What Are 12V Coolers Used For?
There are two kinds of 12 volt appliances for keeping your food or drinks cold in a car, van, or truck. Coolers and refrigerators.
The biggest difference between them is that coolers are only meant to keep things “cool” and portable refrigerators are meant to keep things “cold.”
If you buy a car cooler expecting it to keep food safe temperatures all the time then you will be disappointed.
Coolers are only meant to keep drinks and food cool and the inner temperatures depend on the outer temperatures.
If you are planning on bringing temperature-sensitive foods on your camping or road trip you may want to consider getting a portable 12 volt refrigerator instead.
What makes electric coolers so great is they don’t require any ice. In fact, using ice in an electric or 12 volt cooler is normally not recommended.
This makes them perfect for tailgates and keeping drinks cool when camping or at parties.
Foods that aren’t sensitive to temperature can be stored in these coolers on road trips and are great for taking frozen food home from the grocery store.
12 volt coolers are much more budget-friendly than 12 volt refrigerators and if a cooler sounds right for you then you are in the right place.
Here are some of the best 12V coolers for cars, vans, or truckers on the market today.
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Best 12 Volt Coolers Reviews & Info
Knox makes one of the best 12 volt electric coolers that also doubles as a food warmer. No more showing up to the party with a cold appitizer, you can keep things up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit as long as it’s plugged into your vehicle.
The cooler itself is 27 quart. The inner compartment is 12.5 inches tall, 12 inches wide, and 8.5 inches deep. That means it’s tall enough to store a 2 liter bottle of soda.
It can get down to 40 degrees when it’s around 70 degrees in the vehicle. That’s about 30 degrees below ambient temperature. If you have food that needs to stay at fridge safe temperatures (40 degrees) don’t let the car get hot.
The Knox 12V cooler cools or warms continuously. If your car is running while it’s plugged in you don’t have to worry about the power being drained. If you turn off your can the cooling feature will draw around 40 watts and the warming feature will draw around 48 watts.
It’s a small number but can drain a car battery and damage it fairly quickly when it’s not being charged. Make sure you don’t leave it plugged into a vehicle that isn’t running for too long.
It comes with a DC cable that is 5.5 feet long that has its own storage compartment in the lid.
The handle doubles as a locking mechanism so you can be sure the lid is on tightly making it as efficient as possible. Make sure the air vent is in an open spot allowing the car cooler to get enough air.
The Knox 12V Electric Cooler and Warmer is a great little car cooler with a slim design to fit easily behind a seat or on the floor in front of one.
You can keep food at fridge safe temperatures if you keep the car at 70 degrees which is perfect for bringing cold food home from the store. It’s great for picnics or keeping drinks cold while camping or tailgating. All-in-all it’s a fantastic 12V cooler that will save you from having to buy ice.
- Built-in cable storage compartment
- Locking Lid
- Warming Feature
- Doesn’t Stay Cool For Very Long Once Turned Off
Coleman is a very common name when it comes to camping gear and they make a great electric cooler as well.
The cooling motor is located on the side of this 12 volt cooler so make sure you place it in an area where there’s space on the side to let it breathe.
A cool thing about the cooling being located on the side is you can store it standing up or on its side.
It’s large for a car cooler measuring 17.25 inches tall, 24 inches long, and 16 inches wide. It’s 40 quarts and can hold up to 44 soda cans.
The size makes it perfect for camping and truckers as well.
It’s large but can still cool 40 degrees colder than the surrounding temperature. This means it can stay at refrigerator safe temperatures even if it’s 80 degrees in the vehicle.
The car cooler runs on DC (12 volt) power and comes with an 8 foot power cord.
For convenience, the lid to the cooler can open from either side.
The Coleman 12V Electric Cooler looks like a traditional cooler and is the size of one.
You can pack a lot of drinks and snacks in it and trust that everything will stay nice and cool. Just make sure the vent has space to get air and it will perform great.
