8 Best Portable Air Conditioners For Cars and Comfy Travel

Josh Mitchell

Written By

Josh Mitchell

Expert Reviewed By

Holly Curell

Last Updated On

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When your car’s air conditioner gives up the ghost in the summer heat, what can you do? A portable car air conditioner is a viable alternative while you wait for your mechanic’s appointment.

Portable ACs for cars can also boost the AC in trucks or during RV camping. But you must choose your unit carefully, or you’ll only waste money on a device that won’t impact your car’s temperature.

In this article, I will explore the best portable air conditioners for your car or truck. Let’s find a device to keep you and your passengers feeling fresh!

Quick Glance - My Recommendations

K2 is a personal 12-volt Cooler for Campers,...

MightyKool K2

Editor's Choice

Zero Breeze Mark 2 Battery Powered Portable...

Zero Breeze Mark 2

Best Battery Powered AC

EF ECOFLOW Wave 2 Portable Air Conditioner,...

EcoFlow Wave 2

Most Portable AC Option

8 Best Portable Air Conditioners For Cars And Trucks

1 - MightyKool K2

4.6

Overall Score


Ease Of Use

4.5

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Cooling Ability

4.5

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Value For Money

4.7

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Looking for the best way to cool yourself off in your car, truck, trailer, RV, or boat? Then stop looking and get the MightyKool K2.

First, let me be clear — K2 is not an AC but an evaporative cooler. The manufacturer seems to want to highlight that, so I found it worth mentioning.

As such, K2 can’t cool down an entire vehicle. But what this beast of a cooler does is provide a strong, refreshing flow of air to keep you comfortable. The fan speeds can reach up to 25 mph.

At 82 degrees with 50% humidity, the air blowing out of the double fans registers at about 60 degrees in temperature.

When I said provides powerful cooling, I meant it.

The unit has a one-gallon water tank and doesn’t need ice to chill the air. The tank can last up to 8 hours at a low setting, but in general use, 4-5 hours is more achievable.

The tank lid has a rubber gasket and attaches with four screws. You can use this cooler even in a moving truck without worrying about spills.

The 12v power plug fits a car cigarette lighter, and you get a 120v-to-12v converter for plugging the K2 into an AC outlet. I like the step-less fan speed adjustment, which gives you precise cooling control.

I also want to highlight the excellent customer service from MightyKool and the one-year warranty.

They really seem to want to make sure you’re happy with your purchase.

If I have to find something to complain about, the cooling performance also suffers in humid environments — but that’s just physics at play. 

K2 and its replacement filters are also pretty pricey, but the chill you get is well worth the investment.

Feature

Details

Type

12v Cooler Fan

Dimensions

12 x 10 x 8 inches

BTU

N/A

Power Source(s)

12v adapter

Battery Runtime/Life

N/A

Warranty

1-year limited warranty


2 - Zero Breeze Mark 2

4.5

Overall Score


Ease Of Use

4.5

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Cooling Ability

4.7

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Value For Money

4.2

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For those who need true air conditioning for their vehicles, Zero Breeze Mark 2 comes to the rescue. 

This portable and relatively affordable AC is the best solution for real climate control.

Rated for 2,300 BTU, the Zero Breeze 2 has great cooling performance. While it’s not quite as powerful as the EcoFlow, it quickly cools down spaces up to 40 square feet.

It has what it takes to chill even a larger RV in about 10 minutes.

The unit can draw power either from an AC outlet or the MK2 battery (sold separately or as a bundle). 

The battery lasts for around 4 hours on maximum power and lower settings double that time. In fan mode, you can get up to two days of performance.

No worries about running out of battery overnight.

Sadly, you can’t charge the battery and run the AC at the same time without buying a power extension dock. 

You can charge the battery from a car cigarette lighter, but you need both the dock and a 12v-to-24v converter. It’s also not recommended to power the AC unit from the car outlet, since that could blow the plug fuse.

