This post may contain affiliate links or mention our own products, please check out our disclosure policy here.

Product Review: CarGenerator Uses Your Car For Emergency Power


stock photo of cargenerator with cables used for emergency power
Sponsored by CarGenerator

CarGenerator: A Weatherproof Inverter For Emergency Power

Although we have written about CarGenerator in the past, the recent heatwave and subsequent brownouts here in Texas had me once again thinking about emergency power. While it’s too soon to be worrying about another Snowmageddon, the truth is…you just never know.

I reached out to CarGenerator Owner, Founder, and CEO Jonathan Schloo, to see what it would take to give his brain child a real hands-on review. Jonathan was generous with both his time and his budget, and I had one in hand before long.

The concept of using your car as emergency power

I think for most folks, the idea of running your automobile for emergency power gets immediate and negative pushback. Most of us have grown up in the era of saving fuel at all costs, regardless of the price. We do this from a budgetary mindset, as well as an ecological one. When you start to break it down, however, realizing that the alternative is to run a gasoline or diesel generator with virtually no emissions restrictions or equipment regulating its smoky output, it actually starts to make sense. What’s coming out of the tailpipe of your modern automobile is far less offensive to the environment than what’s spewing from your portable generator. 

Jonathan conceived and built his first CarGenerator to provide power for his Airstream when camping off-grid. One cold Canadian night, with the possibility looming of losing power at home, the thought of using his new device to power his home gas furnace seemed like a great idea, and inspired to do so, Jonathan set about to testing his theory and sure enough, it worked well. With two strong use cases for his new device and more thoughts churning in his head, CarGenerator was born

Easy to carry emergency power

Whether you are at home, at work, on the road, or camping, your emergency power is always with you, in the form of your vehicle. All you need is an easy way to convert that power to something usable. While power inverters had been around for a long time, the idea of using one to harness the power of your vehicle and package it in a portable way had not been done. 

No one had taken the time to figure out how to carry it or how to hang it safely from your vehicle. How do you store cabling so they don’t get tangled on everything? Anyone that’s ever had a set of jumper cables in their trunk can relate. How do you keep it waterproof, yet easy to use?

With CarGenerator, Jonathan did figure it out. One of the biggest challenges in fact was to keep it water/rainproof, yet cool and ventilated. CarGenerator is fully patented in both the US and Canada, for solving exactly that problem.

Since stormy weather is often associated with the need for emergency power, the waterproof capability of CarGenerator is even more important.

Our CarGenerator review

Most of what you see with CarGenerator can be discerned from pictures. However, I gained some additional insight when I got my hands on one.

First of all, it’s lighter than I imagined it would be. The 1000W (2000W surge) CarGenerator in my hands weighed only 13.3lbs. The durable plastic housing seemed to fit together well, and the jumper clamps seemed robust, with sizable copper teeth to grip any type of battery post. Feeding those beefy clamps are heavy yet flexible oxygen-free copper leads that are permanently fixed at one end inside the weatherproof housing.

That housing is sealed from the elements, with the only opening at the bottom. The CarGenerator is designed to be hung from beneath your vehicle’s hood, over the front or side of the vehicle.

The rubber-coated hook, along with the rubber matting that backs the CarGenerator, ensures that your pride and joy are not scratched. The inverter is kept inside the housing, and the hook along with all cables and straps are designed to come together in a simple, snag-free, convenient package. 

CarGenerator shown with cables and clamps

An emergency power package

Could you make this type of emergency power package on your own? Possibly. You’d first have to sacrifice a high-end set of jumper cables, then find an inverter that runs well in a closed space and efficiently marry the two. A quality pure sine bare inverter is typically around $300.

Next, you’d need to build some kind of housing that is lightweight and waterproof. Then you’ll need to somehow package it so it’s compact and efficient, without parts of it catching on everything it touches anytime you move it around. You’ll also need to figure out how to add a nifty digital readout into the case. Even the handiest of men or women would be hard-pressed to achieve an emergency power package like CarGenerator.

Using the CarGenerator for emergency power

Aesthetics are well and good, but does it work? Sure it does. I popped the hood on my Jeep, clamped, hooked, and hung the Car Generator from it, and started it up. The digital readout showed the proper 14.2 volts. It was also confirmed by the readout on the inverter.

The single USB or dual AC sockets provided options, and an extension cord plugged into one of those sockets allowed me to run the first thing I could grab from the garage: an ancient 800W corded power drill that was probably new in 1970. 

Certainly, if we lost power, digging out Grandpa’s old drill wouldn’t be my first action. However, running a heater, air conditioner, water pump, or just keeping the internet and television going, would be.

How much power will I have?

A simple formula for knowing how many watts can be generated for use with CarGenerator is to take your vehicle’s alternator output in amps, reduce that by half because of idle speed, and multiply that by 12 (volts). So, the 160 amp alternator in my Jeep gives me approximately 960 watts (160 / 2 x 12 = 960).

The underside of CarGenerator with a 30-amp adapter plugged in.
 Plug your RV Trailer directly into CarGenerator with a standard 15 to 30 amp adapter plug.

Emergency power while camping

To be clear, the primary use case for this device is emergency power. However, that can be a broad definition. If you are camping and need to charge a phone or run a CPAP machine that lost battery power, CarGenerator fits the bill.

Boondockers might simply need a way to run a coffee maker for a few minutes. Coffee constitutes an emergency in my book for sure. Those same boondockers might simply want to charge those RV batteries in a pinch, and again CarGenerator fits the bill. Just plug in your RV shore power cord into CarGenerator , and all the outlets in your trailer are powered up!

