We tested each cooler by placing it in our test vehicle and powering it using the car’s 12-volt cigarette lighter. Each cooler was filled to capacity with drink cans, bottles, yogurt, and power bars. We assessed each cooler based on capacity, organization, and cooling power.
What do you hope to carry in your 12V cooler? Do you only want to fill it with drink cans, or do you plan to pack an entire picnic for four? The larger the cooler, the more energy it will take to cool and the longer it will take to achieve the set temperature. A large cooler is also heavy and less portable.
Our storage capacity score is based on the storage size of each cooler. Those able to hold more items scored highest in this category.
A cooler can have a single storage area or feature multiple compartments. Some coolers even have two compartments with temperature zones that can be set separately. It is useful to have some internal organization to separate items you put in your cooler. This makes retrieving items easier and provides a way to separate sandwiches from the soda cans that might crush them.
Our organization score is based on the internal organization of each cooler. How many compartments are there? Can the compartments be rearranged? Are there any included dividers? Coolers that had the best means to divide items without greatly reducing capacity scored best in this category.
Cooling power is a function of wattage and cooler insulation. The more powerful a cooler, the faster it can reach lower interior temperatures and chill items. Some 12V coolers can even reach freezing temperatures.
Our cooling power score is based on how quickly the cooler was able to chill the items placed inside it. We ran each cooler for 10 minutes while filled with cans and snacks to see which were best able to keep these items cold.
How We Score Products
Every 12V cooler we test is given a score between 1.0 and 5.0 stars in each category. Here’s what those star ratings mean in concrete terms:
- 5.0 Stars: A 5.0-star rating means a 12V cooler is among the best in a category. It can hold over 60.0 qt., includes not only dividers but separately regulated temperature zones, or has enough power to completely cool room temperature items in 10 minutes.
- 4.0 Stars: A 4.0-star rating means a 12V cooler performs better-than-average in a category. It can hold around 30.0 qt., includes divided sections, or can moderately chill items in 10 minutes.
- 3.0 Stars: A 3.0-star rating indicates what is average or typical for a 12V cooler, based on our testing experience. It can hold at least 12.0 qt., has no internal organization, or can moderately chill items in 30 minutes.
- 2.0 Stars: A 2.0-star rating indicates the 12V cooler performs poorer than the average. It holds less than 12.0 qt., has an internal design that wastes potential storage space, or takes several hours to chill items.
- 1.0 Star: A 1.0-star rating indicates that the 12V cooler performs well below expectations in a category. It is impossible to use or actually makes items warmer.
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*Data accurate at time of publication. Products subject to availability.