Best Portable Car Heater, Tested And Reviewed (2023 Guide)


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Jul 24, 2023

Best Portable Car Heater, Tested And Reviewed (2023 Guide)

Will Moore studies, tests, and writes about auto products and accessories. He's

Will Moore studies, tests, and writes about auto products and accessories. He's determined to separate the junk from the truly useful for the everyday driver. When he isn't comparing dash cam specs or installing child car seats, Will likes to go hiking with his wife, child, and dogs.

Reviewed By: Charles Noyes

A miniature propane heater that can fit in a cup holder.

A tiny electric heater good for defogging and deicing.

A soft, heated seat cushion powered by the cigarette lighter.

A high-quality, portable heater with safety features.

A large space heater that can also be used to camp.

The best way to heat your vehicle is by using the onboard air conditioning system. However, fixing your broken heating system can easily cost upwards of $500. The best portable car heater may be your only alternative during a harsh winter.

In this guide, we recommend several car heater options that we’ve tested. We’ve found options for window defogging, seat warming, and cab warming. Some of these heaters can be used outside of the car as well and are especially helpful for camping and outdoor use.

The portable car heaters in this article went through two rounds of reviews. We started by searching retailers like Amazon, RealTruck, and Advance Auto Parts for top products, looking at factors such as car heater portability, design, customer ratings, and prices.

Our product testing team then ordered the portable car heaters that best met these standards. A team member tested each product in a sedan, taking note of how well the portable car heater provided heating power, adjustability, and form factor. Each portable heater was given a rating out of 5 stars based on these criteria.

Each year, we test over 350 auto products on vehicles and in our testing lab. Our team of product testers thoroughly researches top products, unboxes and puts our hands on each component, and tests the items on real vehicles before making recommendations to readers.

We publish hundreds of product and service reviews to bring car enthusiasts detailed guides on automotive tools, detailing kits, car seats, pet products, and much more. For more information on our testing methodology and how we evaluate every product, check out our methodology page here.

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This 4,000.0-BTU (British Thermal Unit) heater is designed for golf cart use but can also be used in a car. It includes a cup holder adapter to fit in a center console, as well as safety features like an oxygen depletion system and tip-over switch.

Because the Mr. Heater Golf Cart Heater is propane-powered, you should only use this heater in a ventilated area, which means don't use it in your car with the windows up. If you’re driving on the highway, this won't work as a portable heater since the incoming cold air will cancel out any warming effects.

However, this heater is quite powerful and in a slow-moving or stationary car can keep you warm. It is much more powerful than any plug-in 12.0-V portable car heater could be, which is why we’ve made it our top pick. Note that you will need a propane tank to use this heater (sold separately).

This portable car heater is very easy to use. Simply screw in the propane tank and hold down the ignition switch. Our propane tank did not fit very well into the cup holder attachment. This made the Golf Cart Heater unstable in our vehicle. However, with the proper-size tank, the heater would have been stable in our center console.

There is no thermostat or temperature control, but this unit heats quickly (about three minutes) and gets very warm. Because it is powered by propane, there's a slight gas odor. Again, do not use this type of heater (gas-powered) in an unventilated vehicle.

Amazon Review Score: 4.5 out of 5 based on over 4,500 ratings

Users like the Mr. Heater Golf Cart Heater because it is warm, lights quickly, and is stable even in moving vehicles. While designed specifically for golf carts, some users have used it in cars to satisfactory results. Most say that a single tank can last upward of six hours.

Some complain that the pilot light can take a few clicks to ignite. Others criticize the top-heavy design and say the cup holder doesn't fit well. This may depend on your specific vehicle. Another common complaint is that there is no way to adjust the heat output (just a single setting).

The Golf Cart Heater is good for providing a lot of warmth, above what a 12.0-V portable car heater could be expected to provide. It is not good for warming your car while driving on the highway, as it can only be safely operated with the windows down for proper ventilation. Because it is so portable it's also good to take camping or to carry with you to a worksite.

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The TIKSCIENCE heater is a small dash-mounted window defroster. It has holes for permanent mounting and uses a pure copper cable and a built-in fuse for automatic safety shut off. This heater also has a fan mode that can be used to provide a cool breeze in the hotter months.

As a 12.0-V device, the TIKSCIENCE does not put out a significant amount of warm air. However, it does generate enough heat to help warm and defog a windshield. If your car heater is broken, this can help with defrosting as well. The TIKSCIENCE does add some heat to the cabin, though not enough to warm drivers on the chilliest days.

