Car Food Warmer Options

Automobile food cookers, coolers, and microwaves

Two people eating food out of the trunk of a car on the beach
Some car food warmers are designed to keep food or beverages warm, while others can actually cook meals on the road. Shestock / Blend Images / Getty

Fast food might be the quickest and most convenient way to eat when you're on the road, but it isn't always the cheapest or most healthy. If you spend a lot of time in your vehicle, whether you're a long haul trucker or just enjoy road trips, then it might be worth looking into all of the car food warmers, cookers, and coolers you can use to eat healthier, and more frugally, on the road.

What Kinds of Car Food Warmers Are Out There?

There are three main types of car food warmers: microwaves, combination warmer/coolers, and dedicated car food warmer/cookers that use some type of heating element. The one thing most of them have in common is that they all run off 12v, and you can often plug them right into your cigarette lighter without popping a fuse.

In other cases, you may need to use an accessory socket or wire in a brand new accessory circuit with its own fuse.

The main outliers are car microwaves, which are basically just scaled down microwaves designed for use primarily in recreational vehicles and on boats. These small microwaves are great if you want to heat stuff up on short trips, but they require a whole lot more power than regular food warmers.

If you want to go the route of cooking food with a microwave in your car, you'll typically need to hook up a car power inverter directly to your battery with its own dedicated circuit and fuse.

Car Food Warmers and Cookers

12v RoadPro slow cooker
A slow cooker that runs on 12v is one of the most foolproof ways to safely cook or warm your food on the road. RoadPro 

Each type of car food warmer tends to skew toward a specific type of usage. Since traditional car food warmers and cookers tend to take a while to get the job done, they’re particularly well suited to anyone who spends a lot of time on the road. Whether you’re an over the road (OTR) trucker, or just planning a long road trip, a traditional car food warmer is a great way to make sure that you have a hot meal waiting when it’s time to eat.

One of the best ways to heat or cook food on the road, if you have a while for the job to get done right, is a crockpot type cooker. Since many great crockpots recipes rely on the principle of "low and slow," a crockpot that's either designed to run on 12V DC, or one that's capable of running on your inverter, can be a great way to have a hot meal ready and waiting when you get where you're going or it's time for a break from driving.

If you want to heat up food on shorter trips, then most car food warmers won’t do the trick. In that case, you may want to look for a dual power AC/DC unit that runs on either 12V DC or 120V AC. That will allow you to get your lunch started on your commute, then plug it into the wall at work and have it ready for lunch. Of course, you can always just wire in a car power inverter and use a travel-sized food warmer that only runs on 120v AC.

Electric Lunch Boxes and Combination Car Food Warmer/Coolers

Portable food warmer
Portable food warmers, like the RoadPro 12v Portable Stove, can keep your food warm, and sometimes even heat it up or cook it. RoadPro 

Electric lunch boxes are great if you have a hot meal that you want to keep warm. While these units aren't actually capable of cooking a meal, and they usually can't re-heat cold leftovers either, they are well suited to keeping a hot meal hot until you're ready for it.

Some units are capable of reheating leftovers though, so make sure to check the specifications if that's what you're looking for.

Combination units are similar to electric lunch boxes, but they provide a lot more utility. The actual warming and cooking part of the equation remains the same, so you shouldn’t expect to cook breakfast on the way to work. However, these units can also double as coolers to keep beverages and other items icy cold during the summer.

Car Microwaves

The best type of car food warmer for people with short commutes is a car microwave. Unlike traditional car food warmers, car microwaves can heat up or cook food really fast. Of course, they also take a lot of juice.

You’ll typically have to wire a microwave into the fuse panel or directly to the battery with an in-line fuse due to the amperage requirements, and running a device like this with the engine off is a great way to drain your battery to the point where your car won’t start back up.

Finding the Best Car Food Warmer

The most important thing to remember when you’re looking for a car food warmer is that no single device is the best for every single circumstance. A traditional warmer is a good choice if you’re on the road for long periods of time, but a microwave can get the job done in a short amount of time.

It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to look exclusively at devices marketed as car food warmers. Although there are a lot of devices in that category, far more cookers, warmers, and other devices are manufactured for the RV market. And since all of those devices run on 12V DC, they’re perfectly suited for use in your car.

Just make sure your alternator and battery are up to the task (some car food warmers and microwaves with especially high power requirements may call for a high output alternator), and you’re good to go.