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Best 12-Volt Coolers: Like a Mini Fridge for Your Vehicle

Up your tailgating and camping game and make your buddies jealous with these high-tech 12-volt coolers for your car or RV.

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BYLisa Conant/ LAST UPDATED ON July 15, 2022

For the frequent camper, tailgater, or even picnicker, the ever-present Tetris challenge of organizing your cold food amidst wet, messy, and melting bags of ice gets old fast. Traditional coolers are a great option for short-term trips and excursions, but if you’re planning a multi-day camping trip, hike, road trip, or looking to add more chilled food storage to your RV, a 12-volt cooler can be a game-changer.


These high-tech coolers eliminate the reliance on ice and can greatly extend the length of time you can safely store cold food and drinks on board. From slim, affordable options for carrying cans to larger, more permanent fridge/freezer/ice maker combos, there’s something to suit every need. I’ve done the heavy lifting for you and chosen some top picks to make your selection easier. There’s also an informative buying guide to answer all your burning questions.

Best Overall

Dometic CFX3 35-Liter Portable Refrigerator and Freezer

Summary
This powerful cooler can reach a temperature of -7 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing it to be used not only as a refrigerator but as a freezer as well.
Pros
  • Can function as a refrigerator or freezer, or both
  • Multiple power options
  • Can be controlled via the handy app
Cons
  • Hefty price tag
  • Heavy and bulky, not very portable
Best Value

Wagan 12V Personal Cooler/Warmer

Summary
This affordable choice can not only chill your food and beverages but also warm them as well, giving you practically unlimited options for food on the go.
Pros
  • Affordable
  • Can chill or warm food 
  • Large enough to hold a two-liter wine bottle
Cons
  • AC adapter has to be purchased separately
  • Somewhat bulky and cumbersome in size
Honorable Mention

Coleman PowerChill Hot/Cold Portable Thermoelectric Cooler

Summary
Designed to look more like a mini-fridge, this 40-quart thermoelectric cooler can cool your food up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit below the surrounding room temperature. As a bonus, it can also keep your food warm.
Pros
  • Can warm or chill food
  • Can stand upright or lay on its side
  • Door can open from left or right
Cons
  • Fan and compressor could be more durable
  • Takes up a lot of space in a car or truck
Best 12-Volt Coolers: Like a Mini Fridge for Your Vehicle

Summary List 

Why Trust Us

Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

Learn more

Our Methodology

When it comes to choosing the best 12-volt coolers available, I wanted to provide you with a well-rounded list that features a solid variety of reputable manufacturers with a history of providing high-quality, long-lasting products. I wanted to include a wide range of price points to suit any budget and cooler sizes to suit any needs. Lastly, I wanted to include only those coolers that are constructed using the latest technological advancements and innovative materials for maximal function. For more info on our selection criteria, go to The Drive’s Gear About page, which explains our methodology further.

Best 12-Volt Cooler Reviews & Recommendations

Specs

  • Brand: Dometic
  • Capacity: 35 liters
  • Weight: 37 pounds

Pros

  • Can function as a refrigerator or freezer, or both
  • Multiple power options
  • Can be controlled via the handy app

Cons

  • Hefty price tag
  • Heavy and bulky, not very portable

The Dometic CFX3 35-Liter Portable Refrigerator is one of the most powerful coolers on the list, reaching a temperature of -7 degrees Fahrenheit. This allows it to be used not only as a refrigerator but as a freezer as well, giving you great long-term cooling options. With two separate compartments, you can also use it as a fridge and a freezer simultaneously. It can be powered by AC, DC, or solar, making it also one of the most versatile coolers on the list. This unit features handy removable wire baskets so that you can organize and store heavy or delicate items accordingly.

It also comes with a bright color display and soft-touch buttons for easy operation. W-iFi and Bluetooth connectivity let you control the temperature of the unit via the handy app, making this one of the most high-tech coolers on the market, adding even more to its versatility. Keep in mind that this cooler is heavy, weighing a whopping 37 pounds when empty. Its serious size and bulk make it one of the least portable options. It also comes with a pretty hefty price tag.

