7 Accessories to Put Your Car's 12-Volt Outlet to Work

Power through your commute with these affordable tools.

12-volt power socketShutterstock

The 12-volt (or 12V) power socket has managed to hang on through the years, providing strong levels of juice for automotive accessories (even in an era where USB outlets have become more common). Once known as the “cigarette lighter,” the power socket has fitted cars since the 1920s. It can be useful every day to improve your vehicle ownership experience by powering gadgets and gizmos galore.

Here are our picks for some of the best 12V accessories on the market, sorted by cost.

12V to USB Charger Port Adaptor - Around $9

Do you want a USB outlet in an older automobile that didn’t come with one from the factory? A 12V to USB charge port adaptor solves the problem. Models of all shapes and sizes are available, most of which plug into the 12V socket and provide a pair of USB ports.

12V Socket Splitters - Around $20

Need more than one 12V socket in your car? There are plenty of socket-splitter options available, some of which double-up on your existing 12V power supply, while others offer a more comprehensive approach by tripling the number of 12V sockets as well as adding USB power ports alongside them.

12V to 110V AC Inverter — Around $28

More electronic gadgets plug in to a standard 110V wall outlet than a 12V car outlet. Fortunately, plenty of 12V direct current (DC) to 110V alternating current (AC) inverters bridge the gap between these two different power systems. The PowerLine PowerCup is particularly notable for its ability to sit in your vehicle's cup holder while providing a pair of 110V outlets and up to 400 watts of electricity.

Portable Air Compressor / Tire Inflator - Around $28

A flat tire can ruin your day. Having a compact, 12V air compressor in your vehicle's center console or glove compartment can help prevent a costly tow and get you on your way to your next destination in just a few minutes.

FM Transmitter - Around $30

If your car doesn't offer AUX ports or Bluetooth compatibility, an FM transmitter can stream music and podcast episodes to the stereo system. Plug a transmitter into the 12V socket, connect your smartphone or audio device wirelessly with Bluetooth or with a wire to its audio port, and the transmitter broadcasts an FM signal your car stereo can receive.

In-Car Vacuum - Around $30

Keeping a car crumb-free can be a challenge, especially when trying to use a full-size vacuum in the tighter reaches of a vehicle's cabin. A small in-car vacuum plugged into its 12V socket can be strong enough to take care of most messes and is easy to maneuver wherever bits of food and grime have become wedged.

Car Jumpstart Kit - Around $37

Tired of carrying bulky jumper cables everywhere you go? A tool like the Wagan Easy Quick Jumper lets you use the 12V power socket to jump a dead battery instead. This compact device connects the 12V outlet on a running vehicle with that of the automobile needing a jump. As a bonus, the jumper bundles up nice and tight for storage afterwards.

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Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting is a writer and podcast host who contributes to a number of newspapers, automotive magazines, and online publications. More than a decade into his career, he enjoys keeping the shiny side up during track days and always has one too many classic vehicle projects partially disassembled in his garage at any given time. Remember, if it's not leaking, it's probably empty.