Buyers Guide & Information

Best Portable Car Heaters

Heating a vehicle is essential in cold conditions. This article shows you the best portable car heaters to keep you warm and cozy during your travels.

Traveling in the winter can be brutal. Even in a heated car, truck, or motor home, the installed heater may not be enough (if there is a factory heater at all). While you do have multiple options, there is still a lot of confusion.

You need to understand the types of portable car heaters, how they are installed, used, and any safety concerns. This article will cover all of that, plus show you the best portable car heaters to keep you warm and cozy during your travels.

Why Use Portable Car Heaters

Portable car heaters are a great way to ensure you don’t freeze. Even with a good factory heater in your automobile, things can go wrong. Many car or RV owners have a portable heater stored with their roadside emergency kit. However, there are plenty of other reasons to own a portable car heater of your own.

  • Supplemental heating.
    In some areas of the country, temperatures can get extremely low. Driving or stopping in these areas may require more heat than your car can produce on its own.
  • Defrosting/Defogging.
    Portable heaters are a fast and efficient way to defrost your windows and defog the windshield without wasting gas or battery power from your car.
  • Fuel efficiency.
    Running the heater in your car can reduce your fuel economy, which can be difficult during long trips. A portable heater can keep you warm without draining your gas tank.
  • Being prepared.
    Just because your auto heater works great right now doesn’t mean it always will. Having a portable heater ready to go just in case is always a wise decision.

Portable Car Heaters Compared

Bestauto 8KW Diesel Air Heater Muffler Diesel...
Zerostart 2600900 Interior Car Warmer Compact...
Upgrade Car Heater, 2 in 1 Portable Fast...
Bestauto 8KW Diesel Air Heater Muffler Diesel...
Zerostart 2600900 Interior Car Warmer Compact...
Upgrade Car Heater, 2 in 1 Portable Fast...
12 volt
120 volts
12 volts
13 x 5 x 7 inches
7 x 4.5 x 2.75 inches
7.13 x 5.39 x 2.91 inches
8000 watt
900 watts
150 watts
Bestauto 8KW Diesel Air Heater Muffler Diesel...
Bestauto 8KW Diesel Air Heater Muffler Diesel...
12 volt
13 x 5 x 7 inches
8000 watt
Zerostart 2600900 Interior Car Warmer Compact...
Zerostart 2600900 Interior Car Warmer Compact...
120 volts
7 x 4.5 x 2.75 inches
900 watts
Upgrade Car Heater, 2 in 1 Portable Fast...
Upgrade Car Heater, 2 in 1 Portable Fast...
12 volts
7.13 x 5.39 x 2.91 inches
150 watts

Considerations Before Buying a Portable Car Heater

There are a lot of portable car heater types, styles, and models to wade through. Choosing the right one can be challenging. The following consideration factors will help you narrow your choices and pick the right heater for your specific needs.

Heater Type Vs. Usage

The type of heater you select will play as large a part as to how you plan to use it. Heat output is measured in BTUs, and those correspond to square foot coverage. However, in a smaller space such as a car, cab, or RV, the numbers can be skewed.

Compare the heat settings (usually a slide dial or low/med/high toggle) to the size of the car or truck to help determine if the heater is too big or small for your cabin space.


Size is going to be a concern because of limited storage space. If you are in a truck or driving a semi-trailer, there will be less concern for stage space than those in a coupe or sedan. However, portable heaters do take up valuable real estate when you are traveling.

Finding a heater that is powerful enough for your heating needs and small enough for your storage capacity, as well as set up and usage, is something you need to consider heavily.


Electric car heaters will need a power supply. In almost every instance, this will be your car battery or electrical system. Cars run on 12-volt power supplies per battery.

Electric heaters will need to run on 12-volt circuits, or be attached to a more permanent power supply option, batteries powered in serial (making 24 volts, 36 volts, etc.), or other solutions. Using a 240-volt heater will not be possible as there isn’t a way to run that many volts through a car.

Your other option is to use a heater that doesn’t rely on electricity, such as a portable propane heater.


