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Best Car Coolers: Easily Access Chilled Beverages and Snacks On the Go

Designed especially for traveling, these coolers prevent you from getting hangry.

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BYNoelle Talmon/ LAST UPDATED ON July 19, 2022

Whether you drive a truck for a living, are off on a cross-country off-road adventure, or are just planning a road trip with family and friends, a car cooler is a great piece of equipment to have on hand. Coolers are designed to fit a variety of snacks and beverages, eliminating the need to stop for pricey or unhealthy meals. Many of these coolers use a 12V DC adaptor (cigarette lighter) to keep items cool, but some also use ice or ice packs, depending on your preference. They also have different features that make them more desirable than regular camping coolers. This guide covers the top car coolers available to make your trip more enjoyable.

Best Overall

Igloo Thermoelectric Iceless Electric Plug-in 12V Cooler

Summary
This thermoelectric cooler measures 18-1/4 by 12-3/4 by 17-1/4 inches and uses a 12V DC adapter to operate.It has a 28-quart capacity.
Pros
  • Durably built
  • Not too loud
  • Includes a handle for portability
  • Relatively lightweight
Cons
  • Items should be pre-chilled 
  • Lid doesn’t stay open
Best Value

Coleman 40 Quart Portable Thermoelectric Cooler

Summary
This 40-quart cooler uses a 12V DC adapter to operate and measures 24 by 16 by 17.5 inches.
Pros
  • Less expensive than many options
  • Unit can be used vertically or horizontally
Cons
  • No carrying handle
  • Items should be pre-chilled
Honorable Mention

YETI Roadie 24 Cooler

Summary
This rotomolded cooler measures 16-1/2 by 14-1/2 by 17-1/2 inches. It weighs 12.8 pounds empty and can hold 24 soda cans. It cools items using ice.
Pros
  • Easy, one-handed access
  • Heavy-duty handle
  • Just the right size
  • Well-known, popular brand
Cons
  • Pricey
  • Doesn’t include a drain for ice melt
Best Car Coolers: Easily Access Chilled Beverages and Snacks On the Go

Summary List 

Premium Pick: YETI Roadie 24 Cooler

Best for the Front Seat: Dometic Tropicool

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.

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Our Methodology

I took several factors into consideration when choosing the best car coolers. First, I made sure the units were designed specifically for use in cars, trucks, SUVs, etc., so they perform properly in a moving vehicle and function efficiently during road trips. I focused on products from companies that are well known in the industry and avoided off-brand coolers with little in terms of reputation. I chose coolers that work either using thermoelectric power or old-fashioned ice packs, so there's an option for those who prefer non-electric methods. I was unable to test each of these products, so I researched user feedback to see how they perform in real-world conditions. I also included items with a range of prices to suit a variety of budgets. For more information on our methodology, go here.

Best Car Coolers Reviews & Recommendations

Specs

  • Brand: Igloo
  • Size: 28 quart
  • Power: 12V DC

Pros

  • No ice required
  • Relatively lightweight
  • Durably built
  • Handle for portability

Cons

  • Struggles to cool down warm food
  • Lid is heavy and doesn’t stay open

We like the Igloo Thermoelectric Iceless Electric Plug-in 12V Cooler because no ice is required, and it operates continuously while your vehicle is running, keeping your food cold during long road trips. The size (18 1/4 by 12 3/4 by 17 1/4 inches) allows you to put it on the floor in the passenger or backseat areas of your vehicle. It's durably built and isn't very loud. It includes a power cord that inserts into your vehicle's DC receptacle and features a handle, so you can easily take it with you when you reach your destination. The cooler uses convection cooling and a fan to circulate air. It's relatively lightweight even when filled to capacity, and it’s not as expensive as some rival cooler options. One downside is that it doesn't do a good job of cooling warm beverages; it's best to fill it with cold soda or items that are already cool. Also, the lid is heavy and doesn't stay open.

Specs

  • Brand: Coleman
  • Size: 40 quart
  • Power: 12V DC

Pros

  • 40 quart capacity
  • Can be used vertically or horizontally
  • Door can be opened from left or right

Cons

  • No carrying handle
  • Can get heavy when fully loaded

One of the least expensive car coolers on our list is the Coleman 40 Quart Portable Thermoelectric Cooler. We like this option because you can use it in a stand-up/vertical position like a refrigerator or lay it down like an ice chest. The door can be opened from either the left or ride side, it measures 24 by 16 by 17.5 inches, and it has the ability to hold 44 cans. It includes a 12V DC adapter, and you can purchase a 120V AC adapter separately for a wall outlet. Like other thermoelectric coolers on this list, it's best to put contents that are already cool into the unit for optimum efficiency. It's designed to keep contents 40 degrees colder than the outside temperature. One problem with this cooler is that it doesn't include a carrying handle, and it can get a little heavy when it's fully loaded, making it potentially awkward to transport from your vehicle to a hotel room, for example.