Specs

  • Brand: Wagan
  • Capacity: 14 liters
  • Weight: 10.25 pounds

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Can chill or warm food
  • Large enough to hold a two-liter wine bottle

Cons

  • AC adapter has to be purchased separately
  • Somewhat bulky and cumbersome in size

When it comes to affordability, the Wagan 12V Personal Cooler/Warmer offers just what you need at a refreshingly low price. It can not only chill your food and beverages but also warm them as well, giving you practically unlimited options for food on the go. It features a 14-liter capacity that can hold up to 12 soda cans, standard-sized water bottles, and even two-liter and wine bottles. This unit can cool to 32 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit below room temperature, and it can heat food to a maximum warming temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

To use it, all you do is plug the unit into your vehicle’s 12-volt power outlet and slide the temperature control switch to your desired temp. It comes with a nine-foot DC power cord that easily extends into your car’s backseat and a built-in shoulder strap for easy transportation. It has an optional AC adapter that allows you to use it in your home or office, but that has to be purchased separately, unfortunately. This model is also less streamlined and slim than some others on the market, and the top lid is a bit bulky and cumbersome.

Specs

  • Brand: Coleman
  • Capacity: 40 quarts
  • Weight: 18 pounds

Pros

  • Can warm or chill food
  • Can stand upright or lay on its side
  • Door can open from left or right

Cons

  • Fan and compressor could be more durable
  • Takes up a lot of space in a car or truck

Designed to look more like a mini-fridge, this 40-quart thermoelectric cooler can cool your food up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit below the surrounding room temperature. As a bonus, it can also keep your food warm. It features a versatile door that can open from either the left or the right side, just like a refrigerator, giving you plenty of options for placing it in an inconspicuous and out-of-the-way area. You can also stand it upright or lay it down for even more storage options.

The cooler reaches maximum coldness in approximately three hours, making it one of the more efficient options on the list. It can hold up to 44 12-ounce cans and comes with a handy divider shelf to store more delicate items separately. One issue with this cooler is that it is relatively bulky compared to some other options and takes up quite a bit more space in your vehicle. Also, be sure not to block the fan and compressor, as this can lead to permanent malfunction and decreased cooling capacity.

Specs

  • Brand: Dometic
  • Capacity: 46 liters
  • Weight: 47 pounds

Pros

  • Extra large capacity
  • Powered by AC/DC/solar
  • Can make ice

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Heavy and not space saving

If you’re looking for the most luxurious cooling option on the market, Dometic returns to the list, and the CFX3 55-Liter Portable Refrigerator, Freezer, and Ice Maker is the cream of the crop. As the name implies, you not only get refrigerator/freezer capabilities, but (gasp!) an ice maker, too. The compressor on this unit is rugged and powerful enough to cool your food to as low as -7 degrees Fahrenheit. The heavy-duty ExoFrame construction and aluminum alloy handles ensure that this cooler will hold up against some serious wear and tear.

This unit comes equipped with a weatherproof, high-resolution, color display interface and soft-touch buttons that allow for easy control and monitoring. The CFX3 app lets you control the cooler via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connectivity for added versatility. Being such a powerful unit, you might expect this cooler to be an energy hog, but it uses only about 1Ah per hour of use, making it extremely efficient. The drawbacks? The sphincter-tightening price tag and its overall heavy weight and bulky size.

Specs

  • Brand: Koolatron
  • Capacity: 27.5 liters
  • Weight: 11 pounds

Pros

  • Can hold up to 48 cans
  • Functions as a cooler or warmer
  • Can be used horizontally or vertically

Cons

  • Doesn’t get as cold as some other models
  • Doesn’t include dividers to keep food separated

The Koolatron Voyager is a mid-sized thermoelectric portable cooler with storage space to hold at least 48 cans. It doesn’t just cool your food to 40 degrees lower than the ambient temperature, but it can also warm your food to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. To add the cherry on top, you can still use it whether you place it horizontally or vertically. The fan motor is the only moving part in this unit, which is good since it doesn’t have many moving parts that are likely to break down.

In contrast to a typical compressor refrigerator, this product doesn’t jolt or vibrate. Furthermore, it is a low-voltage cooler with a dual-zone DC/AC power source, which is helpful when you want to charge it outside your car. The biggest downside of the Koolatron Voyager is that it doesn’t keep snacks or drinks too cold compared to a compressor refrigerator which can preserve your frozen food. Despite this shortcoming, it is a solid portable cooler for families who are constantly on the road and want to keep their food chilled for a few days.

