Best 12v Cooler – Electric Cool Box for Car & RV Camping

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RV travel gives you the luxury of taking your home with you to all kinds of amazing places. Once you get there it’s tempting to enjoy day trips away from your RV. One of the best ways to take cold drinks, snacks, and other food along with you is a 12V cooler. Today we’re covering the best 12V coolers available to help you pick out a model that works well for your needs.

Best 12 Volt Cooler

12V coolers are a relatively new invention. The tech that makes them work has been around for a long time, but it’s only recently that we’ve had the portable power sources like solar generators and battery backups to really make them viable.

Not having to continually buy ice and deal with the melt water is huge. This is especially true if you’re looking for a way to keep some cold drinks and snacks nearby while you’re on a long drive.

Our list includes some of the best 12V coolers across a range of sizes, prices, and intended uses. Check it out and let us know what you think.

Igloo Iceless Thermoelectric Cooler

Igloo Iceless Thermoelectric 12v Cooler

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Igloo is well known among beachgoers, fisherman, and picnickers. They make some of the most popular coolers in the world, including their version of the Iceless Thermoelectric Cooler.

It has a standard cooler body with molded handles and a fairly limited amount of insulation. It comes in both a 26 quart and 28 quart version, each of which is capable of lowering the interior temperature by up to 36 degrees fahrenheit.

One interesting feature of this cooler is the inclusion of a circulating fan. It’s still a lot quieter than a compressor style cooler, but does add a little bit to the noise. It helps speed up the cool down process and improve the cooling effect within the cooler.

The Igloo Iceless Cooler comes with an eight foot cord and has a fold down carry handle. Given its relatively small size and weight it’s easy to store and move around as needed.

All in all the Igloo Iceless Thermoelectric Cooler is a good option for those who want a secondary ice box for a drive or relaxing day by the water. It’s not large or powerful enough to be your primary refrigerated storage but does a good job at keeping drinks cold.

Pros – Things we liked
Molded handles
26 & 28 quart versions
Circulating fan
Eight-foot cord
Cons – Things we didn’t like
Makes a small bit of noise

K-Box Electric Cooler with Wheels

K-box 12v Cooler with Wheels

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The K-Box is a wheeled electric cooler designed with campers and beachgoers in mind. It provides you with 48 quarts of chilled or heated storage space plus a bunch of useful portability features.

The cooler body itself is made from molded thermoplastic and includes both a pair of carry handles and wheels on one end. This allows you to carry it or roll it as needed, though the wheels are too small for travel over rough terrain.

It uses a thermoelectric system with a built in convection fan. As with any thermoelectric cooler there are limitations to its performance. It can only lower the temperature about 35-40 degrees fahrenheit below ambient temps. If it’s 100 degrees outside it won’t drop below about 60.

If you’re just looking to keep some drinks cold though it can be a good option, especially given how easy it is to move around.

Koolatron P95 12 Volt Travel Saver Cooler

Koolatron Travel 12 Volt Cooler

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The Koolatron P95 is a 12V thermoelectric cooler designed for travel. It has a more compact and packable body shape than many other coolers. This makes it a whole lot easier to fit into a cabinet or any other open space.

It has a 45 quart capacity and the ability to lower internal temperature up to 40 degrees below outside temp. This makes it perfect for storing large amounts of drinks and other non-perishable items for a trip or while out relaxing.

One thing we really liked about the Koolatron was the ability to use it as an upright minifridge. This configuration makes it much easier to organize and access beer, soda, and other drinks.

If you’re looking for a great 12V cooler for use in an RV or vehicle, the Koolatron P95 is one of the best choices you can make. It’s durable, versatile, and designed for portability and easy storage.

Knox Electric Cooler for Car

Knox 12v Electric Cooler Warmer

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The Knox Electric Cooler is a chest style cooler with a streamlined design. It has a shape reminiscent of a kitchen bin, allowing it to fit in tighter spaces without a problem.

It’s a bit smaller than many other coolers at 27 quarts, but its unique shape gives it some advantages. Because of its elongated design you can fit full size 2 liter bottles of soda upright inside it.

That allows you to fit a lot more beverages in place for the same size cooler.

Other features we liked were the inclusion of both a 12V DC and a standard 110 AC power cord. You can plug it into a standard outlet if you’ve got full power on hand, or use the DC connection to hook it up to your battery bank or generator.

Overall we liked the Knox Electric Cooler. It isn’t the most spacious or powerful by far, but for keeping drinks cold it’s a well-made and affordably priced option.

Wagan 24 Liter Electric Car Cooler

Wagan 12v Car Cooler and Warmer

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The Wagan 24L Electric Cooler is a compact yet highly effective 12V cooler. It’s quite small, yet was designed to accommodate up to four 2L bottles of soda without issue.

It uses relatively thick polyurethane insulation. There are two settings, hot and cold, with the hot able to raise temperatures up to 140 degrees fahrenheit and the cold setting able to lower them down about 36 degrees fahrenheit.

Because of its small size and relatively low cooling ability the Wagan is most suited for use as a drink cooler or event food transfer device. Most RVers would find it useful as a front cab tool so they can keep their favorite drinks right at hand.

