What Is A 12 Volt Outlet?
While reading through a manual or handbook for electronics or car accessories you may notice a reference to a 12 volt outlet. Although the majority of people use 12 volt outlets on a daily basis, many people do not know what it is and simply refer to it as the cigarette lighter socket. Almost every vehicle has at least one, and many newer vehicle models and RVs include many of these outlets.
The 12 volt outlet has been standard in vehicles produced in the United States since the 1920’s. More commonly referred to as a cigarette lighter socket, these were simply intended to heat a cigarette lighter by direct current from the vehicle’s battery. Newer cars often have a plastic dummy plug labeled as an accessory outlet in place of the lighter. Many items, such as cell phone chargers, portable GPS units, and 12 volt appliances, have been designed to operate using power from these outlets.
Though they look a lot alike, and most times appear to be identical, there are some differences between the cigarette lighter socket and the 12 volt accessory socket. If a vehicle is equipped with a cigarette lighter socket and also a 12 volt accessory outlet, then the actual push in cigarette lighter can only be used in the outlet designated for the lighter. The reason for this is the lighter socket is made of materials that will not be affected by the heat of a glowing hot cigarette lighter. Using the cigarette lighter in the 12 volt accessory outlet is not recommended as it will definitely cause damage.
There are power handling differences too. Typically the lighter socket is wired and fused to handle a maximum draw of 10-amps, whereas the 12 volt accessory outlet will often be able to handle as much as 20-amps. The vehicle’s owner manual will state the abilities of each.
There are aftermarket 12 volt accessory outlets available for older model cars that do not come standard with one, or for people that need more than one. While adding the outlet is fairly simple, this is not a task for everyone.
There are two ways to add a 12 volt outlet to your vehicle. The vehicle manufacturer often leaves a few empty locations in the fuse block for applications just like this, so consumers may safely and easily add a new outlet. When this is not an option, direct wiring to the vehicle’s battery becomes necessary. Either way, the process should take just an hour or so depending on your skill level. Once you have properly added the new accessory outlet you are ready to start plugging in your 12 volt devices and accessories.