Aside from the confusing charging process, Zero Breeze is simple to use. The only required installation process is attaching the drain hose. 

There’s a handy remote controller for adjusting the unit without getting out of bed.

In normal use, the Zero Breeze is only as loud as the EcoFlow is in Sleep mode. The Zero Breeze’s own Sleep mode lowers the noise level significantly.

Taken as a whole, Zero Breeze Mark 2 is an excellent portable AC. 

These kinds of units always come with some quirks, and among this crowd, Mark 2 stands out with simple usability, strong performance, and good value.

You can read a more detailed Zero Breeze review here

Feature

Details

Type

Portable Air Conditioner

Dimensions

20 x 10 x 11 inches

BTU

2,300

Power Source(s)

AC adapter, battery (separate purchase)

Battery Runtime/Life

Up to 8 hours

Warranty


30-day return, 1-year warranty


3 - EcoFlow Wave 2

4.6

Overall Score


Ease Of Use

4.7

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Cooling Ability

5.0

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Value For Money

4.2

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RV camping can require strong cooling, especially if you have a big RV or camp in the desert. EcoFlow Wave 2 offers something for every situation.

This portable AC unit packs a lot of power. Rated for 5,100 BTU, it’s the single most powerful device on my list, beating even the Zero Breeze Mark 2. It effectively maintains a cool temperature in a 30-foot RV.

Should the night get chilly, this AC can serve double duty as a heater. Basically, no matter the temperature, Wave 2 can keep you comfy.

Installation is super easy. In cooling mode, the unit doesn’t need drainage if the ambient temperature is under 70%. Even if you camp in a rainforest, the flexible drain pipe is easy to lead into a bucket or outdoors.

The cooling power comes with quite a bit of noise, though. Even in Sleep mode, Wave 2 produces around 45dB of noise — same as the Zero Breeze on max settings.

Controlling the unit is simple with a remote mobile app, so you don’t have to get out of bed to adjust it.

You have plenty of options for powering Wave 2. It can run off AC or DC power, a solar panel, or a car cigarette lighter. There’s also a chargeable battery add-on that can last up to 8 hours.

Just note that the expensive battery is sold separately, which adds to the unit’s already hefty price. It’s picky with other power options as well.

For example, the cigarette lighter hookup can’t power the compressor, turning the device into an evaporative cooler.

The machine also defaults to the evaporative mode when the exhaust ducts aren’t attached.

EcoFlow Wave 2 is a bit of a quirky but powerful unit. I wouldn’t hesitate to have it in my RV.

Feature

Details

Type

Portable Air Conditioner/Heater

Dimensions

20 x 13 x 12 inches

BTU

5,100 cooling, 6,100 heating

Power Source(s)

AC, DC, solar, car cigarette lighter adapters; battery (sold separately)

Battery Runtime/Life

Up to 8 hours

Warranty

1-year warranty


4 - Arctic Cove MBF0181

No products found.

Best Bucket Fan Cooler

4.3

Overall Score


Ease Of Use

4.5

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Cooling Ability

4.0

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Value For Money

4.5

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If you host tailgates or go camping in very dry environments, it might be nice to add a bit of moisture to the air.

Arctic Cove MBF0181 does a good job of cooling you down — and it can even get you wet.

This bucket fan attaches on top of a 5-gallon bucket, which you can fill with water, crushed ice, ice blocks, or pretty much anything else that’s cold. A bag of frozen peas will work in a pinch.

The fan unit pulls the cool air out of the bucket and blows it over you. If you fill the bucket with water, you can also use the Arctic Cove as a cool mister.

It sucks up water from the bucket and sprays it up as a fine mist.

I like that you don’t necessarily even need the bucket. You can plug a regular garden hose into the fan to feed it with water.

This unit’s great for campgrounds equipped with a water supply.

I can’t recommend using this fan inside the car, though. Unless you rig up some DIY solution, there’s no lid for the bucket. A big water spill is a very real risk if you drive around with this thing.