Specs

  • Brand: Igloo
  • Capacity: 24 liters
  • Weight: 12.5 pounds

Pros

  • Strong carrying handle for portability
  • Lightweight
  • Quiet, compressor-free operation

Cons

  • 12-volt plug could be more durable
  • Doesn’t include a DC power cord

Proudly made in the USA, Igloo has been delivering top-quality, reliable coolers for generations. This cooler model is made from rugged and durable, yet lightweight PU plastic with a waterproof and rust-proof polypropylene liner. It features a swing-up bale handle for easy carrying and transportation. It also comes equipped with two molded side handles for two-handed lifting and carrying. With its 28-quart capacity, it can hold up to 32 12-ounce cans.

This unit also comes with an 8-inch long power cord that plugs directly into your vehicle’s 12-volt power receptacle for ice-free cooling. With no need for ice, this cooler maximizes your usable food storage space. It’s able to cool contents to 36 degrees Fahrenheit. One thing that would make this cooler even more versatile would be if it came with a DC power cord as well as the included 12-volt. As it comes, you can only power it through your car.

Specs

  • Brand: Koolatron
  • Capacity: 17 liters
  • Weight: 9.6 pounds

Pros

  • Slim, space-saving design
  • Ultra lightweight
  • Can function as a cooler or a warmer

Cons

  • Smaller capacity than many other models
  • Fan could be more durable and reliable

This 18-quart cooler/warmer is slim and compact and a good option for small cars, SUVs, and minivans. It’s able to fit up to 23 standard soda cans. It features a folding handle and uses 12 volts to cool down or warm up beverages and meals. It cools up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and heats up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It's a versatile product that you can plug into standard outlets in your home or hotel as well as your vehicle. Note that you will need to purchase the AC adapter separately, however.

Thanks to its slim profile, you can put it behind the passenger seat or even in between two captains chairs in some vehicles. It’s very easy to open even if you're driving. It's also very lightweight and easy to carry. Overall, it's more than adequate to provide a few years of service as long as you take care of it. However, there have been some complaints that the fan stopped working after a few months of use. Also, if you turn it off for a while you may lose the coolness, and it takes a while to cool down again.

Specs

  • Brand: Alpicool
  • Capacity: 40 liters
  • Weight: 35.1 pounds

Pros

  • Can function as a refrigerator or freezer
  • Offers customizable cooling settings
  • Gets cold quickly

Cons

  • Noisier than some models
  • Consumes more energy than some other options

This cooler offers a 42-quart capacity, which is room enough to fit up to 54 12-ounce cans without the need for ice. It is equipped with intelligent cooling technology that can go from 77 degrees Fahrenheit down to 32 degrees in as little as 30 minutes. It also features adjustable ECO and MAX cooling modes for customizable energy consumption and cooling time. This unit can also reach temperatures as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit, making it an excellent fridge or freezer option. You can also run it with a small solar-powered bank if you want.

It features premium quality construction with a stainless steel case, rubberized footpads, a rugged drain plug for easy draining, and heavy-duty handles for easy transportation. One thing to note is that this unit has a more considerable battery drain than many others, so be mindful of not killing your car’s battery when you’re using it. It’s also quite heavy when fully loaded and is much less portable than some other options.

Our Verdict on 12-Volt Coolers

If you want a reliable, well-designed, versatile 12-volt cooler that offers plenty of space and lots of cooling options, my top pick has to be the Dometic CFX3 35-Liter Portable Refrigerator and Freezer. It’s one of the most powerful coolers on the list, reaching a temperature of -7 degrees Fahrenheit, which allows it to function as a refrigerator, freezer, or both.

For a rugged and dependable option that won’t break the bank, check out the Wagan 12V Personal Cooler/Warmer. It features a 14-liter capacity that can hold up to 12 soda cans, standard-sized water bottles, and even two-liter and wine bottles.

What to Consider When Buying a 12-Volt Cooler

Choosing a 12-volt cooler might seem simple at first glance, but you have so many options when it comes to cooling capacity, cooler size, durability, weight, etc. There are several key factors to consider to ensure you’re getting the best 12-volt cooler to suit your needs and preferences. 