All in all the Wagan 24L is an effective and efficient 12V cooler. It cools down faster than most similar products but is noticeably more expensive.

BLACK+DECKER Portable 12V Travel Cooler

Black and Decker Portable 12v Cooler

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The Black+Decker Portable Travel Cooler is an extremely compact cooler designed for beverages only. It offers just over 10 quarts of capacity, or enough to hold about 8 cans of soda.

Some cool features of this travel cooler include a pair of built in cup holders, a zippered storage pouch, and a shoulder strap. Given its compact shape and small storage area it isn’t really suited for use outside your vehicle.

It’s capable of cooling down the interior up to 40 degrees fahrenheit below ambient temperature. That’s perfect for putting a drinkable chill on your soda, but not enough for storing perishables.

The Black+Decker Portable Travel Cooler is best used as a way to keep your driving drinks cold. It makes it easy to slake your thirst without having to get up and head back to your full size refrigerator.

Dometic TC14 Thermoelectric 12V Cooler/Warmer

Dometic Thermoelectric 12 Volt Cooler

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The Dometic TC14 is a 12V thermoelectric cooler. It offers some of the most adjustable heating and cooling on the market and has a number of really interesting features.

To start with, it has a comprehensive temperature control that lets you adjust how hot or cold you want it to be. It runs off either 12V or 24V power, giving you additional options for power.

At just 14.8 quarts it’s not a large cooler. It isn’t really suitable for use in holding perishable goods but does a great job keeping a day’s worth of beverages nice and cold, or a tasty meal hot.

We recommend the Dometic TC14 for those looking for a temporary beverage or lunch cooler. It’s a great option if you’re looking for a supplementary cooler to your main RV fridge.

VonShef Electric Cool Box

Vonshef 12v Car Cool Box

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The VonShef Electric Cool Box is a lightweight and compact 12V cooler. It offers 22L of storage capacity and can cool your drinks or food down about 35 to 40 degrees fahrenheit below ambient temperature.

At 22L, the VonShef is just large enough for use as a beach or campground cooler. It has the capacity for a reasonable amount of beverages plus sandwiches and maybe some fruit.

It works well as a day cooler to take with you on a picnic or other outing. You’ll be able to fit in drinks and snacks for three to four, or a full meal for one to two.

If you’re looking for a good iceless cooler to use for keeping your drinks and other food cold, the VonShef Electric Cool Box is a good choice at a very reasonable price.

Buyer’s Guide to Buying the Best 12V Cooler

Picking out the best 12V cooler depends on how you want to use it and what kind of performance you’re looking for. Larger coolers use more power but provide greater storage space.

Depending on what kind of things you want to keep cold and how cold they actually need to be you’ll be limited in the type of cooler you can choose.

Price

For the most part 12V coolers are reasonably affordable. Most models good for keeping drinks chilled will run at or just over $100. These are small to medium cooler with cooling but not refrigerating capabilities.

If you want something larger, or something capable of actually keeping perishable goods at a safe temperature, the price will go up quickly.

Types of 12V Cool Box

Compressor Cooler – Compressor coolers rely on the same method of cooling used by refrigerators and freezers. They combine a refrigerant, condenser coils, an expansion valve, and evaporator coils.

These work using the thermal properties of the refrigerant to draw heat from inside the cooler and radiate it out from the back. Electricity activates the compressor and causes it to compress the refrigerant and thereby raise its temperature and pressure.

This high pressure liquid is then rapidly cooled using evaporator coils while still keeping it at the same pressure. As this cold misty liquid flows through the condenser coils of the refrigerator it rapidly lowers the temperature, creating refrigeration.

Compressor style coolers are the most efficient and powerful. They can achieve temperature differences on par with standard home refrigerators and can even act as freezers.

The downside to this is their high energy usage. The starting current alone for most refrigerator compressors makes them unusable on solar generators or other systems likely to be used in an RV or camper.

Thermoelectric Cooler – Thermoelectric coolers rely on a chemical process called the Peltier Effect. When a pair of conductors made from different materials have an electrical current passed through them it causes a transfer of temperature.

Thermoelectric coolers use a bunch of small conductive plates located on the inside and outside of the cooler. The ones on the inside draw temperature away from the interior and radiate it out through the exterior.

There are some advantages to this design, with durability and power consumption being the most important. Thermoelectric coolers have basically no moving parts. They rely entirely on solid state electronics to transfer heat. This means there are very few things that can go wrong with one.

Power draw is another place where thermoelectric coolers shine. At the sizes you’re likely to see for most coolers they compare very favorably to compressor based units. Most thermoelectric coolers only draw about 50 to 100 watts.

The biggest downside to thermoelectric coolers is their low cooling capability. They’re pretty much incapable of lowering interior temperature more than about 30 to 40 degrees fahrenheit. If you’re going somewhere hotter than 80 degrees you won’t be able to store perishable items like meat in a thermoelectric cooler without also putting ice in.

