I had a very early appointment the other day, and motoring out into the pre-dawn foggy mist, my heart sank at the danger the weather posed.
No, not the peril the precipitation presented on the roadways. But rather, my hair!
Despite the unseasonably warm morning, I cranked up the heat in an effort to dry the dank air in the car’s cabin, but to no avail, and the locks so carefully coiffed an hour earlier were drooping, frizzy and unprofessional by the time the sun was up over the horizon.
Frustratingly, there was nothing at hand to rectify the situation. How many times has this sinking feeling hit, I thought, in a lifetime of driving in snow, rain and fog? Am I the only one who’s actually, on a few desperate occasions, eyed the rain and driven to a meeting with electric curlers pinned to my scalp, wheeling up discreetly a few blocks away to rip them out and spritz a little spray, in hopes of a fighting chance at a polished hairdo? Nothing like that to get some bizarre, morale-deflating looks from fellow motorists en route.
(And take it from me, don’t let road rage get the better of you when sporting six or seven lavender hot rollers behind the wheel; looking unhinged by slow drivers is bad enough on a decent hair day but calling attention to your superior skills with a blaring horn as you blast past in curlers looks positively deranged.)
Hoping for a better way, I hopped online.
Appliances specially engineered for the road abound, from 12-volt hair dryers and electric shavers to coffee makers and coolers. The hair-styling gadgets don’t get the greatest reviews, however; mostly faint praise like “better than nothing.”
Hmm. Then one day my eyes alighted on the 12-volt socket in the center console of my compact; Eureka! Somewhere around the house there’s an inverter that plugs into that socket, turning it into a handy outlet for the laptop. Why not a blow dryer or eight-pack of electric curlers, as well?
Not so fast, says Danny Hetzroni, vice-president for Power Bright, a Miami-based manufacturer of consumer and industrial inverter products.
“Your curling iron and your hair dryer consume a lot more power than you think,” said Hetzroni, whose company has helped out with automotive electrical issues on the reality show “Pimp My Ride.” “People think that because these appliances are small, it’s OK. But you are generating heat – like a toaster oven. In a car, it’s a problem.”
Think of it this way, he said. A common household light bulb draws 60 watts of power; the hair dryers commonly sold today run from 1200 to 2000 watts — so your 1800-watt dryer is like powering 30 light bulbs off that little outlet in the console. Your car’s wiring can’t handle the draw and fuses will begin blowing before those fog-misted tresses have a chance to dry out.
Phone chargers that use those sockets draw maybe 5 or 10 watts, Hetzroni said. Laptops, perhaps 80 or 100 watts. The only way to properly power something like a hair dryer is to bypass the convenience socket in the console and hook an inverter directly to the car’s battery, he mused. “And I don’t know how convenient that is, for most people.”
Visions of huddling limp-haired under the hood in strange parking lots, clamping electrical cables to my car’s battery terminals, weren’t too appealing. Nor were other foul-weather alternatives, including the crew cut, the wig, the Rhoda-esque scarf or the thought of wielding a butane-powered curling tool. Maybe the 12-volt dryers aren’t so awful after all?
Hetzroni gave me a little electrical math lesson: Amps multiplied by volts equals watts. So a 12-volt hair dryer that is rated for 12 amps (like many on the market) produces a whopping 144 watts of power.
“If someone is used to a 1600-watt dryer…” Hetzroni said. “Well, you could just stick your head out the car window and it might be faster.”
Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via firstname.lastname@example.org.