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Best 12V Air Conditioner for Van - Nomadic Cooling

Best 12V Air Conditioner for Van

a man turning on the camper van ac

Kampgrounds of America estimates that in 2021 there were 93.8 million camping households in North America that consider themselves campers. That's a lot of people who like to spend time traveling, and one of the things that makes camping so appealing is the ability to escape from technology and unwind in nature.

But sometimes a cool, comfortable night is just what you need to enjoy the simple pleasures of camping. An air conditioner can help with that.

Off-grid van lifers with no rooftop air conditioner installed and RVers who need to keep their interior cool when camping without hookups have increased the popularity of 12-volt AC for vans.

We have the perfect solution if you're looking to cool down your van! A 12V air conditioner is easy to install and use in almost every van. This article looks at the best 12V air conditioners for vans based on price, mode settings, features that stand out, and more.

How Does a 12 Volt Air Conditioner Work? (AC vs DC units)

There are two main types of 12V air conditioners available: those that run on DC and those that run on AC. The difference is how the compressor is powered and how much power it draws from the electrical system.

Air conditioners that can run on 12 volts of electricity are called 12V air conditioners. AC power is used by many available camper van air conditioners, especially those found in Class B RVs.

With the development of extremely efficient compressors calibrated to operate on 12V DC, it is now possible to build air conditioners that operate on this voltage. You can get 12 volts from your camper's onboard battery bank or an auxiliary power converter.

A camper van air conditioner uses the same 120 volts as your house air conditioner. Therefore, battery banks and solar panels typically need help to keep up. Long-term usage of an air conditioner requires either hooking up to shore electricity at a campground or using a generator.

The best 12-volt air conditioner for a camper van can cost significantly more than 120-volt models. But 12-volt air conditioners are more efficient and can be usable in a van's off-grid solar power and battery power setup.

Review of the Best 12V Van Air Conditioners for Vans

The key to finding a great van air conditioner is matching your needs with the features of each model. We'll start by looking at the best 12V air conditioners for vans, then go into more detail about each product.

Nomadic Cooling 3000 12V

Nomadic Cooling 12v AC unit for van

Nomadic Cooling AC units are one of the best 12-volt ACs that may be utilized off-grid:
  • Cooling Capacity: 11,830 BTUs
  • Power Draw: 10-58 Amps
  • Power: 12-volt DC source
  • Weight: 61 pounds
  • Price: $4,303.20

The Nomadic Cooling air conditioner is expensive, but it is the only way to get a reliable air conditioner for your van that runs on your vehicle's batteries (preferably lithium).

You can put the Nomadic 3000 in a standard 14" x 14" space and uses 600g of R134A refrigerant that has already been filled.

This van air conditioner has two settings: Eco and Powerful, to better adapt to the weather conditions. When the temperature outside is less than 85 degrees, Eco Mode should be used by default. When the temperature outside is high, you may turn on the car's air conditioning and use the "Powerful Mode" for short periods to get the job done. Because running takes a lot of energy, there are better choices than Powerful Mode for the long term.

This air conditioner has several built-in safety features, such as an alarm for low pressure, high voltage, too much current in the motor, and too much heat in the compressor.

Dometic CoolAir 2000 RTX 12V

Dometic CoolAir 2000 RTX 12V

Dometic's 12-volt unit is a great choice for off-grid cooling because it is compact and efficient:
  • Cooling Capacity: 6,824 BTU
  • Power Draw: 35-120 Amps
  • Power: 12-volt power source
  • Weight: 72.6 pounds
  • Price: $2,399.99

For over a decade, the Dometic CoolAir 2000 RTX AC unit for camper vans has been the best option for those who want to avoid connecting to the electrical grid. For this, a variable-speed inverter compressor is used. This type of compressor provides better cooling, saves a lot of energy, and works quietly.

If you're operating the 2000 RTX off of your van's batteries, you'll be happy to know that, in eco mode, it only draws about 19 amps. Cooling may be done quickly in short bursts using the turbo setting. This van air conditioner comes with all the parts you need and a convenient remote.

Dometic CoolAir 1000 RTX 12V

Dometic CoolAir 1000 RTX 12V

The Dometic CoolAir RTX1000 should be put in the cabin of a truck, an SUV, or a small passenger van. The RTX 2000 is a better choice for camper vans:
  • Cooling Capacity: 4,094 BTU
  • Power Draw: 10-58 Amps
  • Power: 12-volt power source
  • Weight: 52.8 pounds
  • Price: $1,599.99

This third-generation Dometic CoolAir specifically aims to maximize cooling while reducing energy use. Compared to older models, the RTX 1000 roof units provide over twice as much cooling power in the same amount of time. This is made possible by the variable speed of the inverter compressor, which allows for great cooling performance with low noise and high efficiency.

The two-cylinder compressor makes the CoolAir incredibly quiet, and the huge, high-contrast display displays the air conditioner's four working modes and adaptive automated Mode.

Nomadic Cooling 1000 12V

Dometic CoolAir 1000 RTX 12V

Off-grid adventurers with little room can take advantage of this battery-powered air conditioner:
  • Power Draw: 25-65 Amps
  • Power: 12-volt power source
  • Weight: 61.05 pounds
  • Price: $3,490.00

You can run the stand-alone Nomadic Cooling 1000 12V air-conditioner independently of the engine. A separate lithium battery powers the system's smart microprocessor control technology, and the user can set the temperature to their liking.