The unit is entirely battery-powered, but the supplied battery only lasts for a couple of hours.

The good news is that Arctic Cove is compatible with Ryobi One+ P100-P108 batteries. You can buy a longer-lasting power source, but that adds to the price.

Using the unit is easy with basic push buttons. I wish there were more settings than low and high, but simplicity has its own value.

Despite its shortcomings, Arctic Cove does keep you cool effectively. It’s a great lightweight cooler for taking with you in the car.

Feature

Details

Type

Bucket Cooler Fan

Dimensions

12.9 x 12.2 x 14.9 inches

BTU

N/A

Power Source(s)

Ryobi ONE+ 18v batteries

Battery Runtime/Life

2 hours

Warranty

1-year limited warranty


5 - Evapolar EvaChill

4.2

Overall Score


Ease Of Use

4.5

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Cooling Ability

3.5

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Value For Money

4.7

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Evapolar evaChill combines effective personal cooling with a price that won’t break the budget. If you’re looking for an affordable, lightweight spot cooler for your car, you’ve found it.

The evaChill is marketed as a mini-AC, but it’s in reality an evaporative cooler. Don’t let the misleading labeling discourage you, though.

This unit has a maximum cooling power of 1,190 BTU. It won’t cool down your whole car, but the manufacturer doesn’t even try to claim it does. That’s still a lot of personal airflow for the driver or passenger (or your dog in the backseat).

There’s a lot I like about the evaChill. To begin with, it has a simple USB plug. You can power it from a car cigarette lighter, a power bank, or even your laptop.

If you use a battery, you can expect the cooler to run for a long time. With a power consumption of 7.5W, it eats less electricity than a regular lightbulb.

The admittedly small water tank can also last for five hours even at the high setting.

Producing only 28dB of noise on the low setting, the evaChill is quieter than a whisper. 

Even at a high setting, it’s only as loud as the EcoFlow is in Sleep mode. Case closed, this thing’s practically silent.

My favorite feature is that you can use the evaChill while driving. As long as you keep it on a level platform — on the floorboards or the dashboard — the watertight design shouldn’t spill anything. 

Just remember to tighten the fill hole’s silicone stopper properly, or the tank might leak above the power plug.

The evaChill requires filter changes, and the filters are expensive. You only have to replace it a couple of times a year at most, though, so you still won’t ruin your budget.

Feature

Details

Type

Evaporative Cooler

Dimensions

6.5 x 6.5 x 6.5 inches

BTU

1,190

Power Source(s)

USB-C Port (new models); Micro-USB Port (Pre-2021 models)

Battery Runtime/Life

N/A

Warranty

1-year warranty


6 - Bucket Breeze Medium

4.2

Overall Score


Ease Of Use

4.5

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Cooling Ability

4.0

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Value For Money

4.0

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Bucket Breeze offers a few differently sized bucket air cooler fans. 

The Medium unit is a great option if you want a breezy, cool bucket fan for your vehicle, like a truck cabin.

Compared to the Arctic Cove unit, Bucket Breeze has one big advantage — it doesn’t need water. Sure, you can fill the bucket with water, but the unit comes with four canisters of gel-based refrigerant.

They work the same way as those frozen gel packs in first aid kits or ice chests. Stick the bottle in your freezer until the gel freezes. You can then put it in the bucket and enjoy a cool breeze for around 10 hours (depending on the outside temperature).

There’s simply no chance of spilling water! That’s great for keeping this unit on your floorboards while driving.

For powering the fan, you get an AC plug and a battery pack that takes 8 regular AA batteries. You can simply swap the batteries and keep cooling yourself without stopping to charge anything.

You’ll want to keep the Bucket Breeze close to the driver’s seat, though, since the supplied 175 CFM fan isn’t very powerful. 

It can provide spot cooling, but it definitely won’t cool down the entire car.

