Best-Rated Portable Auto Heaters for Comfortable Winter Driving

Updated: Mar. 28, 2024

If your car's heater isn't meeting your needs, or you want to be prepared for emergencies, a portable car heater is the solution.

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4 Portable Car Heaters Ft Via Merchantvia merchant

Most cars generate enough heat under normal operation to keep occupants warm and defrost the windshield. There are times, especially in chilly places or emergency situations, when the engine’s heat just doesn’t cut it. That’s when you’ll be glad you’ve got one of the best car accessories on hand: a portable car heater. It hooks up to your car’s power, bringing extra warmth and comfort during those cold snaps or unexpected situations when the regular heater falls short.

If you’re wondering whether you need one, just take it from certified master mechanic Todd Bialaszewski, who says, “It’s better to have a portable car heater and not need it, than need it and not have it.” Bialaszewski explains: “Having a portable heater on-hand gives you reliable warmth in frigid conditions instead of waiting for your engine to warm up.” He says they are great for emergency prep, but he also recommends them for cold-weather locales, noting they are useful year-round in chilly climates.

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Caframo 920 Car Heater Ecomm Via Walmart via merchant

Best Portable Heater for Vans or RVs

Pros

The Caframo Limited True North Space Heater is more like a standard space heater, useful in large vans and RVs. It’s mountable and takes a standard 120v AC jack so it’s easy to set up.

Unlike many portable heaters, it offers a range of temperatures instead of just two or three. It puts out enough heat to temporarily replace a broken heater, which can be a lifesaver in the right circumstances.

  • Mountable with a standard 120V AC jack
  • An automatic thermostat maintains selected temperature
  • Automated anti-freeze setting
  • Dual overheat protection
  • Five-year warranty

Cons

  • Requires a lot of power
  • Too powerful for small vehicles

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Mr Heater Golf Cart Propane Heater Ecomm Via Homedepot via merchant

Best Portable Heater for Defrosting

Pros

Don’t let the name Golf Cart Heater fool you. This heater works well in cars, especially for frozen windshields. It features an oxygen depletion system, porcelain coated reflector and a pilot wind guard. The ergonomic design fits into any standard cup holder. It delivers 4,000 British thermal units (Btus) for up to five-and-a-half hours on one propane tank.

  • Quickly defrosts frozen car windows and doors
  • Heats up to 95 square feet
  • Easy on and off button
  • Safety switch shuts off the unit if it tips over

Cons

  • Requires propane

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Mr Heater Buddy Ecomm Via Amazon via merchant

Best Propane-Powered Portable Heater

Pros

The propane-powered Mr. Heater Buddy is an excellent choice for those who need auxiliary heat but lack access to 120v power. It can heat up to 225 square feet, more than enough for large vans and RVs.

One drawback: It should only be used where it can be securely placed. It runs off one-pound propane tanks and can be modified with an adapter for larger tanks.

  • Produces 4,000 to 9,000 BTU per hour to heat spaces up to 225 square feet
  • Clean burning with nearly 100% efficiency
  • Auto shut-off when tipped over
  • Fold-down handle and swivel-out regulator for easy carrying/hooking up to propane tank

Cons

  • Unwieldy
  • Can be difficult to set up properly

Types of Portable Car Heaters

  • Ceramic fan heaters: These heaters use a ceramic heating element and a fan to distribute warm air throughout the car. They are compact and energy-efficient.
  • Defrosting heaters: Specifically designed to defrost windows quickly, these car heaters focus on directing heat toward the windshield and other windows to eliminate frost and fog.
  • Plug-in car heaters: These heaters plug into the car’s power outlet and provide additional warmth. They are convenient and easy to use.
  • Seat heaters: Some portable heaters are designed to be placed on car seats, providing direct warmth to the occupants. They are often equipped with adjustable temperature settings.
  • Propane Heaters: Compact propane heaters are suitable for providing heat in larger vehicles like RVs. They are versatile but require proper ventilation.
  • Infrared heaters: Infrared heaters emit infrared radiation, providing warmth directly to objects and people without heating the air in between. They are known for their energy efficiency.

What to Consider When Buying a Portable Car Heater

  • Size: How big is your vehicle? A heater that’s too large will cook you in a sedan, and one not big enough won’t provide relief in an SUV.
  • Purpose: What do you need it for? A heater to defrost the windshield quicker can be a lot smaller than one you depend on to keep you alive.
  • Power source: Some smaller heaters take a standard 12V car plug. Others need more wattage and require a direct line to the battery. Some heaters run off propane instead of electricity.
  • Adjustable settings: Look for heaters with adjustable settings, like temperature control and fan speed. This allows you to customize the heating experience based on your preferences.
  • Safety features: Prioritize heaters with safety features, such as overheat protection and auto-shutdown mechanisms. This ensures safe operation and minimizes the risk of accidents.

FAQ

Do portable car heaters really work?

Yes, portable car heaters can be an effective way to warm up your vehicle’s interior, confirms Bialaszewski. “The portable units provide targeted heat directly inside the car, helping raise in-cabin temperatures,” he explains. They are designed to supplement the built-in car heating system, especially in situations where the standard heater may not provide enough warmth, such as in very cold weather or during emergencies.

Can portable car heaters cause fires?

While portable car heaters are generally designed with safety features, there is still a potential risk of fire if they are not used properly. Common causes of fire hazards include overheating, electrical malfunctions or using incompatible power sources. To minimize the risk of fires, it’s crucial to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation and usage, including any safety guidelines provided.

What size heater do I need?

Choose a portable car heater based on your vehicle’s size. According to Bialaszewski, smaller units around 1,000-1,500 watts work well for sedans and coupes; while larger 2,000+ watt heaters are ideal for SUVs, trucks and vans with more cabin space to heat. Match the heater output to your needs.

How is a portable car heater powered?

“Most portable car heaters plug into the 12V outlet/cigarette lighter port in your vehicle and draw power directly from the car battery,” says Bialaszewski. Some models offer battery power as well for flexibility. “Just be mindful of runtimes so you don’t drain your car battery,” he warns.

How can I heat my car without a heater?

To heat your car without a functioning heater, use blankets, layers and hot water bottles for insulation. It’s smart to keep hand warmers and an emergency sleeping bag in your vehicle as well. Park in the sunlight for natural warmth, do light exercises to generate body heat and crack a window slightly for ventilation. In case of persistent heating issues, try these repair tips or have your car’s heater inspected by a professional.