Many modern vehicles now have everything you need to charge smartphones, tablets, and laptops, built right into them—even base model vehicles include USB ports. However, if you have an older vehicle, you'll need to invest in a charger that can be plugged into a 12-volt port or, if your ride’s of a certain age, a cigarette lighter.
After months of testing a selection of plug-in 12-volt car chargers and wireless charging docks, we can confidently say that the Anker PowerDrive III Duo(available at Amazon) is the best car charger you can buy. It charges reliably, is well-built and its quick-charge port allows for super-speedy top-ups of your phone’s battery.
If your smartphone supports wireless charging, the ROAV SmartCharge Wireless W2 (available at Amazon) is a solid option. It securely cradles most smartphones and wirelessly charges them quickly, and proved capable of providing power to smartphones even if they’re in a protective case.
Here are the best car chargers we tested ranked, in order:
Anker PowerDrive III Duo
MaxBoost Dual Port Universal USB Car Charger
AmazonBasics Dual Port USB Car Charger
ROAV SmartCharge Wireless W2
Scosche MagicMount Charge3
iOttie Auto Sense Wireless Automatic Clamping Mount
Applus Wireless Charging Mount
Anker PowerDrive III Duo
Anker’s PowerDrive III Duo charger is sleek in design and well built. It’s designed with modern phones in mind, featuring two USB-C ports. To charge phones that aren’t equipped with USB-C, such as an iPhone, you’ll need to buy a USB-C to Lightning cable.
The PowerDrive III Duo proved to be the second-fastest charger we tested, topping up my smartphone to 99% in just an hour and 17 minutes. This is thanks, in part, to the fact that one of the PowerDrive III Duo’s two USB-C ports is equipped with Anker's proprietary PowerIQ Fast Charging technology, which intelligently identifies the device that’s plugged in to deliver the fastest charge possible for it. Like the other chargers in this guide, the PowerDrive III Duo has overload protection. It also has tech baked into it to keep the charger from overheating while in use, prolonging the life of the charger.
The only thing we didn’t like is that the PowerDrive III Duo has the largest faceplate of all the ones tested for this guide—an odd design decision, when you consider the small size of USB-C ports compared to older charging standards. This could be annoying if your vehicle’s 12V port is in close proximity to any other ports or controls in your dashboard.
The ROAV SmartCharge Wireless W2 is a wireless charging mount (for phones that support this standard), designed to clip onto the fins of your dashboard’s vents. Its adjustable arms and foot will accommodate a wide variety of smartphones. A handy guide on the cradle’s face shows how far to pull down its foot to ensure that the W2’s wireless charging sensor connects with the charging coil inside of your phone. You should know that the W2 can charge phones in their case, so long as the case is no thicker than 0.2 inches thick.
As mentioned earlier, the W2’s cradle attaches to your car’s dashboard vent fins. The charger comes with two types of vent clips, making it compatible with a wide variety of vehicles. The vent clips click into the back of the cradle using a ball joint, which makes it easy to adjust the angle of the phone to your liking, before locking it into place.
The W2’s charging cradle is powered via USB, which plugs into its included 12-volt car charger. The 12-volt charger comes with two USB ports, one of which is utilized by the W2’s wireless charging cable. Need to charge a tablet and an external battery on the way to work? No problem: just unplug the wireless charging cradle to make use of both of the 12-volt charger’s USB ports.
The charger‘s top USB port comes with Anker’s proprietary PowerIQ 2.0 technology, baked into it. During testing, the ROAV proved to be the fastest wireless in this guide, juicing up my phone to 99% at just 2.5 hours. Getting the last 1% of power topped off, took an additional hour, which is on par with the other wireless chargers tested.
Unfortunately, the ROAV SmartCharge Wireless W2 is not without its faults.
While using it in my car during testing, I had to readjust the charging cradle, a number of times, as the balljoint’s nut would loosen, due to the weight of my phone, over time. Additionally, removing a smartphone from the cradle is more complicated than doing so with other wireless chargers in this guide. The handset needs either be tugged out of the cradle or, in a two-handed operation, held while the W2’s release button is pushed. Should you drive over a bump, you may find that the bottom of the cradle will drop out of place. So, your phone won’t continue to charge until it’s realigned with the W2’s charging coil.
However, these are issues shared with many of the wireless charging cradles on the market today.
I'm Christine Persaud. I’ve been writing about technology before the iPod was invented. Through my almost 20-year career writing about tech, I've tested a car charger or two.
For me, drive time isn't just for getting from Point A to Point B. It's valuable phone charging time that I won't have to waste once back home when I could be mindlessly surfing Instagram or crushing candies on the device.
