Last Updated on December 31, 2020
No matter if you’re looking to charge your electrical devices or run smaller appliances on longer trips, a power inverter can be an excellent addition to your van’s setup, with those at 400 watts in particular being a popular choice.
Converting the 12 volt DC power of your battery into a stronger 110 volt AC using this device, you’ll be able to power anything that meets the wattage limit whilst you’re on the road, from the comfort of the driver or passenger’s seat.
Without prior experience or a wide knowledge of electricals more generally, knowing which product is suitable for your van as well as meeting all of your needs can be tricky.
That’s where we come in, listing five of the top devices for you to choose from.
Our handy buyer’s guide lays out, in layman’s terms, how a power inverter works and what features you should consider in order to make an informed purchase.
Forget opening up a bunch of tabs – all the information you need is right here!
Likewise, we’ve also traversed the web for the most common or recurring questions and queries from other customers looking for their new inverter, in the hopes that by answering them all in one place, your decision will be as easy as possible.
Prefer being told what to buy? Here’s Our Top Pick:
Self-declared as America’s number one power inverter brand, we’re happy to present this 400w inverter from BESTEK providing continuous DC to AC power, designed with the modern van driver in mind.
Dual 110 volt electrical outlets mimic those in your home to provide enough power to run a laptop, cell phone, GPS, even a TV if you’re so inclined! MultiProtect Technology boasts intelligent protection from overload and circuitry issues.
Four 5A USB charging ports are ideal for use with phones, tablets and other USB devices, so you can charge those and still have room for running other devices with the available outlets – most other inverters only have two USB ports!
Built in, replaceable 30A/32V*2 fuses are safe and make maintenance super easy; the inverter is also designed to protect the unit, your devices and your van from over and under loading, short circuit and overheating.
An advanced cooling system not only prevents overheating but ensures that the inverter runs as close to silently as possible, although when more than 70 watts of output is exceeded the fan will run more quickly.
- Includes two three foot car plugs and battery clips for a direct connection to battery
- AC and usb ports for your convenience
- 400W continuous DC to AC and 1000W peak power
- Cooling fan for added safety and ease of maintenance
- Some customers report it won’t power a MacBook
Designed to be as small as your cell phone, this convenient inverter from Ampeak is the perfect product for running your smart devices and smaller appliances from the comfort of your van or truck, and it takes up practically no space at all.
Two USB ports and 2 AC outlets allow simultaneous powering of multiple devices, as well as being equipped with the technology to Fast Charge compatible devices for speedy refueling of your devices wherever you are in the world.
A reliable cooling fan prevents overheating, and only kicks in once the rated power use reaches 1/3 of the inverter’s capacity. Not only does it increase the unit’s efficiency, but protects it from exceeding recommended temperatures.
Dual external 35A mini slip fuses are already installed but can be replaced with very little effort, with access being easy and safe, where competing brands would require a dismantling of the case altogether in order to replace them.
Either plug it directly into your van’s lighter port with the included connection cable, or utilize the set of crocodile clips, also provided, to directly connect up with your battery to run larger devices.
- Comes with lighter plug and crocodile clips for direct connection
- ETL certified for your peace of mind
- Fast charges with appropriate devices
- Cooling fan and replaceable fuse
- Creates a modified sine wave – less efficient, more temperamental power
Easily convert 12V DC power to 120V AC with the Tripp Lite power inverter, providing two outlets and two USB ports to power devices including your phone, tablet, tire pump, even a TV or DVD player for those lonely overnight drives!
Premium safety features include an inbuilt 40 amp fuse to protect your devices, as well as prevention of overheating, under and over charging and short circuiting thajks to their patented safe charging design.
Fast charging is possible thanks to the 2.1A USB, so if your cellphone or other smart devices are equipped with the technology, they’ll be back to full capacity much quicker than a standard charger could achieve.
