Why you should trust me
I've reviewed car chargers for Wirecutter since 2014, monitoring every noteworthy new charger. Additionally, I've tested hundreds of other charging accessories, researching and writing our guides to USB wall chargers, USB-C laptop chargers, and USB-C accessories, among others. Previously, for three years I was the accessories editor at iLounge, where I reviewed more than 1,000 products, including numerous charging options.
Because USB-C can be dangerous business—subpar chargers and cables can fry innocent phones and laptops—I've also used specialized testing hardware to ensure the safety and reliability of every charger we've considered for this guide. This step allows us to definitively say that our picks work exactly as advertised, putting out the right levels of power and adhering to safety standards.
Should you get a car charger (or upgrade one you already have)?
Even if your car has a USB port for integrating music playback and phone calls with your car stereo, and even if that port can charge your phone, spending $20 or so for a dedicated two-port charger can be worth it. That's because the built-in USB ports in most cars put out only 5 watts, which isn't enough to charge a tablet or even newer smartphones at full speed. If you're running an app like Waze or Google Maps, your car's USB port may not charge your phone faster than your phone uses power, so you can end up at your destination with the same battery level on your phone as when you got into the car. Good USB-A chargers can charge more than twice as fast (12 watts), and the latest USB-C chargers can charge modern smartphones at up to 18 watts as long as you use a cable that plugs into the smaller port instead of the USB-A cable that probably came with your device. (This is our favorite cable for iPhones.)
Even if your car's USB port does offer higher-speed charging, most cars have only one port. All of our picks let you charge two or more devices from a single accessory outlet—something your family and friends will appreciate.
However, if you recently bought a multiport USB charger that provides at least 2 amps from each of its ports (look for the "output" listing in the small print on the body of the charger), you have less reason to upgrade. Although you'd be able to charge some devices slightly faster with our top picks, the difference wouldn't be big enough for you to spend more money on a new model right now.
How we picked and tested
You can find hundreds of USB car chargers that plug into your car's accessory-power jack. Over the past few years, these models have become significantly smaller, more powerful, and less expensive—just like USB wall chargers. But most of the car chargers available aren't even worth considering because they don't have enough power to simultaneously charge two devices at faster speeds, something even very inexpensive models can now do. These days, a good USB charger for the car should offer the following:
- At least two USB ports: The cost and space savings of a single-port charger aren't significant enough to justify the limited output. It's almost always a better value to choose a charger with two or more ports, whether those ports be USB-A, USB-C, or a combination of the two.
- The fastest possible output:
- USB-C ports with 18- to 45-watt output: A USB-C port will charge most modern phones faster than a USB-A port will (if you're using the right cable), and can even charge tablets and laptops. Phones that support USB Power Delivery (USB PD)—the standard that allows for fast charging over USB-C—generally draw up to 18 watts, while larger devices can take 45 watts or more. But your device will pull only as much power as it's rated for, so there's no safety concern about your phone being damaged or overheating when you're using a more-powerful charger.
- USB-A ports with 12-watt or QuickCharge 3.0 output: There's no reason to choose a charger with USB-A ports slower than 12 watts (5 volts, 2.4 amps), because they're not much less expensive and they offer slower charging to Apple and Android devices.
- A detachable USB cable: A permanently attached USB cable is limiting because you can't swap out the cable (to use, say, a Micro-USB, Lightning-to-USB, or USB-C–to–USB-C cable) to charge different kinds of devices, attach a longer cable, or have any other control over what kind of connections you use. Just as important, if a built-in cable fails, you have to replace the entire package, charger and all.
- Good power-to-dollar value: We added up the total power across each charger's ports and divided by the price to determine the value. This step let us rule out unnecessarily expensive models. Ranges varied from 1.2 watts per dollar at the most expensive to around 4 watts per dollar as the best value.
- USB-IF certification: Although this was not a requirement, we gave higher credence to chargers that have been certified by the USB Implementers Forum (PDF), which means they have passed the USB-IF Compliance Program and have been tested for safety.
