Your automotive AC can be a lifesaver. Especially in the hot summer months and rush hour traffic. When the AC in your car goes out, what are you going to do? If a warranty doesn’t cover you, you can end up spending quite a bit of money to repair an air conditioner problem. Portable air conditioners are also a viable answer.
In this article, we will examine, detail, and review the best portable air conditioners for your car or truck. There are several different options to consider and choose from. Let’s take a look at how they work and find the best portable AC for you.
How Portable Car ACs & Fans Work
When using a portable car AC or cooler fan, it is important to know how they operate. There are a few options for power, though the most often used is either battery power or a 12v adapter that plugs into your car or truck’s 12v receptacle.
Cooler fans use water or ice (or a combination) to produce cold air that is then blown around the cabin by a fan. You will need to fill the chamber with either water or ice and turn the unit on. If there is a fan speed selection, you can adjust the speed of the airflow.
A portable AC doesn’t need to be continuously filled with water or ice and works similarly to a standard window air conditioner. There will be an internal condenser and evaporator that pushes coolant through the piping to chill the air being suctioned through. The result is fresh, cold air being dispersed throughout the car interior.
Both the portable air conditioners and portable cooling fans have their advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a closer look at the different types of AC coolers.
Types of Portable Car AC Cooler
Overall, there are four main types of portable car or truck AC coolers. Portable ACs, rooftop ACs, fan coolers, and bucket coolers all have their uses. Below, we examine each type in more detail.
Portable air conditioners work to keep a small area cool. Most, by design, will cool an area less than 200 square feet by up to 15 degrees. Depending on the style, brand, and BTU measurements, the square footage or area of coverage, as well as ambient temperature control, may change.
The portable ACs have multiple power source options such as AC adapter, 12v car power supply, or rechargeable batteries. Instead of being water-filled or needing ice to cool the air, a portable AC will work in a similar fashion to a home AC unit. Still compressing and evaporating refrigerant to produce cold air, just on a much smaller scale.
Rooftop air conditioners are designed for RV and camper installations. These work the same as a window AC unit, complete with their own compressor, evaporator, and thermostat controls.
Most units will come with temperature sensors you install around the cabin and living areas of the RV. These will gauge the ambient temperature, and based on the thermostat settings, the AC will kick on or off until the entire space reads within the set range.
Unlike more portable AC options or cooler fans, rooftop ACs are a permanent install and require thermostats, sensors, ducting, and refrigerant. They are complete central air conditioning units like in your home, only designed for an RV.
Fan coolers are little more than portable fans. They are designed to move air to supply a refreshing breeze. The primary difference between a cooler fan and an oscillating fan is that most cooler fans can have water or ice added to the system to produce a cold stream or air or even a spray of mist.
The portable and car or truck options will clip on to the headrest, air vents, or windows of your vehicle and are designed to keep a single person, pet, or area of the car cool. Cooler fans are not intended to replace the car’s AC, which cools the entire vehicle.
Bucket + Fan Coolers
Bucket coolers use buckets or large storage compartments to hold ice and water. The cold air surrounding the ice is then pulled through a fan mounted on the top and pushed out into the space through the vent or fans.
In the automotive space, bucket coolers are generally sealed units to the water, and ice doesn’t slosh and spill. You will need to maintain a certain level of water in the tank to keep the fan operating. This requires a constant check of the levels and the ability to refill when needed.
Most operate on battery or 12v power and have some sort of visual guide so you can check the water and ice levels with relative ease.
Buyers Guide: Portable Air Conditioner for Cars
Before you get your money out and make a final purchase, there are several factors you need to consider. Below, we have outlined the major factors to think about before your final decision.
Size vs. Space
Most portable air conditioners and cooling fans are designed for personal use. Because of this, they are generally quite small. However, you will still need to determine if the type of AC you choose is going to work in the space you have.
