Hey there, homeslice. Keeping cool? You must be if you’ve landed in this review of the best 12V RV air conditioners!
The world of 12-volt air cons is as wide as it is deep. There are a lot of specifications to cover and a lot to consider about the intricacies of RV life when buying an AC unit. Luckily, with my combination of seasoned RVing experience and my borderline-obsessive personality for fine details, I’ve navigated this rabbit hole for you!
The results are in. When it comes to pure performance, construction quality, and overall value, the clear winner is the Indel B Plein-Aircon 12V. It’s super easy to install, and perfect in every way. Silent, durable, efficient, and space-saving. Perhaps the only con would be its higher price tag. But hey, you get what you pay for, right?
Of course, there are other things to consider. These include cooling capacity, dimensions, the type of RV it’s suited for, and so much more.
Like I said, it’s a rabbit hole. But I’ve boiled the whole thing down to its simplest form while keeping all the key information you need to make a smart purchase.
So no matter your needs, read on! There’s an AC unit for every road warrior in here. Let there be no more sweaty and sleepless nights.
Cooler days are only a button press away.
Our Top 7 Picks
How does a 12 Volt Air Conditioner work?
Alright, let’s dive deep, fellow road-trippers! Now, I often find myself chilling (pun intended!) in some remote, off-grid spots. Sometimes, it’s temperate. At other times, it’s muggy and sweaty and the flies won’t stop landing on my face.
At these times, a trusty 12V air con has been an absolute lifesaver! But the burning (freezing) question is… “How does this marvel work?”
A 12-volt air conditioner operates mainly on DC power. Unlike your traditional AC-powered air conditioners, these nifty Nellies are tailored for mobile lifestyles. Like the RV life!
The main advantage of DC units is that they consume significantly less power. Generally, you’ll be running them on limited battery capacity or solar panels, so a lower power draw is a MUST.
Simplicity is the truth of the 12-volt air con. At its core, the system employs a simple mechanism. It uses a compressor to circulate refrigerant, drawing in warm air from your RV’s interior, cooling it down, and then releasing that much-wanted cold breeze.
As long as you’ve got the power, either from your solar panels or your battery bank, you’ve got a portable, homegrown creature comfort to take anywhere!
Of course, before buying one, you should first ensure that the air conditioner you’re eyeballing checks out in the realms of…
- Energy efficiency ratings
- The reliability of its compressor
- Compatibility with your RV’s electrical system and its battery bank
- And the reviews
You’re currently reading this article, so you’re covered on the last point! But before I properly jump into the review, let’s have a closer gander at the key technicalities to examine when purchasing a 12-volt air conditioner.
Factors to Consider for a Good RV Air Conditioner
Ok, more than just good reviews, you need to make sure it’s the right air conditioner for YOU. The specifics can get complex, so I’ve made sure to simplify them as much as possible for this review.
Let’s demystify some of the jargon! Here’s what you need to consider before buying a 12-volt air con for your RV.
This is the big one! On my adventures, I’ve learned that the dependability of your gear matters most. Imagine being stuck in the desert heat with an AC unit that’s on the fritz! Not cool, right? (Zing.)
Always ensure that your air conditioner has a solid warranty and good after-sales service. Moreover, it’s good to go with reputable brands for both quality as well as the aforementioned customer service. And again, read the customer reviews thoroughly.
Oh, man. Nobody likes sleeping next to noisy appliances! There’s little point cooling your rig down to sleep better if it sounds like there’s a small jet engine inside.
Noise is an important factor to consider when buying air conditioners. Look for decibel (dB) ratings around or below 60, which is roughly the level of a normal conversation. And if they advertise a “Quiet Mode”, that’s even better.
Size and Weight
It’s gotta fit too! RV space is precious. Every day is a new game of Tetris. And every pound counts when you’re on the move – fuel is equally precious!
Always plan out where you’ll be placing or mounting your air conditioner. Check the dimensions and ensure it fits. And if it’s a roof-mounted unit, the lighter, the better.
This part is simple. The bigger this number, the more the air conditioner cools things! Therefore, bigger RVs need air conditioners with more cooling capacity.
Cooling capacity is measured in British Thermal Units (BTU). There’s leeway in the cooling prowess and it isn’t as simple as big numbers equal better cooling, but for a rough guide…
- 3000-6000 BTU is good for small vans and Class Bs
- 6000-9000 BTU is suitable for larger RVs like Class Cs
- And 9000+ is best equipped for larger, luxury motorhomes
As mentioned, energy efficiency is vital. Mileage will vary based on your setup, but all RVers stand to benefit from energy-efficient air conditioners!
