Editor’s Pick
Mr. Heater Golf Cart Heater

A miniature propane heater that can fit in a cup holder.

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Best Defroster
TIKSCIENCE 12-Volt Car Heater

A tiny electric heater good for defogging and deicing.

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Best Heated Seat
Sunny Color 12-Volt Seat Cushion

A soft, heated seat cushion powered by the cigarette lighter.

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Best for Large Cabs
Mr. Heater Portable Buddy

A high-quality, portable heater with safety features.

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Also Consider
Mr. Heater Little Buddy

A large space heater that can also be used to camp.

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The best way to heat your vehicle is by using the onboard air conditioning system. However, fixing your broken heating system can easily cost upwards of $500. The best portable car heater may be your only alternative during a harsh winter.

In this guide, we recommend several car heater options that we’ve tested. We’ve found options for window defogging, seat warming, and cab warming. Some of these heaters can be used outside of the car as well and are especially helpful for camping and outdoor use.

How We Tested

The portable car heaters in this article went through two rounds of reviews. We started by searching retailers like Amazon, RealTruck, and Advance Auto Parts for top products, looking at factors such as car heater portability, design, customer ratings, and prices.

Our product testing team then ordered the portable car heaters that best met these standards. A team member tested each product in a sedan, taking note of how well the portable car heater provided heating power, adjustability, and form factor. Each portable heater was given a rating out of 5 stars based on these criteria.

Why You Can Trust Us

Each year, we test over 350 auto products on vehicles and in our testing lab. Our team of product testers thoroughly researches top products, unboxes and puts our hands on each component, and tests the items on real vehicles before making recommendations to readers.

We publish hundreds of product and service reviews to bring car enthusiasts detailed guides on automotive tools, detailing kits, car seats, pet products, and much more. For more information on our testing methodology and how we evaluate every product, check out our methodology page here.

5 Best Portable Car Heaters

Five of the best portable car heaters that were tested and reviewed by our auto product team.

  1. Editor’s Pick: Mr. Heater Golf Cart Heater
  2. Best Defroster: TIKSCIENCE 12-Volt Car Heater
  3. Best Heated Seat: Sunny Color 12-Volt Seat Cushion
  4. Best for Large Cabs: Mr. Heater Portable Buddy
  5. Also Consider: Mr. Heater Little Buddy

#1 Editor’s Pick: Mr. Heater Golf Cart Heater

The Mr. Heater Golf Cart Heater.

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This 4,000.0-BTU (British Thermal Unit) heater is designed for golf cart use but can also be used in a car. It includes a cup holder adapter to fit in a center console, as well as safety features like an oxygen depletion system and tip over switch.

Because it is propane-powered, you should only use this heater in a ventilated area, which means don’t use it in your car with the windows up. If you’re driving on the highway, this won’t work as a portable heater since the incoming cold air will cancel out any warming effects.

However, this heater is quite powerful and in a slow-moving or stationary car, can keep you well warmed. It is much more powerful than any plug in 12.0-V portable car heater could be, which is why we’ve made it our top pick. Note that you will need a propane tank to use this heater (sold separately).

Key Features

  • Approximate cost: $85
  • Power source: Propane gas

Our Experience

The Mr. Heater Golf Cart Heater installed in a vehicle.

This portable car heater is very easy to use. Simply screw in the propane tank and hold down the ignition switch. Our propane tank did not fit very well into the cup holder attachment. This made the Golf Cart Heater unstable in our vehicle. However, with the proper-size tank, the heater would have been stable in our center console.

There is no thermostat or temperature control, but this unit heats quickly (about three minutes) and gets very warm. Because it is powered by propane, there’s a slight gas odor. Again, do not use this type of heater (gas-powered) in an unventilated vehicle.

Overall Rating4.3 out of 5
Heating Power4

What Customers Are Saying

Average Amazon rating: 4.5 out of 5 after more than 4,500 ratings

Users like the Mr. Heater Golf Cart Heater because it is warm, lights quickly and is stable even in moving vehicles. While designed specifically for golf carts, some users have used it in cars to satisfactory results. Most say that a single tank can last upward of six hours.

Some complain that the pilot light can take a few clicks to ignite. Others criticize the top-heavy design and say the cup holder doesn’t fit well. This may depend on your specific vehicle. Another common complaint is that there is no way to adjust the heat output (just a single setting).

What Is It Good For?

The Golf Cart Heater is good for providing a lot of warmth, above what a 12.0-V portable car heater could be expected to provide. It is not good for warming your car while driving on the highway, as it can only be safely operated with the windows down for proper ventilation. Because it is so portable it’s also good to take camping or to carry with you to a worksite.

#2 Best Defroster: TIKSCIENCE 12-Volt Car Heater

The TIKSCIENCE 12-Volt Car Heater.

