Have you ever wondered: “What if I use the wrong power plug adapter when traveling?”
This is a legitimate concern. Using the wrong adapter could damage either the device, the adapter itself, or both.
The outcome depends on which aspect they’re incompatible at; voltage, current, or polarity. Then, there’s also the issue of location since not all countries in the world follow the same standard for mains voltage.
Whatever the reason for your worry, we’ll clear that up in this article.
What happens if I use the wrong power adapter? – Possible outcomes
What makes a power adapter the right one for a particular appliance? It’s when their electrical requirements match.
Now, here’s what happens when they don’t:
1. Low voltage
A low voltage condition is when the voltage on the power adapter is lower than that of the gadget. This could still be a problem even when both machines have the same current.
Despite a low voltage, the electronic device will still work. However, it’s bound to malfunction and may even overheat in the long run.
This is because when the device isn’t getting the amount of voltage it needs, the amperage will rise and cause overheating. The damage may not be immediate, but it’s not worth risking motor failure.
This one is the direct opposite of low voltage, wherein the adapter’s voltage is higher than the device’s. You’ll know that this is the case because the electronic device will run hotter than it should.
Overvoltage can cause some gadgets to automatically shut down if they have this safety feature installed. If not, it’ll destroy the main circuit board.
In severe cases, it can even start a fire. That said, overvoltage is more dangerous than a low-voltage situation.
3. Low current
When the current on the adapter is lower than that of the device, the device’s motor will work harder, trying to draw more from the adapter. This may lead to overheating and eventual motor failure.
The gadget will still run, but the voltage on the adapter may dip and complicate to a low voltage. You’ll easily notice this when you plug in your device, but it refuses to charge, even when the indicator lights up.
It means that the adapter is trying to do its job but can’t keep up with the device’s demand for current.
4. High current
Sometimes, the current on the adapter could be higher than the device.
If this is the case, the gadget will only take as much as it needs, which means less work for the adapter. You aren’t likely to find a problem with situations like this, so this will be the safest out of the five possibilities.
5. Incorrect polarity
This happens when the outlet’s polarity is in reverse. In other words, the neutral and hot wires aren’t connected to their respective polarities.
The wrong adapter in this kind of scenario would be a modified two or three-prong plug. Some outlets and plugs are designed in a way so that you always connect the polarity the right way.
In some cases, however, people remove the earth pin, also known as the ground pin, to fit into a two-prong outlet. Without this pin, there’s a chance that you’ll plug it in reverse.
The worst-case scenario for reverse polarity is a fire. Other times, if the device doesn’t have polarity protection, it could acquire heavy damage.
A polarity-protected device could obtain as much as a burnt fuse, which can be replaced. If this is the case, you’ll likely hear a pop followed by smoke.
Also, unstable electricity needs an emergency path in case of a short circuit. That’s what the ground pin on a three-prong plug is for, so removing it is simply a bad idea.
Countries and their voltages
Even if your device and adapter are a perfect match, it could still be a problem when you’re traveling across countries with them. This is because single-phase voltage standards vary by region.
Why are there varying voltages? – Where it all started
Why can’t all countries agree on a single voltage standard and make everyone’s lives easier? Well, the authorities tried but failed.
The dispute goes all the way back to the Edison-Tesla feud.
When Thomas Alva Edison, an American businessman, invented the lightbulb, he wanted it to illuminate the entire New York City. He planned to set up the bulbs on metal poles attached to wires.
Direct current (DC) would then travel through the network of wires and metal poles at 110 volts to energize the bulbs. The experts didn’t find it to be feasible, though, considering the energy loss over long distances.
So, Nikola Tesla, a physicist and engineer, presented the alternating current (AC), which supposedly succeeded where the DC failed. However, AC transmission works at 240 V, prompting the onset of the 110-220-volt clash that prevails to this day.
Although the authorities found the AC to be more effective, some were hesitant to accept it as a standard. This is because Edison managed to convince some people that 240 V wasn’t safe for households.
In the end, the country adopted Edison’s 110-V system. Europe, on the other hand, was more impressed by Tesla’s idea and used 240 V as their standard.
Europe’s colonies in Asia and Africa followed their voltage standards as well.
In 1934, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) proposed the standardization of voltages and sockets across the world. Sadly, some nations rejected the idea until IEC dropped it entirely at the eruption of World War II.
What are the voltages used by continent?
Here’s an overview of the voltage standards used all over the world. This should come in handy when you’re traveling with your gadgets.
The whole of North America, namely the United States, Canada, and Mexico, uses 110-120 V.
In the central region, most countries follow the same standards. A few exceptions include Jamaica, Netherlands Antilles (the French side of Saint Martin), and Curacao.
South America is almost evenly divided. Bolivia uses 110 V, while the following countries use 220-230 V:
- French Guiana
Meanwhile, these countries use a mix of 110-220 V:
The entire European continent is impressively consistent with their voltage mains at 220-240 V. That includes the United Kingdom as well.
Most of Asia uses 220-240 V with a few exceptions. India’s voltage mains, for example, is a bit higher at 230-250V.
On the flip side, these countries decided not to choose sides, so their voltage mains range between 110-230 V:
- South Korea
After centuries of using a mains supply ranging between 110-230 V, Saudi Arabia has recently standardized their supply voltage to 230 V.
Most of Africa’s mains supply is at 220-240 V. Some places, however, use 110-220 V, including:
In all of Africa, only Senegal uses the 110 V standard.
Australia, Fiji Islands, New Zealand, Solomon Islands, and Tonga unanimously operate at 230-240 V.
Safety tips before using a power adapter
Here’s how to ensure you’re using the correct power adapter.
1. Find the safety mark
Let’s say you’ve found the adapter that’s compatible with the country’s mains supply as well as the device’s current and voltage requirements. However, that doesn’t automatically make it the right one.
Make sure that it has a safety seal or an indication that it passed all the necessary tests. Otherwise, you may be exposing yourself to hazards such as short circuits, electrocution, or fires.
On top of that, see to it that the adapter carries a warranty. At the very least, it should have a code that would trace back to the supplier or manufacturer.
These details could come in handy if you ever find a defect that could lead to the hazards above.
For good measure, buy only from official stores and authorized distributors.
2. Check the label on the adapter
If you’re using the adaptor that came with the gadget, this shouldn’t be an issue. However, if you’re using a replacement, make sure that you go through the product label.
We’re talking about the part where you’ll find the serial number and other hardware specifications. Ensure that the voltage and current requirements of your gadget and the adapter are compatible.
3. Never make modifications on your power adapter
When you’re carrying an adapter with a three-prong plug, never cut off the ground pin just to fit it into a two-prong socket.
Your best course of action in a situation like this is to use a charger converter or plug adapters.
When you use an incompatible power adapter, more often than not, the outcome could be pretty risky. It’s not only bad for the electronics but for the user, too.
Therefore, instead of asking, “What happens if I use the wrong power adapter?” it’s better to ask what safety measures to take to ensure that you’re using the right one.
In addition to that, check the labels on electronic devices first before plugging anything. After all, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
I’m a writer and videographer living abroad with my family. I enjoy learning language, understanding new cultures, experiencing places less-traveled and helping others to do the same.