Keep an eye out for high energy efficiency ratios (EER). And if you’re running a generator or solar setup, look for an air conditioner designed to be used with that sort of setup.
The 7 Best 12V RV Air Conditioners
Alright, folks! Now you know the rules of engagement, so there’s only one freezing question left…
“What is the best 12V air conditioner for my RV?”
As I said, mileage will vary. The answer, as with most things RVs, is never straightforward. But that’s why I’ve done so much work rounding up the best on the market and categorizing them for specific needs!
And besides, it might be a close race, but there is one clear winner.
Before we begin though, I should mention that not all of these AC units can be used as heat pumps. If you want that additional function, make sure to check if the unit you’re interested in has it first.
Now, let’s start with the best of the best.
Best For Vans
- Cooling Capacity: 4100 BTU
- Power Draw: 16A-42A
- Weight: 55.7 lbs
- Warranty: 1 Year
Kicking things off, let’s leave the Class As and Class Cs behind to their glamping adventures. Can I get a “Heaps yeah!” from all my fellow Class Bs and good ol’ grungy vanlifers? The Indel Plein-Aircon is for you!
For campervans and anyone embracing the full-blown dirtbagmobile lifestyle, this is your go-to cooling solution. While the Nomadic 3000 (later down the list) caters to the expansive interiors of Class A motorhomes and the 1000 (also later down the list) nestles snugly into Class Cs, the Indel B is explicitly for the more compact dimensions of Class Bs and small vans.
Its ability to cool and dehumidify up to 6 meters in area is more than sufficient for most small motorhomes. Plus, in keeping with the theme of small vehicles, this camper van air conditioner is both lighter and smaller than the other air conditioners on this list.
Of course, even with that reduced cooling capacity and size, the pricing of this van air conditioner hasn’t shifted much. It’s still a luxury purchase… just for smaller-stature vans. And with that cooling capacity, it’s unlikely to suit anything bigger.
Still, it’s a true banger of a product for smaller van drivers who want the luxury. Quiet, efficient, and most certainly meaner and leaner, it’s neither a heavyweight nor a pushover. It strikes the perfect harmony between durability, small-space performance, and ease of handling. In a nutshell, it’s perfect for the cooling needs of van life and class Bs.
If your travels are defined by a zest for the agility and versatility of small RVs but aren’t ruled by a strict budget, the Indel B is the match for you. It’s an affirmation that size doesn’t define performance…
And that adventure knows no bounds.
Best For Small RVs
- Cooling Capacity: 6500-7500 BTU
- Power Draw: 25A-65A
- Weight: 61 lbs
- Warranty: 1 Year
So it’s time to step away from all these kings of capacity. Not everyone is driving around a proverbial van-sion!
Nestled into our list as a sterling solution for those with modestly sized RVs, the Nomadic 1000 is the perfect fit for a lot of mid-tier RVs. For small to medium Class Cs, this air conditioner is the perfect balance of cost to performance to ensure temperate living quarters.
Designed with off-the-grid adventurers in mind, this air conditioner is a testament to Nomadic Cooling’s commitment to flexibility and performance. Just like the beefier 3000, the 1000 operates effortlessly using DC 12V/24V/48V batteries alike.
Though it’s built for smaller spaces than the 3000 (later down the list), it still gives you a lot of the features Nomadic is renowned for too. Eco and Powerful modes make a fully operational return. Plus, as a smaller variant of the exceptionally well-designed 3000, it’s super efficient and quiet too.
Of course, it’s only built for small to mid-sized RVs. And even in that bracket, it’s still pretty eye-wateringly expensive.
Comparatively, larger RVs might resonate more with the muscle of the VES Classic (later down the list) nor the expansive capability of the Nomadic 3000. But if you’re NOT a “Go big or go home” type and more of a lean, mean, RVing machine, the Nomadic 1000 is a brilliant air conditioner for the job. The balance it strikes between size, performance, and consistency is unmatched.
Best Energy Efficiency
- Cooling Capacity: 6,824 BTU
- Power Draw: 19A-58A
- Weight: 70.5 lbs
- Warranty: 1 Year
Dometic, with its oddly specific cooling capacity, is another market leader in the RV air con space. It was a close contender for the best air conditioner for smaller RVs. However, there’s a lot going on with the surprisingly eco-friendly CoolAir that solidifies it as the most efficient on the list.
