Could a cigarette lighter be used to plug in small appliances?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 1995

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1985 Ford LTD. I would, at times, like to use items like a vacuum cleaner, small refrigerator, emergency lights, etc. I would like to know if using the cigarette lighter to plug these things in would harm my car in any way.

RAY: No, but you might scratch the paint trying to get that 22 cubic foot, side by side Amana in the back seat.

TOM: Actually, you're probably OK, Barbara. As long as you stick with "appliances" that were specifically designed to by powered by 12 volt car batteries. I wouldn't use a generic "12 volt adapter" and plug in your home appliances. That could melt the wires and start a fire. But there are small refrigerators and vacuum cleaners that were designed to run on 12 volts.

RAY: And car manufacturers seem to be aware of this trend. They recently discovered that they could be both socially correct and save a few bucks by making cars without cigarette lighters. They leave out the cigarette lighter itself, and replace it with a little, two-cent plastic cover that says "power point." So I guess they expect you to plug in your radar detector, cellular phone, Sega Genesis and water pik.

TOM: And like the great cupholder race of the late eighties, General Motors is again blazing the trail. We recently drove a Chevy Blazer with three (count 'em) power points!

RAY: One note of caution, however. Make sure you unplug the appliance when you park the car. On most cars, the cigarette lighter circuit stays "hot" even when the ignition is off. And if you leave your refrigerator plugged in overnight, you may come back and find your battery dead.

RAY: Of course, on the positive side, if the refrigerator has decent insulation, you'll probably have a few cold drinks to enjoy while you're waiting for the tow truck.

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