Everyone assumes that if there is a storm, or other cause of a long-lived power outage, they will charge their cell phones off their car batteries.
That isn’t an especially good plan, for a number of reasons. For one, it assumes that the car will be accessible and in adequate condition. It also assumes that you will be willing to waste the gas running the car (since you certainly wouldn’t want to take a chance of inadvertently running the battery down), that the car will start, and that you will be in physical condition to get to the car. Finally, there is the fact that car chargers should only be used as last resorts at any time, as they can damage your phone’s battery.
There is a much simpler solution, assuming that you are one of the people who care enough about your computer to have a uninterruptable power supply (UPS). If you aren’t, you need to get one. They are your first line of defense against power surges. (That “surge protector” strip won’t cut it in the event of a nearby lightning strike — trust me on that!) A UPS protects against minor voltage fluctuations that can damage electronics over time, and helps avoid data loss in the event of a sudden outage, since it gives you time to save your work and shut down your computer and peripherals in an orderly manner. Since they cost about the same as a meal for two at a decent restaurant, it’s really impossible to justify not using one.
They also do a great job of powering phone chargers. Most power supplies will run a computer, printer and monitor for from 10 minutes to an hour without external power. That’s a load well in excess of 200 watts, and a cell-phone charger draws maybe 2% of that. You should be able to get an absolute minimum of ten or a dozen charges out of a UPS in good condition, because they stay fully-charged all the time under normal use. Just plug the charger into an empty socket on the back and go for it.
A couple of things. (You knew there would be, didn’t you?) As soon as you lose power, if there’s any reason to think it will remain off for extended periods, turn the UPS off and unplug all the big stuff. Leave the UPS off until you need it, and don’t leave the phone charger plugged in when you’re not actually using it. You don’t know how long you’ll need to be using the UPS, and most chargers use a little bit of power whenever they’re plugged in. The same is true of computer equipment — unplug it all. Turn the UPS unit off with its built-in switch, and turn it back on only when you need it.
Second: avoid the temptation to go online, even for a minute or two. You are not going to get another chance to juice up that UPS battery (roughly the same as a motorcycle battery) until the power is back on. That could be weeks. Your computer, monitor and modem will kill that UPS post haste. If you must fool around on the Net, use your phone browser.
Third: You might be tempted to use your cordless land line phone, plugged into the UPS. Don’t. Cordless chargers use a great deal more power than cellular chargers,
because they not only charge the phone, they run the base unit
full-time. Often the phone lines stay in service, or come back into service faster than electrical lines, for a variety of reasons, and you should have a cheap plug-in handset that will run off phone power alone, for use during power outages. If you don’t have a plug-in, just live with the cell.
Minimize the use of your cell phone. Others will be using the circuits. Consider learning to text message, if you don’t know how already. Texting uses far less bandwidth, for mere seconds, and has little effect on the circuits. It’s also easier on your phone’s batteries.
Finally, keep your phone fully-charged. If the UPS runs down or dies, you want to have your phone available for as long as possible. Consider turning the phone off, and checking for voice mail and texts only every hour or so. Remember that your phone’s lighting drains the battery too, especially if you’re texting a lot.