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The TIKSCIENCE heater is a small dash-mounted window defroster. It has holes for permanent mounting and uses a pure copper cable and built-in fuse for automatic safety shut off. This heater also has a fan mode that can be used to provide a cool breeze in the hotter months.

Key Features

  • Approximate cost: $20
  • Power source: 12.0-V outlet

Our Experience

The TIKSCIENCE 12-Volt Car Heater installed on the dashboard of a vehicle.

As a 12.0-V device, the TIKSCIENCE does not put out a significant amount of warm air. However, it does generate enough heat to help warm and defog a windshield. If your car heater is broken, this can help with defrosting as well. The TIKSCIENCE does add some heat to the cabin, though not enough to warm drivers on the chilliest days.

Overall Rating4 out of 5
Heating Power3

What Customers Are Saying

Average Amazon rating: 3.5 out of 5 after 30 ratings

The TIKSCIENCE defroster doesn’t have a lot of reviews on Amazon, and negative reviews focus on the low heat output provided by this device. However, the TIKSCIENCE heater is designed for defogging and defrosting. Bear in mind that no 12.0-V heater is likely to provide significant warming power.

What Is It Good For?

This portable heater is good for defogging your window or helping to defrost your window. It adds some heat and may help some if your car’s heater is broken, but shouldn’t be relied on as an interior car warmer. It can also blow cool air for when your car gets too hot.

#3 Best Heated Seat: Sunny Color 12-Volt Seat Cushion

The Sunny Color 12-Volt Seat Cushion.

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The Sunny Color seat cushion turns any vehicle seat into a heated seat. The velour cover attaches to your seat and can be warmed to three different settings. Not only can this cushion add some extra comfort to your car seat, it can help keep you toasty as well.

Key Features

  • Approximate cost: $55
  • Power source: 12.0-V outlet

Our Experience

The Sunny Color 12-Volt Seat Cushion installed onto the driver's seat inside a vehicle.

This seat cover installs easily and fits snugly. It didn’t bunch or tear during our test. It is also quite soft and comfortable – more comfortable than the factory cloth seats in our test vehicle. This cover works well just as a seat cushion. Even without turning it on, the material traps warmth (which could be a downside in the summer).

We found that the Sunny Color cushion warms quickly and to a significant degree. While it may not be able to fully supplement a broken air conditioning system, it does a pretty good job keeping your backside toasty.

Overall Rating3.7 out of 5
Heating Power3.5

What Customers Are Saying

Average Amazon rating: 4.5 out of 5 after more than 1,100 ratings

Many customers use these to supplement their car heater, as it can warm up faster than an air conditioning system. Users appreciate the low power draw and high heat output. Some comment how well this stays attached, not moving around once installed.

Be sure to unplug the Sunny Color when your vehicle is parked, as some note that it will drain your battery if you keep it connected with the engine off. Another typical complaint is the cord location. It is on the right side of the seat, so if you use this in a passenger seat, you’ll need to drape the cord over your lap to reach the center console.

What Is It Good For?

If you’d rather not use a gas-powered heat source in your car, a seat warmer like the Sunny Color is probably your next best bet. You won’t find any 12.0-V car heater able to warm you as well, except maybe for an electric blanket. This heater can act as a good supplement to your car’s heating system by working faster to get you warm on cold days. This is a cheaper alternative to installing heated seats.

#4 Best For Large Cabs: Mr. Heater Portable Buddy

The Mr. Heater Portable Buddy.

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The final two selections for this list are not designed to be used in a moving vehicle. However, these are both warm, portable heaters with multiple safety features. As mentioned, a 12.0-V heater is unlikely to output much heat. In especially cold locations and seasons, you’ll need something stronger.

The Mr. Heater Portable Buddy throws a significant amount of heat. It is easy to handle and use, which is why we recommend it for larger cabs. Keep in mind that you won’t want to use this in a moving vehicle and only in a ventilated cab (windows cracked).

Key Features

  • Approximate cost: $100
  • Power source: Propane gas

Our Experience

The Mr. Heater Portable Buddy being powered by propane gas to heat up a small garage.

This heater turns on fast and heats up very quickly. For a small car like our test vehicle, the heat is too much. If you’re sleeping in a large cab or truck, the Portable Buddy could get you through frigid evenings.

The Portable Buddy can operate for a considerable time on a single canister of propane.

Overall Rating3.6 out of 5
Heating Power5

What Customers Are Saying

Average Amazon rating: 4.7 out of 5 after more than 500 ratings

Some mention that they have used the Portable Buddy for car camping, and it works very well for that purpose. In general, users appreciate how easy it is to use and how much heat it is able to produce.

A small number of reviewers say that their Portable Buddy stopped working after a few uses. While these comments are small in number, it does point to possible defects in some of the Mr. Heater products. This device is supposed to come with a one-year warranty, so contact the manufacturer should your Buddy stop working.

