Reviews

Best 12-Volt Coolers: Keep Your Food and Drinks Cool in Your Car 

Maximize the freshness and chill of your food and beverages with these 12-volt coolers.

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BY Lisa Conant / LAST UPDATED ON April 13, 2021

We all know the value of having a good cooler: the ability to keep food and drinks fresh and cold when you’re going to a picnic, tailgating party, festival, camping, or on a long road trip is a luxury that gives you a wide array of options for snacks, meals, and drinks outside of your home. Yes, dealing with melting ice and wet bags, bottles, and containers can be annoying, but it’s a necessary evil of using a cooler.

 

However, a 12-volt-powered portable refrigerator can stay in your vehicle to keep food as fresh and as cold as you want it for as long as you need. To blow your mind even more, some 12-volt coolers function to keep food hot as well. The 12-volt cooler is a game-changer for road trippers, outdoor enthusiasts, beachgoers, campers, and more.

 

If you’re in the market for a 12-volt cooler for your car, look no further: our in-depth product review and sensible buying guide will help you navigate all the options on the market today and choose the best one to suit your needs.

Best Overall
ARB Fridge Freezer 50 Quart
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Summary
Summary

This electric car cooler refrigerator features a freezer and is spacious to accommodate 72 average-size cans. It is also energy efficient.

Pros
Pros
  • Features Bluetooth connectivity to regulate the fridge and freezer temperature
  • You can control and operate the cooler manually or by using an app on your smart device
Cons
Cons
  • Can sweat when it's humid
  • A little heavy when fully packed
  • May not accurately display internal temperature
Best Overall
ARB Fridge Freezer 50 Quart
Best Value
Koolatron Voyager
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Summary
Summary

A high-quality electric ice chest for cars that maintains a cool internal temperature, even when disconnected from the power source. It is portable and can hold at least 48 cans of soda.

Pros
Pros
  • Can still work effectively when positioned at any angle, inclined or leveled 
  • Doesn’t vibrate
  • Can warm or cool your food, depending on your preference
Cons
Cons
  • Internal temperature is limited, depending on the outside environment
Best Value
Koolatron Voyager
Honorable Mention
Igloo 28 Quart Iceless Thermoelectric 12 Volt Portable Ice Chest
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Summary
Summary

A compact, energy-efficient, iceless cooler. Made in the USA by a longstanding, well-renowned manufacturer.

Pros
Pros
  • With its swing-bale handle, it is portable and easy to carry
  • Internal temperature can go as low as 36 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the room temperature
  • Can easily fit up to 32 12-ounce cans
Cons
Cons
  • This model doesn’t include an AC adapter for in-home use
  • This unit doesn’t retain its coolness after being unplugged as well as some other models
Honorable Mention
Igloo 28 Quart Iceless Thermoelectric 12 Volt Portable Ice Chest

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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.

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Why Buy a 12-Volt Cooler?

  • Keep your food cool. The main reason people buy a cooler—whether it is a 12-volt cooler or a regular one—is to keep food cold and fresh until they’re ready to consume it. This also helps to cut down on your risk of getting food poisoning.
  • Warm your food. You don’t want to eat cold food? No problem. There are specific 12-volt coolers that not only keep your food cold but also warm it when the need arises. 
  • Take food on the go. In case you want to carry stored food from your car, you can disconnect the portable refrigerator cooler and bring it along with you. Don’t worry about the food spoiling; a battery-powered cooler can be sealed to keep its cool temperature for hours even after unplugging it.
  • Charge phones, tablets, and other devices. There are certain 12-volt coolers that are equipped with USB ports. This could be useful if you want to charge your phone, laptop, or tablet and still keep your snacks or beverages cold at the same time.
  • Save space. If you have limited space in your car, a mini 12-volt cooler can be easily tucked into a tight space. You can even keep it in the legroom area between the front and back seats of your car.

Types of 12-Volt Coolers

Compressor 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.