For our latest update, we tested another 20 chargers, including some with only USB-A ports, some with just USB-C ports, and some with both. To find the top options in each category, we put the finalists through a number of tests.
- Chargers with USB-C ports: USB-C uses digital communication between devices to verify charging speeds in a way that USB-A doesn't; with the right tools, you can interpret exactly what's going on in the communication between the charger and the device you've plugged in. We used the Total Phase USB Power Delivery Analyzer and its Data Center Software to measure and record this data, including the advertised power profiles, the steady state output, and whether any errors occurred in charging.
- Chargers with USB-A ports: We tested the maximum power draw from each port by plugging in a variable power load and an ammeter. This setup allowed us to finely control the power flow and determine whether it matched the advertised rate. We started with the power load set to 0 amps and then turned it up until it matched the promised amperage, ensuring the voltage stayed between 4.75 volts and 5.25 volts. Then we repeated that test on each charger's other ports, confirming that every port behaved as expected and that, combined, they matched the right output.
- Combined power output: After testing each individual port, we tested the combined output when each was pushed to the maximum. The best chargers support their fastest rates on each port at the same time, with added devices slowing nothing down.
Once we had these results, the Wirecutter team had a spirited discussion about the pros and cons of different physical sizes: Is smaller always better, or can a charger be too small? The answer, based on our discussions and our hands-on testing: Yes, some chargers are so small, they're hard to remove from a car's outlet when you need to. Although in our evaluation we paid attention to each charger's size and fit in a car's dashboard, we concluded that the smallest car charger isn't always the best choice.
Our pick: Nekteck PD 45W Type-C Car Charger
The Nekteck PD 45W Type-C Car Charger is the right model for any vehicle, any phone, and almost any device you might want to charge while driving. It's a tiny but powerful charger that packs both USB-C and USB-A ports, ensuring near-universal charging compatibility. Thanks to the USB-C port's 45-watt output, it'll charge almost anything at top speed, so you'll never have to worry about your phone running out of power while you're using it to navigate, and you can even juice up your laptop on the go. The Nekteck also comes with a USB-C–to–USB-C cable, making this low-priced model an even better value.
Charging speed is the most important factor when you're choosing a car charger, and in our tests the Nekteck PD 45W model performed as expected. It was one of the first chargers to feature both a fast USB-C port and USB-A port, and it's still the best. Most smartphones charge at 15 to 18 watts, so this charger's 45-watt USB-C port is more than powerful enough to charge any smartphone at its fastest rate. (There's no risk of your device drawing too much power, so you can safely use higher-rated chargers without causing damage to the phone or worrying about anything overheating.)
Battery percentage in charging an iPhone XS
A USB-C charger can charge an iPhone more than twice as fast as the 5 W power brick that comes with the phone, and noticeably faster than a USB-A charger. Modern iPhones charge at a maximum of 18 W.
In our tests of the Nekteck charger, our iPhone XS, paired with a USB-C–to–Lightning cable, went from completely drained to about 50 percent in 30 minutes, and to 81 percent after an hour (those figures may be slightly less if you're using navigation apps). The Nekteck's 12-watt USB-A port, on the other hand, brought the iPhone to about 35 and 73 percent in those respective periods of time. Other USB-C car chargers with 18 W output—we tested four others—can charge a phone just as quickly, but few pair that capability with a quality USB-A port, and none do so for such a good price.
Since many compact laptops charge at 30 or 45 W, you can even use this Nekteck charger to quickly fill them up on the go. In our tests, its USB-C port charged the 11- and 12.9-inch iPad Pro—both of which are capable of laptop-like 45 W charging—at their fastest rates, something no other car charger we tested could do. The larger iPad reached 33 percent charge in half an hour and 65 percent in one hour. (Some popular laptop models, including the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros, can draw 60 W or even 90 W, so they won't charge as fast as they can with their included wall chargers.) Our tests with Total Phase software showed that the USB-C port behaves as promised, and it didn't throw up any red flags that would make us cautious about using it.