The wattage may be the most critical measurement. The more watts the heater can output, the hotter it will get. Most portable electric heaters (in general) have an output of at least 1500 watts, which can heat spaces up to 2500 square feet.

Along with the BTU rating, the wattage output is also something to size down for the space you are trying to heat.

Timer & Thermostat

Timer functions aren’t found on every heater, but those that have them can save you energy and conserve battery or fuel life. Thermostats, though, will allow you to control the heat output and give you the option to heat the car up faster (setting to high) and then lowering the thermostat to maintain the temperature range.

Safety Features

Heater safety features are never more important than when using inside an automobile. You need to ensure that your chosen heater has the right safety implementations. Things such as cool-touch exteriors, low oxygen sensors, and tip-over auto shutoff are among the most important.

Each type of heater will come with its own set of dangers (fires, combustion, burns, leaks, oxygen displacement, etc.) Those concerns need to be addressed through the available safety features.

Ease of Installation & Maintenance

Portable car heaters may need to be installed. Diesel heaters need to connect to the car’s exhaust system, some get hardwired into the electrical system, and others need to be mounted using brackets and screws.

Maintenance will vary based on type and size, as well. You may only need to wipe them down (seat warmers, for example), while others require the vents and motors inspected and cleaned.


The warranties will be as varied as the heaters themselves. A proper warranty will give you peace of mind by covering your investment against defects and manufacturing problems.

The industry standard for warranties is between 1 and 2 years, though some will go much longer, and there are some brands and models that only offer a 90-day (or less) guarantee. You need to understand the coverage terms and claim processes.

Ensure you thoroughly read through the fine print and understand what is and isn’t covered before you buy.


Finally, the price will be a significant deciding factor, too. You want to pay for quality and durability. You also want to stay within your budget. A less expensive model may be a better option if you plan to use the heater as a backup or for emergencies only.

However, if you plan to use the heater frequently or need a model that is better suited for use at any time, a higher quality and more expensive heater may be in order.

9 Best Portable Car Heaters Reviewed

1. Bestauto 8KW Diesel Air Heater

Best Portable Car Heater For Diesel Engine
Voltage 12 volt
Max Coverage Area 200 Sq. Ft.
Dimensions 13 x 5 x 7 inches
Watts 8000 watt
Installation Style Permanent, In-Cab

The 8000 watt heater from Bestauto is the best portable car heater running on diesel on the market. This unit comes with everything you need to install the heater in your car, truck, SUV, or RV. It can also be installed almost anywhere you need heat on a 12v circuit, including your boat, semi, or farm tractors.

Installation will appear quite daunting. You will need to find a mounting spot for the heater and the fuel tank. You need to drill holes and attach mounting plates. You also need to run hoses, cables, and wiring. All in all, though, if you are patient and follow the step by step instructions, it will only take you a couple of hours to complete.

Once installed, the 12v system works on its own, using its own diesel fuel tank. This means you can install it in any automobile, whether it uses diesel or not. The LCD touch screen will control the heater, including all of the various settings, error codes, temperature, and mode selections.

As far as these diesel heaters go, this model is one of the quietest out there. When installed correctly, you don’t need to worry about fumes or exhaust. The entire unit is self-contained, and the exhaust hose vents directly outside the cab.

One thing to note, though, is that the exhaust hose gets extremely hot. There isn’t any heat shielding on this line, so you will need to purchase some. Exhaust tape or shielding is fairly cheap, and a roll of the tape will cover the entire hose, protecting your paint, interior, and bottom side of your car from heat damage.

What We Like
  • 2-year warranty
  • DIY install
  • Quiet operation
  • LCD control panel
  • No fume or exhaust worries
What We Don’t Like
  • Exhaust pipe shielding not included
  • Must cut holes in car body to install

2. Zerostart

Best Electric Portable Car Heater
Voltage 120 volts
Max Coverage Area 85 Sq. Ft.
Dimensions 7 x 4.5 x 2.75 inches
Watts 900 watts
Installation Style In-cab install

If you enjoy getting into your car on a cold morning with a warm interior and fully defrosted windows, then the Little Buddy from Zerostart is for you. This 120v electrical heater pushes 900 watts of heat into your car when plugged in and turned on.