Let’s start with its energy consumption. In Eco mode, CoolAir draws a mere 19A. Most of the time, you should be aiming for the most efficient modes when running any RV air con. So 19 amps is almost too easy! For comparison, that’s roughly the same as the Indel B but with about 30% more cooling capacity.
Plus, that efficiency equates to quietude. On average, this air conditioner operates at about the 60 dB range. That’s nowhere near enough to drown out your conversation. In fact, it’s not even enough to keep you awake.
Lastly, to keep the simplicity coming, it’s a relatively easy installation. With the capability to fit snugly into an existing roof hatch and all its components integrated into the single unit, most people should be able to fit this themselves.
Unfortunately, it’s only designed for rooftop mounting. So it’s important you check the dimensions against your RV and confirm the sizing. Anyone who was hoping to have some more versatility with their air con placement will need to look elsewhere (like the VES Classic).
It’s also mighty pricey. That’s really the theme of this list, the Furrion notwithstanding. But that’s to be expected with any luxury item.
Otherwise, the Dometic offers efficiency in its operation and at hushed tones. While I wouldn’t objectively call it the best on the list, it’s actually one of my personal preferences with all these products. I deeply value efficiency when it comes to running gadgets in RVs, and I’m also someone who camps for the peace and quiet of solitude.
If you’re like me and efficiency ranks high on your list, go for the Dometic. It seamlessly marries performance with conservation in a way that will please all perfectionists. The Dometic CoolAir 2000 is an investment, but it’s one that represents a commitment to sustainable comfort on the move.
- Cooling Capacity: 13,500 BTU
- Power Draw: 14.6A
- Weight: 88.0 lbs
- Warranty: 2 Years
Skipping over to the budget-friendly realm, the Furrion stands out as a low-cost gem that still packs a punch. Boasting an aerodynamic design for the RV mounting, it’s a much cheaper alternative to all the ultra-expensive AC units on the market.
Being built for the RV life, the Furrion is all about efficiency. And spades of it! It uses a rather unique dual fan technology to bolster the unit’s cooling efficiency while also softening operational noise. Overall, this results in the Furrion being about 40% more efficient than a lot of its competitors.
It also has a mammoth cooling capacity, clocking in at a hefty 13,500 BTU. That’s seriously impressive for its price range!
Installation, however, comes with some conditions. Specifically, it’s geared for roofs ranging from 3.5” to 6” in thickness. That might not suit all RVers or all rigs. Plus it’s HEAVY which is going to further complicate installation.
But one way or another, the Furrion is a very cheap RV air conditioner that really does pack a wallop. It might not have the reliability or storied brand behind it like some of the other entrants on this list. But if you were in the market for an air conditioner, especially as a casual RVer, and wanted to get out of the usual four-digit price range, the Furrion delivers on all fronts.
- Cooling Capacity: 6000/8500 BTU
- Average Power Draw: 30A-55A
- Weight: 55.7 lbs
- Warranty: 1 Year
The VES Classic Cruise N Comfort is a homegrown US brand, and boy does it show in the construction. It’s a trade-off between ease of installation and performance. But once you do get it installed, ooh boy does it perform!
Cruise N Comfort offers two variations of the 12V VES Classic. One puts out 6000 BTU in cooling power, while the other tops out at 8500 BTU. But whichever you pick, you get a beastly build quality that’s guaranteed to refrigerate your home on wheels.
It’s also got a surprisingly low power draw for its output. Plus, it is versatile to install.
While a lot of RV air cons need to be installed on the roof, this AC system can be mounted anywhere outside the vehicle INCLUDING beneath it. I’m a huge fan of this versatility because I know (from a few close shaves) that it’s always a tough choice between reducing your RV’s clearance or adding overall height.
Of course, there must be a trade-off for the incredible synergy of performance, efficiency, versatility, and durability. And that caveat is that, despite its versatility, this thing is a pain in the posterior to install!
The freon lines for the coolant aren’t included in your purchase. Also, because this air conditioner comes in multiple components, they all need to be installed and then hooked up together as well. You’re honestly better off taking it to a certified A/C technician or auto repair shop.
But that’s only a downside for the diehard DIYers. If you’d rather let the professionals handle the installation anyway, then you can’t look past the VES Classic. It’s got performance for small and large RVs alike.