The body of the Nekteck PD 45W combines glossy black plastic and matte metal elements. It's not a fashion piece, but it does look pretty good next to the cheaper appearances of some competitors. It sticks out 1.4 inches from the outlet, and its face is an oval 1.6 inches tall and 1.1 inches wide with a blue LED to indicate when it's plugged in. While the Nekteck PD 45W is compact and unobtrusive, it isn't so short that it's difficult to remove, as some other car chargers are.
The Nekteck PD 45W car charger is the only model we tested that includes a USB-C–to–USB-C cable, a $10 to $20 value if bought separately. You can keep this cable in your car to charge your Android phone, computer, or iPad Pro without having to buy a separate accessory. We've verified that the cable adheres to standards; it's not only safe, but it also has a sturdy build quality. In addition to passing our own tests, the charger has been certified by the USB-IF, which means it's been independently tested for safety.
Similar to the coverage from most reputable charger brands, Nekteck's standard warranty period is 12 months, with a six-month extension if you sign up for the company's newsletter. We've found the customer support to be helpful, both in response speed and in addressing our concerns.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Unlike some chargers, the Nekteck PD 45W Type-C Car Charger doesn't have illuminated USB ports, which would make plugging in cables in a dark car a little easier.
Upgrade pick: Scosche PowerVolt Power Delivery Dual 18W USB-C Car Charger
If you want to simultaneously charge two phones at the fastest speeds possible, we recommend the Scosche PowerVolt Power Delivery Dual 18W USB-C Car Charger (CPDC8C8). It's the only car charger with dual USB-C ports from an accessory maker we trust. Each port supports 18-watt charging speeds, even when you use them at the same time, and it's not much larger or much more expensive than the Nekteck 45-watt charger.
In our testing, an iPhone XS, when plugged into the PowerVolt with a USB-C–to–Lightning cable, charged from zero to about 50 percent in 30 minutes and to 80 percent in an hour. That's roughly 15 percent more battery life than your phone would get from a standard 12-watt USB-A charger. Android phones, including the Google Pixel family and the latest generations of the Samsung Galaxy line, would see similar gains compared with using USB-A chargers. The Scosche also performed as expected when we ran it through the Total Phase test, showing the proper power rates and no errors, so it should be compatible with any device that charges on the USB-C standard.
Like the Nekteck PD 45W car charger, the Scosche PowerVolt has USB-IF certification, which means an independent lab has verified that it meets a set of criteria for safety and performance. Although we didn't rely on USB-IF certification in making our recommendations for this guide, that stamp of approval makes us even more comfortable with our picks.
Scosche's warranty is one of the best we've seen. It covers the PowerVolt for three years, almost double the coverage that Anker—one of the most reputable companies in the business—offers. When we've contacted Scosche's customer service, we've been impressed by the fast response times; we got a response to one support inquiry within three hours.
Budget pick: ZMI PowerCruise C2 36-Watt Dual USB Car Charger with QC 3.0
If you don't want to spend more than $10 or so on a charger and aren't concerned about USB-C speeds, we recommend ZMI's PowerCruise C2 36-Watt Dual USB Car Charger with QC 3.0. To be fair, any dual-port USB-A charger from a reputable brand will work as well as any other. But the PowerCruise has a slight edge because it's the rare charger that supports Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0 charging technology on both ports (if you have a compatible phone), and it has the most aesthetically pleasing design in the category.
Like every dual-port charger we tested, the PowerCruise properly allowed 12-watt power draw from both ports. An iPhone XS should reach 35 percent from empty in half an hour, and about 73 percent in an hour. Although we don't think you should buy the PowerCruise only because it supports QC 3.0—most phones these days will charge just as fast or faster on a USB-C charger—the fact that it offers that support, for the same price as non-QC chargers, adds extra value and makes it the best USB-A option for a larger variety of phones.
