Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Power to the People

Home-made Energy: Canadian Tire's PowerBox Stores and Delivers.

Product Review: Motomaster 600A Eliminator PowerBox

Yes, the age of green home power has finally arrived. Up to now, when you would hear the words “green home” and “self-sufficient” used in the same sentence, you would automatically think of one of those crazy, novelty mad-inventor homes you see on TV. You know exactly what I’m talking about: bare-minimum living necessities (“we recycle our used dishwater to flush the toilet!”), massive compost heaps, awkward solar panels covering every possible square inch of roof space and a 40-foot windmill in the backyard. Well, times have changed – people now have access to devices that give them green home power options right off the shelf at the friendly local hardware store – and demand is strong.

Take in the sun or get blown away - Canadian Tire stocks whatever you need to generate your own electricity. Photos courtesy www.canadiantire.ca

Canadian Tire must have known this wave was coming when it introduced its Advance Green product line. Walk into any CT store now and you’ll see solar panels, battery back-up systems and even wind generators on display front row center. While I’m not ready to strap a $3000 wind turbine to my roof and say bye-bye to Hydro, I have made the leap by picking up my first home power product: Canadian Tire’s flagship battery storage product the Motomaster Eliminator PowerBox.

Product Overview:

I’ll be honest – I’ve had my eye on this baby for a while now, even before the whole “Advance Green” movement. The thought of being able to power up some necessary appliances (and just for the heck of it luxury appliances too) during a power failure was rather tempting. Nothing would make a black-out sweeter than being able to watch the end of the game on battery back-up and then rubbing it into my brother-in-law’s face after he was relegated to reading old magazines with a candle.

Behold the PowerBox - an extension cord's worst nightmare.

The product I bought is the Motomaster Eliminator 600A PowerBox. When I say PowerBox, think of something the size of a large tool box that is a combination of a sealed 9V DC battery, an AC inverter, a standard house plug and a bunch of other fun little gadgets. Basically you recharge the box when not in use and then whenever and wherever you need it, you can use its stored power to either boost you car battery, operate a built-in flashlight and air compresser, use its cigarette lighter plug to power 9V car accessories or plug in household AC appliances.

Product Line:

Motomaster PowerBoxes come in 3 levels: 300, 600 and 800A (yes, there is also a mammoth 1,200A PowerBox that comes with its own dolly, but that hardly is in the same category as the first three). I decided to go mid-line and get the 600A which had the features I wanted, namely:

• two household plugs (as opposed to only one on the 300A model)
• one cigarette lighter plug
• air compressor (built-in)
• flashlight (built-in)
• jumper cables

I figured there was no need to super-size to the 800A version as long as I had the features I would use the most on the 600A. Besides, the 800A was a bit out of my price range, which leads us the penny counting part of my review.


PowerBoxes can be pretty steep in price and good sales or promotions have been rare – up until now. I don’t know if this is because of CT’s Advance Green initiative or just because they’re trying to get rid of stock for newer models, but I was able to pick up my box for a little over $100 as opposed to the regular price of $170.

I really recommend to anyone who wants this product to wait for a sale, but be forewarned: I bought mine only 2 days into the sale and I had to go to a second store to pick up their last one as my local store was sold out. So if you really want it, go right away as these things move fast when the price is right.

Appearance and Design:

The PowerBox itself is fairly streamlined – the handle is sturdy and the plastic looks rugged and of high quality. I kept the protective plastic sheets on the clear doors in the front out of fear of scratching them. Be prepared for an arm workout though when carrying this bad boy around – it weighs in at about 25 lbs which is OK for taking out of your trunk, but a bit heavy when walking to a campsite.

Sturdy, simple, clean and practical design. (Only comes in black, though.)

I like that there is an ample-sized storage compartment in the back. It’s great for holding the extra nozzles for the compressor as well as the wall adaptor that is used to charge the unit (both fit in quite easily with room to spare). Jumper cables have to be stored separately in a plastic pouch.

Nice storage compartment in the back - but your beer won't fit (I tried).


Well, the moment of truth – I was anxious to start plugging stuff in to see how much this baby can handle. After reading through the instructions, I realized that 600A can only power a limited type of appliances for an even more limited amount of time. Forget about powering up a household fridge or freezer with this model – you’d probably be better off with the 1200A blockbuster if that’s your main goal.

The PowerBox comes with a LED display on the front that is used to show battery charge and power consumption in watts. For some reason, it doesn’t read low wattage very well as small appliances (lamps, etc) kept showing “0” on the display. I only got my first reading at 40 when I plugged in two very large floor lamps.

What worked extremely well was a large table lamp I have in my living room that uses a 60W equivalent compact fluorescent bulb (13W in the fluorescent world). It was able to go over 6 hours strong on a full charge when I stopped the test with juice to spare in the PowerBox. It was pretty good to know that in a blackout at least one room could have full illumination, making it easier for the kids to crack out a board game and for mom and dad to read a book on their respective sofas.