Amazon Review Score: 3.3 out of 5 based on 30 ratings

The TIKSCIENCE defroster doesn't have a lot of reviews on Amazon, and negative reviews focus on the low heat output provided by this device. However, the TIKSCIENCE heater is designed for defogging and defrosting. Bear in mind that no 12.0-V heater is likely to provide significant warming power.

This portable heater is good for defogging your window or helping to defrost your window. It adds some heat and may help some if your car's heater is broken, but shouldn't be relied on as an interior car warmer. It can also blow cool air when your car gets too hot.

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The Sunny Color seat cushion turns any vehicle seat into a heated seat. The velour cover attaches to your seat and can be warmed to three different settings. Not only can this cushion add some extra comfort to your car seat, but it can also help keep you toasty.

This seat cover installs easily and fits snugly. It didn't bunch or tear during our test. It is also quite soft and comfortable – more comfortable than the factory cloth seats in our test vehicle. This cover works well just as a seat cushion. Even without turning it on, the material traps warmth (which could be a downside in the summer).

We found that the Sunny Color cushion warms quickly and to a significant degree. While it may not be able to fully supplement a broken air conditioning system, it does a pretty good job of keeping your backside toasty.

Amazon Review Score: 4.5 out of 5 based on over 1,100 ratings

Many customers use these to supplement their car heater, as they can warm up faster than an air conditioning system. Users appreciate the low power draw and high heat output. Some comment on how well this stays attached, not moving around once installed.

Be sure to unplug the Sunny Color when your vehicle is parked, as some note that it will drain your battery if you keep it connected with the engine off. Another typical complaint is the cord location. It is on the right side of the seat, so if you use this in a passenger seat, you’ll need to drape the cord over your lap to reach the center console.

If you’d rather not use a gas-powered heat source in your car, a seat warmer like the Sunny Color is probably your next best bet. You won't find any 12.0-V car heater able to warm you as well, except maybe for an electric blanket. This heater can act as a good supplement to your car's heating system by working faster to get you warm on cold days. This is a cheaper alternative to installing heated seats.

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The final two selections for this list are not designed to be used in a moving vehicle. However, these are both warm, portable heaters with multiple safety features. As mentioned, a 12.0-V heater is unlikely to output much heat. In especially cold locations and seasons, you’ll need something stronger.

The Mr. Heater Portable Buddy throws a significant amount of heat. It is easy to handle and use, which is why we recommend it for larger cabs. Keep in mind that you won't want to use this in a moving vehicle and only in a ventilated cab (windows cracked).

This heater turns on fast and heats up very quickly. For a small car like our test vehicle, the heat is too much. If you’re sleeping in a large cab or truck, the Portable Buddy could get you through frigid evenings.

The Portable Buddy can operate for a considerable time on a single canister of propane.

Amazon Review Score: 4.7 out of 5 based on over 500 ratings

Some mention that they have used the Portable Buddy for car camping, and it works very well for that purpose. In general, users appreciate how easy it is to use and how much heat it is able to produce.

A small number of reviewers say that their Portable Buddy stopped working after a few uses. While these comments are small in number, it does point to possible defects in some Mr. Heater products. This device is supposed to come with a one-year warranty, so contact the manufacturer should your Buddy stop working.

The Mr. Heater Portable Buddy would be good for those sleeping in larger vehicles. It isn't a good option to use in a car while driving, or any small space. However, the high heat output and independent power source make it an option that will actually keep you warm and won't wear down your car battery.

This is also a good pick for those going on a road trip who plan to camp. While it can work in a ventilated cab, the Portable Buddy is best used as an outdoor heater.

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The Mr. Heater Little Buddy is something between the Golf Cart heater and the Portable Buddy. It is not designed for vehicle use like the Golf Cart heater and therefore is less stable. However, it offers more heating power than the Golf Cart heater but in a much smaller package than the Portable Buddy.

The Little Buddy is very similar to the Golf Cart heater, with the two main differences being an increased heat output in a slightly larger package.

While easy to carry, there is no great spot to put the Little Buddy in your car. We could put it in our vehicle's cup holder, but it is not exactly stable while driving. We don't recommend using the Little Buddy in a moving vehicle.

Amazon Review Score: 4.5 out of 5 after more than 6,900 ratings

Many reviewers have used this effectively for car camping and warming truck cabs in sub-zero weather. Most agree that it has a decent heat output, especially for its size. Some have used it in a moving car after securing it (though this is not something we recommend).

