12v and USB-charged gadgets for the road can be handy or just plain fun

Charge: There's an epic list of gadgets you can power in the car. Photo: Shutterstock.
Charge: There's an epic list of gadgets you can power in the car. Photo: Shutterstock.

Some cars are loaded with gadgets and functions these days. Some are for safety, others for comfort or convenience, and more still for the entertainment of the driver or passengers.

If yours isn't packed to the roof liner yet, or even if it is, you can still find a vast array of useful (or novel but ultimately useless) devices that you can plug in to run or recharge while you're driving. Looking into this could also help you find that interesting gift for someone whom you know spends a lot of time on the road (or on a computer).

Many of you will still be able to utilise the old-school cigarette lighter port, with anything from heated thermal mugs that keep your favourite beverage warm to camping cooler boxes and much more.

You can also run or recharge an unimaginable variety of gadgets off a USB port, when you or a passenger isn't already using it to recharge a smartphone, that is.

Some vehicles already have one or more USB ports. For others, you can get an adaptor for the lighter port, or have an auto electrician install some if you're not sure how to do it yourself (options range from replacing the lighter socket to putting USB ports anywhere in convenient or even hidden locations).

For that lighter port, you'd already have thought of other things like air compressors for tyres, or the pump for an air bed.

A small 220-240v inverter (perhaps a continuous 150W or more, but check what your device needs) should recharge most domestic devices' batteries like a laptop for instance (or for some laptops, you can get a charger that goes straight into the lighter port).

There are more interesting gadgets than these though. How about a seat cover with a warmer? Maybe a passenger would like a 12v electric blanket. In addition to camp fridges, there are small food/drink warmers/coolers that go a bit above or below ambient temperature with modest power usage, or you can have a full-on little stove (oven) that reaches 150 degrees Celsius or more. If cafes are hard to come by you can get a 12v kettle or coffee maker. Then there are self-stirring mugs, and beyond that there are 12v blenders, irons, work lamps and more.

Meanwhile the list of USB gadgets overlaps the 12v options (like warming, cooling, recharging and so on), and it is growing exponentially. Many of these are meant for home or office use, or they are simply for fun or novelty. Several have also been made redundant by our smartphones, but not all, because some USB gadgets are also handy to have on a trip. These are mostly rechargeable via USB, like an anti-sleep alert that you wear if you think there's a risk you'll nod off (and pull over ASAP for a nap if it goes off).

Devices rechargeable via USB such as torches, lights or headlamps can be useful too. Maybe you'd like to have a hair straightener or curler with you. Other bathroom-related devices include hair and beard trimmers, razors, or an electric toothbrush.

Then there's fun stuff like rechargeable remote control toys, drones and plenty more. You can also get rechargeable sports action cameras to mount in any number of places.

Whatever gadgets you get, always ensure they meet Australian design standards, and be mindful not to let any of them cause harm in an impact either (by their design, or where you place them, or how you mount them).


While plug-in multi-port adaptors exist, be mindful not to try and draw too much current all at once from each of the vehicle's lighter or USB ports. Also for USB, make a note of whether your port supplies a modest 0.5 amp (common in audio head units or laptops, and handy for slow charging) or if it's capable of something more generous like 2 amps or greater (for more demanding appliances or one that suits quicker charging).

Same goes for installing more ports. Don't draw too much current from the existing lighter port wiring. If you want lots of ports ensure they are activated by an adequate relay, fused properly, and wired to draw direct from the battery when you turn the car on (as mentioned, an auto sparky can do this for you if you've never touched wiring before).

Sam Hollier is an ACM journalist and a motoring fanatic who builds cars in his shed in his spare time.