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How to Buy Best Car USB Charger

Dec. 07, 2023
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How to Buy Best Car USB Charger

The 12v cigarette socket can be used for charging a USB device using a car USB charger - find out how to choose the best one.

USB Chargers Includes:
Buy best USB charger     Buy best car USB charger     Battery charges for AAA, AA, C & D batteries    

It is often convenient to be able to charge phones and many other devices that can use cables linked to USB sockets for charging.

Sometimes cars or vehicles may not be fitted with USB connections, or it may be that a variety of devices need to be charged using a USB charger whilst on the move in a vehicle.

In many instances, a USB charger that takes power from the vehicle's cigarette lighter power socket can be invaluable.

Knowing what to look for when buying a car USB charger is key to making sure you make the best buy.

What is a car USB charger?

A car USB charger is a small adaptor that plugs into the cigarette lighter/accessory port found on virtually all cars and provides one or more USB outputs.

As the cigarette lighter/accessory port provides a nominal 12 volt output, the car USB charger converts this voltage to the 5 volts required for the USB supply.

Also as the car 12 volt supply can vary considerably and also have spikes and surges on it as a result of the other car electrical systems. The car USB charger needs to protect against these so that anything connected to the USB port will not be damaged by this.

In its basic form the car USB charger can be used to charge a host of devices from smartphones and tablets to power banks and even certain models of camera. It is worth remembering, though, that the cigarette lighter/accessory port on the car is only active when the engine is running. This is done so that the car battery cannot be discharged accidentally by leaving a heavy current appliance in the socket.

Some car USB chargers can contain a lot more functionality, acting as a connectivity hub - some are able to connect to music players including mobile phones and radiating an FM signal to be picked up by the car radio. This can be very useful if no USB functionality exists in the car. They may also enable hands-free phone calls to be made.

These car USB chargers are very useful when smartphones are used as satnavs with applications like Waze as they tend to use a lot of battery as the screen is live all the time. Also they can be useful for keeping batteries for the tablets etc used to keep the children happy on long journeys.

What to look for when buying a car USB charger

When buying a USB charger, there are a number of points to consider - buying the best USB charger will mean that it will fulfil its purposes.

There are a number of points, hints and tips that can enable the best car USB charger to be bought.

  • Multiple sockets:   Consider what you might want to charge. How many devise are you likely to want to connect at any one time? Most car USB chargers have two outputs, and this is often enough, but if there is a possibility of more being required, then car USB chargers with four outputs are also available. As the cigarette lighter/accessory ports are often located near the gear lever or other controls for the car, be careful not to have too many leads in this area. In some cars, there are power ports behind the driver, in the back seats, etc. For keeping children occupied on long journeys, a four port car USB charger may be more useful here.
  • Size:   It is worth considering the size of the car USB charger. This can be important if the 12 volt lighter / power point is located close to any of the driver controls. Check that any USB charger will not obstruct anything, and the leads can also be routed away from the vehicle controls. Some of the chargers with more outlets and more functionality have to be larger and often taller. Check that any device can be accommodated easily.
  • In-built lead:   Some car USB chargers come with a lead already built in as part of the assembly. Although individual requirements vary, this does not appear to be a good idea because the lead needs to have the required connector on the end. This limits the number of devices that can be charged and may render the charger useless if the phone is changed and the new phone has a different connector. Even if a USB socket is provided, the lead can become a nuisance if it is not in use. Also leads are the first things to break, so an inbuilt lead can quickly render the charger useless, or if there is an additional USB socket, it can mean that there is a broken lead permanently attached to the device. So from this point of view chargers, my view is that chargers with in-built leads are not a really good idea.
  • Power output:   Not all the outputs on the car USB charger may be the same. Check the current capability they provide. Often they provide around 2.1 or 2.4 amps dependent upon the device, but check what you need.

    Car USB chargers providing 2.1 and 2.4amp are now common. Its important to get one with a good output as a charger that is lower rated than the device requires means it will take longer to charge. Make sure that the output is available on all the USB sockets. Some chargers may only have a high output on a limited number of their outputs, so check the small print.

