While an ice-filled cooler is good for picnics and short outings, it isn’t well-suited for an entire day of food storage. A 12V cooler doesn’t need ice, and it can maintain a consistently cold temperature for as long as it is powered.
This makes a 12-volt cooler an ideal choice for a road trip, use in an RV, or for tailgating as these coolers are closer to a refrigerator than a standard cooler. If you’re sick of soggy sandwiches and wet fruit, it may be time for an upgrade.
How We Tested
The 12-volt coolers in this article went through two rounds of reviews. We started by searching retailers like Amazon and RealTruck for top products, looking at factors such as capacity, features, customer ratings, and prices.
Our product testing team then ordered the 12V coolers that best met these standards. 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.
- Capacity: Our capacity score is based on the storage size of each cooler. Those able to hold more items scored highest in this category.
- Organization: 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: Our cooling power score is based on how quickly the cooler was able to chill the items placed inside it.
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5 Best 12V Coolers
- Best Overall: Alpicool CF45
- Best Features: Dometic CFX3
- Best High-Capacity Cooler: Coleman Powerchill
- Most Portable: Koolatron D25
- Engel 14-Quart Fridge/Freezer
Do You Need A 12-Volt Cooler?
|12V Cooler||Standard Cooler|
|Requires outlet||Can be used anywhere|
|Requires more maintenance||Easy to maintain|
|Precise temperature control||No temperature control|
|Shouldn’t be left in the rain||Is not damaged by rain|
12-volt coolers can cost more than $1,000, which is considerably more expensive than most non-electric alternatives. Most 12V coolers are in the $200 to $300 range, but our recommendations range from around $100 to $1,000. However, they also sport some advantages over electric coolers, operating much like a portable refrigerator.
- Portability: Standard coolers can be taken anywhere, while a 12-volt cooler is tethered to the nearest outlet. That said, most 12V coolers are designed to work with a car cigarette lighter, making them ideal for road trips and tailgating. Many can also be used with portable batteries and solar panels.
- Food Storage: One major advantage of a 12-volt cooler is the iceless design. As cooler ice begins to melt, the food inside can get soggy. Another advantage of a thermoelectric iceless cooler is that it frees up more space inside the cooler.
- Cooling Power: The best 12-volt coolers can chill rapidly, achieving temperatures colder than are possible with a traditional cooler. Some 12-volt coolers can even operate as freezers. Additionally, digital coolers allow you to precisely control the internal temperature.
Those who want a cooler to hold mostly drinks for a short period may not need a 12V cooler. You might also want a standard cooler if you aren’t willing to spend several hundred dollars. Yet a 12-volt cooler is ideal for road trips, particularly if you need to keep food items chilled.
#1 Best Overall: Alpicool CF45
The Aplicool CF45 is an excellent choice for those interested in trying a 12V cooler. We recommend it as our top pick because it offers excellent value for the cost. The CF45 is mid-priced and includes features like custom temperature control, separate storage areas for cooler organization, and a range of capacity options.
This portable electric cooler can be set to temperatures as low as -4℉ (-20℃). It also includes a battery protection feature that prevents the device from draining your vehicle’s battery while in use. Based on our testing and customer reviews, this unit cools quickly and reliably.
- Cost: About $290 (47.5-quart model)
- Container size: 37.0 to 58.0 quarts
- Wattage: 45.0 watts
The Alpicool is one of the fastest-cooling 12-volt coolers that we tested. Despite being so powerful, the compressor fan is relatively silent. All of the 12V coolers that we tested made some noise, and the Aplicool wasn’t any louder than other coolers, despite cooling so quickly.
Carrying handles make the Alpicool easy to move, but also add some bulk. The handles make it less compact than other coolers, so the Alpicool may not be the best option if you need to maximize space economy. This fridge has a few useful organization features such as two internal compartments and cupholders on the lid.
|Overall Rating||4.7 out of 5|
What Customers Are Saying
Amazon Review Score: 4.4 out of 5 based on over 1,200 ratings
Amazon reviewers consistently praise the Aplicool for its utility and price. Many people use this for road trips and camping, powering it in their vehicle or with a portable battery. Users report that it chills quickly and provides a major upgrade over an ice chest.