The manual warns against plugging in large TV sets, saying that the surge current (i.e. high demand for power when an appliance first starts up) is usually too high to handle. This is right on the money as I was able to fire up my 14” portable TV with no problem. The only thing I noticed was that the TV did make a different humming noise, probably due to the inverter (or was it just my imagination?). I did try out other common appliances and compiled my go / no-go list for the 600A PowerBox:

Works well for:

• Compact fluorescent lamps
• 14” TV
• Small tools like a glue gun
• Battery chargers
• Radios
• Some VCR / DVD players (might want to lay off 5.1 speaker set-ups)
• 9V car accessories

Forget about:

• Large TVs
• Microwaves
• Toaster
• Any appliances equal to or bigger than the ones mentioned above
• Heavy-duty power tools

One thing that I found a bit strange was that occasionally it sounded like a fan would turn on inside the box. I still haven’t figured out what causes the fan to start but I assume it must be triggered to cool off the inverter when under heavy use, most likely due to the famous surge current mentioned in the manual. What’s funny is that the same load from the same appliance may or may not trigger the fan. I wasn’t able to find the pattern but sometimes letting the box stay off for a while and then turning the outlet on before turning on the appliance resulted in a successful power-up without requiring the fan. (I’m only mentioning this because I would imagine battery life is longer without the fan running.)

Other Features and Fun Stuff:

I think the main bonus here is that you can use the 9V cigarette lighter plug to recharge the PowerBox using car-adaptor ready solar panels. Car battery charger panels are relatively cheap now (again, wait for a sale) and would make the perfect trickle-chargers for the PowerBox. Nothing beats getting a fully loaded battery for free and knowing you’ve powered up on an environmentally friendly charge.

The built-in flashlight will keep you from tripping over yourself in the dark while the compressor can inflate the kiddie pool in a jiffy. Your toes and lungs will thank you.

I also liked the fact that the flashlight was built-in. I always keep flashlights available for an emergency, but I’ll admit I’m not as diligent as I should be – they often sift to the bottom of the drawer over time, or I forget to check if the batteries are still good, basically rendering them hard to find or completely useless in a blackout. With the built-in flashlight, I only have to go looking for my PowerBox (not too hard to find given its size) and I’m set to handle my way through the darkness.

The compressor is also a great bonus. I’ve been using a cigarette lighter powered compressor for inflating my tires on my car, which requires me to put my keys in my car and then open doors or windows to pass the cable – not too bad when it’s sunny and calm outside but a little annoying on a cold winter day. With the PowerBox, you can pump up your rubber without any hassle and leave the cars keys inside.

Final Verdict:

I must admit that overall I was satisfied with this product, although it does have its limitations. What I really liked is that it’s definitely able to make a power failure more comfortable, but most importantly it’s still useful on a regular day basis. There’s no way I would spend over $100 on something I could only use once a year during an emergency (if it even does occur for that manner). Also, if you’re keen for the green, you can recharge your PowerBox using a solar panel with reasonable success (I recommend using 12W panels as a bare minimum, unless you’re exceptionally patient).


• Portable, well designed and sturdy
• Easy to use and charge (“plug-in-and-forget”)
• Great when used with compact fluorescent lighting and car accessories
• Handy for use around the garage and car
• Solar charging is possible
• Stores easily


• Short list of appliance types that can be used on its power output
• A bit costly given its limited application possibilities
• No “fast charge” option for those rush jobs
• Apparently not recommended to power computers or other sensitive equipment

In conclusion, the 600A PowerBox can get you through the darkness and boredom of a blackout, but don’t expect to use it to survive a cataclysmic event of proportions fit for the movie screen. It won’t power a fridge, stove or heating system but it’s great for running a 9V car cooler and keeping the kids entertained with a portable TV. When you’re not in the dark, you’ll still find use for it around the house when you need an extra light or want to inflate those bike tires or snow tubes.

To be honest, if money’s not an issue and you’re thinking of buying this unit at regular price, you’re probably better off putting in the extra $30 and picking up the 800A model. If you can catch the 600A on sale, go for it as it’s a pretty good deal.

Average Joe’s Product Rating: 7.5 / 10

Additional info on this product and the Canadian Tire Advance Green product line is available at:


Saturday, February 10, 2007

2007 Reviews will start soon!

Ladies and gents, boys and girls - it's great to be back - and we're now on our brand new board with blogger.com. The old board has been officially deactivated along with last year's reviews so we've got a clean slate to start our 2007 monthly postings! If you would like a copy of a particular previous review, just send me a PM and I'll be happy to forward you the article.

.... and yes, technically I missed posting last month's review but even an Average Joe like me deserves a little R&R in the sun ;) Take care and stay tuned!