Additionally, I have to admit Bucket Breeze is expensive for its performance. For around the same price, the Arctic Cove fan provides a more powerful breeze.

That said, you have to put some value on this unit being completely waterproof.

If you’re looking to introduce a cold breeze to your car without worrying about spills, I’d definitely consider giving Bucket Breeze a try.

Feature

Details

Type

Bucket Cooler Fan

Dimensions

12 x 12 x 24 inches

BTU

N/A

Power Source(s)

8 AA batteries, AC adapter

Battery Runtime/Life

About 8 hours

Warranty

90-day limited warranty


7 - Xool 12V Double Car Fan

3.8

Overall Score


Ease Of Use

4.5

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Cooling Ability

2.0

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Value For Money

4.7

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My car’s AC is pretty stupidly designed — I might be freezing in the driver’s seat but my backseat passengers complain it’s too hot. Xool’s mini double fan can put an end to the whining.

The two fans mount to the headrest of either of the front seats.

They are fairly strong and produce ample airflow to keep the backseat quiet even in a big SUV — especially if you crack the windows open slightly to promote circulation.

The power cable plugs into a 12V cigarette lighter outlet. Unfortunately, there’s no battery so you can’t take the fan with you, like with the Jiffi

Then again, it’s nice that you don’t have to mess with extra adapters.

I like this gadget’s adjustability. You can angle both fans separately to maximize backseat comfort. 

The power cord has a step-less speed controller, so your passengers can set fan power exactly where they like it. My only grumble about the control is that you can’t control each fan’s power separately.

The package includes a mounting clamp for the fans. It’s simple to install with two manually tightened screws and holds the fan unit in place fairly firmly. 

If you want to mount the fans anywhere else than a car seat, though, you’ll have to get creative.

You also get a set of cable holders, so the 6-foot power cord doesn’t need to get trampled on the floor.

Sadly, these parts feel pretty flimsy and cheap. Make sure your backseat passengers don’t use too much force when angling the fans.

Overall, though, I do like the Xool fan. It’s good value and saves everyone’s nerves on hot road trips.

Feature

Details

Type

Dual Fan

Dimensions

4.3 x 10.4 x 5.5 inches

BTU

N/A

Power Source(s)

12v car cigarette lighter adapter

Battery Runtime/Life

N/A

Warranty

1-year limited warranty


8 - Jiffi Portable Fan

3.8

Overall Score


Ease Of Use

5.0

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Cooling Ability

1.5

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Value For Money

4.7

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Do you like the idea of the Xool fan but wish you could take it with you when you leave the car? Then the Jiffi portable fan is the solution to your cooling problems.

This battery-powered fan can run at 2,470 rpm and produces a reasonably strong airflow. It’s perhaps not quite on par with the Xool, but hey — two fans against one isn’t really fair to begin with.

I like how freely you can angle this unit. The fan head itself can rotate 360 degrees, which alone lets you position it ideally in almost any situation.

Then there’s also the octopus tripod which lets you mount the fan practically anywhere. Just wrap the legs around the car headrest — or a beach umbrella or anything else.

The rechargeable battery has a decent 5,000 mAh capacity that lasts for a good long while.

The highest setting empties it in a few hours, but it might be a bit too strong anyway, especially for small vehicles.

To charge the battery, the Jiffi has a basic USB connection that you can plug into pretty much anything, including your car’s cigarette lighter or USB ports. 

As a nice touch, the cable can power the fan even on an empty battery. You don’t need to be constrained by the battery life if you keep this fan in your car.

Sadly, just like with the Xool fan, the mounting component is the weakest link. As sturdy as the octopus legs look, I discovered that the actual bendy part inside is pretty thin and weak.

I wouldn’t recommend twisting the legs too much or you can quite easily break them.

Reportedly, Jiffi customer service sends a replacement mount quickly, but luckily, I never had to contact them.

