Anyone who lives or has travelled through a cold country will know that driving for long periods of time in the freezing cold is not fun at all. Worst still, if you own a large motor home such as an RV, it’s important that you’re able to safely stay warm whilst in the vehicle. Luckily, there are lots of different solutions out there that provide warmth for your vehicle. Whether it’s heated blankets or small portable car heaters, we have scoured the internet to find the best options on the market for you and your vehicle.
If after you read our recommendations you’re still finding it tricky choosing between the different products, don’t despair! We have written a portable car heater buying guide which will help you look at what we believe are the most important features as well as highlight the benefits and how to use them safely. We also answer your most commonly asked questions such as: how safe are portable heaters? How long do they take to work?
The Best Portable Car Heaters
While it may not be a conventional portable heater that you may be used to, the HealthMate Velour 12V Heated Seat Cushion is portable and has heating capabilities. The heating may be more direct than standard car heaters in that it heats your back and bottom at the same time. If your vehicle doesn’t have heated seats, this cushion is a simple and rather inexpensive fix to warming up your body quickly. It’s lightweight as well and can be brought along with you easily as it can be folded up and carried from car to car.
The seat cushion has a maximum heating temperature of 114 degrees and three control settings so you can set it to your preferred temperature. It’s a universal device as well that is built to function in cars, trucks, SUVs, and even boats. However, the cushion may take some time to fully heat up. A few minutes ought to do it though. You will also have to deal with power cords running through the vehicle to the cigarette lighter. This can be annoying to tiptoe over and can pose a tripping hazard.
- 12V heater
- 114 maximum temperature
- Three settings
- Brand HEALTHMATE
- Model IN9438
- Weight 1.5 pounds
Highly portable and folds up
Easy to use
Can take time to heat up
Cord can be an issue
Cord can be too short
The Tseipoaoi 12V Diesel Heater is an innovative diesel-powered heater that’s designed to be permanently installed in your van, car, truck, boat, or even a bus or RV. It has a high thermal conversion rate, so it packs a punch when it comes to how much air it puts out. It features an easy-to-read LCD control that measures heat in Fahrenheit, remote control operation, and a 10-liter diesel tank. Installation accessories and instructions are included as well.
Plus, it can be used to defog the car’s windows or mirrors if it’s cold, raining, or snowing. The heater is also economical, ergonomic, and easy to install. Oil quantity, temperature, and wind speed can all be easily controlled via the included remote. You can also choose to preheat your engine’s coolant to help minimize engine wear and tear in frigid temperatures. The downside of this fan is that even though it is fairly straightforward to install, it’s still much more complicated and less portable than a simple 12-volt plug-and-play heater, although it can be switched out from one vehicle to the next. It’s also quite pricey compared to some of our other recommendations.
- 12-volt, 5kW aluminum alloy diesel heater
- Permanently installs in your vehicle
- Suitable for cars, trucks, vans, boats, RVs, and buses
- Brand Tseipoaoi
- Model GR8
- Weight 18.01 pounds
Not as portable as some other models
Pricier than some other options
The KVW Portable Electronic Car Heater is an ideal compact and easy to use choice for those looking to stay warm in their vehicles. It’s a multifunctional machine that is designed to be universal, so it works with small compact cars and even heats up larger buses or minivans, as long as you have a functioning 12-volt power supply in your vehicle. It’s capable of producing up to 150 watts and is made out of durable ABS plastic. It’s great for defrosting or demisting your windows and windshield, but a simple flip of the switch allows you to use it as a cooling fan as well.
However, its best features are its three main air outlets. The air is split between the three openings to better disperse the heat. This provides a much wider range, so you and the car heat up more efficiently. It’s rated to completely heat a car in around one minute, but larger cars may vary. It features a built-in fuse with an automatic safety shut-off and 360-degree rotating support. As an added bonus, it isn’t priced too high and is set at a comfortable budget-friendly price range. However, it is smaller than you would think and may take a while to properly heat up once you turn it on.
- Three-vented, 12-volt fan
- 150 watts
- Built out of ABS plastic
- Brand KVW
- Weight 12.3 ounces
Disperses heat well
Smaller than pictured
Takes time to heat up larger vehicles
The Nessagro RoadPro Direct Hook-Up Ceramic Heater is a futuristic-looking device for heating up you and your vehicle. The ceramic heater comes with a 25-amp power rating and a total of 300 watts. It is powered with a 12-gauge, 15-inch wire and can be set just about anywhere in the car due to its large and wide base. The platform even swivels to give you a wider range of motion. Plus, it can even be hung from the ceiling or a handle as well.
