What is a Car Cooler?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Also known as a swamp cooler, a car cooler is a type of device that is used to help cool the air in a vehicle. This type of evaporative cooler is normally mounted on one of the windows of the vehicle and aids in lowering the temperature of the interior space using the process of evaporation. This type of device was a forerunner to the air conditioning systems that are commonly found in most cars today.

Internal climate control systems are much more common than car coolers today.
Internal climate control systems are much more common than car coolers today.

Developed around 1930, the design of the water-powered car cooler included a storage tank that was filled with water. While several designs were developed between that year and the 1960s, the basic idea was to allow the water to evaporate and transfer heat from the interior of the car. The warmer air is expelled via the window while cooler air is directed to the interior of the vehicle. Some models included fans that allowed the device to work even when the car was not in motion, or traveling at a low speed.

By the 1970s, modern car air conditioning systems began replacing car coolers.
By the 1970s, modern car air conditioning systems began replacing car coolers.

One of the benefits of the car cooler is the inexpensive operation of the device. The components in most designs were very simple and since the cooling technology relied on water to function, maintenance and usage costs were almost nil. Car coolers were especially effective when humidity levels were low, making it an ideal way to stay relatively cool when traveling through deserts or any other areas where very little moisture was present.

At its height, the car cooler was produced and offered by a number of companies. Most models were designed to be detachable and easy to install, making it easy to store the device during the winter months. In addition to being available at garages and auto supply stores, the coolers were also offered for sale via mail order from some of the major department stores of the day.

While the car cooler did help make a trip during hot weather more comfortable, the device was not able to compete with the emerging air conditioning devices that increasing became available with newer automobiles. By the early part of the 1970s, sales of the devices had decreased dramatically as internal air climate control systems became part of the standard equipment on many makes and models of vehicles. Today, a small number of manufacturers continue to produce coolers of this type, usually for use on antique vehicles.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


@Laotionne - Drentel may be right about the gas mileage not being much better when you turn off the air conditioner and open the windows. However, not using the air conditioner in your car is better for the environment, so open the windows whenever possible. Using the air conditioner also takes away some of the car's power when you are accelerating.


@Laotionne - If you trying to save gas then you need to rethink when you turn on the A/C in your car. When you are stuck in traffic and not moving that is when the A/C is really going to drain your gas tank, not to mention that it is also making your engine work harder. This is more likely to cause your car to over heat on a hot day if your cooling system isn't working properly.

And some studies say that when you are traveling more than 50 mph there is not much difference in the gas mileage your car gets whether you let down the windows or use the A/C. Newer cars are designed to take advantage of aerodynamics and open windows create a drag on vehicles causing them to use more gas, so you might as well use the A/C if that's what you prefer.


How cool would it be if you could use one of these car coolers instead of the current type of car air conditioner. I have heard that using your car air conditioner really uses a lot more gas than just rolling down the windows and this is a big concern for me since a gallon of gas costs so much.

The only time I use the air conditioner in my car is when I am stuck in traffic or going really slow in the city. All other times, I just open the windows and let the air in from the outside and that keeps me cool.

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