    The newer smartphones and tablets can consume more power to charge them as the batteries are larger. It is best to check the details on the wall charger provided with the phone and then ensure the car USB charger that is bought has at least one socket with the required output.

    Smartphones are ideal for use with apps like Waze, etc that provide driving instructions. The constant screen usage combined with at of the GPS that needs to be constantly updated drains the battery faster than usual. This means that it is particularly important to have a car USB charger that can provide sufficient power to power the smartphone. A typical 2.4 amp capability should be sufficient in most cases, but it is always best to check.
  • Fast charging:   Most of the latest smartphones incorporate a form of fast charging. There is the Qualcomm Quick Charge Samsung Adaptive fast Charge and Apple PD. These standards enable a much faster charge to be obtained, whilst not unduly degrading the long term performance of the battery in the device. As the Qualcomm Quick Charge standard is used across a variety of smartphones, this one is found in some car USB chargers. Check what your phone supports if you want a fast charge capability.
  • Quality:   The term quality can be a particularly vague term, and one which is very hard to assess. Often the popular brands or those with good review ratings will best. It is worth thinking about the cost. Although this is not a complete indicator, the exceedingly cheap ones are unlikely to have all the testing and safeguards in place. After all, the better brands have a name to protect, so that are likely to make sure their products are reliable and conform to the right standards. Would you trust you really expensive smartphone on a car USB charger that costs just a dollar / GB pound / Euro? It is worth spending a little more for peace of mind and the better quality you are likely to get.

    Don’t buy cheap car USB chargers of dubious quality - these are likely to compromise on certain safeguards that other models provide for handling the fluctuations in voltage that occur around car electrics or for taking care of overheating problems. It’s just not worth it.

There is a huge variety of car USB chargers on the market. Fortunately most of the reasonably priced chargers are reliable and provide excellent performance. Provided that you don’t go for the exceedingly cheap ones available and you select one that has broadly the right functionality and capability, then it is likely to give good performance. Bear in mind points like accessibility, likely reliability, built in leads, and output capability and all should be fine. Also if you need additional functionality, again, don't go for those that are too cheap, and check the functionality is exactly what you need.

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Many modern vehicles now have everything you need to charge smartphones, tablets, and laptops, built right into them—even base model vehicles include charging USB ports that can juice up multiple devices simultaneously. However, if you need a few additional port chargers to use on a road trip, or have an older vehicle, you'll need to invest in a charger that can be plugged into a 12-volt port or, if your ride’s of a certain age, a cigarette lighter.

Out of many plug-in, 12-volt car chargers and wireless charging docks, the Anker PowerDrive III Duo (available at Amazon) is one of the best car chargers you can buy. It charges reliably, is well-built, and its quick-charge port allows it to live up to its fast-charging standards for your phone’s battery.

Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

The Anker PowerDrive III Duo is a fast, reliable 12-volt charger for modern USB-C devices.

Best Overall

Anker PowerDrive III Duo

  • Watts: 18
  • Ports Two USB C ports
  • Fast Charging: Yes
  • Wireless Charging: No

Anker’s PowerDrive III Duo charger is sleek in design and well built. It’s designed with modern phones in mind. Featuring dual USB C car ports, its charging capability allows you to juice up two devices simultaneously. To charge phones that aren’t equipped with USB-C, such as an iPhone, you’ll need to buy a USB-C to Lightning cable.

The Anker PowerDrive’s speed proved to be the second-fastest charger we tested, topping up my smartphone to 99% in just an hour and 17 minutes. This is thanks, in part, to the fact that one of the PowerDrive III Duo’s two USB-C ports is equipped with Anker's proprietary PowerIQ Fast Charging technology, which intelligently identifies the device that’s plugged in to deliver the fastest charge possible for it.

Like the other chargers in this guide, the PowerDrive III Duo has overload protection. It also has tech baked into it to keep the charger from overheating while in use, prolonging the life of the charger.

