The best cooler boxes for your car

Keep food and drink cool on the move, perfect for those hot summer nights.

A man loads a cooler box into the boot of his Volvo

by Ryan Gilmore |
Updated on

When the sun starts to warm up the UK, picnic and barbeque fever quickly break out which can only mean one thing. It's time to get your hands on a cooler box and enjoy some chilled food and drink wherever you may be.

The humble cooler box has come a long way from those cheap plastic tubs you used to buy at the seaside for a fiver. Modern examples can be electronically configured, offer touch screens, heating and even cup holders.

The best cooler boxes at a glance

Editor's choice: YETI Roadie 24 Cooler - Buy now from Amazon
The best budget cooler box: Thermos Classic Cool Box - Buy now from Amazon
The best cooler for portability: Bellroy Cooler Caddy - Buy now from Bellroy

If you're needing to keep your drinks nice and child for a road trip this summer, pick up one of these excellent cooler boxes and enjoy a summer of crisp lemonades and correctly stored barbecue meats. We've even got you covered for all budgets and requirements.

The best cooler boxes for your car

Editor's choice

YETI Roadie 24 Cooler
Price: $250.00
Alternative retailers
Tractor Supply$250.00View offer
Blain Farm & Fleet$250.00View offer
DICK'S Sporting Goods$250.00View offer

There are cooler boxes and there are cool cooler boxes. YETI offer a range of excellent coolers, packed with clever and ergonomic touches and features to justify the price tag. The Roadie 24 for example features a hinge designed to never break, grippy non-slip feet and a clever Heftyhauler handle to make carrying the box easy.

Add in a range of vibrant colours, a capacity of 18 cans and excellent build quality to make our favourite cooler for your next trip. This YETI can even hold a two-litre bottle of pop standing up with no issue.

Pros

  • Top-drawer quality
  • Clever ergonomic design

Cons

  • Not the most capacious

The best budget cooler box

Thermos is better known for keeping your coffee warm on long car journeys, but did you know that they're equally good at keeping things cool? This simple cooler offers 32 litres of cold storage in a simple, lightweight design that includes a handle and locking lid.

The Classic can keep its contents cool for around eight hours thanks to simple polystyrene insulation. Sure, that's nothing compared to a luxurious cooler box but it's perfectly fine for an afternoon of barbequing.

Pros

  • Good value
  • Decent size

Cons

  • Only eight hours of chilling

The best cooler for portability

This six-litre cooler bag may not offer the capacity or hard construction of a cooler box, but it is supremely portable and can even fold flat when not needed. Made from fabric and featuring recycled 3M Thinsulate Insulation to keep the insides cool, this bag will hold a six-pack with ease.

Bellroy even thought to include a built-in bottle opener too, a very convenient thing to have during a picnic. The handle makes it easy to carry and the interior is sealed so it'll stay waterproof.

Pros

  • Very portable
  • Excellent construction

Cons

  • Not the biggest option

The best small cooler box

The famed maker of almost indestructible, insulated flasks since 1913, Stanley invented the vacuum-insulated flask. These days, the brand has branched out into a few more products but stays true to form. The Adventure Easy Carry Cooler has quite a lot in common with the more expensive cooler.

This little six-litre model uses double-wall foam insulation to keep its contents cool for 27 hours. That's impressive for such a wee thing. It has bigger 15 and 28-litre siblings that stay cold for 36 hours and four days respectively. The baby model still benefits from features like the bungee cords on top for holding items. Its tiny size also makes it great for couples and those with small cars and limited space.

Pros

  • Tough
  • Good cooling abilities

Cons

  • Smaller size

The best large cooler box

Coleman Xtreme Cooler
Price: $397.34

There are many scenarios that demand lots of cool space. If one applies to you, we suggest Coleman's big fella. At 92 centimetres long, it's a perfectly acceptable and portable size (with two people if carrying it full). Meanwhile, 90 litres provides as much space as you're likely to need.

The Xtreme Cooler benefits from foam insulation and can therefore match the ICED cool box for a chill time of up to five days. Coleman has a cemented reputation as a reliable go-to brand for camping and outdoor equipment. The Xtreme Cooler reinforces that reputation. There are several smaller volumes available if 90 litres is too much for you.

Pros

  • Excellent build
  • Huge

Cons

  • You'll need two people to carry it

The coolest looking cooler box

Volkswagen 26 Litre Cool Box on Wheels with Handle- Steel Roller Cooler Box - Official VW Camper Van Indoor & Outdoor Ice Chest for Camping, Picnics, Beach
Price: $386.35

Most coolers have the style appeal of a fridge because, well, that's what they are. Not this funky-looking option though. This is a blend of VW T1, a trailer and a cooler in one awesome novelty option for your next picnic. It offers an acceptable 26 litres of storage and those chunky tyres mean you'll be able to haul it across a multitude of surfaces.

The VW camper is lockable and has a telescopic handle so anyone of any height can operate it. It's not the most efficient cool box out there but it's made from steel and very sturdy. There sure are many novelty points earnt here too.

Pros

  • Looks amazing
  • The wheels make it portable

Cons

  • Style over substance

The best portable fridge-freezer

Sometimes a simple cooler will not do and you need your food or drink frozen (for example if you have ice cream). Perhaps you're off on a summer camping holiday or want such an appliance for your campervan. Whatever the circumstance, if a proper freezer is in order, we recommend this Dometic model.

It's a pretty hefty unit, thanks to the heavy-duty cooling system it features but there is certainly compensation for it. It has an energy efficiency class of C and can be programmed via Bluetooth to what temperature you want, from 20 deg C down to -22 deg C. The CFX3 35 is also constructed for outdoor use and therefore robust.

Pros

  • Super chilled
  • Full of useful features

Cons

  • Needs power to work

Best cooled and heated cooler

Want something that cools and heats while being decently portable? Then the AEG On-board Bar is an interesting and clever option to consider. Being a 12V appliance, it's best to use the cooling/heating feature while the car is en route, rather than running it from the car once arrived.

It's able to chill food and drink at 20 deg C below ambient temperature and heats up to 65 deg C, ideal for cold or hot foods. While it may only offer a paltry six litres of storage, it is exceptionally well-packaged and even comes with a shoulder strap.

Pros

  • Heating and cooling
  • Portable

Cons

  • Smaller volume

What you need to know about cooler boxes

How big should it be?

Think about how much space you have in your car and what you tend to put in your cooler. Five to 15 litres is good for two to four people. Upwards of 30 litres is best for big get-togethers with many people involved or camping holidays. If you have the available luggage space in your car, more volume in a cooler is generally better than not enough.

Should it be electric?

Electric cooler boxes are clearly a good bit more expensive than a traditional cooler box, but that shouldn't necessarily put you off. Traditional cooler boxes will need ice packs to keep cool and will need restocking after a while which limits most of them to day trips.

Electric ones can be run off your car's 12V socket and can keep food chilled (and heated if you want) for longer. This can certainly be helpful on a camping trip.

How portable should it be?

This depends on what you intend to do. If you're staying right next to your car then this isn't so much of a problem. You only need to load and unload it when you don't need it anymore. It could even remain in the boot. If you're going off exploring away from your car it may be a good idea to look for a lighter example that either comes with wheels or a shoulder strap.

Ryan Gilmore is the Deputy Autos and Tools Editor for CAR, specialising in car cleaning and hand tools. With an MA in Automotive Journalism, when he's not testing buckets he can be found looking at old Porsches.

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