The box is a bit bulky, but it won’t be much of an issue once you find a place to mount it. You will need to run the plug through the firewall (recommended) to the front of the car. Once attached you can then use an extension cord to plug the heater into an outlet from your home.

While the unit does need to be plugged in to work, many owners place it on a timer outlet or use WiFi controlled outlets to turn the heater on while they are getting ready in the mornings. By the time you head out to your car, just unplug the heater, and you are good to drive away.

The inside of your car, truck or SUV will be warm and cozy, windows defrosted, and you can drive away without scraping ice or dealing with stuck-shut doors.

Unfortunately, Zerostart is difficult to get a hold of in case of a problem, and they don’t offer any manufacturer’s warranty. However, depending on where you purchase, you may be able to get a warranty from the retailer for at least a year or two.

Most owners haven’t had any issues that needed a warranty claim, though, and only high remarks and compliments are had about this little heater.

What We Like
  • High-temp auto shut off
  • Universal fit/mount
  • Everything to mount and power the unit is included
  • Simple on or off design
What We Don’t Like
  • No Manufacturers Warranty
  • May not produce enough heat for RVs or larger vehicles
  • No thermostat or timer

3. Mr. Heater F232000 MH9BX Buddy

No products found.

Best Portable Gas Heater
Voltage N/A
Max Coverage Area 225 Sq. Ft.
Dimensions 8.97 x 14.17 x 14.37 inches
Watts None (4000 – 9000 BTU)
Installation Style Stand alone, portable

The Mr. Heater Buddy is a portable propane heater that doesn’t require an electrical outlet and is indoor safe. The clean burning heater will warm areas up to 225 square feet and work great in RVs, campers, trucks, and cars alike.

This model has a variable thermostat to select the output power from 4000 BTUs (low setting) to 9000 BTUs (high). If you are warming your car or defrosting windows, it is suggested you turn the unit on high for about 15 minutes, then dial the heat back to a comfortable temperature.

The unit has plenty of safety features, too. You will find a thermal overload shut off that keeps the internal parts, valves, and hoses safe from overheating. It also features a tip-over auto shut off that will turn the unit off immediately if it tips more than 30 degrees.

The other automatic shut off features include a low oxygen sensor and pilot light extinguished sensor. If the car isn’t vented enough or oxygen levels drop below 18.5% (normal rate is about 21%), or if the pilot light goes out, the machine will turn off immediately.

You will also see that the heater has a fold-down handle and a swivel-out regulator for storage and convenience. While it is designed for the disposable 1-pound propane cylinders, it will also fit 20 – 30 pound tanks with a regulator and valve and external hose connection (all sold separately).

While it isn’t recommended to drive with the heater on, it makes a great heat source during rest stops, overnight camping, or if you happen to break down on the side of the road while waiting for assistance.

What We Like
  • Rugged and durable construction
  • Multiple safety features
  • Rated for indoor use
  • Fits multiple propane tank sizes
What We Don’t Like
  • Not an ideal solution while driving
  • 1-year warranty only

4. Dr Tulz 2 in 1 Car Heater

Best Portable 12v Car Heater
Voltage 12 volts
Max Coverage Area 15 Sq. Ft.
Dimensions 7.13 x 5.39 x 2.91 inches
Watts 150 watts
Installation Style Stick mount

For those that hate waiting for the windows to defrost in the early mornings, the Dr. Tulz 2-in-1 is for you. This model is not a good heating source, as it won’t add a lot of warmth to the car. However, it will function as a cooling fan and a heater when you need it.

This little model affixes to your dashboard or center console with the help of an adhesive pad. It will plug into the 12v connector or cigarette lighter port for power. All you have to do is select the mode (heat or cool) and let it work.

In cool mode, used during the summer, it will help keep you cool in the front seat with the help of the car’s fan. In the winter, it does a great job at defrosting and defogging windows. As a primary heat source, though, it falls short.