Storage Capacity

The storage capacity of different coolers is most commonly measured in quarts or liters, the same as packs. Some manufacturers have their own systems but most of them aren’t interchangeable and are frankly pretty weird.

A good rule of thumb for sizing coolers is that one quart holds about .75 standard 12 oz cans. So if you want to be able to store 24 cans you’ll need at least a 32 quart cooler. Keep in mind though that the figure above doesn’t account for ice either.

Temperature Settings

For the most part 12V coolers don’t have complex temperature settings. Some compressor models do, even offering a freezer setting in some cases, but the vast majority do not.

Value priced 12V coolers often don’t have any switch at all. They plug in and turn on, cooling down as much as they can as fast as they can.

One cool feature in some 12V coolers is a heating capability. This lets you keep things like soups, casseroles, etc, nice and hot so you can enjoy them whenever you like.

Energy Efficiency

If you’re on generator power or a solar system energy efficiency is serious business. 12V coolers are automatically a bit more efficient simply because they don’t require an inverter to work.

To find the most efficient cooler you need to figure out just how much capacity you really need. For drinks and a few sandwiches a smaller 30 quart cooler may be ideal. One that size might only require 50 to 70 watts to operate. A thermoelectric cooler may be a good choice for this size.

If you’re looking for a good way to store a full weekend’s worth of food and drink you’re going to have a bigger draw. For anything above about 60 quarts a compressor operated cooler is the way to go. Thermoelectric models rapidly lose out in efficiency as they grow larger.

Insulation

With 12V cooler insulation, more is always better. Since they’re almost always run off battery power or a solar generator the more insulation you have the more efficient they’re going to be.

Size and Weight

Thankfully the mechanical components of 12V coolers don’t add a ton of extra weight to them. For most situations their physical dimensions are going to be more important.

RVs are spacious and comfortable, but space is still at a premium. Given the increased insulation and room taken up by the refrigeration equipment 12V coolers are larger than their unpowered counterparts.

Make sure you know where you need to store your cooler so you can figure out the dimensions space will allow.

Intended Use

How you plan to use your cooler is one of the biggest factors in picking one out. If you just want to keep some beers and soda cold for a day of fun you’ll have substantially different needs than someone looking to store a week’s worth of groceries.

Smaller coolers with less powerful refrigeration methods are good for day trips. If you need a cooler to take with you on a drive away from your RV they do a really good job keeping your drinks and sandwiches cold.

If you want one you can throw a whole weekend’s worth of food and drinks into you’re doing to need to go up a size.

Opening, Locking, and Seals

How your 12V cooler opens is a lot more important than most people realize. The openings themselves control how much temperature exchange there is between the inside and outside of the cooler.

Coolers with the option to open sections of the interior can improve efficiency. These allow you to open only the right or left side of a cooler’s lid and help keep cold air trapped inside.

Then there’s seals and locks. Traditional ice chests and coolers usually don’t lock shut and rarely have an airtight seal.

12V coolers benefit from these features by reducing airflow between the inside and outside of the cooler. Every time hot air enters your cooler the chilling mechanism has to remove that heat somehow. In highly efficient systems it takes more power, in weaker ones it may lead to warmer drinks or even spoiled food.

We highly recommend you look for a cooler with both an airtight seal and a locking mechanism. These both make a 12V cooler more efficient and more effective.

Multiple Compartments

One feature that’s been popping up lately in 12V coolers is multiple compartments. These allow you to set different temperature levels for each area and prevent warm air from entering.

These are mostly found on compressor 12V coolers and usually work like your home refrigerator. One compartment acts as chilled storage while the other side works as a freezer.

They’re great if you want to bring some ice pops or frozen margaritas out with you.

Temperature Display

A really nice feature to have is a built in temperature display and thermometer. It allows you to see exactly what temp the interior of the cooler is at and adjust it as needed.

In some coolers this is provided only through a thermometer. We prefer the digital displays as they’re easier to read.

Noise

One of the biggest downsides of some 12V coolers is their noise. Compressor based designs have a mechanical compressor that can be quite noisy when it runs. If you’re out boating or playing around on a beach this might not be an issue, but if you plan to use your cooler frequently next to your RV it can become more so of one.

Thermoelectric coolers really shine here. Because they have no moving parts and work entirely through electrical principles they produce no sound while operating.

Final Thoughts

12V coolers offer a convenient and easy to use option for cooling down beverages and other goods. They’re reasonably priced, come in a variety of sizes, and are designed to work well for just about any kind of use.

So long as you keep in mind what you want to cool, how cold it needs to be kept at, and how much power you have available it’s easy to pick out the best 12V cooler for your needs.

About Karan Riley

I am the owner and main contributor to RV4Campers. I first got bit by the RVing bug when I joined a friend who was into Van Life for weekend getaways. It became apparent very quickly that this was a style of life I enjoyed and wanted more of, so it wasn't long before I had my own travel trailer. I didn't have a lot of money to throw around back then so I did lots of research into all the gear and gadgets. And this is how my RV passion exploded, I've now spent countless hours playing around with many different bits of kit and reading user manuals. And it's this wealth of knowledge I bring to RV4Campers.