Specs

  • Brand: Yeti
  • Size: Two liters
  • Power: Ice

Pros

  • Heavy-duty, rotomolded construction
  • Fits in passenger seat or behind driver’s seat
  • Holds ice for several days
  • Easy, one-handed access

Cons

  • Expensive
  • No drain for ice melt

Yeti is synonymous with high-quality outdoor gear. The toughly made, rotomolded YETI Roadie 24 Cooler is an upgrade over the brand's Roadie 20 model with 10 percent less weight, 20 percent more capacity, and 30 percent improved thermal performance. It sits well in either the passenger seat or behind the driver's seat and is tall enough to fit a two-liter soda bottle or a bottle of wine. Weighing 12.8 pounds when empty and measuring 16 1/2 by 14 1/2 by 17 1/2 inches, the Roadie 24 holds 24 cans and has a 2-to-1 ice-to-can ratio. The cooler can accommodate ice for several days and features a quick latch for easy, one-handed access. The hinge is designed not to snap or break. It also includes a heavy-duty handle that feels comfortable in your hands. Available in numerous colors, the Roadie 24 is great for road trips and isn't too big or too small. However, it's pricier than the competition. Also, it doesn't have a drain for when the ice melts, and it can be cumbersome to empty melted water.

Specs

  • Brand: RTIC
  • Size: Holds 20-40 cans, depending on model
  • Power: Ice

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Keeps contents cool for 24 hours
  • Leak-free zipper
  • Floats

Cons

  • Zipper can be a hassle to open

If soft coolers are more your jam, check out this option from RTIC. Depending on the model, it can hold between 20 and 40 cans as well as ice, which makes it a great pick for a weekend trip. One of the best features about this nylon shell cooler is that it's lighter weight compared to its hard-shell counterparts. Contents stay cool for up to 24 hours due to the closed-cell foam liner that is both puncture- and tear-resistant. The cooler features a leak-free zipper, and it floats, making it a versatile pick that you can take from your car to a boat or campground. Unfortunately, the zipper can be a hassle to open and close, and you have to fully unzip it in order to properly access the contents.

Specs

  • Brand: Dometic
  • Size: 15 liters
  • Power: 12V DC

Pros

  • Easy access
  • Can be used as an armrest
  • Won’t tilt during a sudden stop
  • Quiet operation

Cons

  • Works most efficiently when items are pre-chilled
  • AC adapter not included

If you want easy access to your cold drinks and snacks while on a road trip, the thermoelectric Dometic Tropicool should do the trick. Designed specifically for use in vehicles, you can keep it in place in the front passenger seat by securing it with a safety belt. If you place it in the middle of the back seat, it acts as an armrest. Also, it's designed not to tilt should the driver stop suddenly. It has a 15-liter capacity, accommodates 1.5 and 2-liter bottles, and keeps items cool even when it is unplugged from its 12V DC adapter. The unit cools up to 20 degrees below the ambient temperature and also has a heating function. and has a 15-liter capacity. It operates fairly quietly. Like other thermoelectric units, it's more efficient to place pre-chilled items into the cooler because it can take a while to cool room-temperature drinks. Also, it does not come with an AC adapter for in-home use.

Specs

  • Brand: Wagan Tech
  • Size: Six quarts
  • Power: 12V DC adapter

Pros

  • Easy to carry
  • Eco-friendly
  • Warms and cools
  • Small footprint

Cons

  • Smaller than some rival options
  • Temperature can’t be adjusted

If you're in need of a unit that both cools and warms your snack and beverages, check out this thermoelectric pick from Wagan Tech. This six-quart option is great for tailgating, sporting events, and other activities. It's compact enough to easily fit into your car or truck without taking up a lot of space. It cools up to 36 degrees below ambient temperature and warms up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The cooler has a carrying strap for portability and works with your vehicle's 12V DC power. Since it doesn't contain any CFCs or refrigerants, it's better for the environment. The unit measures 15 by 11 by 8 inches. You must purchase an AC adapter separately if you plan on using this cooler in your home, and you cannot adjust the temperature.