It’s a universal mounted heater that connects directly to the battery for maximum output and efficiency. However, while it may not be the most expensive portable heater, it’s not cheap. It’s priced somewhere in the middle. Another thing is it just doesn’t seem to put out all that much heat. It does get warmer but is anything but hot.
- 12-volt heater
- Swivel base
- 25-amp power rating
- Brand Roadpro
- Model RPSL-681
- Weight 3.7 pounds
Connects directly to the battery
Easy to use
Not too hot
The subtle and ergonomic Kingleting heated seat cushion is a great alternative to 12-volt plug-in blowers or permanently installed add-on heaters. This comfortably padded seat heater allows you to start getting warm and cozy in as little as one minute. It’s great for lower back, hip, and upper back discomfort as well. With its intelligent temperature control, you have the option of choosing your ideal temperature in 3-degree increments between 86-140 degrees Fahrenheit.
This seat heater comes equipped with a timed shut-off to protect you from overheating. It will shut off on its own every 30, 60, or 90 minutes, depending on your preference. You can also disable the automatic shut-off feature if you want continuous warmth on longer rides. The automatic thermostat ensures that you feel a constant, unfluctuating temperature. There is some complaint about the length of the cord on the temperature controller being too short and the buttons being very small, making it difficult to control, but overall, this seat cushion is a great product for the price.
- Portable heated seat cushion
- Heats up in as little as one minute
- Customizable temperature control between 60-140 degrees Fahrenheit
- Brand Kingleting
- Model SMBK-01
- Weight 1.74 pounds
Heats your body, not just the cabin of the vehicle
Provides added cushioning on long rides
Can set it to automatically turn off after 30, 60, or 90 minutes
Cord for the temperature control could be longer
Buttons on the controller are quite small
The Zerostart Interior Car Warmer is a premium heater built to heat up passenger, light-duty, and compact cars. It’s designed in such a way that it can fit underneath the dash or can be bolted directly to the floor. At 900 watts and 120 volts, the fan is powerful and is capable of pumping out a total of 3,000 BTU. It’s one of the most powerful fans to make our list. Plus, it’s built with advanced anti-overheating technology so it shuts down if it gets too hot (158-degrees Fahrenheit or 70-degrees Celsius). It will even start again once it cools down.
The tech goes further by preventing it from breaching 286-degrees Fahrenheit. However, the one thing we don’t like about this specific heater is its price. For its size, it seems expensive, but you can’t beat the heat it produces. Also, it can get rather hot and should not be left nearby anything that can catch fire.
- Small & Powerful Car Heater
- 900 Watts – 120 Volt AC
- 3000 BTU
- Brand Zerostart
- Model 2600900
- Weight 3.04 pounds
Compact Portable Heater
The Zerodis Constant Temperature PTC Electric Fan Heater might not be as portable as some of our other options, but it is still very compact and super easy to install or uninstall. It also comes at a wicked budget-friendly price that makes it tough to ignore. It features a normal use lifetime of 5-10,000 hours, which is one of the longest lasting options on our list.
This tiny heater fan is equipped with heat-resistant silicone wiring and a high-temperature wire for safe and efficient heating of your whole vehicle. As a bonus, this heating unit also has other versatile applications, including being able to be used in air conditioning units, dehumidifiers, portable home heaters, and common electrical appliances.
- Compact heating fan
- 5-10,000 hour lifespan
- Quick and easy installation
- Brand Zerodis
- Weight 4.2 ounces
Not as portable as some other options
Requires minimal installation
The Stalwart Electric Blanket brings a whole new meaning to portable car heaters, but since it plugs right into your vehicle’s 12-volt power outlet, it is just that. This item is great for long road trips or emergency roadside kits. It’s also an ideal gift for people who need more warmth than other passengers when they’re traveling in cold weather. Using this cleverly designed electric blanket allows you to be cozy and snuggly while driving without making others suffer at a higher temperature than they’re comfortable with.
This blanket heats up quickly and with its long 96-inch cord, it can easily reach the backseat for little ones to cuddle up with on long car trips. The fleece material is super soft and retains warmth well. When not in use, this blanket can fold up and store compactly under a seat or in your trunk. One drawback is that it’s not the best option for drivers of the car and that it won’t heat multiple riders simultaneously.