- Cools 40 degrees below the outer temperature
- Runs standing or on its side
- Lid opens from either side
- May Blow Fuse In Low Amp Car Outlet
I’m going to review the 28 quart one since a little more room is nice to have when you are packing food and drinks.
The outer measurements are 17 inches tall, 10.5 inches wide, and 18.5 inches long. The inner measurements are 13.5 inches tall, 9 inches wide, and 15.25 inches long. A 2 liter bottle is 13 inches tall so you can fit bottles of soda in it or up to 32 cans.
It plugs into DC (12 volt) power only and has a 8 foot long power cable.
It can reach temperatures down to 36 degrees lower than the air around it. So you can still be at refrigerator safe temperatures inside the cool up to 76 degrees Fahrenheit outside of the cooler.
Igloo has added some of its signature features like a large carry handle and a curved back for walking with it by your side.
The Igloo Iceless Electric Cooler is simple but it gets the job done.
The motor and vents are in the lid so you can slide it between seats without worrying about blocking the air vents.
It’s portable, easy to store in a cramped space, and can cool efficiently with no ice necessary.
- Vent on lid
- Large carry handle
- 2 size options
- Flimsy Electrical Cord
- 12V Plug Heats Up Over Time
The K-box is a large electric cooler that runs on DC (12 volt) power and AC (household wall outlet) power.
You get one of each power cable each one is 6 feet. This means if you are on long road trips you can bring the cooler into the hotel or place you are staying and keep cooling your drinks and snacks.
It warms food as well as cools. It can reach temperatures that are 40 degrees below the outer air temperature and get up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit for transporting warm meals or snacks.
The cooler is 48 quarts and can hold up to 60 soda cans or 6 two-liter bottles of soda with 15 cans.
There is a removable divider for help with organization and the power cords have their own storage compartment in the lid where the motor and vents are located.
The outside of the cooler is 16 inches tall, 22 inches long, and 15 inches wide. It’s large and can be heavy when loaded down so Koozam added wheels to the back with a folding handle for rolling and two large handles for carrying.
The Koozam K-box Electric Cooler and Warmer is great if you need to pack in a lot of drinks and food and also if you are planning on taking the 12 volt cooler from the car.
It’s easy to transport and can be plugged into a wall outlet as well as a 12 volt one. You don’t even need to use it in your vehicle if you don’t want to. It’s a great electric cooler with a lot of convenient features.
- AC and DC power options
- Motor and air vents on top
- Storage compartment for cables
- Divider for organization
- Wheels for easy transport
- Side Handles Aren’t Very Durable
- Can Get Icy Around The Fans
Wagan’s electric cooler is a fantastic little unit that can cool down to 36 degrees below the ambient temperature and warm up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It plugs into DC (12 Volt) with a 7.5 feet cord.
It’s 25 quarts and can hold up to 27 soda cans or 4 short two liter bottles.
The inner measurements are 11 inches long, 8 inches wide, and 12 inches tall. The outside is 15 inches long, 11 inches wide, and 17 inches tall.
The motor and vents are located in the lid which is removable for easy cleaning.
The lid is also where the cool/off/warm switch is located along with the cable compartment.
The lid has a latch on it for a solid seal to not let out any air and a large carry handle.
While the Wagan Electric Cooler & Warmer is small but has a lot of the features of a larger cooler/warmer.
Its slim size makes it easy to place between or behind seats. For snacks and drinks on a road trip, this will be a great little gadget.
- Cooler & Warmer
- Cable storage compartment
- Vents on lid
- Removable lid
- Must Disconnect Before Turning Off Vehicle
- Flimsy Power Cable
The Kialive electric cooler is one of the most powerful 12V coolers on this list. It is advertised to be able to cool down to 50°F below ambient temperatures, which makes it almost like a portable fridge.
There is a warming feature as well that can keep food warm from 122°F to 158°F.