And with homegrown build quality like that, if anyone ever fires a tank shell at your RV, it’ll still be cooling the rubble once the dust settles!
- Cooling Capacity: 11,830 BTU
- Average Power Draw: 35A-55A
- Weight: 61.1 lbs
- Warranty: 1 Year
You asked for capacity so I brought you capacity! When we talk about the ultimate in RV air conditioning, the Nomadic 3000 really does sit in a league of its own. Tailored for RVers riding high in big setups, this air conditioner is the epitome of splurge-worthy luxury.
It’s an impressive beast, for sure. The cooling capacity of this Nomadic Cooling air conditioner is simply colossal. At more than 11.5k BTU, there’s hardly a house-bus alive you won’t be able to turn into a fridge-bus.
It’s also got a swathe of settings to further tailor the experience. “Eco Mode” and “Powerful Mode” are going to maximize the efficiency and output respectively. However, do note that 35 to 55 amps is an average draw for standard use. Fiending the power mode is going to chew through your RV’s energy reserves a LOT faster. So, only use it when you need maximum cooling for short periods of time.
Unfortunately, this unit’s greatest blessing is also its greatest curse. That capacity is IMMENSE. Such capacity and power consumption are both overkill and unsustainable for smaller rigs. Similarly, the price of this air conditioner is going to be unsustainable for a lot of travelers.
Compared to the VES Classic, this air conditioner is more extravagant and much more potent. It’s a simpler install, no doubt. But unless you’ve got the big rig energy to match this behemoth there’s no sense dropping that much cash on air conditioning.
However, for travelers in big setups and living the luxury glamping lifestyle, why not? Embrace the chill of the Nomadic 3000 and relish in its luxury.
Go big or go home, right? Well, us RVers didn’t get into the business to go home!
- Cooling Capacity: 10,230 BTU
- Power Draw: 50A-70A
- Weight: 83.76 lbs
- Warranty: 2 Years
To wrap up the list, we’re looking at an air conditioner that’s all about versatility.
If you’re a dedicated RVer, I’d point you back to any of the previous air conditioners on this list. But if you were hoping to find an air conditioner with a more widespread array of use cases, the B Cool is the pick for you!
The B Cool embodies the spirit of adaptability and multi-functionality. Tailored for those who refuse to be boxed into the normalcy of a pure RV lifestyle (how tragic), this unit’s prowess extends beyond the RVs and into an impressive range of applications.
The full list from B Cool boasts that this air conditioner is perfectly usable in:
- Logging Equipment
- Service Vehicles
- Agricultural Machines
- Heavy Industrial Equipment
- Road Equipment
But I imagine if you’re clever, you can find a whole bunch more uses than that!
On the performance side, the B Cool doesn’t hold back either. The robust 10,230 BTU is equipped for any number of heavyweight vehicles. And it’s an easy enough install to make swapping it between them viable as well.
But it’s very clearly built for bigger vehicles. With a capacity and draw like that, there’s just no way it’s a smart fit for smaller RVs. Plus, in order to cover all those vehicle types, they’ve had to rely on especially high power consumption, even compared to other high-capacity AC units.
Given its power requirements, one might wonder about its compatibility with shore power. While this air conditioner is versatile, users should ensure that any campsite or dock’s shore power can handle its demands to prevent potential issues.
It’s still a mighty fine product! It’s just got a niche application.
If you’re looking for a pure RV air conditioner, I’d go with any of the previous choices. Even with the higher price tag, you’ll get something better sized and fitted for the lifestyle.
But if you wanted a multi-purpose 12V aircon that could be used in RVs too, this cooling system is hands-down the one to get. It’s a cooling companion, ready to take on multiple roles with aplomb!
Pros and Cons of a 12V Air Conditioner
Are you still on the fence? Well, then let’s look at the pros.
I think the first major pro is obvious: the luxury. Portable air conditioners are exactly that. What’s not to love? It’s all the excess of the 21st century packed into one dream unit!
As for the more pragmatic pros and cons? Well, let’s have a look!
- Efficient – The beauty of 12V air conditioners lies in their efficiency. They’re crafted specifically for vehicles like RVs, so they consume significantly less power. Resource management is pretty crucial to a successful RV life, so any product that offers efficiency is worth your time.
- Easy Installation – Despite appearances, most 12V AC units (the VES Classic notwithstanding) are all about hassle-free setup. It’s important you lock in the dimensions BEFORE you buy. But if it fits like Cinderella’s slipper, it’ll go on just as easy too.