The only thing we didn’t like is that the PowerDrive III Duo has the largest faceplate of all the ones tested for this guide—an odd design decision, when you consider the small size of USB-C ports compared to older charging standards. This could be annoying if your vehicle’s 12V port is in close proximity to any other ports or controls in your dashboard.

Pros

  • USB-C ports versus USB-A

  • Fast charging

Cons

  • Large faceplate could get in the way

Buy now at Amazon

AmazonBasics USB-C Car Charger

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  • Watts: 18
  • Ports Two USB A ports
  • Fast Charge? No
  • Wireless Charging?: No

The AmazonBasics Dual Port USB Car Charger features two USB-A ports and is small enough to easily blend into your vehicle’s dash or center console. Unfortunately, it was the slowest charger we tested for this guide. That said, the charge times of all of the hardware we tested were separated by mere minutes.

It charged our iPhone XR in just under an hour-and-half. However, when it came to charging the iPhone to 100%, it clocked in at just over two hours.

Pros

  • Very small and compact

  • Has two charging ports

  • Affordable price

Cons

  • Did not charge as quickly as some of the others

  • No quick charge technology

$16.20 from Amazon

Anker 24W Dual USB Car Charger

In addition to a great low price, this car charger packs a serious punch in a small package. This device is tiny. Lots of third-party car chargers with multiple ports tend to take up a lot of room, which can make your car feel cluttered and get in the way.

You also won't have to worry about having the right charger if you and your friends use different smart phones. Anker makes fantastic USB cables with any adapters you need, and any length—and they're super affordable, starting at $5. Lightning? Micro USB? USB-C? All come in lengths ranging from 3 to 10 feet so you can share power with anyone in your car from the passenger to the back seats.

Pros

  • PowerIQ and VoltageBoost tech

  • Small yet powerful

Cons

  • No Quick Charge support

Buy now at Amazon
$13.98 from Walmart

AINOPE USB Car Charger

This highly rated car charger is the definition of simple yet effective. It’s ideal for those who spend many days on the road and want to keep their phone fully charged. What makes this car charger especially great for travel is its compact size. It’s also very lightweight, durable, and resists scratches, so you can safely keep it in your travel bag. This charger can also handle two devices at once, at a decent speed. Reviewers say it doesn’t necessarily fit flush as the brand claims.

Pros

  • Very compact

  • Lightweight

  • Affordable

Cons

  • Doesn’t fit flush

Buy now at Amazon

AILKIN USB Dual Port Car Charger

More than one review of this car charger praises its durability. Some basically have zero complaints, while a few other users say the charging speed is not as fast as they’d hoped. What’s great about this car charger is how it stops charging your phone automatically when the battery is full, which saves energy and prevents overheating. In addition, you can charge two devices at the same time and easily travel with it due to its compact size.

Pros

  • Multiple color options

  • Compact size

  • Durable

Cons

  • Can be slow to charge

Buy now at Amazon

What You Should Know About Car Chargers

There are lots of things to consider when buying a car charger to use with your smartphone, tablet or another USB-powered device. Some, for example, come with built-in cables with a male adapter on the end for charging a specific device, whether it be a USB-C charger for an Android phone or a multitude of other devices or, Apple’s Lightning charging standard. This can be handy if you’re charging a compatible device, however, you’ll need to pack an extra cable if you want to charge anything that doesn’t use the adapter that the charger is equipped with.

Other car chargers come with multiple ports. One or more female USB-A or USB-C ports and allow you to plug in whatever cable you wish. These 12V chargers are far more versatile, you’ll need to remember to bring the charging cables you need with you or leave some in the car.

In some instances, a 12-volt car charger will feature a ‘fast charger’ port which, as the name suggests, offers compatible devices faster charging than a regular USB or wireless charger connection can. The reliability of such claims depends heavily upon the quality of the charger and which fast charging technology it employs.

How to Buy Best Car USB Charger

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