Car plugin heaters: yes or no?

If the unfortunate happens and your car heater breaks, what to do to? Do you get a simple plugin substitute?

Three circular air vents in a car dashboard

by Chris Williams |

Car plugin heaters, are they good? The short answer is no. They’re rubbish. In this article, we’re going to look at why cheap plugin heaters are no good for your car and what, if anything, you can do instead if the heater in your car has stopped working.

The problem with electric plugin heaters

It’s mostly to do with performance. A heating system in a car is like a radiator; hot coolant passes through the heater core and heat is then transferred into the car interior by a blower.

By contrast, electric plugin heaters use the power of a car’s 12V socket to create their heat. And by comparison, it’s very anaemic. The feeble amount of power 12V plugin heaters have means that the measly amount of heat they create is nothing like what you get from the proper car heating system. Frankly, these little plugin heaters a less powerful than hairdryers.

Thus, buying a small 12V plugin heater for your car is a waste of money and resources and we don’t recommend it at all.

What to do if your car heating system breaks

A car heating system is one part that you shouldn’t expect any problems from - the chances of a fault are very low indeed. However, if it’s your house the tornado of misfortune happens to smash, then that is a bummer and the stat matter zilch.

Getting the heater fixed would be our first suggestion - there's no real aftermarket substitute. Despite being of simple principles, car heaters do have quite a few components to dictate airflow, temperature, and direction. They can also be expensive things to repair.

The two most common parts of the heating system that go wrong are the blower and the core. The former is the cheaper of the two and will likely cost between £200 and £400 (at dealers or independent mechanics). Replacing the core is more complex and labour intensive and can head towards, if not above, the £1000 price mark.

I’m not spending that much

That’s fair enough if the heater has kicked the bucket in a hobby car because people don’t tend to use them much in winter anyway. In your everyday vehicle, you’ll just have to put up with being cold in your car for part of the year. Or you can get yourself a warm hat and jacket.

If the heater in your car is only blowing cold air it’s possible that a flap is stuck in the cold position or the coolant levels are low. These are minor niggles that can be fixed quickly and without expense.

Finding the right coolant and how to change it

If nothing is flowing from the vents it may just be a blown fuse, which is also easily replaced.


If the loss of heat doesn’t bother you but the ability to stave off moisture does, there is an option for you. Dehumidifiers are an effective and budget-friendly means to keep moisture at bay inside a car. They are bags of silica or charcoal that can be left in a car for weeks to soak up moisture. Once full, they can be left outside in the sun to dry out before being used again. Below are our two top picks:

Hillington Reusable Car Dehumidifier Bags

Hillington Reusable Car Dehumidifier Bags

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Our top-rated car dehumidifiers are some silica-filled bags. It's the best option because these 1kg bags can absorb up to 400ml of water each. Therefore you can have them in a vehicle for a long time before 'recharging' and they can be used in large vehicles too, including campervans.

There are many silica-filled bags on the market, but we rate the Hillington option very highly. Not only can the volume soak up a good amount of moisture, but also because they carry two handy features.

One is the dot which goes blue when the bag has absorbed all it can. You can then 'recharge' it (about once a month) and the dot turns pink. The second useful feature is the inclusion of non-slip pads that you can use to stop the bags from sliding off a dashboard, for example.

Bamboo Charcoal Bag (2 X 500g)

Bamboo Charcoal Bag (2 X 500g)

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Activated bamboo charcoal is fantastic for air purification and drying. The charcoal is porous, allowing moisture and odours to be absorbed. A pair of 500g bags is good for the car, but you can use them around the house, too. They are reusable, all you need to do is expose the bags to sunlight for a couple of hours on each side at least once a month.

Read next:

Car vacuum group test: corded vs cordless

The best tyre pressure gauges

The best biodegradable and waterless car cleaning products

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