Feature

Details

Type

Fan

Dimensions

2.8 x 6.34 x 13 inches

BTU

N/A

Power Source(s)

Chargeable battery, USB adapter

Battery Runtime/Life

Up to 12 hours

Warranty

1-year limited warranty


Portable AC Units For Cars Compared

Preview

Name

Rating

Type

Power Source(s)

Price

K2 is a personal 12-volt Cooler for Campers,...

MightyKool K2

4.6

12v Cooler Fan

12v adapter

Zero Breeze Mark 2 Battery Powered Portable...

Zero Breeze Mark 2

4.5

Portable Air Conditioner

AC adapter, battery

EF ECOFLOW Wave 2 Portable Air Conditioner,...

EcoFlow Wave 2

4.6

Portable Air Conditioner/Heater

AC, DC, solar, car cigarette lighter adapters; battery

No products found.

Arctic Cove MBF0181

4.3

Bucket Cooler Fan

Ryobi ONE+ 18v batteries

Evapolar evaCHILL Portable Air Conditioners /...

Evapolar EvaChill

4.2

Evaporative Cooler

USB-C Port (new models); Micro-USB Port (Pre-2021 models)

Bucket Breeze - Medium Breeze - Personal...

Bucket Breeze Medium

4.2

Bucket Cooler Fan

8 AA batteries, AC adapter

XOOL Electric Car Fans for Rear Seat...

Xool 12V Double Car Fan

3.8

Dual Fan

12v car cigarette lighter adapter

Jiffi 5000Mah Portable Battery Operated Fan,...

Jiffi Portable Fan

3.8

Fan

Chargeable battery, USB adapter


Buying Guide For The Best Portable AC For Cars

Not every portable AC or cooler is suitable for every car.

It’s vital to pick a unit that suits your vehicle and cooling needs to avoid wasting money on an inadequate AC.

Here’s my breakdown of the most crucial things to keep an eye on when choosing a portable AC for your car.

Installation Must Be Easy

Most portable ACs require minimal to no installation. Nonetheless, I recommend looking for a unit that you can just set down and power up.

Fans, like the Xool or Jiffi, are the simplest units to install — just connect them to the power source and turn them on. They might not always provide enough cooling for you, though.

In general, small portable AC units (like Zero Breeze and EcoFlow on my list) provide the best balance between ease of installation and cooling power. 

You need to attach a drain line and optionally connect exhaust ducts, but that only takes about 10 minutes. 

In return, you get a true AC that will efficiently cool your car or RV.

What Kind of Power Source It Requires

DC, AC, USB, batteries… You have a lot of options for powering your cooling unit. 

For ACs and coolers you want to use in cars, I advise finding a unit you can power in a moving vehicle.

In general, that means buying a unit that can draw all the power it needs from your car’s cigarette lighter outlet.

If that’s not possible, a USB-connected device (like the EvaPolar evaChill) will also work well with a simple adapter.

Battery-powered coolers enhance portability, but they come with the risk of running out of charge halfway through your road trip. 

Units that use simple AA batteries instead of rechargeable battery packs, such as the Bucket Breeze, can solve this issue — as long as you remember to pack extra batteries.

If you want the most cooling power, though, you will likely have to opt for a unit that connects to AC power. 

You usually can’t use these kinds of devices while driving, but they’re great for RVs, campgrounds, and tailgates.

The Overall Size and Dimensions

Interior space is often at a premium in vehicles. 

It’s a smart idea to try and find the smallest possible device that can keep you (and your passengers) cool.

Obviously, how big of an AC or cooler you can fit in your vehicle depends entirely on what you’re driving.

A Honda Civic probably doesn’t have space for anything more than a small personal cooler, such as the EvaPolar, while your RV can likely house the big Zero Breeze and EcoFlow ACs.

I would measure the space available in your car before you start shopping for an AC. 

Remember to also take your possible passengers into account to make sure they can still sit comfortably.