Obviously, most cars have a smaller interior space than trucks. For this reason, a bucket fan cooler may not be a suitable option for a vehicle. If you are going to use a portable AC in your vehicle, you must measure the space and get the dimensions of your chosen cooler to ensure the area can hold the unit.
Efficiency & Power Source
It should be noted that with very few exceptions (such as our number one pick), you aren’t going to be able to replace your car or truck’s AC with a portable unit. The type of airflow and cooling required to do that job need more parts and vents than a portable air conditioner usually has.
The unit should still be efficient, though. The ability to cool the space to at least 10 degrees below ambient temperature is important; otherwise, it is virtually useless as an air conditioner.
The power supply should be considered, as well. If your vehicle doesn’t have a 12v supply or cigarette lighter, then you don’t want to purchase a unit that requires one. There are several power sources to choose from, including 12v, USB, and even solar. We have covered all of these types in this article here.
Battery power is the most economical because you can take the AC anywhere. However, batteries won’t last as long as a dedicated power supply, and you may find yourself without AC while the batteries recharge.
Unless the portable cooler is an actual air conditioner, it won’t have a British Thermal Unit (BTU) rating. The BTU is basically a rating to determine how much water can be changed by one degree. The higher the BTU, the more powerful the air conditioner.
The BTU rating can also help you determine the area size that the particular unit can keep cool. A window or through-the-wall air conditioner with a BTU rating of 12,000, for example, can keep a living space of about 1,000 square feet at a constant temperature.
Portable air conditioners won’t be this strong, and generally, have a BTU rating of less than 2,000. A BTU of 2,000 will still cool an area of about 200 square feet efficiently.
The aesthetics will play a minor part in your decision as well. You will want the air conditioner to blend in or at least be attractive when others see it. A bulky, gaudy contraption hanging out of your window, for example, would be something to avoid.
Luckily, all of the items in our review below are quite small and unobtrusive. The larger ones are designed to either blend in or be attractive. If you stick with the options on our list, you won’t need to worry too much about the aesthetics.
The noise level will also be an issue for some. Fans will produce a sound, but often not that loud. However, the fan motors will be quite noisy. If you are looking for a quieter option, you will need to check the decibel rating for the device.
For the most part, the air conditioners on our list are rated at 55dB or lower. At this range, they won’t interfere with a conversation or your radio playing in your car.
You should also consider the additional features of the air conditioners or fan coolers. Some will have multiple speed options or directional airflow adjustments. You will find that some are multi-tools and can do other things than make cold air.
For instance, wireless connections, Bluetooth compatibility, and other aspects can mean your portable air conditioner could also play music. While things like this aren’t a requirement, if you plan on taking the air conditioner with you on road trips or camping, the added features might mean less you have to pack or keep track of.
You also want to try and avoid paying for features or options you don’t need. Following the above example, if you don’t need a radio, finding a similar device without the radio feature may save you a bit of money.
Installation & Maintenance
Installation of your new portable AC shouldn’t be a difficult procedure for you. It is advised that you first read through the owner’s manual or find a video online of the installation and set up process.
If you find that it requires a skill you don’t have or takes multiple people to perform, you may want to opt for a different type. Once the setup and installation are complete, though, you generally won’t have to go through the process again.
You will need to do regular maintenance on the device, though. Keeping the unit clean is crucial to the efficiency and effectiveness of the air conditioner. Cleaning fan blades, removing dust and debris build-up, and flushing water lines are just some examples of maintenance items you should perform.
Each product will have a series of different maintenance tasks for you to perform. You must read through the procedures and follow them. Most of the warranties will require the general upkeep of the product to remain valid.
Most of the products on our list will have a return period (usually 30 days) and a warranty period (90 days to a year or two).
Before you install your new AC unit, you should read the warranty requirements. Some will make you register the product, or return a survey postcard. Others may have you retain the original packaging or sales receipt. Before you throw anything out, you need to find out what the specific requirements are.