- 12V electric blanket
- 96-inch cord
- Durable and soft fleece
- Brand Stalwart
- Model 12 Volt Stalwart Red Plaid
- Weight 2.25 pounds
Folds up compactly when not in use
Great for long car rides
Fleece material is warm and soft
Not a great option if you have multiple riders
Not a viable option for the driver of the vehicle
The YongCheng Portable Car Heater is an ultra compact device built to deliver a lot of heat in a short amount of time. It is a 150-watt fan that plugs directly into your vehicle’s 12-volt power outlet. It features 180-degree rotating capability so that you can direct heat wherever you need it most in the car. It’s super simple to use, equipped with a straightforward on/off switch, you just plug it in and turn it on until your car has reached the temperature you want, then just shut it off again.
The heater also does double duty as a cooling fan on hot days. This unit comes with a thoughtfully designed double-sided adhesive so you can mount it securely in the ideal spot. It’s a versatile little heater that will work great in your car, truck, SUV, RV, boat, or even in larger vehicles. Of course, heating time and capacity depend on the size of your vehicle’s cabin, so the larger the car, the longer it will take to heat up.
- 12V portable heater
- Rotates 180 degrees
- 150 watts
- Brand YongCheng
- Model NFJ-1
- Weight 400 grams
Easy to use
Might not be strong enough for larger vehicles
No temperature control settings
There are lots of different car heaters out there and not all of them will be suitable for your car because not all products are made equally. You will find that some heaters have been specially designed for the inside of your car whereas others are more suited to larger vehicles such as RVs. Below we look at the features you should look for when purchasing a car heater and talk about why we really need them. We’ll look at how you can maintain your car heater if you already own one and look at all the ways in which you can keep warm inside your car during winter.
Keep reading to find out more…
Features to Look for in a Portable Car Heater
What should you look for when buying a car heater?
You’ll need to have a good think about why you need a car heater before purchasing one. The reason for this is so that you purchase the right type and not something totally unsuitable and unsafe for your vehicle. Do you need a heater to help defog your windscreen during the colder months or are you looking for something that will keep you warm? Do you own a car or an RV? The size of your vehicle will have an impact on the size of the heater that you purchase and also the type. Write down a list of reasons why you want to purchase and keep this handy when you go shopping. Heaters that are designed for backseat passengers are often very different from those designed for icy car windows.
So you’ve found the perfect car heater and you’re ready to purchase – perfect! Problem is the voltage doesn’t match the voltage from your car. Don’t make this mistake! Check to see how the car heater is powered – is it from the cigarette socket or is it powered a different way? Checking to see that it is compatible with your vehicle is one of the most basic things you can do.
Some larger, more powerful heaters are unsuitable for cars and vice versa. Make sure that you have an idea of what you want the heater for and if it’s a larger vehicle then jot down the size of the area that you would like heated. Often, larger heaters will inform you how much square footage the heat can cover.
The efficiency percentage will give you a good idea how much heat from your portable car heater will be utilized and not wasted. As you won’t be using a flame heater you will find that most heaters are pretty efficient but do have a look to make sure that the percentage is at least 95% or above.
When using a portable heater in such close quarters it’s absolutely vital that you check the safety features. Look for Oxygen Depletion Sensors (ODS) as well as accidental tip-over safety shut offs for added safety.
Do you simply just plug the heater in and switch it on or do you need installation hardware to fix it into your vehicle? How confident are you doing this and do you have the right tools and equipment or are they included? Check, check check!
If you’re looking for a super budget option then look for heated car seats and heated blankets. These provide a great deal of comfort whilst keeping you warm and toasty. If budget is not an issue then buy the safest most robust heater you can afford.
Benefits of Portable Car Heaters
Visualize this…you’re in your car, it’s freezing cold and you can see your own breath. The windows are completely frozen and you can hardly feel your fingers. A portable car heater is such a practical thing to have handy for times like this. In a matter of minutes your windshield can be clear and the inside of your car is warm and toasty so you can go on your merry way.
If you live in a cold country or have particularly brutal winters that leave you shivering in your seat then you will be well aware of the benefits of a portable car heater. It’s just not comfortable spending time in a cold car and this is greatly exacerbated each and every time you step into your car during a particularly harsh winter. Why sit in the cold waiting for your engine to warm up when you can get your portable heater working – in many cases, almost instantly.
