Best 12V Coolers, Reviewed by Experts (2023 Guide)

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Will has written for several major auto sites including Motor1 since 2020, logging hundreds of hours researching and testing products ranging from child car seats to torque wrenches. Will is also Certified by Safe Kids Worldwide as a Child Passenger Safety Technician (#T836339). Rv Roof Mounted Air Conditioner

Best 12V Coolers, Reviewed by Experts (2023 Guide)

A top-of-the-line 12V cooler with precise, dual-zone temperature control.

A mid-priced cooler with decent storage and excellent cooling power.

An easy-to-use 12V cooler with ample storage space.

A soft-sided cooler bag that’s lightweight and low-cost.

A compact 12V cooler that can be permanently installed into your vehicle.

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 12-volt cooler doesn’t need ice, and it can maintain a consistently cold temperature for as long as it is powered.

This makes a 12V cooler an ideal choice for a road trip , use in an RV, or for tailgating as t hese 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.

The best 12V car coolers in 2023 are the Dometic CFX3, Alpicool CF45, Coleman Powerchill, Koolatron D25, and the Engel 14-Quart Fridge/Freezer.

Each 12V cooler in this review was thoroughly tested and evaluated based on several categories, including storage capacity, organization, cooling power, and cost. You can find more specifics regarding our rating system here.

The scores in each category are compiled into a single overall rating that ranges from 1.0 to 5.0 stars. Each 12V cooler’s ratings, including their overall ratings and awards from our team, are highlighted below:

*Because cost data fluctuates, the prices in the table above are approximate values that our team regularly updates.

For those interested in learning more, we’ve provided a detailed review of each of the best 12V coolers in the sections below:

Dometic CFX3 $1,049.99 RealTruck Buy $897.05 Amazon Buy Summary A top-of-the-line 12V cooler with precise, dual-zone temperature control.

A top-of-the-line 12V cooler with precise, dual-zone temperature control.

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.

What makes the Dometic difficult to recommend 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, you will not find anything better than the CFX3.

Here’s how the Dometic CFX3 performed in each category:

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.

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.

Alpicool CF45 $269.99 Amazon Buy Summary A mid-priced cooler with decent storage and excellent cooling power.

A mid-priced cooler with decent storage and excellent cooling power.

The Aplicool CF45 is an excellent choice for those interested in trying a 12V cooler. We recommend it 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.

Here’s how the Alpicool CF45 performed in each category:

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.

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.

Coleman Powerchill $139.99 Amazon Buy Summary An easy-to-use 12V cooler with ample storage space.

An easy-to-use 12V cooler with ample storage space.

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.

Here’s how the Coleman Powerchill Cooler performed in each category:

What stood out most during our test was the Powerchill’s 42.0-qt. 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 qt. 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.

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.

Koolatron D25 $109.99 Amazon Buy Summary A soft-sided cooler bag that’s lightweight and low-cost.

A soft-sided cooler bag that’s lightweight and low-cost.

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.

Here’s how the Koolatron D25 performed in each category:

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-qt. 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.

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.

Engel 14-Quart Fridge/Freezer $749.99 RealTruck Buy Summary A compact 12V cooler that can be permanently installed into your vehicle.

A compact 12V cooler that can be permanently installed into your vehicle.

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.

Here’s how the Engel 12V Freezer performed in each category:

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.

Keep in mind that the larger a 12v cooler, the more cooling power it will need to keep everything at the right temperature. You can generally guess cooling power based on wattage.

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.

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.

The cost of a 12-volt cooler ranges from around $100 to $1,000. Most options cost between $200 and $400. With such a large range of costs and such high price tags in general, it is good to know why these products are so expensive.

We can’t say enough about the Dometic CFX3. 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 Dometic is your best bet.

If you’re looking for something with more features and capabilities, consider the Alpicool CF45. This compressor cooler is expensive but offers multiple charging options, including solar charging, although the solar panel is not included.

Below are some common frequently asked questions about 12V coolers:

12-volt coolers are good at quickly chilling food. Many are able to get colder than traditional coolers without the mess that comes with melted ice. That said, a standard cooler also works well for keeping a chest of drinks cold for several hours.

You can put ice in an electric cooler, and some electric coolers can even make ice. However, ice is not necessary for keeping food cold . One reason to use a thermoelectric cooler is to avoid the need for ice, since ice can melt and get your cooler contents wet.

You can leave an electric cooler plugged in as long as your vehicle’s engine is running. Once you’ve cut power from the engine, leaving an electric cooler plugged into your car can drain the battery.

Typically, you can leave these coolers plugged in for a few hours without much risk of depleting your battery power . The best electric coolers have special features that automatically power down the cooler if it threatens to drain your car’s battery .

Many electric coolers are capable of reaching temperatures well below freezing. One example is the Aplicool CF45 which can reach -4℉ (-20℃).

A 12-volt cooler typically requires anywhere from 40.0 to 60.0 watts to operate, although cooler dimensions, design, and external factors may influence power consumption.  

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.

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:

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 .

*Data accurate at time of publication. Products subject to availability.

Will has written for several major auto sites including Motor1 since 2020, logging hundreds of hours researching and testing products ranging from child car seats to torque wrenches. Will is also Certified by Safe Kids Worldwide as a Child Passenger Safety Technician (#T836339).

Best 12V Coolers, Reviewed by Experts (2023 Guide)

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