10 Best Portable Car AC Units & Fans Reviewed
Below we give you the 10 best portable car and truck AC units and fan coolers. We have reviewed each one to bring you the most relevant information about each product, good and bad. Your next portable air conditioner awaits!
1. MightyKool A
Best 12v Portable AC For Cars
|Type||12v Cooler Fan|
|Dimensions||12 x 10 x 9 inches|
|Power Source(s)||12v adapter|
|Warranty||90-day limited warranty|
The best 12v portable air conditioner for cars is the MightyKool A. This water-based cooling fan holds up to a gallon of water and doesn’t use ice at all. It uses two fans to pull the colder air from inside the tank out into the ambient air. The fan speeds can reach up to 25 miles per hour.
The one downside is that the small unit is designed to keep a single person cool. While it won’t cool off the entire cabin area of your car or truck, it can be used in the back seat to keep the car seat cooler, or in the passenger seat to keep the driver chilled.
The device plugs into a 12v car outlet or cigarette lighter and will run for about 8 hours on a gallon of water. You don’t need to worry about sloshing or spilling, either. The top of the case is guarded by a rubber gasket and held in place with four set screws.
There is also a 120 volt to 12v converter if you would prefer plugging the machine into a standard outlet. Upon purchase, you will find you receive a 90-day warranty that protects you against defects in functionality and craftsmanship.
2. Zero Breeze Z19-B
Best Battery Powered AC For Cars/Trucks
|Dimensions||11 x 18 x 8 inches|
|Power Source(s)||AC adapter, battery (separate purchase)|
|Battery Runtime/Life||Up to 8 hours|
|Warranty||30-day return, 1 year warranty|
This isn’t the first time the Zero Breeze Z19 has made one of our best-of lists. In fact, if you want to read the full review, you can find it right here.
The Zero Breeze is a true portable air conditioner using battery or AC adapter power sources. With simple installation, you can have the best battery powered air conditioner for cars or trucks sitting right next to you in no time at all. You will need to wait at least two hours before the first use, though.
Because it uses refrigerant, it is essential that the coolant levels off and can fill the compressor correctly. If you try to run the device without letting everything settle after shipping, you run the risk of burning out the compressor or motor.
The only other downside is that you can’t control the direction of the airflow. There is a single vent, and it doesn’t have any baffles or louvers. However, you won’t mind much unless you just have to have the direct air blowing on you.
After running for a few minutes, the Zero Breeze will have cooled your space by up to 15 degrees. This unit is efficient at cooling down an area of up to 200 square feet, making it ideal for trucks, cars, RVs, campers, and tents.
3. Arctic Cove MBF0181
Best Bucket Fan Cooler For Trucks
|Type||AC, Cooler Fan|
|Dimensions||12.9 x 12.2 x 14.9 inches|
|Power Source(s)||Ryobi ONE+ 18v batteries|
|Battery Runtime/Life||2 hours|
|Warranty||90-day exchange, 3-year limited warranty|
If you drive a truck or have a car with a large cabin, the Arctic Cove bucket fan is a viable option for you. The fan and housing are designed to sit atop a 5-gallon bucket, which you can fill with ice, water, frozen blocks, or anything else you can muster that is cold. A bag of frozen peas will work in a pinch.
The best bucket fan cooler for trucks is also designed as a mister. Instead of just cooler air blown your direction, you can have a cool mist to keep your body temperature down.
The Arctic Cove works well outside of the vehicle, as well. Even if you don’t have a bucket, you can connect a standard garden hose to the pump and use an endless supply of water to mist and keep cool. It isn’t recommended that you fill the bucket with water if you use the cooler fan while driving. There isn’t a sealed top, and spillage is highly possible.
However, for tailgates, barbecues, camping, or traveling the hot roads during the summer, nothing is better than the Arctic Cove bucket fan cooler. On top of that, the power supply is lithium-ion batteries. It is compatible with the Ryobi ONE+ series of batteries and comes with the P102 version.
