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Guide to Electrical Converters & Adapters

[Special to the Travelite.FAQ]

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The Difference Between Converters and Transformers

Note: Parts of this section has changed as of March 13, 2000.

The difference is very important and what you use will depend upon your appliance. There are two categories of appliances: electric and electronic. Electric appliances are those products with simple heating devices or with universal motors such as hair dryers, irons, toothbrushes and small fans. Electronic appliances are those products with a chip or a circuit such as radios, camcorder rechargers and computers.

A converter is designed to be used ONLY with electric appliances such as hair dryers, immersion heaters and irons. A transformer is designed to be used with both electronic appliances such as battery rechargers AND electric appliances. Some high wattage transformers (NOT the 1-50 watt transformer) are all continuous-use transformers. This means that travellers with appliances that are used for long periods of time (such as overnight) should purchase a continuous-use transformer whether or not the appliance is electric and could be used with a converter. Converters should ONLY be used for short periods of time, up to a maximum of three hours. Transformers can only be used continuously at 80% of their capacity. So if you have a 1-500 watt transformer, it can be used continuously ONLY with an appliance up to 400 watts.

Converters and transformers are available in distinct wattage combinations. Converters are available from 50-1875 watts and transformers are available from 1-50 watts, 1-100 watts, 1-200 watts and higher. Transformers more powerful than 1-00 watts begin to weigh more than is practical for most short-stay travellers.

So, what should I take?

First, ask yourself if what you are packing is electrical or electronic. If your travel iron or other electric appliance is 500 watts, you can use either the 50-1875 watt converter or the 1-1000 watt transformer. However, the 1-1000 watt transformer is hardly practical since it weighs almost 20 lbs!! If your camcorder recharger or other electronic appliance is 75 watts, use the 1-100 watt transformer. The wattage of the appliance must fall within the range of the converter or transformer being used (allow a buffer of 10-20 watts) otherwise your appliance will be damaged. The chart at the end of this guide offers some help as to which converter or transformer to use depending upon the type of appliance that you will be taking. Don't forget that you might also need an adapter plug!

The most popular unit for many travellers taking small appliances is our combination converter/mini-transformer, the HILO converter. It is a 50-1875 watt converter and a 1-25 watt mini-transformer in the same unit. If you are taking a 110v 1500 watt hair dryer and a 15 watt curling iron, you should also pack the HILO converter together with the appropriate adapter. The hair dryer is used on the HI setting (the converter) while the curling iron is used on the LO setting (the mini-transformer). A switch adjusts the unit from HI to LO.

Some converters are equipped with safety cut-off switches that stop power surges to the appliance. Once the surge has passed, the converter will resume operation. Converters will also shut off if their temperature is too high and will resume operation once their internal temperature is reduced.

Some transformers have fuses that will prevent surges from passing through to the appliance. A power surge could blow the fuse in the transformer in which case it is quite simple to replace the fuse.

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