What Is It Good For?

The Mr. Heater Portable Buddy would be good for those sleeping in larger vehicles. It isn’t a good option to use in a car while driving, or any small space. However, the high heat output and independent power source make it an option that will actually keep you warm and won’t wear down your car battery.

This is also a good pick for those going on a road trip who plan to camp. While it can work in a ventilated cab, the Portable Buddy is best used as an outdoor heater.

#5 Also Consider: Mr. Heater Little Buddy

The Mr. Heater Little Buddy.

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The Mr. Heater Little Buddy is something between the Golf Cart heater and the Portable Buddy. It is not designed for vehicle use like the Golf Cart heater, and therefore is less stable. However, it offers more heating power than the Golf Cart heater but in a much smaller package than the Portable Buddy.

Key Features

  • Approximate cost: $70
  • Power source: Propane gas

Our Experience

The Mr. Heater Little Buddy installed in a vehicle.

The Little Buddy is very similar to the Golf Cart heater, with the two main differences being an increased heat output in a slightly larger package.

While easy to carry, there is no great spot to put the Little Buddy in your car. We could put it in our vehicle’s cup holder, but it is not exactly stable while driving. We don’t recommend using the Little Buddy in a moving vehicle.

Overall Rating3.8 out of 5
Heating Power4.5

What Customers Are Saying

Average Amazon rating: 4.5 out of 5 after more than 6,900 ratings

Many reviewers have used this effectively for car camping and warming truck cabs in sub-zero weather. Most agree that it has a decent heat output, especially for its size. Some have used it in a moving car after securing it (though this is not something we recommend).

A few have mentioned that the Little Buddy works less well as it gets older. One user says his became impossible to start after a time. The most common complaint is that the Little Buddy can be difficult to light.

What Is It Good For?

The Little Buddy is similar to the Portable Buddy in that you shouldn’t use it in a moving vehicle. This is a good pick for those planning to car camp or if you are going to sleep in your vehicle.

It is not as large as the Little Buddy, but it lasts longer and may be a good pick for those with smaller cars that don’t want the full heat of the Little Buddy. The independent power supply means you don’t need to wear down your car’s battery.

Portable Car Heater Buyers Guide

Frankly, there are not a lot of good options for a portable car heater. Any heater that is powered through your car’s 12.0-V outlet is unlikely to have enough power to combat freezing temperatures. Gas-powered portable heaters are much more powerful, but cannot safely be used in a car with the windows raised.

The best way to heat your cabin is always going to be your vehicle’s air conditioning system. However, if this system is broken and you lack the funds to repair it, a portable car heater may be your only choice.

When looking for a portable car heater, consider how it will be used. Wired 12.0-V electric car heaters can be used with the windows down, but are not very powerful. A propane heater can put out a lot of heat, but shouldn’t be used in an unventilated cabin. Driving with the windows down can bring in more cold air that the heater may be able to warm.

Some other alternatives to keep yourself warm in an unheated car are an electric blanket, heated seat, or even an old-fashioned hot water bottle bag.

Portable Car Heaters: Bottom Line

When it comes to dealing with cold weather inside a vehicle or camper, your best bet should be the vehicle’s heater fan. If your vehicle can’t adequately produce hot air, a 12v portable car heater might be a workable substitute.

We’d recommend using steering clear of propane or diesel heaters, since ventilation may not always be an option in winter weather. Ceramic heaters usually offer fast heating, and a power inverter for a lighter socket work as a plug adapter if needed. Still, customers should be wary of things like overheating with any portable electric car heater, and purchase items with modern shutoff safety features.

Other Portable Heaters We Recommend

Still looking for the right portable heater? We haven’t had a chance to test the following recommendations, but they may also be a good option for those in need of some extra cabin warmth.

Rampage Products Back Seat Heater

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Approximate Cost: $73

This 12-volt heater will likely have some of the same issues as any other 12-volt heater: it won’t get especially warm. However, the Rampage can add a bit of heat to your back seat. It is mounted on a swivel bracket so that it can be easily positioned.

JEGS Auxiliary UTV Heater

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Approximate Cost: $240

This JEGS heater may not be specifically designed for a car, but it can offer a bit more heat than a typical 12-volt heater. Reviewers on Amazon have used it for tractors, boats, and trucks. This unit is costly, and requires some skill to install. However, users seem to think it provides a decent heat output.

Haigez Rotary Defroster

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Approximate Cost: $37

One benefit of this defroster is that it can be used to both heat and cool. The design allows users to easily position this car heater. While not especially powerful, the output of this device is narrowly concentrated, so that you can keep your hands warm on the wheel.

Portable Car Heaters: FAQ

*Data accurate at time of publication.