Last updated: August 10, 2021

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It's warm, the sun is shining and you're drawn to an outing in nature. Of course, one thing must not be missing: Food. You set off with drinks and snacks fresh from the fridge, only to discover later that it has become inedibly warm. A practical remedy for this is a 12V cool box. Simply plugged into the car battery, you can be sure that your provisions will stay chilled for the journey. And it's practical to pack away, too.

With our big 12-volt cooler test 2020, we want to help you find a suitable 12-volt cooler for you. We have compared thermoelectric, absorption and compressor coolers and listed the advantages and disadvantages. In this way, we would like to simplify your purchase decision.




The Best Cooler 12V: Our Picks

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a 12-volt cool box

How does a 12V cooler work?

Basically, there are three types of coolers, which differ mainly in the way they work. What they all have in common is that they dissipate the heat inside the cooler to the outside.

  • Thermoelectric cool ers use the Peltier effect to achieve cooling. There are two touching semiconductors in the lid to which the current (e.g. from a car battery) is applied. The Peltier effect thus transfers the heat inside the box to the outside.
  • Absorber coolers make use of the cold produced by evaporation. A mixture of water and ammonia is heated and thus separated. Then the ammonia part is cooled down again separately and added back to the gaseous hydrogen inside the cooler. There, the liquid ammonia evaporates and thus takes the heat from the environment. The water then absorbs this again, which is where the name for this principle comes from.
  • Compressor coolers are similar in concept to our conventional refrigerators. Similar to absorber coolers, the cold is generated by a special refrigerant changing its state of aggregation. In this case, however, the refrigerant is compressed by a compressor, which is why heat is first released to the outside during liquefaction. The refrigerant is then returned to its gaseous state and the heat required for this is drawn from the inside of the cooler. This makes it possible to produce powerful cooling.

We explain the advantages and disadvantages of the three different types of 12V coolers and which one is right for you under "Decision".

Kühlbox 12V-1

Make yourself comfortable with a cool drink far away from civilisation. A cool box makes it possible.
(Image source: unsplash.com / Matthew T Rader)

What is a 12V cooler suitable for?

On a short summer trip by car or a longer road trip, chilled drinks are a must. 12V coolers can be operated directly from the car battery and thus always ensure that the provisions do not heat up. Depending on the situation, you can also keep them warm on purpose with a thermoelectric cooler.

Nothing is more annoying than a warm beer.

Many coolers also have a combination or gas connection. So you don't have to miss your chilled drinks in the garden at home, on the campsite or in the deepest forest.

For diabetics, a cooler is also highly recommended for cooling insulin.

What does a 12-volt cooler cost?

Depending on the size, type and quality of the cooler, the price can vary greatly. Here is a compact list of how much you have to pay on average for a good cooler of the different types.

Type of 12V cooler Price
Thermoelectric cooler 50€ to 100€
Absorber cooler 150€ to 200€
Compressor cooler 500€ to 600€

What is the alternative to a 12V cooler?

If you are on the road and don't have a gas or electricity connection, but don't want to miss out on chilled drinks, passive coolers are suitable. You fill them with ice cubes or pre-cooled ice packs to keep your food cool. However, the period of use is limited, as the ice cubes melt over time or the cold packs heat up. On the other hand, they are much cheaper.

Decision: What types of 12-volt coolers are there and which is the right one for you?

If you want to buy a cooler, there are three options to choose from.

  • Thermoelectric cooler
  • Absorber cooler
  • Compressor cooler

The different types of coolers differ mainly in the way they work, but there are a number of other factors that you should take into account when making your choice.

What distinguishes a thermoelectric cooler and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

A thermoelectric cooler is also called a Peltier cooler because of the way it works and is one of the cheaper coolers on the market. They are quite compact and space-saving in design. The position, whether the cooler is standing up straight or lying on its side, is also irrelevant. Overall, this type of cooler is ideal for short trips.

However, a decisive disadvantage of these 12V coolers is that they cool down to an average of 20 degrees compared to the outside temperature. This cooler is therefore rather unsuitable for use in high summer. A fluctuating ambient temperature is also not conducive to this, but only increases power consumption and prevents a stable interior temperature.

Advantages
  • relatively cheap
  • keeps cold and warm
  • independent of location
Disadvantages
  • max. 20 °C cooling
  • relatively high power consumption
  • not adjustable

What are the features of an absorption cooler and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

An absorption cooler works with a circulating mixture of water and ammonia. This means that there are no mechanical parts that can break down. This means that an absorption cooler works almost silently without any noise. In addition, it can also be operated alternatively with gas instead of electricity.