Whereas most car chargers are plastic, the PowerCruise is made of silver-colored brass. It has a substantial heft (something that makes it feel premium) and a clean look. It also sports a glowing ring between the charging stem and the 0.8-inch-tall head, though the ports themselves aren't lit.
Also great: RAVPower Quick Charge 3.0 54W 4-Port Car Adapter (RP-VC003)
Four ports might seem like overkill to some people, but if you really need to charge more than two devices at once in the car, the RAVPower Quick Charge 3.0 54W 4-Port Car Adapter (RP-VC003) is a great pick. It fits four fast USB charging ports into a package that's not much larger than the Nekteck PD 45W.
With a black metal body that sticks out 1.4 inches from the car's outlet, and a face that's 1.8 inches tall and 1 inch wide when oriented vertically, the charger isn't unreasonably large. Its ports are aligned in a single row, so you can rotate the charger 90 degrees if a horizontal orientation better fits your car's setup.
The RP-VC003 did fall a bit short in our tests, but not in a way that we think will affect most people. All three standard USB ports put out the proper 12 watts (2.4 amps, 5 volts) when we used them individually, and the Quick Charge port offered the right 2-amp, 9-volt charging figure. But when we tested the maximum draw on all four ports at once, one of the non–Quick Charge ports dropped to 0.8 amp. Since it's rare for devices to draw the whole 12 W available on a USB port—the power draw tapers off as a battery fills up—we don't think this problem will affect too many people. Even with this minor drawback, the RAVPower charger is still a better option than the limited competition.
What about cheap dual-port 12-watt chargers?
There's no shortage of small, $10-ish, dual-port USB-A chargers from reputable brands. Scosche's ReVolt, RAVPower's RP-PC031, RP-PC106, and RP-VC006, Aukey's CC-S7, Anker's PowerDrive 2, and AmazonBasics's Dual-Port USB Car Charger all perform identically to one another. Some are shorter than others and end up looking like they're part of your car when installed, and some have glowing ports that make it easier for you to plug in a cable when it's dark. But they all work fine, and they're decent buys if you find a great sale or it's easier to pick up one of these over the ZMI PowerCruise C2.
Aukey's Expedition Flush-Fit 18W is a tiny metal charger offering a single 18-watt USB-C port. We generally recommend chargers that don't sit flush because they are harder to remove, and think you can get a better deal for a multiport charger. In our tests, one of the power profiles was an unusual 12V/1.75A (21 watts), which doesn't match the 12V/1.5A listed on the charger itself. For that reason alone, we'd be wary of using it.
Satechi's 72W Type-C PD Car Charger provides more power than any other model we tested, with 60 watts from the USB-C port (enough to charge a 13-inch MacBook Pro at full-speed) and 12 watts from the USB-A port. But it doesn't come with a charging cable, and that much power is overkill for most devices. If you often find yourself needing to charge your laptop in the car, the Satechi will be a good choice for you, but most people will be better off with the Nekteck charger, which includes a cable and offers 45-watt charging that will also work with most laptops.
Anker's PowerDrive Speed+ Duo has a 30-watt USB-C port (as opposed to the Nekteck's 45-watt port), doesn't come with a cable, and generally sells for a few dollars more than the Nekteck. It's otherwise a good choice if you prefer the aesthetics of the glowing blue ring around the charging face.
Aukey's CC-Y7 supports only a 27-watt output from its USB-C port, and it isn't USB-IF certified.
In our testing, the Anker PowerDrive Speed+ 2 didn't support full Quick Charge speeds, despite its specs.
RAVPower's Dual USB Car Adapter (RP-PC022) failed when we tried to charge devices on both the USB-A and USB-C ports at the same time.
We don't recommend the AmazonBasics 4-Port USB Car Charger because it required us to unplug and reconnect our test iPads a few times to get the proper 2.4-amp power draw from each port. Eventually, all four were providing the right amount of power, but we found the RAVPower RP-VC003 to be more reliable.
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