BTU Capacity and Cooling Power

You should match your cooling device’s capacity to your vehicle’s size and the number of passengers.

For true ACs, I recommend aiming for a British thermal unit (BTU) rating of at least 2,000.

Without going too deep into the science behind it, the BTU rating measures an AC’s cooling power. 

For reference, the average car AC (the one installed into your vehicle) produces around 20,000 BTU of power, though they can reach up to 40,000 BTU. (1)

A portable unit can never reach that kind of power. However, 2,000 BTU is sufficient for spaces of around 50 square feet, which should be enough for a truck or RV.

Evaporative or bucket coolers and fans don’t have BTU ratings, since they’re not real ACs. 

There’s really no guideline I can give you here — just try to find a fan that can keep people comfortable.

Pay Attention to Noise Levels

My recommendation is to look for an AC or cooler that produces 50dB of noise or less. 

That’s more or less on par with a regular conversation. (2) You may have to compromise on that if you want a lot of power (like with the EcoFlow) but this is the limit I would aim for.

The noise level you can tolerate also depends on whether you aim to sleep with the AC running. 

You can probably put up with a bit louder device while driving than when you’re trying to sleep in your RV.

Then again, there’s no need to settle — the Evapoler unit, for example, is a quiet unit that works even while driving.

How Difficult and Costly is the Maintenance

Every cooler and AC needs some kind of maintenance to stay effective. 

Since portable car ACs are meant to be used on the move, aim to buy a low-maintenance unit so you can clean it quickly on the road.

Fans and bucket coolers are the lowest-maintenance units.

All they need is a quick dusting every now and then to clear the blades, and you have to top up the water in bucket coolers. If you don’t want to bother with upkeep, go for one of these.

Evaporative coolers strike a good balance between efficiency and maintenance. You have to fill the water reservoir and change the filter every few months, but that’s a five-minute job. 

Some of the filters, like those of the Evapolar,  can get expensive, though.

True portable ACs are the most maintenance-intensive. On top of cleaning and filter changes, you’ll have to top up the refrigerant (the frequency depends entirely on the unit).

You also have to ensure they can drain properly or you might be looking at water damage in your vehicle.

Look For Energy Efficient Models

You might think energy efficiency doesn’t matter much with portable units, but it does. 

I recommend trying to find the most energy-efficient cooler or AC you can, preferably one with an Energy Star stamp.

This can be particularly important with battery-powered devices. The less energy the AC consumes, the longer the battery lasts.

Believe me, nothing sucks more than your AC running out of charge in the middle of a sweaty road trip.

Energy efficiency also plays a role if you plug the unit into your car’s cigarette lighter.

A power-hungry unit will lower your gas mileage somewhat since your car has to supply it with energy. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s good to be aware of it.

Price, Warranty and Your Budget

Set your budget before you start shopping for your portable car AC. You can then disregard units you can’t afford and save a lot of time during the process.

Car coolers are available in a wide price range, from cheap $30 fans like the Jiffi to ACs such as the EcoFlow that cost more than a grand. 

Remember to also take into account the possible maintenance costs, like filter replacements, which can build up over the unit’s lifetime.

Finally, see what kind of warranty the manufacturer offers. I’ve found out the hard way that car coolers can be very temperamental. 

Try to find a cooler that offers a warranty period of at least a year.

Tank Capacity For Evaporative and Bucket Cooler

If you opt for an evaporative or bucket cooler, the water tank capacity becomes an important consideration.

I advise purchasing a unit with the biggest tank you can fit in the space your vehicle has available.

There’s a simple reason for this — a bigger tank generally lasts for a longer time.

Having to constantly top up the tank can be a hassle and result in water spills, especially in a moving car.

However, it’s not all about the size.

For example, the Evapolar’s minuscule 27-ounce tank can last for hours because it’s well-matched to the unit’s cooling power.