Emergency power at home

Perhaps your home has lost power and you need to power a space heater, gas furnace, or air conditioner. During the aforementioned Snowmaggeon, I could get around in my Jeep well enough, but that wouldn’t magically power my home. It would mean, however, that I could fill the gas tank, and have emergency power for 50-70 hours straight if needed. We have one gas furnace and one electric furnace, so if things got bad enough, I could power my gas furnace with CarGenerator to heat much of our home (though an electric furnace is not suitable).

CarGenerator hanging on the front of a vehicle.

Using your CarGenerator

Note that CarGenerator should ideally be used with modern vehicles with up-to-date emission controls. It will work with almost any vehicle in a pinch. Here in the DFW area, I figured if I can slog across the DFW Metroplex for an hour through rush hour traffic at near-idle speeds, I can run CarGenerator safely. You’ll use the same amount of fuel as a small generator, but with a cleaner and more sophisticated engine.

If you do find yourself utilizing CarGenerator for emergencies, remember to implore a few common sense rules. Make sure you have plenty of fuel in the tank. Also, find your extra set of keys so you can lock the doors while your car generates emergency power. Depending on your vehicle’s grill/radiator configuration, be sure enough cooling air is getting to the radiator.

Conclusion

CarGenerator is a clever device that is perfect for its primary intent: emergency power. It’s also terrific for short term ad-hoc power needs if you find yourself off-grid or boondocking. Unlike a standard portable generator, the CarGenerator needs absolutely no maintenance. CarGenerator comes in a variety of configurations from 1000w-3000w. Check out CarGenerator at https://www.cargenerator.com for the latest pricing, specs, and options.

Author Patrick Buchanan Avatar

Patrick Buchanan

All around RV industry enthusiast who has been RVing for 8 years and enjoys trips with his wife and dogs in their big diesel pusher. 

7 thoughts on “Product Review: CarGenerator Uses Your Car For Emergency Power

  1. I have asked Consumer Reports to test this product. No response as usual. I have also asked car/truck manufacturers about this product, will it void the warranty. No response. I have a “wait & see” attitude.

  2. Very cool. It seems People are always inventing something new and fantastic these days. Thanks for letting us know about this, Patrick!

  3. The only problem I see with the presentation is portraying the product for “emergency use”. Portable generators are a HUGE commitment to complexity that can be avoided completely by making continuous A/C power available from the tow vehicle. Most diesels can run continuously in normal service but still need to be verified. Gas engines need to be verified. Portal generators make no sense when a perfectly good tow vehicle engine can provide power.

  4. Often people ask, how much fuel does it use to idle your vehicle using www.CarGenerator.com ? About a similar amount to a portable gas generator. https://youtu.be/_g888eWJl5o

    1. WORRIED ABOUT IDLING?
      First question for people who worry about idling. Define how long is idling too long? 2 minutes? 20 minutes? 2 hours waiting for the kids at soccer? 4 hours hosting a tailgate party? 10 hours? 24 hours?

      Idling is simply a fact of life. Millions of vehicles around the world idle every day. Hookup an OBD scanner to your own vehicle and see your engine idle hours, and watch the idle hour timer increase even when you’re sitting at a stoplight. Taxis, delivery vehicles, funeral vehicles, etc…. all idle every day around the world.

      Honda Ridgeline for example has a 400 watt power outlet in the truck bed which Honda markets “for tailgating and watching TV”, which requires the engine idling. So how long would you idle watching TV?

      GM offers a truck bed 400 watt power outlet which the GM instructions state can be used for things like a Slowcooker or Crock pot. How many hours would you idle your engine to run your slow cooker or crock pot?

      The F150 (non hybrid) with a 2kw Pro Power option is offered by Ford to idle for 85 hours providing 2000 watts.

      FORD published a guide that defines extended idling and how it impacts the engine (years before they released ProPower). FORD provides the example of a contractor that drives 50 miles and IDLES SIX HOURS per day, for 100 days, that’s 600 hours of idling! It’s a real world example, and is in no way prohibited, but FORD simply outlines that you need to do engine maintenance more frequently. For reference, a typical DEF filter takes 10-12 hours at idle consumption to fill up, so simply take your vehicle out for a drive periodically to run the built in exhaust management.

      Other manufacturers now include high power inverters, like the Toyota Highlander or Sienna with a 1500 watt built in inverter. In fact if you consider how Hybrid vehicles work there is actually no limit how long you could run the vehicle at idle for as long as gas is in the tank. The gas engine simply kicks in and runs for a period of time whenever the high voltage battery pack calls for it. This cycle could run for an hour or for literally days and the engine knows no difference. Whether we are using 70 DC amps to power headlights cabin fan wipers etc, or pulling that power out as around 900 watts useable AC , the built in DC-DC converter doesn’t know or care, it simply supplies DC power. I’ve lived this in real life, we had a bad ice storm with no power for 3.5 days, we ran our 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid for more than 80 hours. It used around half a tank of gas, and that car is still fully functional and running great as our second car.

      CarGenerator is in market for six years now with thousands of customers coast to coast, zero vehicle or engine issues. None. Not even one. Not engines, not alternators, nothing…. We are conservative in our instructions to make sure the display voltage on the front of CarGenerator stays above 13.3 volts. Above that the alternator is easily supplying power with no strain or harm to the vehicle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Recent Content