Default Eco Mode is the most efficient way to operate this air conditioner. Powerful Mode gives you short bursts of maximum cooling, but it uses more power, so you should only use it when you really need it.

Other Air Conditioner Options to Consider

If you're in the market for the best van air conditioners but want to boost the cooling capacity beyond what a 12-volt can offer, there are other air conditioner options to consider.

Remember that these models are designed for 24-48 volt power sources and are more expensive than 12-volt models. However, they can provide up to 12,480 cooling power—a jump from the 4,000-11,000 BTUs of a standard 12-volt air conditioner.

Nomadic Cooling 3000 24V

Nomadic Cooling 3000 24V

Want to know how to power your RV's air conditioner off the grid with just the batteries? The 3000 series of battery-operated air conditioners are made with nomads in mind:

  • Cooling Capacity: 4,094 BTU
  • Power Draw: 10-58 Amps
  • Power: 24-volt power source
  • Weight: 52.8 pounds
  • Price: $1,599.99

The Nomadic Cooling 3000 24V Air Conditioner is installed on the top of your van like regular RV air conditioners, but it uses a fraction of the energy. The Nomadic Cooling model consumes far less energy than a standard rooftop air conditioner. It's ideal for anyone who wants to power their RV air conditioner without using a generator or plugging it into the grid.

Although inverters can power ordinary units, they typically have trouble turning on the compressor. The Nomadic Cooling ACs, on the other hand, run on 24-volt DC power and can be run directly from a 24-volt lithium battery without an inverter.

Nomadic Cooling 2000 24V

Nomadic Cooling 2000 24V AC for van

The Nomadic Cooling 2000 24V is one of the best-reviewed units to consider if you need cold air in a van. It's powerful but quiet, and it has a great price-to-performance ratio:
  • Cooling Capacity: 12,480 BTU
  • Power Draw: 3-50 Amps
  • Power: 24-volt power source
  • Weight: 61.05 pounds
  • Price: $5,599.00

The Nomadic Cooling 2000 24V is a powerful yet affordable way to cool large spaces and keep everyone comfortable during those hot summer months. On a 24-volt system, it can carry more load than on a 12-volt system. This means that the unit can cool larger spaces and is more efficient than 12-volt models.

Nomadic Cooling 2000 48V

Nomadic Cooling 2000 48V AC for van life

The 48-volt Nomadic Cooling 2000 is a powerful and efficient unit for cooling large spaces:
  • Cooling Capacity: 12,480 BTU
  • Power Draw: 3-50 Amps
  • Power: 48-volt power source
  • Weight: 61.05 pounds
  • Price: $5,301.00

The Nomadic Cooling 2000 48V is noticeably quieter than competing models. Nomadic Cooling's portable battery-powered ACs maintain a quiet operation of 60 dBA or less. There is also the bonus of operating without vibration.

Its low power consumption of 3-50 amps allows you to maintain a comfortable temperature without worrying about turning off any other amenities in your van.

The Pros & Cons of a 12V Air Conditioner

Before deciding on a unit for your camper van, it's important to weigh the pros and cons of a 12V air conditioner.

The Pros of a 12 Volt Air Conditioner

  • Easy to install. Getting a 12-volt air conditioner that directly replaces your old rooftop unit is possible. Alterations to a window or wall port may be necessary, but sizing is fairly standard. To improve the safety of an older camper, you may also need to replace the wiring.
  • Portable. If you are unsure where you will be traveling or parking your van, an air conditioner like this is perfect because of its portability--it's lightweight and easy to move around when needed (without having to dismantle anything). And you can use it at home when you're not using it on vacation in your van.
  • Efficient. A 12 Volt air conditioner often provides better efficiency and performance than a 120 Volt AC air conditioner when the same source voltage powers both. This is because an inverter is not required to power the 12 Volt DC air conditioner.

The Cons of a 12 Volt Air Conditioner

  • Weight. A 12 Volt DC-powered air conditioner could be heavier than a 120 Volt AC-powered one with the same BTU output, but this will depend on the specific model you purchase. This can affect the price of both works to put in place and shipping.
  • Pricing. Though prices have dropped due to the increased popularity of 12 Volt DC air conditioners, they are still more expensive than 120 Volt AC-powered models. Batteries rarely come with the air conditioner, so you will need to purchase them separately. And retrofitting your current van with a new unit can be expensive, especially if you need to do the installation yourself.
  • Acquisition. Because they are still a developing consumer technology, you won't be able to pick one up at your local auto parts store. Most people acquire them online, which means delays or additional fees may be associated with the shipment.

Bottomline

No one type of cooling system is best for all camper vans. Which air conditioner is best will depend on your needs, the power you have, the size of your camper van, and your budget.

Prioritize how much air conditioning is worth to you, and then seek a budget-friendly camping arrangement after you know where you want to stay. 

The most straightforward option is to install a roof-mounted unit in the opening of your existing roof.

The Nomadic Cooling 3000 12V is the best 12-volt air conditioner for van life because of its price, power, and cooling capacity. It's not the most powerful air conditioner on the market, but it's a great compromise between price and performance. This may be your best option if you need to stay cool in your van without breaking the bank. Whatever your needs we can help.
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