Notice I say help to heat.
Most portable plug in car heaters can only put out around 150-180 Watts of heat.
Compare this to a hair blow dryer which can put out 1200-1500 Watts, and you can see there is not much heat output.
With that said, they can help or supplement heat, but relying on one to completely heat a vehicle would be unrealistic.
Are There Better Options?
This depends on what you are trying to accomplish.
For example, car seat heaters are good at warming up your body but won’t do much for defrosting a window.
Since most portable car heaters don’t put out much heat to defrost windows quickly, I would suggest going with the car seat heater to help your body stay warm.
Using a small gas heater is an option for many users since they put out a lot of heat and don’t rely on a vehicle’s 12-volt system.
The Mr. Heater MH4B Little Buddy is one such small gas-powered unit.
Mr. Heater MH4B Little Buddy on Amazon
Mr. Heater F215100 MH4B Little Buddy 3800-BTU Indoor Safe Propane Heater, Medium
Mr. Heater Little Buddy is an alternative to 12 volt systems.
It has tip-over protection, a low oxygen turn-off sensor, and easy screw-on bottles.
Of course, this is a personal option, and reading reviews on Amazon or other places is the best option for getting a car heater that works for you.
Below are some of the options to choose from to add heat to a car.
As always, be sure to read reviews on Amazon, forums, or elsewhere to ensure a unit is the right pick for you.
*This post contains affiliate links.
Our Picks for Best 12-Volt Portable Plug In Car Heaters
- ROYADVE Portable Car Heater
- STYCC Car Heater
- HealthMate IN9438
- RoadPro RPSL-681 12V Direct Hook-Up
- 12V Air Diesel Fuel Heater
ROYADVE 12V Car Heater Fast Heating Cooling Fan Portable Auto Plugs Into Cigarette Lighter Vehicle Defogger Defrosts 360 Degree Rotary
This small unit from ROYADVE is built to sit on a dashboard and defrost a windshield, giving a clear line of sight.
It can output 150 Watts and run from the cigarette lighter.
150 Watts is roughly the same amount of heat as a cup of coffee.
While most will need more heat, many have had good results with the unit; simply beware of its limitations.
STYCC Car Heater, Portable 60 Seconds Fast Heating Quickly Defrosts Defogger 12V 150W Auto Ceramic Heater Cooling Fan 3-Outlet Plug in Cig Lighter (Red)
This type of heater is what most think of when it comes to a portable window defroster.
A small unit like this will also have limitations and, like the unit above, puts out as much heat as a cup of coffee.
Units like this will help you to warm your hands up, help defrost a section of a window, and add to existing heat but don’t expect it to do wonders.
This small heater, while built to defrost windows, won’t do much, especially in extremely cold weather.
It puts out 150 watts and, like most units, gets power from the cigarette lighter.
If you live in a mild temperature climate, it may do the trick. In a very cold climate, it may barely be noticeable.
HealthMate IN9438 Velour 12V Heated Seat Cushion with Lumbar Support, Heating with Easy Controller, Color Black, Products by Wagan
A seat cushion heater is a good alternative option if you simply want to help your body stay warm.
The HealthMate 12 Volt seat heater is a popular option with many and works well enough.
It will not warm the entire car but has a low amp draw compared to other vehicle heaters.
These types of heaters are a good option for helping you stay warm in the winter when in your car or truck.
RoadPro RPSL-681 12V Direct Hook-Up Ceramic Heater/Fan w/Swivel Base
The RoadPro RPSL-681 is for anyone looking to get more from an electrical unit.
Like all electrical options, it is not the best but does work much better compared to the cigarette lighter powered units.
8KW Diesel Air Heater 12V Diesel Parking Car Heater Automatic Control 10L Tank LCD Switch Silencer for Cars, Buses, Trucks, Engineering Vehicles
12-volt diesel fuel heaters are for a very serious user that needs a good heating source.
They work very well and will have no problems heating a car, truck or larger vehicles.
The install is more involved and not for everyone with a small gas tank, electric, and mounting needing to be set up.
There are many kits available with the Happybuy units being popular.
While more expensive compared to other heating units and more difficult to install diesel fuel heaters work very well.
Best 12-Volt Car Heaters Comparison Table
|Name||12 Volt||Gas||Heat Output||Installation|
|ROYADVE Portable Car Heater||Yes||No||Very Low||Easy|
|STYCC Car Heater||Yes||No||Very Low||Easy|
|HealthMate IN9438 Car Seat||Yes||No||Good for body only||Easy|
|Mr. Heater Little Buddy||No||Yes||Good High Heat Output||Easy|
|12-Volt Air Diesel Fuel Heater||Yes||Yes||Good High Heat Output||Moderate|
Electric Heater and Cigarette Lighter Fuse / Wiring
Depending on your car, the cigarette lighter circuit may not supply enough power to run a car heater.
Some portable heaters need a 15 Amp circuit to run and may blow the cigarette lighter fuse.
Again this depends on the heater, with a seat heater needing as low as 3.5 amps.
Be sure to read how many amps are needed to run the small heating device.
Also, be sure to check your car manual to see how many amps the cigarette lighter can operate.
It is also a good idea to know where the fuse is to the cigarette lighter just in case it blows and needs replacing.
While it is not common for the fuse to blow, they are usually easy to replace when the location is known and the replacement fuse is on hand.
A car’s electrical system was never designed to handle the large power output required by producing heat.
For this reason, keep in mind that these small heating devices will not put out as much heat as many want.
With that in said, they can help take the edge off.
Another thing to keep in mind is not to leave one of these devices plugged into a vehicle’s cigarette lighter.
Some cars will turn the power off to the lighter while others don’t. If the power does not get shut off they will drain your battery.