A few people have complained about the cooler latch breaking. This appears to be a failure point for some units.
#2 Best Features: Dometic CFX3
The Dometic CFX3 performed best in our in-person testing. This high-quality 12V refrigerator is packed with features, including separately controlled temperature zones and even the ability to make ice. This cooler has Bluetooth® connectivity and can be linked to a smartphone for app control. Featuring heavy-duty but lightweight construction, this cooler also offers the flexibility of several power options, including AC power, DC power, and DC solar power.
The reason the Dometic isn’t number 1 on our list is the price. This option sells for around $1,000. For many, a cheaper 12V cooler may be a better option.
However, if you’re looking for a top-of-the-line 12-volt refrigerator that you can use for years to come, consider the CFX3.
- Cost: About $1,000 (47.5-quart model)
- Container size: 26.5 to 105.0 quarts
- Wattage: 50.0 watts
The Dometic has three separate compartments for internal storage and two different temperature zones. It cools rapidly and is relatively quiet. Being so large, the Dometic is heavy, but the handles are sturdy and easy to use.
Our only complaint about the Dometic is that the power cord is too short. Depending on the length of your vehicle, it may not reach from the trunk to the front A/C outlet.
|Overall Rating||4.6 out of 5|
What Customers Are Saying
Amazon Review Score: 4.6 out of 5 based on over 350 ratings
Reviewers are impressed with the design of the Dometic CFX3 and its cooling abilities. Because of this cooler’s advanced functions and large size, many reviews come from truckers who use this cooler instead of a mini-fridge.
Most are impressed by the cooling power and comment that the fan is relatively noiseless. This portable freezer and fridge may not stand up well to direct sunlight, however. At least one reviewer claimed to use the Dometic on a boat for 30 days and the plastic began to warp, damaging the lid.
#3 Best High-Capacity Cooler: Coleman Powerchill
The Coleman Powerchill is a high-capacity 12V cooler that won’t break the bank. If you need something to hold a family picnic and function as a portable fridge, the Powerchill is a good pick. At around $100, it’s also less expensive than a lot of other portable coolers.
The Powerchill isn’t packed with features like smartphone integration, but it is a reliable and cost-efficient cooler. At the lower end of the cost range, the build quality is a bit lower than high-end models, meaning the Powerchill may not have the longevity of other models. That said, Coleman customer service is reported to be responsive and ready to replace any broken units within the one-year warranty period.
- Cost: About $130
- Container size: 42.0 quarts
- Wattage: 60.0 watts
What stood out most during our test was the Powerchill’s 42.0-quart capacity. Some portable coolers have thick walls, so they take up a lot of space without offering a lot of storage room. The Powerchill can fit 42.0 quarts and has a removable internal divider.
The small carrying handles are integrated into the lid and do not stick out. On the one hand, this makes the Powerchill more compact and space-efficient. The downside is that it is a little harder to carry, as it’s more difficult to get a grip on the small handles.
Using the Powerchill is simple: just attach the power plug. The fan is quiet while operating. Our main complaint about the Powerchill is the power cord: there is no convenient way to tuck it away during storage.
|Overall Rating||4.5 out of 5|
What Customers Are Saying
Amazon Review Score: 4.2 out of 5 based on over 6,000 ratings
Most buyers think that this low-cost cooler works great. Reviewers like the large chest size and the Coleman’s powerful cooling abilities. Reports on longevity are mixed. In one extreme case, a reviewer reported 25 years of effective use. That said, there are also a number of reviews from those claiming that their unit stopped working after about a year.
After time, the Coleman’s fan can become caked with ice. If this occurs, the unit will need to be defrosted. In some cases, the unit failure may be a result of improper maintenance. The Powerchill is covered by a warranty, and according to reviews, Coleman customer service is excellent, with several reviewers getting replacements for broken coolers.
#4 Most Portable: Koolatron D25
The Koolatron D25 is a lightweight cooler that folds down to a small size when not in use. It lacks the cooling power of large, more expensive models, but is the perfect choice for a portable 12V cooler.