Top Brands

Dometic

The Dometic brand was first introduced in the United States over 50 years ago in 1968.  Currently, Dometic is a household name among RV drivers due to its experience and expertise in manufacturing electric coolers for camping. Its headquarters is based in Solna, Sweden. One of its most popular products is the Dometic CFX-35US

Coleman

Founded by William Coffin Coleman in Kingfisher, Okla., in 1900, the Coleman company has become one of the most revered and trusted names in outdoor camping and sporting equipment and gear. It offers innovative cooling solutions, like the 40-Quart PowerChill Thermoelectric Cooler.

Wagan

Founded in California’s Silicon Valley more than 35 years ago, the Wagan Tech Company expanded to become one of the leading inventors of automotive electronic accessories, including electric car cooler refrigerators. One of its best-selling products in the United States is the Wagan Electric Car Cooler and Warmer

ARB

Since its inception in 1975, ARB has been dedicated to offering 4WD drivers with a wide range of travel accessories. Its operation base is in Melbourne, Australia, but it exports its products to more than 100 countries. Inspired by the hot climate of Australia, one of its well-renowned car refrigerators is the ARB Fridge Freezer-50 Quart

Koolatron

A subsidiary of Lentek International, Koolatron has been manufacturing thermoelectric coolers, particularly for the USA and Canadian markets, for the past 35 years. Its headquarters is located in Brantford, Canada, but it has other branch offices in New York, Florida and Québec. Its most popular 12-volt cooler is the Koolatron Voyagon Cooler.  

Igloo

Igloo is an American company that has been manufacturing coolers for more than half a century. Although most of its customers know the brand for making ice chests, Igloo recently innovated to manufacturing thermoelectric coolers that don’t require ice to cool your food or drinks. Its most reputable electric cooler is the Igloo Polar Cooler Family

12-Volt Cooler Pricing

  • Under $100: Most 12-volt coolers in this price range are thermoelectric coolers with no capability to freeze your food or set a specific temperature. However, there are a few products under $100 that can keep your food or drinks both cool and warm.
  • $100 to $500: This price range includes the highest-quality thermoelectric coolers and a few portable compressor refrigerators. The coolers in this category are also bigger compared to their less expensive counterparts.
  • $500 to $1,000: You will likely find the best 12-volt compressor refrigerators in this price range. This budget is suitable if you’re searching for a fridge with a lot of room that you can set a precise temperature and keep your food cold for days or even weeks. 

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 portable cooler.

Temperature Adjustment

For those living in places where the climate is cool throughout the year, a portable cooler that reduces the ambient temperature by at least 40 degrees might be an ideal choice. However, if you’re camping or driving out of town/state for a few days or even weeks, a 12-volt refrigerator that freezes your food will do the trick.

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. 

Other Considerations

  • Portability. If you're a camper, sometimes you may want to carry your 12-volt fridge for a hiking trip. A lightweight cooler can be an advantage since it will be easier to move. Other than that, a portable refrigerator cooler can be designed to fit into the flexible spaces in your car.
  • Lid Opening. The setup of the lid opening can determine the accessibility of your cooler. Most car drivers keep the cooler between the front seats, and it would only make sense to have a refrigerator cooler that opens from the top. However, most RV drivers have a 12-volt fridge that opens on the sides with no complaints.
  • Split Compartments. What if you want to separate the frozen food from the chilly drinks? You can’t just mix it all up. A fridge with a dual compartment would be appropriate in such a situation. Also, split compartments can help you with warming your food after cooling.

Best 12-Volt Coolers Reviews & Recommendations 2021

Best Overall
ARB Fridge Freezer – 50 Quart

The ARB Fridge Freezer Series II is available in 50-quart and 37-quart models. This cooler is popular in the off-roading community because it's built to last. It is Bluetooth enabled, so you can adjust or monitor it using your Apple or Android devices as well as ARB LINX. It will alert you, for example, if the lid is left open.

