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Are 12v Car Vacuums Worth Buying? [Guide]

Written by James Hall |

A 12v car vacuum can be a useful tool for certain situations. What’s the difference between a 12v vac and standard models though? And who should buy one? Keep reading to find out.

A guide to 12V car vacuumsBottom Line

  • 12v power sockets (also known as cigarette lighters) can provide power to portable devices, including small vacuum cleaners
  • Several brands produce 12v vacs for the UK market, including Halfords, Black & Decker and Vonhaus
  • While 12v vacuums can’t rival standard models for suction power, they can be convenient for cleaning cars and caravans
  • Don’t expect these vacuums to match the suction power of full-size upright, cylinder or even cordless vacuums though
  • It’s important to choose the right model though. Make sure you consider the brand, accessories and performance of a vac before you buy

A Brief History of the 12v Car Socket

The cigarette lighter in your car, also known as the 12v socket, has become essential for powering portable electronics. These sockets were originally added to cars to light cigarettes, but have developed into an “on-the-go” power socket.

Why do we use a cigarette lighter rather than other power sockets though, such as USB? We need to understand the history of car electrical systems to see why.

The first cars to come with electrical systems used a DC generator. These provided power for headlights, but it quickly became obvious they could also power accessories. A good example is the starter motor.

Unfortunately, these electrical systems didn’t provide a consistent voltage. This meant it wasn’t possible to power external items. People could still wire in accessories manually, but this was time-consuming and semi-permanent.

The Switch to AC Power

When alternators started to be used in cars, however, everything changed. Alternators provide an AC current, which is then converted to DC when charging the battery. Unlike DC generators, the voltage is stable, which allowed for charging other items.

Cigarette lighters benefited from the switch to alternators. Newer cigarette lighters contain two components – a plug and cylindrical metal receptacle. When the plug is in the receptacle, the circuit is completed and the coil becomes hot. The plug can then be removed to light a cigarette.

A side effect of this design is that the receptacle provides access to power. By designing products with the right power plug, an accessory can use the car’s electrical system without needing to be wired in.

Once it became clear how useful the 12V socket could be, a specification was created so all 12v accessories and sockets were compatible.

The result is the wide range of 12v portable devices available today. Everything from smartphones to portable speakers can be powered using these sockets. Even though smoking is less popular than in the past, the cigarette lighter is here to stay.

A woman cleaning her car interior with a 12v car vacuum

What is a 12v Car Vacuum Cleaner?

A 12v car vacuum is an example of a portable device that uses the cigarette lighter socket. Unlike regular vacuums, which are either powered by batteries or the mains power supply, 12v vacs can run using your car’s power supply.

Most 12v car vacs are small handheld models. This is usually fine for cleaning cars, as the small designs make it easier to get under seats. They probably aren’t suitable for deep cleaning though (more on that in the next section).

A number of brands produce 12v vacuums in the UK. Some of the most popular include Halfords, Black & Decker and Vonhaus.

How Are 12v Models Different From Regular Car Vacs?

On our page about car vacs, we review a range of vacuums. The list includes a combination of cordless, handheld and cylinder vacs – but no 12v models. Why is this?

The reason is that 12v vacuums don’t have the suction strength to rival regular vacuum cleaners. If you want to give your car or caravan a deep clean, they probably aren’t up to the job.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have their place though. 12v car vacuums are great when you need to clean your car without access to mains power.  They are also convenient for spot cleaning between deeper cleaning with your “full-size” vacuum.

Here’s a quick overview of the pros and cons:


  • Highly portable as you don’t need a mains power supply
  • Great for caravans or mobile homes
  • Small handheld designs are convenient for cleaning cars
  • Most 12v vacuum cleaners are relatively cheap
  • Some come with extra tools and accessories for car cleaning

  • Not as powerful as mains-powered or cordless vacuums
  • Small capacity so need to be emptied regularly
  • Can only be used in a car (cordless vacs can be used anywhere)
  • Limited choices on the market

How to Choose a 12v Vacuum

Choosing a 12v vacuum is similar to other types, but there are fewer options. Here are some tips for getting a great model.

  1. Have realistic expectations. A 12v car vacuum is never going to rival corded or lithium-ion battery vacs when it comes to suction power. There are still some excellent models available though (the Black & Decker PAD1200 is a good example).
  2. Don’t Forget Accessories. Many 12V car vacuums come with extra tools and accessories. These can include a flexible hose, crevice tool, soft dusting brush and many more. Make sure you know which tools are included with a vacuum before you buy. 
  3. Choose a Reliable Brand. The cheap nature of 12v vacuum cleaners means there are tons of low-quality models on the market. These are often made in China and the re-sold by various “companies.” While cheaper vacuums aren’t necessarily bad, we recommend sticking to known brands such as Black & Decker and Halfords.
  4. Decide Whether to Buy a Wet & Dry Model. Most people don’t need a “wet” function when cleaning their car. If you do, however, there are 12V wet & dry vacs on the market that can handle small spills.


If you travel a lot, or just want a convenient vacuum for cleaning your car, a 12v vac could be a great choice. They tend to be less powerful than other models, but the handheld design makes it easy to clean under seats and other awkward locations. Make sure you have realistic expectations of a 12v car vac though.

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