The heat it does produce is minimal, and from the dashboard of the car, it won’t be felt in the back seat. It is also uni-directional, so it can really only heat one person (the driver?) at a time.

The unit does offer overheating protection, which it needs more often than not. However, when used properly and for short periods, it does exactly what it is supposed to.

What We Like
  • Defrosts and defogs windows quickly
  • Can be used as a fan on warm days
  • Quick install and set up
  • Overheating protection
What We Don’t Like
  • 90-day guarantee
  • Doesn’t offer a lot of heat

5. Zone Tech Car Travel Seat Cover Cushion

No products found.

Best Car Seat Cushion Heater
Voltage 12 volts
Max Coverage Area N/A
Dimensions 18.5×37 inches
Watts N/A
Installation Style Seat cover

If you would rather heat from beneath, then the Zone Tech car seat cover cushion is for you. This 2-pack universal fit seat cover uses a 12v power supply and offers adjustable heating to keep you warm and toasty during your drive.

These seat covers are radiant heat but offer no fan or circulation, so you won’t be using them to defrost windows or warm the air. But while you are driving, that extra warmth underneath you will be like heaven.

The main issue is that the two pack requires a 12v supply, each. If your car or truck only has one 12 volt outlet, only one seat will get warm. However, there are outlet splitters available so that you can turn a single into a double. The seats may not get enough power, though, so test it first.

The seat covers come with an inline remote that powers the cushion on or off. It also has a digital readout of the temperature (up to 120 degrees) and two buttons to control the temperature setting (up or down).

If you leave the seat covers turned on, they will automatically turn off after 45 minutes as a safety precaution. If you are driving a long distance, you will need to turn it back on after this time.

What We Like
  • Auto shut off timer
  • Adjustable heat settings
  • Universal fit
  • From 0 to 120 degrees (Fahrenheit)
What We Don’t Like
  • 30-day warranty
  • Each cover requires separate 12v outlet

6. maXpeedingrods 5KW 12V Diesel Air Heater

No products found.

Best For Vans, Trucks, Boats, Buses
Voltage 12 volts
Max Coverage Area 180 Sq. Ft.
Dimensions 18.11 x 17.72 x 10.63 inches
Watts 5000 watts
Installation Style Permanent, In-Cab

This diesel heater from maXpeedingrods is similar to our top pick. However, this model is designed to be the best option for vans, trucks, boats, and buses. It offers the same type of installation and comes with everything you need to get the install done properly.

Note, that like the top pick model, this one is also missing the heat shielding for the exhaust pipe. A small purchase of heat resistant or exhaust manifold tape will go a long way to protecting your truck and the heater.

This model has a few extra features worth pointing out. The overheating protection is two-fold. First, it will shut the unit off if the internal temperature becomes too high. This helps maintain your safety as well as that of the heater.

Second, it will also shut off if the fuel tank runs dry, protecting the motor and pump from overheating and breaking down.

This heater comes with an LCD display, and you can get it in either black or red. However, the color choice is not yours, and you will be shipped a red or black model at random. There is, however, a remote control to turn the unit on from up to 30 feet away. The remote fits on your key ring and works much like a key fob for unlocking your car.

There are other models of the same size and output rating, but one is gold in color and comes with an LCD switch (this color you can choose). There are also two other models that come with either a digital control panel or one that uses a manual control knob.

While the 1-year warranty leaves a bit to be desired, the unit itself is durable and long lasting. For your truck, boat, or RV, you won’t be disappointed.

What We Like
  • Digital remote start
  • Low fuel consumption
  • All-inclusive kit
  • Digital, manual, or LCD control options available
  • Overheat sensor protects internal temperatures and dry-running
What We Don’t Like
  • 1-year warranty
  • Unit color is random (red or black)
  • Exhaust pipe not insulated

7. Therm Technology Corp. Back Seat Heat Plus

Best Small Truck Heater
Voltage 12 volts
Max Coverage Area 110 Sq. Ft.
Dimensions 5.25 x 7.25 x 8.25 inches
Watts 300 watts
Installation Style Floor mount

The Back Seat Heat Plus is a small supplemental heater designed for sedans, vans and extended cab pick up trucks. While it isn’t strong enough to be a stand-alone heater, the design and idea support the car’s heating system to get warmth to circulate and reach the back seat.