There are two power options, 12V for a car or truck and 110V AC for home use. Both power cords are built in so you don’t have to worry about them falling out when in use.
Each cord is around 5 feet long. The cables are stored in the lid next to where the cooling motor is located.
The electric cooler motor is in the lid which means you can slide it behind a seat or between boxes without having to worry about blocking the important cooling fans.
The handle can be used to lock the lid which makes the Kialive electric cooler even more efficient.
It has a 27.5 quart capacity. That’s 26L and it can hold up to 33 can or 6 2 liter bottles.
On the outside, it measures 15.75 inches tall, 13.77 inches wide, and 11 inches deep. The inner measurements are 12.9 inches tall, 11.8 inches wide, and 8.66 inches deep.
The motor on the is impressive, not many 12V coolers are advertised to be able to cool 50°F below the outside temperatures.
The locking lid is a fantastic feature because a loose lid letting the cool air out is one of the main issues with both electric coolers and refrigerators.
All-in-all the Kialive is another great little cooler for using in the car on road trips or for truckers who want cold drinks on the road.
- Cooler & Warmer
- Cable storage compartment
- Vents on lid
- Handle Can Lock Lid In Place
- Fans Are Noisy
- Can Only Reach Low Temps If Items Are Already Cold
What To Look For In A 12V Cooler
Most of the 12V coolers in this review have air vents in the lid so you can easily slide it between stuff without restricting airflow.
If you have an electric cooler with the air vents on the side like the Coleman 12V Electric Cooler make sure it has plenty of space on the side with the motor so the cooler doesn’t get damaged.
Your vehicle can get hot very quickly, especially when it’s sitting in the sun. Even if you are only going to be away for a few hours and the cooler is plugged into a power source it may not have the capacity to keep your food the temperature it needs to be.
In most cases a 12V cooler can get around 30-40 degrees below ambient temperature. That means once it gets to 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the vehicle the food in the cooler is sitting at 50 degrees which is an unsafe temperature for sensitive foods.
If you need something that can hold 40 degrees and below even when it’s hot consider getting a portable 12 volt refrigerator instead.
Efficiency & Cooler Size
The larger the electric cooler the less efficient it will be when keeping cold or staying warm.
If you want a 12V cooler that will stay cold for a few hours when unplugged a smaller one is going to be better.
12 volt coolers are simple machines designed to cool your drinks and snacks while you drive. Sometimes you may need to turn off your car and leave the cooler plugged into the battery.
That’s fine for a little while but the cooler can slowly drain your battery and you may be left with a dead one by the time you get back.
Electric coolers run constantly and even just 40 watts being drained constantly will drain a battery fast.
Conclusion & My Recommendations For 12V Coolers
It’s easy to confuse 12V coolers with 12V refrigerators but they really aren’t the same thing at all. 12V coolers will normally only cool to around 30-40° below whatever the temperature inside your car or truck is.
They don’t have a large condenser in them like a refrigerator and they normally aren’t as insulated.
The big upside to 12V coolers over 12V refrigerators is they aren’t nearly as pricy, they don’t use very much power, and they are normally more portable.
They are perfect for keeping snacks and drinks cool on road trips or keeping food cool when transporting it home from the grocery store.
12V coolers aren’t going to be like your refrigerator, but they are a great way to keep food cooler longer without having to use any ice.
Largest 12V Cooler – Koozam K-box Electric Cooler & Warmer
The Koozam electric cooler is the largest on this list. It’s perfect for taking lots of food home from the grocery store or for keeping drinks cold for any outdoor activity.
It might be the largest 12V cooler but it’s still very portable because of the wheels on one side and the long handle on the other.
You can easily cart your cold drinks and snacks around in the Koozam. It also doesn’t have to weigh as much as a traditional cooler of the same size because there is no ice necessary.
Lowest Cooling Capacity –
The cooling capacity is the most important feature when it comes to electric coolers. The cooling capacity is how cold the 12V cooler can get in relation to the outside ambient temperature.
