3 Tips for Powering Your Tailgate
Expert Advice

We’ve all seen the cool couple parked in the primo spot by the corner of the stadium parking lot. Their party is huge, and they’ve got all the best power toys: the flat-screen TV, the satellite dish, the frozen margarita machine and little chili-pepper lights strung around their canopy. How do they possibly provide power for all their appliances? With a little planning and preparation, you can add electric power to your tailgate party without needing a jump-start for your car after the game.

Many devices can power a tailgate party, and not all of them are super-loud generators. But before deciding how to power the tailgate, you need to figure out how much juice you’ll need. Powering a blender or a small TV doesn’t take much power at all, whereas that cool couple with all the toys needs a lot more power. Every appliance that uses power has an amp or wattage rating listed on the device. The latter is a little more common and easy to use. Here are some average watts usage numbers for appliances that may be used at a tailgate:

  • 42″ HDTV                            236 watts
  • Blender                                300 watts
  • Box Fan                                800 watts
  • Satellite Receiver               420 watts
  • Radio                                     100 watts

Now it’s time to select the power source. Many tailgaters like to use inverters and grab power from their vehicle’s battery. This method provides direct current or “DC” power. Most appliances run on alternate current or “AC.” The inverter plugs in through the car’s DC outlet, typically a cigarette lighter, and provides three-prong AC plugs on the other end, just like you would use at home.

These inverters are typically inexpensive and can be bought for as little as $30. The downside is that they provide only a few hundred watts of power. If you’re only powering a couple of items for short periods of time, the inverter is very cost effective. However, keep in mind that the power is coming directly from the car’s battery. Unless the car is cranked to let the engine recharge the battery, you’ll wind up needing jumper cables to leave. Many of the higher-end inverters provide automatic shutdown when the battery gets low.

At the other end of the power spectrum is the gas generator. These machines can crank out up to 10,000 watts of power, depending on the model. Most basic models will provide at least 2500 watts. The other upside is that they are powered by gas, so there’s no worry of running down another battery on the car. However, generators can be super noisy. In general, the less expensive the generator, the noisier it is.

A third option that many tailgaters find hits the proverbial sweet spot in terms of effectiveness versus price is the marine battery. Typically used in boats, these batteries provide more power and longer life than a conventional car battery and are easier to recharge. The battery will still provide DC power, so an inverter will be needed. One of the best features of the marine battery is that it provides plenty of power but makes absolutely no noise. Marine batteries will cost anywhere from $175–$250. To spare you the wattage math, a 32″ HDTV can run on a marine battery for about eight hours. And after the tailgate party, all you do is hook up the marine battery to a battery charger, leave it plugged in for about eight hours, and it’s ready to go all over again.  With a little research about what you’d like to power, it’s easy to get the juice flowing at your next tailgate.