Specs

  • Brand: AstroAl
  • Size: 24 liters
  • Power: 12V DC adapter

Pros

  • Accommodates two-liter bottles
  • Fits in several areas of a vehicle
  • Stays firmly closed even on bumpy roads

Cons

  • Can overheat if used improperly
  • Can drain vehicle’s battery if left plugged in

The AstroAI Portable Electric Car Refrigerator has a 24-liter capacity to hold up to 30 cans and operates using your vehicle's 12-volt socket. It can accommodate two-liter soda and wine bottles and is sized to fit in several areas of your car or truck (12.8 by 8.8 by 13.1 inches). It cools up to 32 degrees below the ambient temperature and can also retain ice for 24 hours. The unit is designed to stay tightly closed, so if it falls over on a bumpy road, it should stay firmly sealed. One downside is that it may overheat if you block the air outlet. Also, it can drain your vehicle's battery if you leave it plugged in when the vehicle is off.

Specs

  • Brand: Koolatron
  • Size: 24 liters
  • Power: 12V DC adapter

Pros

  • Built-in compartment to store the cord
  • Removable divider
  • Interior is stain-resistant
  • Advanced insulation to keep items cool

Cons

  • Won’t accommodate two-liter bottles
  • Performs best when contents are pre-chilled

Made from a Canadian company that has been in business in North America for three decades, the Fun Kool Thermoelectric Iceless 12V Personal Cooler has a 26-quart capacity and can hold 31 soda cans. Simply plug it into your vehicle's 12V adaptor, and it will cool the contents to 36 degrees below the surrounding temperature. An AC adaptor for home use is sold separately, and there's a built-in storage compartment to hold the cord. The cooler features a carrying handle for portability and to lock the lid closed. It also includes a removable divider, so you can organize your drinks and snacks to your specifications. The cooler has advanced insulation, an injection-molded exterior for durability, and a stain-resistant interior. One downside is that it's not tall enough to accommodate two-liter bottles. It also works best when food and drinks are already pre-chilled.

Our Verdict

My pick for the best car cooler is the Igloo Thermoelectric Iceless Electric Plug-in 12V Cooler. It's a little less expensive than more premium options and includes a handle. which makes it easier to transport.  It is solidly built and can easily be placed on the floor on the passenger side or backseat. For a more budget-friendly option, consider the Coleman 40 Quart Portable Thermoelectric Cooler.

Things to Consider Before Buying Car Coolers

Thermoelectric vs. Ice

Thermoelectric coolers use a power source such as a 12V DC adapter, or cigarette lighter, to run. They do not do a great job of cooling down warm items, such as room-temperature soda cans. It’s best to pre-chill the cooler in advance, i.e., by using an AC wall adapter and pre-chill the contents before embarking on a road trip. Also, they generally cool items a certain number of degrees below ambient temperature, so if you store it in a trunk that’s 100 degrees, it will only cool items roughly 36 to 40 degrees cooler than that. These coolers have the potential to drain your battery if you leave them plugged in when the vehicle is off. 

Car coolers that use ice are another option. The best ones have excellent insulation and ice retention that allows you to keep contents cool for several days. However, ice eventually melts and needs to be replaced, and it can be a little messy.

Size

Car coolers come in a range of sizes, which are measured in liters, quarts, or the number of soda cans they can accommodate. Some even fit two-liter bottles and wine bottles, so check the dimensions before making a purchase. Also, check the weight of the item and whether or not it includes a handle because that can affect its portability. This is important if you want to easily transport the unit between your vehicle and your home, job, campsite, etc.

Car Cooler Pricing 

You will be hard pressed to find a high-quality car cooler under $100. These units can cost upwards of $250 or more, depending on their size, construction, and brand name. The good news is that coolers on the lower end of this spectrum are efficient and reliable. Premium-priced options don't necessarily outperform their less-expensive counterparts. Either way, you're going to make an investment, so it's best to choose a product that includes all the features you want for your next road trip. 

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: How big of a cooler do I need for a road trip?

A: That depends on how long the trip is. Smaller 20- or 30-quart coolers are adequate for a weekend getaway, but if you plan on traveling for a week, opt for a larger option.

Q: Are soft or hard coolers better?

A: The benefit of a hard cooler is that it's more durable than a soft one. If you're leaving the cooler in your vehicle, either one will work. However, if you plan on taking the cooler outdoors where it's exposed to the elements, a hard shell cooler is a better pick.

Q: Are 12V coolers worth it?

A: These coolers are best for truck drivers and daily commuters who like to keep snacks and beverages consistently cool while the vehicle's engine is running. Coolers that use ice do not require electricity, which may make them more attractive in certain situations.

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