How Easy It is Use And Operate

Try to find an AC and cooler that you could picture yourself controlling with one hand without your eyes closed. 

The simplest possible usability can be a literal lifesaver, especially if you’re traveling alone in your car.

Of course, I wholeheartedly recommend stopping and pulling over if you need to make big adjustments to your AC. 

Still, simple controls let you crank the AC up quickly during, for example, a red light stop.

This is less of a concern if you’re looking for an AC for your RV since you won’t be using it on the move.

I would still get a remote-controlled AC (which the Zero Breeze and EcoFlow are) so you can easily set the temperature without hunching over the unit.

Extra Features

You should also consider the additional features of the AC or cooler. Some will have multiple speed options or airflow direction control adjustments.

Some units, like EcoFlow, can work as heaters or have Wi-Fi or mobile connectivity.

At the same time, try to avoid bells and whistles you won’t need since they can quickly rack up the unit’s cost. 

There are no real guidelines I can give you here — just spend a few minutes thinking about what you want from your AC!

How We Review & Rank Our Product List

At Air Conditioner Lab, our team follows a similar process when evaluating all products reviews before formulating our final lists for readers.

We begin by gathering data sources directly from brands, e-commerce platforms, online retailers and press releases.

These are then added to a master file we use to compare features specifications from all Portable AC models. You can access this Portable AC Sheet Here.

Next, we narrow down all the products on the market by evaluating user reviews, ratings and feedback from a wide variety of online and in-person sources.

Our team then discusses and co-ordinates our first hand experiences using these products, as well as gather independent opinions and feedback through Youtube and customer reviews.


Types Of Air Conditioners For Cars

If you’ve read through my list, you’ve noticed there are a lot of different portable ACs and coolers available for cars. Which one’s the right one for your needs?

I’ve listed the most common types here to help you find one that fits your vehicle.

Portable True ACs

True ACs for cars are exactly what it says on the label — small and compact portable air conditioners. 

They generally have the best cooling power out of the truly portable units and can chill a truck cabin or RV in minutes.

However, they are often much too big and power-hungry to use in a sedan. 

They often also need drainage and exhaust/intake venting, so using them in a moving vehicle is generally out of the question.

As such, portable true ACs are the best choice for cooling RVs, camping trailers, or truck cabins when you’re not on the move. For that purpose, they’re unbeatable.

Rooftop ACs

It’s a bit questionable whether rooftop ACs count as portable ACs — which is why you won’t find any on my list.

They’re worth bringing up, though.

Rooftop ACs are permanent units attached to the roof of an RV, camper van, or trailer. 

They have all the same components and functionality as your regular in-house AC, just on a marginally smaller scale.

They’re absolutely the most efficient way to cool your RV on a regular basis. But is it really portable, although it technically travels with your vehicle?

Evaporative Coolers

Evaporative coolers—also called swamp coolers—feature a filter (sometimes called a wick filter) that sucks up water from the unit’s water tank.

A fan blows air through the filter, which cools it and provides you with a nice, chilly breeze.

Evaporative coolers can be very effective spot coolers and can be compact enough to fit well even in a small car. However, they don’t usually have enough kick to cool down the whole cabin. 

You also have to keep filling the water reservoir every few hours and replace the filter, typically at least once a year.

These units are at their best when used as personal coolers. 

As I said, they won’t cool down your whole car, but they can keep one or two people comfortable when properly positioned.

Bucket Coolers

A bucket cooler is essentially an evaporative cooler that relies (as the name implies) on a bucket filled with water or ice. 

On top of the bucket sits a fan that pulls the cool air out of the bucket and blows it on you. Some units, like the Arctic Cove, can also blow a fine water mist to boost their efficiency.

Bucket coolers are a bit of a mixed bag. They can be affordable and reasonably effective, yet still probably can’t cool an entire RV. 

They’re often pretty bulky, though, and unless they have a water-tight lid (or use a solid coolant like the Bucket Breeze) they’re a water spill waiting to happen.