The backlit touchpad is visible at nighttime, or you can display the readings via an app. You can completely control it manually or using a mobile device. The app displays temperature, power input voltage, compressor status, and more. One great thing about this cooler is you can set specific temperatures for specific items, i.e., keeping ice cream cooler than a can of soda. It runs on both 12V and 110V power and can hold up to 72 12-ounce cans.

Unfortunately, it may sweat a little in humid conditions, and it's a little heavy when fully packed. Also, the internal temperature may be a few degrees off of what the display indicates.

Best Value
Koolatron Voyager

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, it can also warm your food to 145-degrees Fahrenheit. 


What's great about this model is 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 AC/DC 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.

Honorable Mention
Igloo 28 Quart Iceless Thermoelectric 12 Volt Portable Ice Chest

Proudly made in the USA, Igloo has been delivering top-quality, reliable coolers for generations. This cooler model is made from rugged and durable 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 charger. As it comes, you can only power it through your car.

Most Versatile
Wagan 12V Personal Cooler/Warmer

When it comes to versatility, 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 2-liter and wine bottles. 


This unit can cool to 32-36 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 9-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.

Honorable Mention
Koolatron 12V Compact Electric Cooler and Warmer

This 18-quart cooler/warmer is slim and compact and a good option for small cars, SUVs, and minivans. 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 135 degrees Fahrenheit.


It's a versatile product that you can plug into standard outlets in your home or hotel as well as your vehicle. It's a nice size, allowing you to put it behind the passenger seat. It is 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.

Honorable Mention
Coleman PowerChill Hot/Cold Portable Thermoelectric Cooler

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 our 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.

Honorable Mention
Dometic CFX28 12v Electric Powered Cooler

This is one of the most powerful coolers on our 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 comes equipped with a 12/24-volt power cord, as well as a 100-240-volt connector.


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 LED interior light that lets you easily see the cooler’s contents in the dark. Wi-Fi connectivity and a USB charging port make this one of the most high-tech coolers on our list, adding even more to its versatility. 


Keep in mind that this cooler is heavy, weighing 28.88 pounds when empty. Its serious size and bulk make it one of our least portable options.

Honorable Mention
Alpicool C40 Portable Refrigerator

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 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.

Tips 

  • Thermoelectric coolers don’t need ice to keep them cold, but you can add a bag of ice to the cooler compartment to make it colder. If the ice melts, it would only add water and make it messy.
  • To reduce a drop in temperature when exposed to heat, make sure you use the extra insulation cover if it is part of the accessories that are sold with the car refrigerator.
  • To avoid a portable cooler odor or stain, you should clean it after using it. If a sidelined fridge is left dirty with food remnants for days, it could start to smell awful and expose you to harmful bacteria.
  • When using a portable cooler that relies on ambient temperature to lower the inside temperature, make sure you have an air-conditioning system in your vehicle. If it gets too hot inside your car, the cooling system will be greatly affected.
  • Instead of putting warm food into the cooler and connecting it to the power source, it would be more efficient to plug in the cooler for a few hours before adding the warm food. That way, it will take less time to cool the warm food.

FAQs

Q: Do all 12-volt coolers have USB ports?

No. 12-volt coolers run the gamut from being just basic, budget-friendly, iceless coolers to being full-on portable refrigerator/freezer combos. The basic ones will not have all the bells and whistles, like USB ports, that some of the more technologically advanced, pricier models have. 

Q: Can a cooler drain the car battery?

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 or not your vehicle is turned on, so be sure to check your user’s manual before plugging in your new 12-volt cooler. 

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

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 cooler for cars is well-insulated to avoid cold air from escaping when it is unplugged.

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

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.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to the best overall 12-volt cooler, it’s tough to beat the ARB Fridge Freezer. While it comes with a high price point, you get a high-end, portable, and state-of-the-art cooler that will last you for years to come. 

If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, check out the Koolatron Voyager, a spacious and efficient cooler that won’t break the bank.