The DC jack plugs effortlessly into your van’s cigarette lighter socket, or you can use battery cables to directly harness power straight from the source – remember to always connect red to red and black to black!
A rigid and durable housing ensures bumps and bangs won’t damage the fragile internal components, though should you encounter any issues then there’s a one year, no questions asked warranty in place.
- Small and travel friendly at 14.8 cm tall
- Supports fast charging via 2.1A USB
- Integrated internal cooling fan minimizes overheating
- Free, Chicago-based technical support for life following purchase
- Fewer ports than other devices
A standout aluminum honeycomb structure sets the VOLTCUBE apart from the competition, not only looking attractive but also maintaining durability and providing excellent heat dissipation for optimal performance.
Dual USB ports, each running 2.4A, are capable of powering and charging your compatible smart devices, whilst two independent AC outlets receive 400W of continuous and 800W of peak power. It packs plenty of punch!
Speaking of outlets, the VOLTCUBE has seen a redesign where the sockets are now further apart to allow for the use of larger plugs, whilst the separate negative and positive terminals prevent short circuiting during use.
The 30 amp fuses are already built in and incredibly easy to replace when required, whilst a whisper-quiet cooling fan works to prevent overheating, overcharging and other temperature issues that could damage your devices.
As part of your purchase you’ll also receive high quality, gold plated metallic alligator clips to connect directly to your van’s battery, as well as a cable that connects directly to your cigarette lighter and two replaceable fuses.
- Honeycomb structure is stylish, sturdy and dissipates heat
- 2 USB and 2 AC output ports
- 12 month warranty and a lifetime of technical support
- Gold plated alligator clips and cigarette lighter outlet included
- Fuses located internally – requires screwdriver to access
The Cobra CP1490 will have your back on road trips, during tailgates and for your next family camping trip – anywhere your travels take you! With two grounded AC outlets and a single 2.4 amp USB port, you can power multiple devices in one go.
Cobra’s patented Pentagon Protection offers five levels of precaution against failures: whether it’s thermal shutdown, over voltage, under voltage, reverse polarity or short circuiting, you, your vehicle and the inverter itself will all be safe and sound.
Thanks to a handy alarm, you’ll receive an alert if the inverter’s battery is low, has sustained damage or there’s poor wiring from your DC devices, preventing any issues before they even have a chance to occur!
Unlike competitors, this unit offers a clean, full sine-wave AC that will run your appliances and smart devices just as your outlet at home would. Avoid cheap imitations that could damage your van AND your stuff.
With a cigarette lighter cord for 150 Watt capacity and the cables to achieve 400W by connecting directly to your van’s battery, everything you need to stay connected on the road is available right out of the box.
- Cobra’s Pentagon Protection system prevents internal damage
- AC and USB power
- Alarm indicates any issues before problems arise
- Clean, full sine wave – not a cheap imitation!
- Only has one USB port compared to two on other devices
Best 400w Inverter For Van Buyer’s Guide
Inverters: How It Works
Whilst the majority of contemporary vans and other vehicles in production these days will proffer their own USB charging ports, you no longer need to be stuck in the dark days if you’re driving a more vintage van, let’s say.
A car’s cigarette lighter port, for instance, runs on DC power, which isn’t the right kind of electricity supply that the majority of the devices you’d want to charge or run would require to function correctly.
Providing the user with instantaneous, grid-quality, reliable AC power, an inverter converts the 12-volt direct current of your van’s battery and transforms it into 120 volts of reliable alternating current power.
By essentially mimicking the function of an AC power source, they work to rapidly switch the polarity of your power source, creating a ‘square’ wave that is further modified by additional components to more accurately reflect a pure sine wave.
Don’t worry if this is all going over your head – you don’t actually need to understand the internal workings of an inverter in order to use one. Most are powered automatically, so all you’ll have to do is plug your device in, and away you go!
You’ll be able to charge your phone and other smart devices, run a small TV, even use a camping kettle or stove to whip something up on the roadside, so they’re really great for those who take regular road trips or drive around a lot for work.