This unit installs to the floorboard under the front seat (though other install locations are possible). The 30-foot wiring harness must then be routed under the carpet, through the firewall, and connected directly to the car’s battery.

The 12 volt supply will only operate when the car is running, so it won’t drain your battery, but it also means it cannot be used to defrost your windows in the morning.

The only safety feature installed on this heater is the cool-touch exterior. Any feet or legs that contact the heater while it is running will get warm but won’t burn or scald. Because it is mounted to a bracket, there isn’t a need for tip-over shutoffs. However, if you mount the heater in any other manner, keep this in mind.

The heater does come with a 2-year warranty. The problem, though, is that the company is notoriously difficult to get a hold of. Many calls, emails, and letters go unanswered, and we don’t have a reason why.

What We Like
  • 2-year warranty
  • Simple 5-step installation
  • Supplemental heating fan
  • Cool-touch exterior
What We Don’t Like
  • Hardwire install only
  • Must be securely mounted to the floorboard
  • Only runs when car is on

8. Cihely

Best 24v Portable Car Heater
Voltage 24 volts
Max Coverage Area 75 Sq. Ft.
Dimensions 3 x 3 x 4 inches
Watts 300 watts
Installation Style Bracket mount

If you are looking for the best windshield deicer and need supplemental heat in the cab of your truck while you are at it, this is it. The 24 volt heater is designed for agricultural farm equipment, RVs, off-road vehicles, and any other 24-volt automobile.

If you have a standard car or truck, you will only have a 12 volt system. However, you can power the fan using two 12-volt car batteries wired in series. This may be a bit of overkill, though, and there are better suited 12-volt heaters on this list.

For those that have a 24-volt system, though, this easy to use and install heater is perfect for those extra cold mornings and for running while you drive.

The system uses a small ball-bearing fan on the back for silent operation, pulling in air and pushing it over the heating coils. It offers two switches to help you control the heat, too. For first thing in the morning or whenever your windows are iced over, turning the fan on high will have them defrosted in minutes.

The mounting brackets can be placed virtually anywhere, and many owners find it useful to only use two brackets and hang the heater from the top of the windshield area.

The heat output is great for a couple of windows and a front seat. If you need more heat, though, it is suggested you purchase two or more units. There isn’t any warranty coverage with this model, though, which can be a problem in some cases.

What We Like
  • Easy install
  • Near-instant heat
  • Dual switch heat selection
  • Silent fan operation
What We Don’t Like
  • No warranty
  • 24 volt systems only

9. drclean

Best Mini Fan Heater for Cars
Voltage 12 volts
Max Coverage Area 180 Sq. Ft.
Dimensions 6.1 x 5.55 x 3.07 inches
Watts 150 volts
Installation Style Suction mount

The portable car heater from drclean is a wondrous little fan and heater. The dash or windshield mount makes it easy to position and use. You will find more uses for it the longer you have it, too. Perfect for supplemental heat while driving, adding warm or cool air circulation to the rear seats, or defrosting windows on cold days.

The base uses a clip suction holder that attaches directly to the flat section of your dashboard. It will securely mount to the windshield as well. Once the base is locked into position, you can slide the heater in place.

The base offers a two-position swivel with each locking in place once you get the perfect angle. You can remove the heater from the base to defrost your windows and put it back to blow on you while you are driving.

The rear 3-position toggle switch allows you to control the cooling fan to help circulate air, off, or heating mode to help warm the car. It does offer an overheating protection switch, but since it is mounted to a base and can be removed and moved around, there isn’t any tip-over shut off or timer function available.