- Portable – Many 12V air conditioners have a compact design This means they can fit in more RVs overall as well as be moved around if needed. If you enjoy revitalizing the Feng Shui in your RV from time to time, this flexibility is super handy.
- Price – You’ve probably already noticed that RV air conditioners are crazy expensive. It’s definitely a buy-it-for-life product, or at least as long as you can milk it. For that reason, I’d also strongly weigh up the warranty and customer service in your purchase decision.
- Weight – While they might be portable in design, most of these AC units are rather hefty. If you’re looking to mount one, especially on the roof, it’s crucial to be aware of its weight. And also, consider how that extra weight is going to affect your fuel mileage.
We’ve done the pros and cons, now it’s time for the frequently asked questions. There are no dumb questions at all!
There are plenty of questions I can’t answer though. However, those tend to be about the meaning of life and other heady topics.
When it comes to air conditioning for RVs, I’m an absolute fountain of wisdom. Ask away!
How many amps does a 12V air conditioner draw?
Looking at this list alone, you can see it’s a pretty huge range. Typically, a 12V air conditioner can draw anywhere between 40 to 80 amps. But that really depends on the model and the unit’s BTU capacity.
Eco modes keep the consumption much lower, even down to around 20 amps. While power modes can shoot it above 100.
It’s always best to check the manufacturer’s specifications. And be prepared for a learning curve too. Learning to manage your RV’s electrical system and gadgets takes practice.
If in doubt, start with a cheaper and leaner air conditioner and then upgrade one day when you’re ready.
How long will a 12V battery run an AC?
Ahh, I mean, how long is a piece of string! The duration that 12V batteries last when running AC units depends on several factors. This includes the batteries’ capacities and the current draw of the AC units.
For instance, if your air conditioner draws 50 amps and you have a 100 amp battery, theoretically, it will last about 2 hours. But remember, constantly draining your battery isn’t great for its lifespan either. Usually, I make sure to have some backup power sources and only use the AC intermittently. Here are the best RV batteries on the market right now.
How to install an RV AC?
Good question! Here’s a super simplified breakdown:
- Choose the Right Spot – Ideally, it should be a central location for even cooling. If you’re replacing an old air conditioner, you already have your spot ready!
- Prep the Area – Clean it up. Remove any obstructions or debris. And clear the workspace of tripping hazards too. Breaking your neck is one thing, but dropping your brand new three-grand AC unit on the ground is a whole other kettle of fish!
- Place the Unit – Rooftop units may require the help of a friend (or two). Position it over the opening and ensure it sits flush.
- Secure the Unit – Using screws and brackets (which are usually provided with your purchase). Give it a good wiggle afterward too to make sure it’s not going to be making any annoying noises while you drive.
- Connect to Power – Hook it up to your 12V system per the instructions
- Test It – Before you hit the road, test the air conditioner to make sure it’s functioning correctly. Give it a fair real-world test of a few hours at least. Or even better, take it somewhere local for an overnight camp!
While these steps give a broad overview, always consult your unit’s manual or even consider hiring a professional if you’re unsure. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Personally, I think there’s no shame in hiring a professional for anything electrical or water-related. Hats off to all the master DIYers, but I’m just in the game to camp in bumhair-nowhere. I ain’t no Bob the Builder!
There you have it! After it’s all laid out in a highly engaging and detailed guide, it’s not so complicated!
There’s no way around it: RV air conditioners are expensive. And they’re certainly a superfluous buy too. They’re hardly as essential as a battery or surge protector.
But that’s why, if you’re in the market for one, you want the RIGHT one. So by now, I hope the choice is clear!
For us campervan owners, the Indel B Plein-Aircon is the top pick. You won’t be able to use it for anything larger than a class B, but as class B air conditioners go, you won’t find a better one. It’s quiet, efficient, compact, and durable.
Of course, you might be driving a class C (or any small to mid-sized RV). In that case, opting for the value buy of the Nomadic Cooling 1000 12V is the way to go. It’s a well-rounded unit that’ll cool down any mid-sized RV in no time, and quietly too.
But whatever you do buy, know how to use it! Be savvy with your usage, and stick to Eco modes wherever possible.
A sound night’s sleep from a serene air con is always a blessing. But waking up to a flat battery the next day feels equivalent to a good smiting! I know that from personal experience (cue exasperated sigh).
So stay easy and breezy out there, fellow nomads. The hot winds of adventure are calling! And they need some serious cooling.