Keep Family Warm in Larger Vehicles
If you own a large car or an RV then you will probably already be aware that the heat from the front of the vehicle rarely reaches the back. Rather than have freezing passengers, shivering away on the back seats, crank up the heater and give your vehicle a blast of hot air to warm everyone up.
How to Maintain Your Car Heater
As you cannot rely solely on a portable car heater you will need to make sure that your internal car heater is in healthy conditions all year round. But how can you do this? Firstly, recognize that although it’s going to be winter soon, the health of your air conditioning system is a vital aspect of this. Believe it or not, during winter your air cooling system is working in overtime trying to defog and defrost your windows! Make sure that you test your defogger regularly to check for any issues. Perhaps it’s time to recharge the system or check for a leak in the hose? If you’re not comfortable doing this then of course you can seek professional help. As for checking your heating system, make sure you do this before the temperature really drops. Does everything seem to be running ok? Ask your mechanic to perform periodic radiator coolant flushes and refills and always make sure you check the quality and quantity of antifreeze in your vehicle.
To check your heating system you should turn on your heating system. Make sure you turn it onto the highest setting and then set the fan speed to high. Check all the settings: floor, dashboard, windscreen, etc If there isn’t enough heat being produced then there are likely problems. Low coolant levels could be an issue in this case. Make sure you top up your antifreeze levels but check thoroughly for internal leaks in the system, hose cracks, damaged water pipes, and leaks in the radiator cap.
On a more basic level, check for dust and blockages in the vents. Never underestimate how dirt can affect your vehicle’s functions!
Safety Tips When Using Portable Car Heaters
The safety precautions that you need to take when using a portable car heater isn’t dissimilar to those associated with a household portable heater; it’s mostly just common sense:
- Keep away from water – heaters + water = danger!
- Make sure you’re using the right type of heater for your vehicle
- Purchase a heater with a tip-over feature in case the heater falls for any reason
- Thermostat — make sure your heater has one!
- Plug heater into the correct power outlet
- Shut on/off when you’re not using it
- Regularly inspect the fuses/wires etc
How to Keep Yourself Warm In Your Car During Winter
There are many different ways that you can keep warm in your car during winter.
Why not try the following:
- Portable car heater – most sensible option!
- Electric blanket – instead of a portable heater, why not try a special heated blanket which has been designed for the car? Not only will you be warm but comfortable too.
- Heated car seat – perfect for winter mornings. Adjustable heated car seats will keep your body warm throughout your journey.
- Use hand warmers – you know that point when you enter your freezing car and you can’t feel your fingers? Well, portable hand warmers are absolutely perfect for getting feeling back in your hands.
- Park in garage – this way your vehicle is less likely to frost up.
- Cover your windshield – a good way to prevent your windshield from icing up.
- Drink coffee (or tea) – never underestimate the power of a warm beverage!
Best Portable Car Heater FAQ:
Q: Are portable car heaters safe?
Not all. You will most definitely have to do your research before you choose which heater to buy. Make sure that the heater you purchase has a safety certificate and has been specifically designed for use in a vehicle. Check to see that it is compatible with your vehicle and also check to see if you can use them in moving vehicles. There are lots of heaters on the market and not all have been manufactured to the same standard unfortunately. Don’t risk your safety by opting for the cheapest you find. Look for reputable brands that will fit your vehicle’s spec.
Q: Does a portable car heater have a remote control?
Some do, some don’t. As we’ve mentioned before, not all portable car heaters are made the same. In fact, they differ quite greatly. Some portable car heaters are operated directly from the heater whereas others will benefit from a remote control.
Q: How much time does a portable car heater need to warm up the car?
Again, there is no one specific answer to this question. A good heater will warm up the car in a matter of minutes and some can even warm up in seconds but this depends on a number of different factors. The main factor is the power point. If the heater is being plugged into your car then it might need time to warm up.
Our Top Pick
We went with the KVW Car Heater as our overall best pick for a portable car heater. It’s a lightweight device capable of producing a good amount of heat in a short amount of time. The compact, durable device produces up to 150 watts of heat and is effective for any type of car, big or small. It’s super easy to use, and highly portable, since it just plugs right into your car’s 12-volt power supply. It can even rotate up to 360 degrees so you can direct heat wherever you need it the most.