A few have mentioned that the Little Buddy works less well as it gets older. One user says his became impossible to start after a time. The most common complaint is that the Little Buddy can be difficult to light.

The Little Buddy is similar to the Portable Buddy in that you shouldn't use it in a moving vehicle. This is a good pick for those planning to car camp or if you are going to sleep in your vehicle.

It is not as large as the Little Buddy, but it lasts longer and may be a good pick for those with smaller cars that don't want the full heat of the Little Buddy. The independent power supply means you don't need to wear down your car's battery.

Still looking for the right portable heater? We haven't had a chance to test the following recommendations, but they may also be a good option for those in need of some extra cabin warmth.

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Cost: Around $100

This 12.0-volt heater will likely have some of the same issues as any other 12.0-volt heater: it won't get especially warm. However, the Rampage can add a bit of heat to your back seat. It is mounted on a swivel bracket so that it can be easily positioned.

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Cost: Around $250

This JEGS heater may not be specifically designed for a car, but it can offer a bit more heat than a typical 12.0-volt heater. Reviewers on Amazon have used it for tractors, boats, and trucks. This unit is costly and requires some skill to install. However, users seem to think it provides a decent heat output.

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Cost: Around $40

One benefit of this defroster is that it can be used to both heat and cool. The design allows users to easily position this car heater. While not especially powerful, the output of this device is narrowly concentrated, so that you can keep your hands warm on the wheel.

Frankly, the available options for heating a car are limited. Any heater that is powered through your car's 12.0-V outlet is unlikely to have enough power to combat freezing temperatures. Gas-powered portable heaters are much more powerful, but cannot safely be used in a car with the windows raised.

The best way to heat your cabin is always going to be your vehicle's air conditioning system, but when these systems break, they can be costly to repair. If you lack the funds to repair your AC system, a portable car heater may be your only choice.

When looking for a portable car heater, consider how it will be used. Wired 12.0-V electric car heaters can be used with the windows down, but are not very powerful. A propane heater can put out a lot of heat, but shouldn't be used in an unventilated cabin. Driving with the windows down can bring in more cold air that the heater may be able to warm.

Some other alternatives to keep yourself warm in an unheated car are an electric blanket, heated seat, or even an old-fashioned hot water bottle bag.

When it comes to dealing with cold weather inside a vehicle or camper, your best bet should be the vehicle's heater fan. If your vehicle can't adequately produce hot air, a 12v portable car heater might be a workable substitute.

We’d recommend using steering clear of propane or diesel heaters, since ventilation may not always be an option in winter weather. Ceramic heaters usually offer fast heating, and a power inverter for a lighter socket work as a plug adapter if needed. Still, customers should be wary of things like overheating with any portable electric car heater, and purchase items with modern shutoff safety features.

There are many portable heaters designed for cars. However, be wary of 12.0-volt car heaters, as this is not typically enough power to generate a significant amount of heat. Some portable heaters can be taken inside your car, though are not specifically designed for vehicle use.

Portable car heaters do not work nearly as well as your vehicle's air conditioning system. Most 12.0-volt car heaters do not throw a significant amount of heat and you may be better off with an electric blanket or heated seat cover.

However, a portable car heater can be useful to more quickly defrost your windshield or to add a little bit of heat in a pinch. Propane powered heaters offer a lot more heat but cannot safely be used in a cab with the windows up.

We think that the Mr. Heater Little Buddy is the best option for a portable car heater. It is small yet powerful. However, it has several drawbacks. Because it is gas-powered, you shouldn't operate it inside your cab without ventilation (windows open). It is also not easily stabilized in a moving vehicle, so it works well for situations where you may be parked, but is not as good at heating your car while you’re driving.

You can warm your body with a hot water bottle bag or a good blanket. If you need to heat your entire car and not just yourself, there are portable car heaters that can raise the cabin temperature. However, these are not as good as a functioning air conditioning system.

Parking your car in the sun with the windows up can raise the temperature of your car pretty significantly as well.

You can use a propane heater in your car, but take care when doing so. You should never run a propane heater in a car without proper ventilation. These means do not use such a heater while the windows are up. It is often not a good idea to use a propane heater in a car while driving unless the heater is completely stabilized. Otherwise you risk burns or worse. It is also inadvisable to run a propane heater in your car with the windows up while you sleep.

*Data accurate at time of publication.

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