Features to Look Out For
Sizewise, you’re looking for the smallest, sturdiest little inverter you can get, so it can be easily stowed away when out of use and won’t take up too much space when you’ve got it powered on.
A durable, weather-resistant casing is important to protect the internal components; even though it’ll be sitting safely in your van, some drives can be bumpy and can still be impacted by the heat or the cold of the weather from inside.
Ensuring that you get a suitable wattage for all of your devices and appliances is imperative; though obviously, we’ve selected devices that are specifically 400 watts, you might actually require more power than that.
Using a device that’s got more power than you actually need will prove less efficient than one closer to the wattage you require, as smaller inverters lose less excess heat and are therefore better at retaining power.
Models that feature full sine wave output are designed to more carefully mimic the sine waves of AC power and are better for use with more sensitive and expensive devices like your thousand dollar laptop or cell phone.
Likewise, those that proffer GFCI outlets will definitely meet OSHA requirements to ensure that using them in humid or especially wet environments is as safe as possible. Great if you like driving with the windows down!
Another safety feature that some inverters feature as standard is an automatic shut off in the event that the battery runs too low or encounters a surge, protecting your van and your devices for additional reassurance.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can a 400w inverter run?
Anything that requires less than 400 watts to start up and maintain power! For example, the average cell phone charger needs a tiny 24 watts (approximately) of power, where an average laptop might need between 60 and 90.
It’s worth checking the requirements of each individual product you plan on using to check if it’s appropriate, but most smart devices and appliances designed specifically for use outdoors or whilst camping should be fine.
Remember, if you’re looking to run or charge several items at once, you need to make sure that their combined power consumption totals 400 watts or less to ensure that you don’t cause a surge and risk damage to your van AND electricals!
Be aware that whilst an inverter may be advertised at 400W, it’s possible you can only achieve this by connecting directly to your van’s battery, as opposed to plugging in via the car port from your cigarette lighter.
The majority of manufacturers provide the appropriate alligator clips in order to achieve this, and they’re simple enough to hook up, but obviously you can’t use this method whilst the van is in motion – so you’re stuck with the voltage of the carport.
How fast does an inverter drain my battery?
This really depends on the specific inverter and vehicle you’re using in combination with each other, as well as the devices you’re powering. Every device and every van is different, so it’s difficult to provide an accurate time estimate in general.
For every 100 watts of a 12-volt inverter, the system requires approximately 10 DC amps from the battery. An inverter won’t drain your battery whilst the van is running, but it certainly will if left to run when the engine is switched off.
A handy calculation you can make uses the following formula: (10 x [Battery Capacity] / [Wattage] ) / 2, which will leave you with an estimate for the number of hours your battery will continuously power your device.
For example, if your battery’s capacity is 150 watts and you’d like to charge your phone which requires 45 watts, the calculation would be (10 x [150 AH] / [50 watts] / 2) and would equate to 15 hours approximately of run time.
Once again, this isn’t a foolproof calculation and will not guarantee you the exact number of hours promised, but it does serve as a handy estimation if you’re in a pinch and want to approximate.
Can you leave an inverter on all the time?
Again, the answer to this question is situational and really depends on your intended use. If you’re driving your van and its battery is being charged, then leaving your inverter running to power your devices should be fine and won’t drain the battery.
However, even if it’s not currently in use, when your engine is switched off the inverter will continue to draw power from your battery if turned on. Some have automatic standby or switch off functions that might kick in after a while.
Your best bet is to keep it switched off if you’re not using it and your van isn’t in motion, as otherwise you’re looking at the shock of coming to start your engine the next time you head out only to find a totally flat battery!
As we’ve outlined above, all inverters are different, and will respond differently to being left to run full time, so it’s worth contacting the manufacturers directly if you have a question about a specific device you’re wanting to run continuously.