If you’re in need of something that’s easy to store and transport, consider this 12V cooler. If you want a large car cooler capable of keeping an entire picnic chilled throughout the day, you might want to look into a larger, hard plastic 12V cooler like the Coleman Powerchill.
- Cost: About $110
- Container size: 26.7 quarts
- Wattage: 60.0 watts
The Koolatron D25 differs from the other coolers that we tested because it is made with a flexible nylon material, rather than injection-molded plastic. This makes for a compact, 26.0-quart portable cooler that’s lightweight.
We appreciate the addition of front storage pouches, which can hold the power cord when not in use. The biggest downside of the Koolatron is that it isn’t as powerful as the other coolers we tested.
|Overall Rating||4 out of 5|
What Customers Are Saying
Amazon Review Score: 3.7 out of 5 based on around 700 ratings
Many buyers feel that the Koolatron is a useful cooler because it is easy to store away and effectively keeps food chilled. That said, the Koolatron is not especially powerful and a number of reviewers expressed disappointment at the cooling power. This is not a good option for keeping ice frozen.
The Koolatron seems to be especially inefficient on very warm days, with one reviewer stating that it is able to cool food to about 40.0 degrees below the ambient temperature.
#5 Engel 14-Quart Fridge/Freezer
Rounding out our list is the Engel 14-quart fridge/freezer. It is among the most powerful 12-volt coolers that we tested, rivaled only by the Dometic. However, the smaller size of this fridge freezer makes it a little less versatile than some other options on this list.
The Engel is powered by 12V DC and is compatible with solar generators. What is unique about the Engel is that it can be directly integrated into your vehicle’s electrical system. This feature, along with its compact size, makes it a good option if you want to install a permanent car fridge into your vehicle.
- Cost: About $750
- Container size: 14.0 quarts
- Wattage: 33.6 watts
The Engel features a simple-to-use design and impressive cooling power. We found it among the most powerful of the portable coolers we tested. Like the Dometic, this 12-volt cooler is capable of producing freezing temperatures.
Despite its small size, the Engel can fit quite a few items. However, there is no internal organization, just a single compartment. The tall shape makes it necessary to stack items on top of one another in layers, which can make it difficult to retrieve specific items later.
|Overall Rating||3.8 out of 5|
12V Cooler Buyers Guide
When shopping for the perfect 12-volt cooler, you’ll want to consider storage, organization, cooling power, and cost.
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.
Before buying any cooler, learn the interior dimensions and make sure this is enough space to fit everything you hope to store in it. Be aware that interior dimensions are often a bit smaller than exterior dimensions, as coolers typically have a thick insulation shell.
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.
Not all 12V coolers are equally powerful. Some can achieve freezing temperatures and even make ice. Cooling power may also impact how quickly a 12V cooler can achieve the set temperature.
Pay attention to cooler wattage. More watts can mean a more powerful cooler. You should also consider wattage if you are using your cooler for camping, as campers will need to calculate the energy load your campsite power source can handle.
12V Cooler Cost
The cost of a 12-volt cooler ranges from around $100 to $1,000. Most options cost between $200 and $400. We rated each cooler for cost as either low, moderate, or expensive.
- Low ($100 – $200): At this cost level, you can find functional 12-volt coolers of all sizes. Don’t expect coolers in this range to come with many convenience features such as solar charging options, multiple temperature zones, or Bluetooth connectivity.
- Moderate ($200 – $600): More expensive 12-volt coolers tend to offer better cooling power and build quality. Coolers in this price range should last several years and work well even on the hottest days.
- Expensive ($600 – $1,000): The most expensive 12-volt coolers are also typically the best designed. Not only are these coolers built to last, but are powerful enough to function as a freezer. You’ll probably need to buy a cooler in this price range if you want something that offers dual-zone temperature control.
Best 12V Cooler: Bottom Line
Our top pick for a 12-volt cooler is the Alpicool CF45. It offers exceptional cooling power, a large storage space, and a protection system that prevents it from depleting your car battery. For most needs, we think the Alpicool is your best bet.
If you’re looking for something with more features and capabilities, consider the Dometic CFX3. This compressor cooler is expensive but offers multiple charging options, including solar charging, although the solar panel is not included.
12V Cooler: FAQ
*Data accurate at time of publication.