters 12V A: These are also electric heaters, but they run on the 12V DC that your car has. These heaters are basically limited by the amount of amperage they can safely draw from the limited resources available in your car’s electrical system.

Within these two main categories, there are two more main types of heaters and a number of subtypes, including:

  1. Radiation heaters
    1. Halogen heaters
    2. Ceramic infrared heaters
  2. Convective heaters
    1. Oil heaters
    2. Wire element heaters

Some of these types of heaters are suitable for use in confined spaces such as cars, while others are not. The main issue is that some of these heaters are more prone to fire when in close proximity to flammable materials, and some are not suitable for small enclosed spaces due to consuming or displacing available oxygen.

Plug-in car heaters for 120 V

The largest category of built-in automotive heaters are both domestic heaters, which have proven to be small enough and safe enough for use in confined spaces, and 120V heaters, which are specifically designed for use in cars, recreational vehicles, and the like. Applications.

Because automotive electrical systems typically provide 12V DC instead of 120V AC, these heaters generally cannot be used in unmodified vehicles. The two main uses for a 120V car heater are installation car inverter or use an extension cord.

The first option allows the use of a 120V heater while the vehicle engine is running, and the second option allows one of these heaters to be used when the vehicle is parked.

Using a 120V plug-in heater with an inverter

The only way to use a 120V plug-in heater to replace your factory heating system is to install an inverter. The inverter can be connected directly to the battery or connected to 12 volt outlet but most heaters draw too much current to be used with cigarette lighter inverters .

When using a 120V car heater with an inverter, it is important to remember a few things:

  1. running the heater with the engine off drains the battery quickly
  2. The factory alternator will probably not be powerful enough for particularly high wattage heaters.

If the main purpose of using a plug-in heater in a car is to warm it up before driving, then plugging it into the car’s electrical system with an inverter is not the best solution. In this case, it will almost always be more convenient to bring the extension cord to the car from a convenient outlet.

In cases where the factory alternator is not capable of producing enough current to handle the load from a heavy heater, it may be necessary to install generator With high output power . For high wattage heaters that are truly capable of matching the heat output of a conventional automotive heating system, inverter operation is unlikely to work at all.

Using a 120V plug-in heater without an inverter

If the main purpose of using a plug-in heater in a car is simply to warm up the interior before driving, then an extension cord is a much better solution than an inverter.

In particularly cold areas, where cars are usually equipped with block heaters, it is usually even possible to plug additional outlet to connection block heater which provides an easy way to connect a 120V heater.

In situations where the car does not have a block heater, sometimes there is enough clearance to cover the extension in one of the doors. If this is not possible, then the best way to access the extension is usually through the firewall, although this usually requires drilling a hole and running the extension safely through the engine bay.

Extra care must be taken when performing this type of operation, as allowing the extension cord to come into contact with hot or moving surfaces inside the engine compartment could result in a fire.

12 V portable car heaters

Unlike 120 V heaters, portable car heaters 12 V specially designed for use in automobiles. This means they are generally safe to use in confined spaces and can be connected directly to the car’s electrical system without the need for an inverter.

Of course, all 12-volt «plug» car heaters use a cigarette lighter socket, which means they are inherently limited in power draw. This means that most of these devices can generate a very limited amount of heat.

In situations where more heat is needed, a 120V plug-in heater must be used, or a more powerful 12V heater must be connected directly to the vehicle battery. Since 12V heaters that are connected to a battery are not limited by the low amperage of the cigarette lighter and auxiliary socket circuits, their wattage can be much higher.

Unfortunately, the only solution for a broken car heater is to fix the heater or install a real replacement for a car heater, which actually connects to the engine’s hot coolant like a factory system. While plug-in car heaters may work fine if you temper your expectations, both types suffer from too many drawbacks to ever serve as a true replacement.

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