If you want to add to the collection or upgrade to a better one, the system will accept the P100 through the P108 ONE+ blue batteries. You also get a 90-day return window followed by a 3-year warranty. You don’t have much to lose, except excess heat.
4. Bucket Breeze
Best Bucket AC
|Dimensions||12 x 12 x 24 inches|
|Power Source(s)||8- AA batteries or AC adapter|
|Battery Runtime/Life||About 8 hours|
|Warranty||90 day limited warranty|
Bucket Breeze offers a few different sized bucket cooler fans. The Medium Breeze is one fo the best all-around options for you. There are two power sources, battery (eight double-A sized batteries) or AC adapter.
If you are running the Bucket Breeze in your car, you will need to use the battery option, which will last you about 8 hours. The cooling material is a frozen gel pack that fits inside the bucket. They are similar to the frozen gel packs used in first aid or for ice chests. Once frozen, the gel canisters will remain frozen for up to 10 hours.
You can swap the canisters out as they begin to melt (you get four with your purchase), or fill the bucket with ice. The large 175mm fan pulls the cold air around the gel canisters and blows it out the lid through the directional vents.
You can’t adjust the vents, but you can turn the bucket. It is also small enough to fit on your floorboard or the center console next to you. With the gel pack canisters, you don’t need to worry about sloshing or spilling either, so there won’t be a puddle on your floorboard if it tips over.
Best Solar Powered Car AC Fan
|Dimensions||6 x 5 x 3 inches|
|Battery Runtime/Life||About 10 hours|
Livoty offers you a window-mounted fan for your car or truck that runs on solar power. The solar panel will power the fans or charge the internal batteries. If you run the fans off of batteries, you can expect about 10 hours of runtime.
What you shouldn’t expect is a fan blowing cold air. The design of this solar fan is to circulate the air rather than chill. The primary design is for those that have to leave their cars in the hot sun while away. Instead of getting into a stifling hot car, this fan will keep the air moving and the car cooler by default.
The ABS plastic fan sits on the top of your windowpane and comes with a rubber gasket to seal the window when closed. The solar panel is on the outside of the window with the fans facing in. For best results, you should close the window with the fan all the way and open the window on the opposite side about an inch.
Doing this will allow the hot air to be pushed out of the open window, circulating new air around the cabin, helping to maintain the temperature inside the car.
6. Enklen USB Evaporative AC Cooler
Best USB Air Conditioner For Car
|Dimensions||8.2 x 8.1 x 6.1 inches|
The USB AC cooler from Enklen is a small, portable cooler fan designed for a desktop, tabletop, or anywhere you can fit it. If you have a UBS power port in your car, this is ideal for a dashboard air conditioner.
It does cool the air using water and ice (or one or the other). It will last about 8 hours running before needing a refill. However, because of the water, it isn’t recommended to fill in the car. Instead, you can use the ice tray to fill with a frozen gel to avoid spills.
The tiny unit is quite powerful, though, and will drop the temperature in a 10-foot area about 10 degrees. You can take it from the car to the camping tent and plug it into a USB power block to use while you sleep in your sleeping bag.
The beauty of this little device is that it is practical, inexpensive, and can literally go anywhere. You can plug it into your laptop while you browse the internet from your favorite coffee shop, for example. On top of the versatility, you also receive a limited lifetime warranty, should anything ever go wrong. The warranty is non-transferable, of course, and only lasts as long as you own the unit. Receipt retention required.
7. MiToo USB Fan
Best USB Cooler Fan For Cars/Trucks
|Dimensions||6.3 x 6.3 x 6.3 inches|
Similar to our number 6 pick above, the MiToo USB fan plugs in using a USB adapter. You can power this unit from a power bank, laptop, computer, or USB wall adapter. It also has a water tank, which makes it less likely to be used on your dashboard. However, you can fill the water tank with ice to prolong the water build-up and make the air cooler.