Most 12V coolers are advertised to be able to cool 30-40°F below the temperature of the surrounding air.
The Kialive electric cooler has the best advertised cooling capacity of 50°F below ambient temperatures.
This is in best case scenarios though and to get low temperatures like these it’s better to pre-chill your snacks and drinks and to keep the lid closed as much as possible.
Best Overall – Knox Electric Cooler and Warmer
The Knox is a well built electric car cooler that will not only keep your food cold or warm it will do it for years to come.
It has a slim design that fits well in vehicles and there’s a compartment for the power cables so you don’t have it laying in a messy tangles mess when it isn’t in use.
Speaking of power cables the Knox 12 volt cooler can draw power from DC (12 Volt) and AC (Wall Outlet).
It’s not only convenient but works well with solar setups and generators for camping.
There are a lot of car coolers to choose from but the Knox Electric has impressed me with is design, versatility, and ability to cool and warm.
Frequently Asked Questions About 12V Coolers
How much current does a 12V cooler pull?
12V coolers have small motors on them compared to 12V refrigerators and they don’t need nearly as much power.
An electric cooler normally pulls around 5 amps, that’s around 60 watts an hour. Most car 12V outlets are 10 amps which means most 12V coolers can be plugged into any vehicle’s 12V outlet.
There are a few that can pull a little more power so make sure you read how many amps the cooler is going to take before plugging it in.
How many solar panels needed to power a 12V car cooler?
Most solar panels put out a higher voltage than 12. That means you are going to have to use some sort of power converter or charge controller to be able to power a 12V car cooler with a solar panel.
My suggestion to power a 12V cooler with a solar panel would be to get a portable power station with a regulated 12V outlet like the Jackery 500 (click to view on Amazon).
You want a power station with a regulated 12V outlet otherwise, the cooler may shut off when the battery on the power station starts getting low.
When plugged into a solar panel the Jackery 500 will charge around 65 watts an hour. Since most 12V coolers use around 60 watts an hour it can run the cooler without losing battery power during the day.
The 500 watt battery can also run the car cooler for at least 7 hours when fully charged.
You want to get a solar panel that is at least 80-100 watts. Even though the Jackery can only charge at a rate of 65 watts you want a solar panel that’s capable of bringing in more watts because they aren’t 100% efficient and a larger solar panel will do better when the sun is low in the sky.
The best solar panel to use with the Jackery 500 is the Jackery SolarSaga 100W portable solar panel (click to read the review here). It’s the easiest to use with the Jackery 500 and it’s very lightweight and portable for a 100W solar panel.
What is the best 12V car cooler?
All of the 12V coolers on this list are going to be great options for keeping drinks and snacks cool. The best one for you is going to depend on where you plan on storing your electric cooler in your vehicle and how much you want to be able to pack in it.
The best 12V car coolers are the ones that have a locking lid and thick well insulated sides.
The ones with the motor on the lid are the most convenient because you won’t have to worry about ventilation but the motor does make the lids heavier and harder to open with one hand.
There are a lot of things to think about when choosing the best 12V cooler. I suggest reading through this post to help you find the right one for you.
How does a 12 volt cooler work?
A portable electric cooler uses a thermoelectric plate to create cool or warm air which is then distributed inside the cooler using a small fan.
The great thing about thermoelectric plates is they technically require no moving parts to cool. All they need is a little voltage to create a difference in temperature. They do well in small portable appliances like 12V coolers.
How long does it take for a 12V cooler to chill?
It really depends on the size of the electric cooler and what the temperature of the food you put in it was.
Most 12V cooler companies recommend putting pre-chilled food inside your cooler to help chill faster (around 2 hours).
If you put warm food or drinks inside an electric cooler expect it to take longer to get to lower temperatures.
Have any questions about 12 volt coolers? Leave a comment below.