What We Like
  • Correction of low-lying
  • Three-position switch control
  • Defrosts any window
  • Instant heat
What We Don’t Like
  • 1-year warranty
  • Not an ideal source of primary heat

How to Determine the Right Size Portable Car Heater

Just like using a heater inside a tent, there are particular concerns for using a heater inside a car or truck. You need a heater that will do the job, but not one so powerful it causes problems.

The BTU measurements and wattage outputs determine how hot the heater gets and how large of a space it can heat. The square footage of your car’s interior or truck cab is going to be much smaller than most standard portable heaters need to worry about.

For the most part, a standard portable heater can be used on the lowest setting, creating a minimal power draw and still heating the space. For heaters designed specifically for cars, you need to ensure that their ratings aren’t too low for your needs.

You can check your car or truck’s owner’s manual or design placard (usually on the driver’s side door frame) to find out the cabin size of your particular model. From there, you just need to ensure that the minimum setting on the heater you choose has an output rated high enough to warm that space.

On average, anything above 150 watts to about 900 watts should be sufficient for most cars and trucks. Larger trucks may require more output and should invest in diesel air heaters (up to 10,000 watts total output) for proper heating.

Setting Up Portable Car Heaters

Installation and set up of your portable car heater will vary with brand and type—some need to be mounted near the windshield or on the dash. For optimal results for the whole cabin, you want to centrally position the heater to blow directly towards the back window.

Stand up heaters should be placed on the floorboard to minimize burns and tip-overs. If you have a diesel heater, it will need to be installed following the directions that come with your particular model.

This video shows the installation and set up of a diesel heater in a caravan. Similar installs are available for trucks, semi-trailers, and farm equipment.

Ways of Keeping Warm in the Car During Winter

There are several ways to stay warm in your car during winter travel. Some options may not be as obvious as others, but your choices aren’t as limited as you may think.

People Also Ask (FAQ)

When are portable car heaters most needed?

Portable car heaters are needed most on longer drives through the colder months and climates. When temperatures are near or below freezing, the car’s heat may not be sufficient enough to keep the cabin warm. If you stop for long periods or idle for any length of time, a portable car heater will supply warmth without the need for the engine to be producing much heat.

How long do these heaters retain heat after they’re turned off?

Most radiant heaters will begin to lose their heat almost immediately. However, the space it has heated will remain warm for some time. Depending on insulation levels, ambient temperature, and drafts, a heated car can remain warm for several hours.

What is the safest portable heater type for a car?

Radiant heat is the safest inside a car. Open flame and combustion heaters pose more dangers than radiant electric heat. However, all heaters have fire, smoke, and fume dangers that need to be considered and protected against, regardless of heating type.

Should I warm my car up in cold weather before driving?

The myth that you need to warm your car up in the winter is one that persists to this day. Idling your vehicle for a length of time to produce enough heat to warm the cabin can actually damage your car. A warm engine and cold transmission cause premature damage. The EPA and other government bodies suggest only running the car for a maximum of 30 seconds before driving. A portable car heater will help defrost windows and warm the cabin until the engine is hot enough to supply warmth through the car’s heating system.

Are portable car heaters expensive?

Portable car heaters are not very expensive. Depending on type and size, you can find high-quality heaters for well under $50. Larger models, those with a lot of extra features, and permanent style heaters like diesel exhaust heaters will cost up to $200 but not much more than that.

Where is the best place to buy portable car heaters?

Any well-stocked automotive shop or garage will sell portable car heaters. However, their stock and options will be quite limited. Your best option is to shop online at sites like Amazon or Sylvane. They hold a much wider variety, better pricing options and can help with warranty claims and expedited shipping if needed.


Portable car heaters come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. Whether you are looking for something to supplement the car heating system, stay warm on a long drive, or a more permanent solution, portable car heaters have an answer.

This article gave you all the information you need to make an informed decision about your purchase. If you are still unsure which way to go, take another look at our top pick.

The Bestauto 8KW Diesel Air Heater is a permanently installed heater that can warm anything from a car cabin to farm equipment. Installation is simple and easy to set up, too, giving you years of performance and warmth when you need it most.

Josh M