I spent hours at my desk testing each of the chargers in this guide. For each test, I first plugged a 12V car charger into a bench power supply, to simulate the power generated by a vehicle’s 12V system. Next, I plugged in a USB power meter into the 12V charger’s USB-A or USB-C ports. This allowed me to capture the output voltage and amperage from the charger. Next, I plugged my smartphone, an iPhone XR, into the USB power meter.
Before testing each of the car chargers or wireless car chargers, I waited until my smartphone’s battery ran down to 20%. Once I saw this magic number pop up on my display, I started charging, with a goal of reaching a 99% charge, as soon as possible. I then drained the handset to 20%, once more, before charging the phone to a full 100%, logging the time. During each charge, I kept an eye on how the voltage and amperage fluctuated throughout the charging period and logged the average range for each. This helped provide the most accurate numbers and ensure there wasn’t an extenuating factor impacting the first results.
Once finished with this round, the best-performing chargers were taken on the road as I ran daily errands to the grocery store and went for leisurely drives so I could log how easy they were to use and how quickly they charged in a real-world setting.
In addition to these tests, I also looked at the design of the charger, its build quality, and what extra features or functions it included, such as fast or, with wireless chargers, auto-adjusting arms for holding a smartphone in place.
What You Should Know About Car Chargers
There are lots of things to consider when buying a car charger to use with your smartphone, tablet or another USB-powered device. Some, for example, come with built-in cables with a male adapter on the end for charging a specific device, whether it be USB-C, Apple’s Lightning charging standard. This can be handy if you’re charging a compatible device, however, you’ll need to pack an extra cable if you want to charge anything that doesn’t use the adapter that the charger is equipped with.
Other car chargers come with one or more female USB-A or USB-C ports and allow you to plug in whatever cable you wish. These 12V chargers are far more versatile, you’ll need to remember to bring the charging cables you need with you or leave some in the car.
In some instances, a 12-volt car charger will feature a ‘fast charging’ port that purports to charge the device at a faster rate of speed than a regular USB or wireless connection can. The reliability of such claims depends heavily upon the quality of the charger and which fast charging technology it employs.
Terms You Should Know
We use a number of terms in this guide that might leave you scratching your head. Here are a few explanations:
USB-C: Also known as Type-C, is the type of charging port found in all of the latest Android smartphones, excluding Apple’s iPhones. There is no top or bottom to a USB-C connection, so there’s no wrong way to insert the end of a Type-C cable into a Type-C port. This standard can allow for charging up to 20 times faster than the older USB-A (the rectangular USB port that many of us have used for years) standard. How fast a USB-C device will charge ultimately comes down to the capabilities of the charger it’s plugged into.
Power Delivery (PD): Power Delivery is a technology built into some car chargers that is designed to determine how much power is required to power or charge the device connected to it. allows the connected device and the charger to determine together how much power is needed and use it. When paired with the right cable, a Power Delivery-equipped charger can handle anything from recharging a pair of wireless headphones to a USB-C-equipped laptop.
Amps: This is the electrical current that is available to charge the device. A smartphone, for example, needs 1 Amp while a tablet needs 2 Amps of power for its batteries to be recharged.
Voltage: Most car chargers offer 2.1 to 4.8 Amps of power, which the vehicle will convert to 5V once the charger is inserted, adjusting the electrical potential of its 12 volts to what is necessary to recharge your phone.
Watts: The total amount of power being supplied to the connected device, calculated using amps multiplied by voltage.
What is the Difference Between Fast Charging and Quick Charge?
You'll see some car chargers advertised as offering Quick Charge technology. This is effectively the same thing as fast charging, with the exception of the fact that Quick Charge is a proprietary charging technology owned by Qualcomm.
What is the Difference Between Wireless Chargers and Qi Chargers?
Wireless charging is a blanket term for any charging technology that requires no cable be inserted into a device, in order to charge its battery. Qi (pronounced "Chee") is the brand name for the wireless charging standard that most smartphone manufacturers adhere to.
Other Car Chargers We Tested
Spigen SteadiBoost USB-C Car Charger
The Spigen SteadiBoost charger was among the top-performers in this guide. It charged my phone to 99% in under an hour-and-a-half and, to 100%, in two hours. It comes with a Quick Charge USB-A as well as a built-in USB-C cable that features Power Delivery (PD) 3.0 charging capable of recharging power-hungry hardware such as a USB-C compatible laptop.
I like that Spigen placed the SteadiBoost’s built-in cable below the charger’s USB-A port as it makes plugging cables into the port a simple affair. Intelligent Power Technology ensures that your connected device gets only the power it needs while a Smart IC chip protects the charger as well as the tech connected to it, from overcharging and over-voltage. Spigen’s ControlHeat Technology prevents the charger from overheating while in use.
