The British weather doesn’t always go according to plan and those rain clouds normally come out just as you head off for a picnic at the beach. However, with a car cooler box, you can guarantee to arrive with fresh sandwiches and chilled drinks, whatever the weather decides to do. Or even turn up with hot drinks in chillier weather. Pass the scotch eggs, please.
Car cooler boxes come in all shapes and sizes. Actually, that’s not entirely true. All are basically square-shaped, but sizes do vary widely. Some will only swallow a few drink cans, others can cater for a family holiday.
Which car cooler box is best for you?
The traditional car cooler box is simply a spacious and well insulated container – we’ve featured one in the list below. Mainly, though, we have focused on powered 12V cool boxes that offer more effective heating/cooling and a greater temperature range.
These 12V cool boxes plug into your car’s cigarette lighter or the mains and draw a modest amount of power. You can also bolster their effectiveness with ice packs.
Choosing the right cooler depends primarily on how much space you need and your budget. But there are other factors to consider, such as portability and weight. Naturally, non-powered cool boxes are going to be lighter.
Why do you need a car cooler box?
A cooler box means you can enjoy food and drinks on the move. They’re perfect for picnics, brilliant for barbecues and also ideal on long car journeys. The cries of “Are we there yet?” from the back seat will be less frequent if a chilled drink is to hand.
Cooler boxes are also great for preserving foodstuffs – keeping milk or cheese fresh, for example. Your investment could soon pay for itself if it prevents you throwing out old food.
Read on for our pick of the best car cooler boxes available (split into powered and non-powered), plus a buying guide at the end of the article.
The best 12V car cooler boxes
DOMETIC CoolFreeze CDF26 21-Litre Box
Best cooler box for frozen food
Dimensions: 550mm (D) x 260mm (W) x 425mm (H) Weight: 12kg
Sometimes being cool isn't enough. If you want your drinks ice-cold, or your food frozen, only a portable car fridge/freezer box will do. The Dometic CoolFreeze holds a reasonable 21 litres, although a larger 31-litre option is available for a few extra pounds. Its main compartment is beneath a flip-up lid, with two drinks holders at the front. Internal temperature is adjusted via a touchpad and ranges from 10 to -18°C . At 12 kilos it's not the sort of cooler to move several times in a day but does a great job planted at whichever site you have chose for it and it's economical with power consumption.
AEG Board-Bar BK 6
Best cooler box for cold drinks
Dimensions: 400mm (D) x 293mm (W) x 215mm (H) Weight: 2kg
The compact AEG Board-Bar BK 6 is described as an 'on-board bar'. And while we don't condone drinking and driving, it's perfect for a chilled lemonade or hot coffee in the comfort of your car. The main compartment holds six litres – enough for four 500ml bottles – and there are two additional bottle/can holders outside. The light 2kg weight and shoulder carrying strap make it well suited to adventures in the great outdoors, too. There's even a compass on top, in case you get lost. AEG says it cools up to 20°C below ambient temperature and heats up to 65°C . Both 12v (car) and 230v (home) connectors are supplied. Larger volumes are also available.
Mobicool MT48W Coolbox
Best cooler box for families
Dimensions: 532mm (D) x 400mm (W) x 452mm (H) Weight: 7.9kg
Do you have a big family? Or enjoy a really big lunch? Then the Mobicool MT48W is for you. It swallows a banquet-sized 48 litres and has two wheels and a chunky fold-away handle, so you can pull it along like an aircraft flight case. The lid opens in two sections to minimise cooling loss, plus there are two removable dividers inside. Maximum chill is quoted at 16°C below ambient temperature. The box operates via a 12v car socket or the mains, but a 2-pin EU plug is supplied and you'll need an adaptor. Though it weighs a bit, that is somewhat ofset by the addition of wheels.
Russell Hobbs Mini Fridge
Dimensions: 325mm (D) x 323mm (W) x 424mmn(H) Weight: 6.2kg
The Russel Hobbs Mini Fridge looks like something you might see in a designer kitchen, albeit on a smaller scale. It stands upright like a regular fridge and the handle folds down when you don't need it. It performs as well as it looks, capable of cooling to 20°C below ambient temperature and up to 65°C. Shown here is one of four colour matches. The interior holds 16 litres, which is enough for 14 330ml cans. You can plug this fridge into a 12V or a mains socket.
All Ride Portable Coolbox
The best cooler box for value
Dimensions: 530mm (D) x 370mm (W) x 450mm (H) Weight: 2.3kg
If your cooler will only see occasional use, this All Ride box gets our vote. It's impressive value for money and carries up to 22 litres. Even with a few freezer blocks inside, that's plenty of space for a picnic. At just 2.3kg, it's also easy to carry. On the minus side, you can't plug this box into the mains (it only has a 12v car connector) and it doesn't offer variable temperature control – so can't be used to keep food warm. It also feels less robust than the pricier products here.
The best unpowered cooler boxes
URBNLIVING 10-36 Litre Cooler Box
The best compact cooler box
Dimensions: 290mm (D) x 420mm (W) x 450mm (H) Weight: Not given
Available in several sizes (from 24 to 36 litres), this slimline cooler box is the perfect choice for smaller city cars that don't offer generous storage space. It's tall and narrow making it perfect for smaller boots but will still offer great cooling. It comes with a handle and is really easy to clean.
CAMPINGAZ 10 L Cool Box
The best cooler box for long-term cooling
Dimensions: 226mm (D) x 330mm (W) x 380mm (H) Weight: 1.46kg
This box is just that: a container for food and drinks. It can't be plugged in for additional cooling or heating, but high-quality polyurethane foam insulation and an airtight seal means it keeps contents cool for up to 17 hours with freeze packs inside. If you won't have access to electricity, the 10-litre CAMPINGAZ 10 L Cool Box box is effective at keeping baby milk cool, for example, and big enough (with careful packing) for a picnic. It's beautifully made and comes in blue or blue.
What to consider when choosing a car cooler box
How much space do you need?
Car cooler boxes range from miniscule to massive. The smallest hold around five litres: enough for a couple of drinks and a pack of sandwiches. The largest will swallow about 40 litres: spacious enough for a big picnic.
Do you want to plug it in?
The simplest car coolers are just insulated boxes. Use ice packs and they can be pretty effective. However, a plug-in cooler – which uses your car’s cigarette lighter or the mains – is better still, especially for anything longer than day trips.
Do you only want cooling – or heating as well?
Some plug-in coolers also have variable temperature control to keep food or drinks warm. However, they’re certainly not ovens – so don’t expect to cook with them!
Does the cooler need to be easily portable?
Size is obviously a factor in how portable any cooler is. A smaller item could slot between passengers on the back seat. Larger boxes are rather bulky. Weight is a factor, too – especially if your picnic involves a hike first. Check this before you buy.