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Your vehicle’s power outlets are incredibly useful because they allow the driver and passengers to power or charge their devices. The 12-volt (12V) socket was originally designed to power cigarette lighters.

As people moved away from this unhealthy habit, the power outlet that was originally for cigarette lighters became the vehicle’s default power outlet. Modern vehicles now include other types of power outlets so that passengers can power their electronics without 12V power adapters.

Different Types of Vehicle Power Outlets

Modern vehicles have power outlets in the form of 12V, USB-A, USB-C, and 110-volt (110V) household outlets. Here’s how they differ:

image of a 12 volt car power outlet
Most vehicles come with a standard 12V socket that provides direct current (DC) at 12 volts to the connected device.

12V Outlet

Most vehicles come with a standard 12V socket that provides direct current (DC) at 12 volts to the connected device. Take note that DC is different from alternating current (AC), which is the type of current available in common household electrical sockets.

While the vehicle’s alternator creates AC, a rectifier immediately transforms the electricity into DC because this is the type of current that the battery needs.

DC electricity works differently than AC power that powers your home’s electrical sockets. AC electricity flows in opposite directions, while DC current flows constantly in one direction.

DC electricity is used by solar cells, LED lights, and electronic devices with rechargeable batteries, such as computers, and smartphones. Appliances like hair dryers, televisions, and microwaves are some examples of appliances that need AC power. If you’re using the 12V socket to power an appliance or device, determine whether it will need an inverter or a simple adapter plug to convert the DC power from the plug into AC power.

USB-A and USB-C

Most modern vehicles offer a USB-A port, which is the original rectangular USB port. Some vehicles also give passengers the newer USB-C alongside USB-A. USB-C provides higher voltages and amperages that allow mobile phones and other electronics such as tablets to charge at a faster rate. Some luxury manufacturers like Porsche don’t even offer USB-A anymore and only have USB-C ports. Luckily, USB-C cables are easier to insert into the ports and charge devices faster.

While USB-A and USB-C ports can connect devices and allow the transfer of files, the ports found in vehicles typically only allow for charging. However, some vehicles might have a designated port that can allow the vehicle’s infotainment system to connect to the mobile phone.

110V Outlet

Some SUVs, minivans, and trucks have a traditional AC outlet. This outlet is located in the second row or cargo area because they can be helpful in camping trips. Outlets provide more power than a standard USB port, so they can charge devices faster. However, vehicle outlets still have some limitations. Firstly, they can deplete a vehicle’s battery quickly because of their power draw. This is why most outlets only work when the vehicle’s engine is turned on.

Most vehicle outlets have a 150-watt rating, which is good for portable and small electronic devices. Plugging in a device that requires more power or using an extension cord that multiplies the number of devices that can accommodate can cause the plug to overload and cause a fire. Luckily, most outlets shut off when a device that draws too much power is connected.

What Can You Power with Vehicle Power Outlets?

Aside from personal electronics such as smartphones and tablets, there’s also a wide range of electronics that you can plug into your vehicle. As long as your appliance or gadget’s plug is compatible with your vehicle’s provided plug, you’ll likely be able to power the device. This includes seat warmers, electric defrosters, electric fans, portable vacuums, and hairdryers.

However, keep in mind that the functionality of your device or appliance is going to be limited if it  requires a lot of power.

automotive power outlet
Most modern vehicles offer a USB-A port, which is the original rectangular USB port.

Why Do Vehicle Power Outlets Stop Working?

Is your car’s power outlet not working? An object could be preventing the metal from making proper contact inside the plug. This issue will be more likely to happen with 12V power outlets since their large opening can let in objects more easily.

Another reason why your power outlet is not working in your car could be because of a blown fuse or damaged outlet. To check the fuse that corresponds to the outlet, you should check your vehicle’s owner’s manual. If that’s not the problem, use a voltmeter to check if some power is still reaching the outlet. If it is, then there’s likely something wrong with the outlet itself. The wires that send power to the plugs could have been stretched or broken. Their insulation could have also been torn off near the plug, affecting their functionality. However, you’ll need to remove the power outlet or have access from the back of the outlet to be able to access the wires.

A faulty accessory relay could also be to blame. The relay turns on the power outlet when the vehicle is turned on. Relays can wear out after several years of use and stop sending power to a device.

Sometimes, it could be your device that’s the problem because it’s incompatible with the power source. That said, you should remember to use another device or cord with the plug first.

If you can’t find the issue, then you should ask a trustworthy mechanic for help.

Get Electrical Components For Your Car 

Some faulty components can cause your vehicle’s power outlets to malfunction. Some of these include the battery, alternator, and accessory relay. They can also cause a wide range of electrical issues in your vehicle including a no-start condition and stalling. Prevent these issues by getting replacement electrical components from CarParts.com today.

CarParts.com offers a wide selection of high-quality batteries, alternators, and accessory relays that are sourced from the leading aftermarket manufacturers. They’re made under stringent quality control standards, so you can be confident in their performance and longevity. Browse through our selection easily using our vehicle selector and search filters.

Don’t let faulty parts linger before you replace them. Check out our catalog of batteries, alternators, and accessory relays and shop today!

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Technical Reviewer at CarParts.com

Tony Harlin is a Master Gas and Diesel Diagnostic Technician with over 18 years of experience. He works full-time at a large independent automotive shop as a driveability and repair technician working on all types of vehicles with a focus on diesels. ASE certifications include A1-A9, L1 and L2, as well as X1.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

File Under : Electrical System , DIY
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