I wouldn’t put a bucket cooler in a moving car. They can be cheap-ish and effective spot cooler for tailgates or camping, though!

Fans

You know what a fan is. It’s a set of spinning blades that moves air to cool you down. You probably already own at least a couple of them.

Fans only circulate air and, as such, don’t have any real cooling capacity. The breeze they create can keep a couple of people more comfortable in a hot car, though, and they also help keep the air from becoming too stale. They’re also often dirt-cheap (although I can’t vouch for a cheap fan’s quality)

If you’re looking to help your passengers stay a bit cooler in a small vehicle at a low price, a good fan might be just what you need.


People Also Ask (FAQs)

Can A Portable AC Be Used In A Car?

You can use a portable AC in a car as long as it’s waterproof, and has a battery or can draw power from the outlets available in your vehicle.

Note that cars sway and bounce, so you shouldn’t use a portable AC during driving unless you’re certain it won’t spill water or coolant.

How Effective Are Portable Car Air Conditioners?

Portable car air conditioners can provide efficient spot cooling, but they are rarely a replacement for your vehicle’s standard air conditioner.

Many of them can’t cool the entire vehicle, but they can provide excellent additional cooling if your car’s AC is struggling.

Is A Fan Sufficient For Cooling A Vehicle?

Fans are not designed to cool a vehicle. They are meant to provide cooling by circulating the air, but they can’t lower the temperature inside a vehicle.

What Is The Best Alternative To Car AC?

The best alternative to a personal car’s in-built AC is a compact evaporative cooler. Larger vehicles, such as trucks, may have enough space for a small portable AC unit.

Can You Run A Portable AC On A Battery?

Yes, you can buy portable AC units that run on batteries. Even a plug-in unit can sometimes be connected to an external portable battery, although that means you must also carry the power pack with you. 

What Are The Disadvantages Of Using Portable AC In A Car?

The biggest disadvantage of using portable AC in a car is that it won’t match your car’s real AC’s cooling power.

Battery-powered units can run out of charge, while plug-in units may lower your gas mileage. Additionally, you must be careful not to spill water from the unit if you use it while driving.

Which Product On Your List Is Best For Cooling Children In The Back Seats?

The dual cooling fan from Xool is ideal for cooling children in the backseat, as you can position the fans to cover the entire backseat without worrying about water spills.

The Jiffi fan is also a good option if you have only one child in the car.

How Long Do These Portable Air Conditioners For Cars Last?

True portable ACs for cars can last up to 10 years with proper care and maintenance. (3) Evaporative or bucket coolers and fans generally have shorter lifespans, but with some TLC, you can get five years of service out of them.

So, What is the Best Portable AC For You?

You have a lot of options when choosing a portable AC for a car. With my list, you can compare the most popular devices and see which one suits your vehicle and needs the best.

If you still feel a bit lost, here are my personal recommendations:

  • The MightyKool K2 is the best evaporative cooler, providing efficient cooling without you having to worry about spills.
  • To cool an RV, camper van, or truck cabin with a true portable AC, Zero Breeze Mark 2 provides plenty of power and value.
  • Evapolar evaChill is a budget-friendly and reasonably strong compact personal cooler for cars.
My #1 Recommendation
MightyKool Evaporative Air Cooler

  • Provides a strong, refreshing flow of air
  • Doesn’t need ice to chill the air
  • Precise cooling control

References: 

  1. https://www.secondchancegarage.com/public/258.cfm
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hearing_loss/what_noises_cause_hearing_loss.html
  3. https://www.callks.com/blog/how-long-do-air-conditioners-last/
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Josh Mitchell

Founder

Josh Mitchell
My name is Josh and I am obsessed with home appliances. From portable AC units to heaters and air purifiers, I enjoy testing, learning and using these devices to improve the air quality inside my family home.

My Favorite Home Appliance?

Midea U Shaped Window Air Conditioner

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