IN-CAR MULTI SOCKETS
James Stanbury explains why caravan owners need more in-car 12V and USB sockets than most, before putting 10 multiplugs to the test
COMPARED WITH THE older car’s one cigarette lighter socket, today’s vehicles are pretty good at providing 12V and USB outlets to power phones and other devices. But on a touring holiday, entertainment devices get heavier use. A wireless reversing camera needs a 12V socket, and caravan owners are also more likely to have a dash cam and standalone sat nav. Car journeys are also the perfect chance to charge devices without sapping the leisure battery. In short, you simply cannot have too many accessory sockets. So in this test, we’ve concentrated on adapters that have at least one 12V outlet. We started with the basics, such as number of 12V and USB sockets, how easily devices can be positioned and whether sockets are illuminated for night-time use. Then we looked at the electrics. Most 12V sockets have a maximum 7-10A ouput, often needed when powering several devices. Most USB devices require at least 1A for reasonable charging times, and many tablets need at least 2.1A. Another useful feature is battery monitoring. Many of these adapters show the vehicle battery’s current charge level, and when you need to minimise the load on it. Finally, we acknowledge the shortcomings of 12V sockets and plugs – which were only ever designed for cigarette lighters. The plug’s sprung end terminal should ensure good contact between plug and socket. We also think it’s essential for a multiplug to have an indicator showing when it’s live. Battery monitors and illuminated sockets do this anyway, but a separate power light ought to be fitted to more basic models.
Price £8.35 Contact 0113 231 0266 Web www.ringautomotive.co.uk Not bothered about USB sockets? Then this is a great budget alternative to Energizer’s winner. Like the 50505, it converts one 12V socket into three. And again like the Energizer, the maximum combined electrical load is 8A. Surprisingly, though, the budget price doesn’t mean a pared-down spec. A handy four-led display shows battery charge level at a glance. In addition, a couple of slide-out tabs can be used to screw the unit firmly in place. We’d recommend this, because the coiled power lead is rather short and springy, making the unit difficult to position unless it can be pinned down.
Price £10.50 Contact 0113 231 0266 Web www.ringautomotive.co.uk If Energizer’s 50505 is the best all-rounder and Ring’s RMS3 is the budget option, then this is the halfway house between the two. The 12V socket count drops to two, but Ring has shoehorned in a USB outlet as well. Unfortunately, its maximum output is 1A, which will be problematic with some tablets and slow in charging others. But like the RMS3, Ring’s extras make the unit well worth considering. These include an on-board battery charge level monitor, illuminated 12V sockets and slide-out tabs for permanent fixing. Our only gripe, once again, is that overly short coiled power lead.
Energizer 50505 Price £13.28 Contact 0800 542 0825 Web www.energizerautomotiveaccessories.eu A three-way balancing act of getting the basics right, having plenty of features and boasting a very keen price secures the top spot for this excellent product. The 8A maximum total output is sensible, given the unit’s five sockets – three 12V and two USBS. Especially as one of the USB outputs is the faster-charging, tablet-friendly, 2.1A variety. The metre of straight cable between unit and plug gives plenty of positioning options, and we like the illuminated 12V sockets – easy to use at night and a foolproof indicator the unit is live.
Price £13.99 Contact 0800 542 0825 Web www.energizerautomotiveaccessories.eu A bizarre-looking adapter that’s well thought out and equally usable, in most vehicles, from the front and rear seats. The cable between the vehicle’s socket and the main box is 20cm, and there’s a further 20cm between the box and its three 12V sockets. As we’ve come to expect from Energizer, all the fundamentals are spot on. Maximum total load is 8A, the 12V sockets are illuminated and the single USB output is 2.1A. Unusually, the main unit has three switches to enable/disable each of the 12V outlets – handy if the driver wants to silence an annoying device being used in the back!
Price £17.69 Contact 0800 542 0825 Web www.energizerautomotiveaccessories.eu While several multiplugs here boast battery charge level indicators, the 50502 takes things a step further. When the battery gets so low that further discharge could mean the engine will struggle to start, the unit cuts power to its three sockets – one 12V, a 1A USB and a 2.1A USB. In short, it takes away the risk of leaving electrically thirsty items running unattended. But what the product gains in sophistication, it loses on practicalities. Essentially, the single 12V socket simply replaces the socket used to power the device. Surely, at this price level, there could have been a couple more added?
Price £15 Contact 08457 626 625 Web www.halfords.com Coiled power leads don’t end up a tangled mess like straight cables, but they do exert a pull that makes items attached to them tricky to pin down. Unless, like this natty design from Halfords, the unit sits snugly in a cupholder. Although a touch dear, there’s plenty to like here. Maximum combined output is 10A, there’s a battery charge level monitor, the four sockets (two 12V and two USBS) are illuminated, and there’s a handy adapter to ensure the unit’s plug fits securely, even in larger 12V sockets. What a shame, then, that both USB outlets are restricted to just 1A maximum.
Price £15 Contact 0113 231 0266 Web www.ringautomotive.co.uk At first glance, it’s hard to spot the difference between this and Halfords’ 131253. On paper, the spec is similar too – a circular body designed to fit in a cupholder, a 10A maximum output, an integral battery charge level monitor, two 12V sockets and all sockets illuminated. But whereas the Halfords model has two conventional USB sockets, this sports a snazzy micro-usb plug on a retractable reel that rolls out up to 60cm. It’s definitely convenient to connect straight into your phone or device without using extra leads. But bear in mind, this approach won’t work with Apple products.
Price £10 Contact 08457 626 625 Web www.halfords.com In sharp contrast to Halfords’ other entry, this one goes right back to basics. No battery charge level monitor, no illuminated sockets and not even any USB outlets. But you do get no less than four 12V sockets, with a combined maximum load of 10A – a sensible level, if your vehicle’s socket will support it. Thanks to a couple of slide-out tabs, and screws supplied, the unit can easily be made a permanent fixture, even if its 1m of straight lead also makes it pretty easy to stash somewhere convenient anyway. Our biggest reservation is that there’s nothing to indicate if the unit is actually live or not.
Price £10.39 Contact 01488 689 400 Web www.saxon-brands.com Although nicely made, this unit is a little dated. Considering that it converts a single vehicle plug into five new outlets, the total maximum load of 5A is somewhat restrictive. Granted, the two USB ports only output a paltry 0.5A each, but the three 12V sockets alone could easily notch up more than 5A, even powering relatively frugal devices. But what the SS5105 lacks electrically, it makes up for in practicalities. Well, partly. We like the adhesive mounting pad, the 1m loosely coiled cable and the power indicator. But the non-illuminated sockets make this challenging to use at night.
Price £10 Contact 01488 689 400 Web www.saxon-brands.com Sometimes we wonder why anybody would buy a certain item. Take this one, from Sakura. It’s not a bad piece of kit, and it converts your vehicle’s 12V socket into a new 12V socket plus a couple of USB outlets. OK, the wheezy USBS only output 0.5A maximum each, and the 5A total output for the unit is a touch restrictive. But the real head-scratcher is that Sakura’s own SS5105 offers all this, plus a couple more 12V sockets, for less than £1 extra. For similar money, Ring and Energizer give you the same, plus welcome niceties such as illuminated sockets and charge level indicators.