Kühlbox 12V-2

There is not always a source of electricity nearby at a picnic. Coolers with a gas connection provide a remedy.
(Image source: pixabay.com / Free-Photos)

All in all, an absorber cooler, like a Peltier cooler, depends on the ambient temperature and can only cool slightly more. In addition, absorber coolers have to stand upright in order to run.

Advantages
  • hardly any working noise
  • gas operation possible
  • self-regulating
Disadvantages
  • relatively high price
  • max. 30 °C cooling
  • position-dependent

What are the features of a compressor cooler and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

Compressor coolers are portable refrigerators

A compressor cooler can justifiably be called a mini fridge, because it works just like a standard refrigerator. Although this type is very expensive to buy, compressor coolers are also correspondingly energy-efficient and cool at any outside temperature.

Accordingly, mini fridges are comparatively heavier than other portable coolers. They also have a similar noise level to a real refrigerator.

Advantages
  • independent cooling
  • power-saving
  • self-regulating
Disadvantages
  • high price
  • comparatively loud
  • relatively heavy and unwieldy

Buying criteria: You can use these factors to compare and evaluate 12V coolers

In the following, we will show you which aspects you can use to choose between the many 12V coolers.

The criteria you can use to compare coolers with each other include:

In the following, we explain what the various criteria actually mean.

Cooling capacity

Peltier and absorber coolers can only cool in relation to the outside temperature. In most cases, this is a maximum of 20 to 30 degrees below the ambient temperature. However, this can vary from cooler to cooler and some manufacturers use rounded values in product descriptions. You should therefore read the small print to find out by how many degrees the 12V cooler can actually cool down.

Connections

In addition to the 12-volt car battery, many coolers have other connections and can also be connected to the 230-volt household socket. Some absorption coolers can also be operated completely without electricity using gas.

With a transformer, you can also generate 12-volt direct current from the 230-volt alternating current from the household socket and use it to operate your cooler. Conversely, you can also use an inverter to convert the 12 volts from the car battery.

Connection use
12V car battery or with transformer at socket
230V house current or with inverter
Gas everywhere

Volume

You can use the volume to estimate how much space your cooler will take up. In addition to this figure, you should also look at the height, so that your bottles and other tall containers fit in well.

Kühlbox 12V-3

What should your cooler hold? Pay attention to the height and volume when buying!
(Image source: unsplash.com / Sandrene Zhang)

Weight

Depending on the type and material, the weight can vary greatly. If the cooler of choice does not have wheels, you will have to carry it. When calculating the weight, take into account how much the contents will weigh.

You should also be able to carry the weight of your cooler.

Energy efficiency

In times of climate change, it is important to make sure that even small things like a cool box do not consume an unnecessary amount of energy. In addition, high energy consumption can also have a significant impact on your wallet. A++ is even better than A+.

In this respect, it is also important to make sure that coolers that are powered by a car battery are equipped with a so-called battery monitor. This switches the cooler off when the battery is about to be completely discharged.

Interesting facts about 12V coolers

What can you use to operate a 12V cooler?

Depending on the connection, you can operate a cooler with a 12-volt car battery or with 230-volt household sockets. Some manufacturers also produce 12-volt power banks that are adapted to the power of a 12-volt cooler. A 12-volt socket can also be connected to a power outlet using a transformer and coolers designed exclusively for this purpose can be used. Conversely, there are also inverters to generate 230 volts alternating current from a 12 volt direct current battery. In contrast to a transformer, these devices are much more expensive and less efficient.

Another possibility is to use gas cylinders, which can be used to operate absorption coolers. This means you can cool your drinks without any electricity at all.

How long can I run a 12V cooler at a time?

The manufacturer can tell you exactly how long you can use a cooler.

Basically, a 12V cooler can be used as long as there is a suitable power or gas source available. However, you should always make sure not to discharge a car battery. Manufacturers usually specify a recommended maximum period of use for their coolers. You should not exceed this if you want to use your cooler for a long time.

Can 12V coolers be repaired by yourself?

Replacement Peltier elements are readily available for thermoelectric coolers and can be installed in the simply constructed coolers. Absorber and compressor coolers are much more complex and difficult to repair yourself. On the other hand, they are usually much more durable, so you won't have the embarrassment of having to repair them yourself.

Can I make a 12V cooler myself?

  • Peltier cool ers are also easy for the technically minded to make themselves. The necessary Peltier elements are commercially available and only need to be installed in the lid. All you have to do is construct an insulated box.
  • Passive coolers are even simpler. Instead of the Peltier element in the lid, you simply fill your insulated cooler with ice cubes or cold packs.
  • Absorber & compressor cool ers are much more complex and should only be built by professionals.

Photo source: Tudsamalee/ 123rf.com

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