Types of 12-Volt Coolers

Compressor Cooler/Refrigerator 

The design of a 12-volt compressor refrigerator is similar to a typical home refrigerator. The mechanism behind it relies on compressing a cooling agent or a fluid refrigerant to regulate the temperature, making it flexible to be used as either a fridge or a freezer. Unlike other types of 12-volt coolers, compressor refrigerators can still function smoothly when inclined or leveled.

Thermoelectric Coolers

A little bit old-fashioned, a thermoelectric cooler doesn’t have the capability to freeze your food or make ice. Nevertheless, a thermoelectric cooler can reduce the internal temperature to 40 degrees Fahrenheit below the ambient temperature. If you’re going for a short trip or you live in a place with a cool climate, a thermoelectric cooler would be ideal for your situation. Mind you, a thermoelectric cooler can’t keep your food cold when the ambient temperature is above 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Absorption Refrigerators

Mostly found in RVs, absorption refrigerators run on three different power sources: 12V DC, propane, and 110 AV. In contrast to thermoelectric and compressor coolers, it uses a lot of power to function, and it can easily drain your battery. Just like a thermoelectric cooler, it is dependent on the outside environment, but it can only go down to 30 degrees below the ambient temperature.

12-Volt Cooler Key Features

Storage Capacity

Before you buy a 12-volt cooler, ask yourself: how many people will be using the cooler in your car? If it is just you, a small unit could be satisfactory. However, if you want a cooler to use with your family, or you’re a trucker who is usually on the road for weeks, you will need a larger heavy-duty 12-volt cooler.

Energy Efficiency

Since you will be dealing with a cooler that plugs in, energy efficiency should be a priority. A solar-compatible and battery-powered cooler is expensive, but in the long run, it can save you a lot of money. Additionally, the less energy a product uses without compromising the quality, the better it is.

Insulation

A well-insulated cooling system shouldn’t drop the inside temperature too fast when it is opened and closed. A slight drop in temperature is expected, but anything drastic is a red flag that there is an issue with the insulation. Otherwise, a tightly-sealed cooler should keep the same internal temperature when it is exposed directly to the sun. 

Portability

Most 12-volt coolers are designed to be easily portable, going from your camper to a tailgating party, picnic, the beach, etc. If this is the case, be sure to get an option that features a heavy-duty carrying handle, optional wheels for easy towing, and lightweight construction. However, if your primary purpose in purchasing a 12-volt cooler is to add cold storage capacity to your camper or RV, maybe you need something less portable with a larger internal compartment and customizable temperature options. 

12-Volt Cooler Pricing 

You can pick up a decently sized, portable, and reliable 12-volt cooler for less than $100. These are typically the traditional thermoelectric coolers that offer straightforward cooling or warming function with few bells and whistles. For between $100 and $500, you can purchase a very high-end, large-capacity thermoelectric cooler or a portable compressor-operated refrigerator/freezer option. If you’re looking for a large capacity refrigerator/freezer 12-volt cooler that offers plenty of customizable features and high-tech design, expect to spend between $550 and $1,200. 

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: Can a 12-volt cooler drain the car battery?

A: Generally, a 12-volt cooler will not have the capacity to drain your car battery while your car is running. However, many models will continue to draw power, whether your vehicle is turned on or not, so be sure to check your user’s manual before leaving your 12-volt cooler plugged into your car with the ignition off. 

Q: How long will a 12-volt cooler keep food cold when disconnected? 

A: As long as the cooler is properly sealed and the lid isn’t opened, it should keep your food cold for hours. The best travel coolers for cars are well-insulated to avoid cold air from escaping when it is unplugged.

Q: How effective are 12-volt coolers for warming food or drinks?

A: A 12-volt cooler can’t heat up your food like a microwave or fully cook it like an electric cooker. The heating option is only available to provide a modest level of warmth to make it comfortable to eat your food or drink your beverage.

Q: How much power does a 12-volt cooler use?

A: Depending on your 12-volt cooler’s size, insulation thickness, compressor style, ambient temperature, and chosen cooling temperature, most 12-volt coolers will use one to six amps per hour when running. 

Q: How long does it take for a 12-volt cooler to get cold?

A: Depending on the size and cooling capacity of your 12-volt cooler, you can expect it to be cold enough to safely store food anywhere from four to 12 hours after initially turning it on.

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