Built-in USB-C cable
Extra USB Quick Charge port
Rugged, durable design
Non-removable cable can get in the way if you don't need it
The MaxBoost Dual Port Universal USB Car Charger is well made and features two 2.4A USB charging ports. We liked how easy it was to remove from a vehicle’s 12V port, thanks to a raised pattern on the charger’s plastic body which makes it easy to grip. At the time that this guide was written, the MaxBoost was available in black or white. No matter your color preference, the perimeter of the charger's twin USB ports will light up as soon as a cable is plugged into them. This lets you know that power is being delivered by the charger to the cable and, in turn, to the device you’re looking to charge.
The MaxBoost was the fastest charger we encountered during testing, charging our iPhone to 99% in one hour and 14 minutes. The charger is designed to identify the type of device that is connected to it and optimize its charging speed. Intelligent circuit design protects your connected device against short-circuiting, over-heating, over-current, and overcharging.
This charger is strictly a bring-you-own-cable affair—and the cables you bring need to be USB-A, a connection that is rapidly being replaced by USB-C. This makes the MaxBoost Dual less than futureproof.
Fast charging times
No fast-charge technology
Need your own cable
AmazonBasics USB-C Car Charger
The AmazonBasics Dual Port USB Car Charger features two USB-A ports and is small enough to easily blend into your vehicle’s dash or center console. Unfortunately, it was the slowest charger we tested for this guide. That said, the charge times of all of the hardware we tested were separated by mere minutes.
The AmazonBasics charged our iPhone XR in just under an hour-and-half. However, when it came to charging the iPhone to 100%, it clocked in at just over two hours.
The Scosche MagicMount Charge3 was the fastest to charge our iPhone out of all of the wireless chargers tested for this guide, topping off the handset’s battery to 99% in two hours and 40 minutes.
The Charge3 securely holds your phone in its cradle using the power of magnets. Two adhesive-backed metal plates—or MagicPlates as Scosche like to call them—come with the charger. Stick one of the plates to the back of your smartphone or its protective case, mate it with the Charge3’s magnet and your phone will immediately start to charge (provided your phone case doesn’t interfere with the wireless charging process. Additionally, I love that the dock can be used in a portrait or landscape orientation, depending on your preference. Should you use both of the MagicPlates that ship with the charger, it’s possible to buy extras.
It all works well, in theory.
Unfortunately, the adhesive on the back of the MagicPlate wasn’t strong enough to stick to my iPhone XR’s leather case. When the time came to remove my phone from the Charge3, the wireless charger’s mounting magnet was strong enough to pull the MagicPlate right off of my phone. You may have more success with the MagicPlate if your case was made using different materials, however.
That said, the strong magnet does make sure the phone stays in place when it’s docked with the Charge3.
The iOttie Auto Sense Wireless Automatic Clamping Mount’s design includes a proximity sensor that opens the wireless charger’s arms, automatically, when it senses a smartphone nearby. A second after the phone has been placed in the charger, the arms close, holding the handset in place. The iOttie comes with an adjustable foot knob that allows the wireless charger to accommodate handsets of varying lengths. Devices can be charged using the iOttie’s integrated USB-C cable (attached to the charging cradle or detached for charging devices other than a smartphone) or USB-A port.
Despite all of these clever features, it’s hard to recommend the iOttie: it took five hours to charge my smartphone to 99%, making it the slowest charger we tested.
The Applus Wireless Charging Mount wasn't the slowest of the chargers tested for this guide, but it did take longer than three hours to charge my smartphone to 99%.
When it’s time to seat your phone in the charger, the Applus’ arms slide to accommodate it, thanks to the charger’s proximity sensor. The wireless charger itself can be secured to your dash, using either an included adhesive plate or vent clip, depending on your preference. Both mate to the wireless charger using a ball joint.
While the Applus includes a USB-C-to-USB-A cable, it doesn’t come with a 12V charger to plug into your vehicle. So, in order to use it, your vehicle will need to have a built-in USB-A port or you’ll have to invest in a 12V charger, like our Best Overall pick, to plug it into. This could be a dealbreaker, for many of our readers. However, it can also be seen as a fine way to upgrade to wireless charging if you already have what you need in your car to provide power to it.
And now, the bad stuff.
While the Applus’ arms might open wide to receive your phone, removing it from the cradle is significantly more difficult, however, as there is no release button: so you’ll have to yank your phone free when you want to take it in hand. What’s more, there’s no way to adjust the foot of the cradle, either. So, if you have a larger handset, like the iPhone Pro 12 Max, your phone’s charging coils may not line up with the Applus’ Qi charging pad correctly.
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