Unlike the Enklen model, the MiToo has a built-in LED light that you can adjust through seven different colors. If you use this while on the go, it serves as a good night light for the little ones to help keep them calm and cool at the same time.
The fan operates on three fan speed settings so you can adjust the amount of airflow. The vent louvers are not adjustable, though, so if you aren’t being cooled enough, you will have to adjust the entire fan.
For safety features, there is a humidity indicator and a low-level water tray indicator, so you will know when it is time to refill the tank. Each purchase also comes with a 6-month satisfaction promise, as MiToo wants each of its customers to be completely satisfied.
Best Single Head Mini Fan For Car
|Dimensions||7.9 x 5.5 x 2.2 inches|
|Battery Runtime/Life||Up to 8 hours|
|Warranty||1 year limited warranty|
Comlife offers you the best single head mini fan for a car that has a rechargeable 2200mAH battery for a long life. With a focus on safety, the car fan is designed to stay out of your field of vision so you can drive safely.
There are four fan speeds to choose from, and you can use the fan by itself, or in conjunction with your car fan or AC to push more air from the vents.
The connection uses a secure clip that clamps to the vent louvers and rotates up to 360 degrees for the perfect angle. You can even use it in the back seat for passengers or car seats. The battery will last up to eight hours (low speed) before needing a recharge. Recharging is done through a USB connection on the back of the fan.
Because it is battery powered, you can take the fan with you when you leave the car. Use it as a personal fan, table fan, or in the camper whenever you need more air circulating to keep you cool.
Best Dual Head Mini Fan For Car
|Dimensions||10.1 x 5.7 x 5.1 inches|
|Power Source(s)||12v outlet|
|Warranty||1-year limited warranty|
The 12v car fan from Xool has two fan heads that freely adjust to any position you need. The durable clip allows you to attach the fans to a headrest or set back in almost any application.
You won’t be able to take the fan with you like you can with the battery-powered cooling fan from Comlife above, and there aren’t any additional power options. Using the cars 12v power source or cigarette lighter port, the fan has adjustable speeds and will move air up to 12 miles per hour.
With the dual fan heads, you can place them in separate directions to keep an entire row of seating cooler. Ideal for long road trips, hot summer days driving around, or any time you need that extra bit of fresh air moving around the car.
If your 12v outlet is powered continuously, you can even leave the fans turned on while you are out of the car to return to a much cooler interior then you would expect. It is advised that you leave the windows down about half an inch for this scenario to help promote air circulation.
10. LUWATT Portable Fan
Best Battery Powered Neck Fan
|Dimensions||8.2 x 6.9 x 1.5 inches|
|Battery Runtime/Life||Up to 12 hours|
|Warranty||1-year limited warranty|
The LUWATT portable neck fan has two fan heads that more the air around you so you stay refreshed and cool where ever you go. There is no need to worry about wires or cables, as the unit is wholly battery-operated using a rechargeable (USB adapter) lithium-ion battery.
While using the fans, you can select the speed and get up to 12 full hours of runtime. The unit is also lightweight so that you won’t feel weighed down by a giant fan hanging from your neck. There is only one button to use as well, making this super user-friendly. One-click to turn it on, click to cycle through the fan speeds, and another click to shut it off.
The dual heads are entirely adjustable and rotate to 360 degrees so you can get the perfect airflow no matter your position. The fans are also surprisingly quiet, especially being that close to your ears. They won’t interfere with your headphones, phone calls, or messaging devices.
Backed by a 1-year limited warranty, the freedom of the best battery powered neck fan, and the convenience they offer, you can’t go wrong with the LUWATT portable neck fan.
Setting up a Portable AC Unit for Cars/Trucks
When setting up your portable air conditioner for your car or truck, it is crucial that you take the time to do the job correctly. Most of the cooling fans on this list use water or ice to cool. Using these in a moving vehicle can be detrimental.
With safety in mind, you should avoid using water, if you have the option not to use water. However, since using water can cause sloshing and spill, remember that it is only water. Be sure to maintain control of the car and come to a full stop before picking up any water-cooled fan that has spilled.
For the fans with clips, you will want to attach them to the strongest part of the vent louvers. This will generally be the middle louver close to the middle where the most support is located. You can also clip the fans to a console pocket lip or other permanent fixture that will support the weight.
For the cooling fan styles that attach to a headrest or seatback, you will want to ensure they don’t get tangled with hair. Position the fans low enough not to capture a ponytail or loose hairs. While it is uncommon for hair to be pulled into a headrest fan, it is possible.
Always consult the user guide and owners manual for set up best practices and follow all guidelines for the installation procedures.
Recharging Portable Air Conditioner for Cars
There are multiple power options for the battery-powered air conditioners for trucks listed in this review. The bucket fans will use double-A batteries, and it is advised to get two sets of rechargeable batteries. This way, you can have a set charging while using the other. In the event the batteries die, you won’t want to be left without your fan while you wait several hours for them to recharge.
The cooler fans will recharge using a 12v power supply such as your car cigarette lighter, or a USB adapter. For the USB options, you can use a computer, power bank, or USB wall adapter to recharge the fan batteries.
If you do use a 12v power supply, you should test that it has power when the car is off. To save battery power, shut the fans off or disconnect the power supply when you aren’t in the car. If you leave the fans on, it can drain the car battery requiring a battery jump to get your vehicle started.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s take the time to answer some of the more frequently asked questions about the best portable air conditioner reviews.
How effective are portable car AC units?
Portable AC units won’t replace your car’s standard air conditioner. With few exceptions, most units don’t even try. Instead, they are a secondary cooling option or a back up in case the car AC goes out when you need it. For what they are, though, a portable car AC is effective at keeping you cool. As long as you don’t expect to lower the temperature of the entire cab space, you won’t be disappointed.
Is a fan sufficient for cooling a vehicle?
Fans are not designed to cool a vehicle. Instead, they are meant to move the air and keep the circulation of fresh air going around the car. By moving the hot air out and pushing fresher, cooler air around, they can be effective at maintaining a lower temperature inside the vehicle than what is in the ambient air outside.
Which product on our list is best for cooling pets such as dogs?
From the review list here, the best option for keeping your pets cool in the car is a bucket cooler fan. The ice and water mix will keep the air cool, moving, and humid. Pets need cooler air with more humidity because of their fur. The ice bucket fans will maintain a lower temperature and are big enough to keep the area of your car where the pets are up to 15 degrees cooler.
Which product on our list is best for cooling children in the back seats?
For children in the backseat or in a car seat, the dual cooling fan from Xool is ideal. You can position the fans to cover the entire backseat without worrying about spilling water or ice in the process.
How long do these portable AC units for cars last?
Most options listed in this review has a 1-year limited warranty. With proper maintenance and occasional use, most of the AC units will last several years.
Where is the best place to buy portable air coolers for cars?
The best place for buying portable air coolers for cars is currently through Amazon. Most manufacturers, such as the Xool and MiToo, only sell through Amazon in the USA. For a wider variety, as well as better return policies and less hassle, shopping through Amazon is preferred.
When it comes to purchasing a small portable air conditioner for your car or truck, you have options. Some units will cool a single person or an entire back seat. Depending on your specific needs, the right model is somewhere on our list in this review.
For the money, our number one pick is the MightyKool A. This water-filled cooler fan won’t slosh or spill while you are driving and can be selected for various fan speeds. It also doesn’t require ice (nor use it), so it can be refilled from any pit stop you need to make.
If you are looking to keep your car or truck cool while driving, the MightyKool A is the best option for most. You won’t be disappointed with the purchase, but in case you are, there is a 90-day warranty to help ease your mind.
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