The top performers in our review are the Black & Decker Auto Pivot Vac, the Gold Award winner; Metropolitan VM6BS500, the Silver Award winner; and Dirt Devil Extreme Power, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a unit to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the top 10 car vacuum cleaners.
Even the most committed car enthusiast cannot keep all messes away from their prized possession. Those with a strict no-eating-in-the-car policy can still expect to have anything that attaches itself to shoes – dirt, leaves and worse – accumulate on their car's floor periodically. Some automobile lovers may be willing to pay for professional auto detailing on a regular basis. For the rest of us, a car vacuum cleaner will be more than enough to keep our cars reasonably neat. It can also tide you over between professional cleanings.
Kids, pets and life in general can leave messes in your vehicle, and while you could clean with a normal household vacuum or one at the car wash, there are many advantages to owning a vacuum specifically for cars. It is nice to have something with you in the car so you can clean up messes when you are on the road, for example, especially since a road trip is when you are likely to have some of your most epic spills. Not every car vacuum can be plugged into the vehicle itself, which can impact portability on a road trip, but when you sidle up to a developed campsite, you will have access to an outlet. In your garage you will have access to an outlet, too, so you can clean everything at the beginning and end of a vacation if you choose a vacuum that does not allow you to plug into the car itself.
Cars present a tricky cleaning environment that can benefit from a specific tool. There are very tight spaces in a vehicle, tighter than you find in an average home. Parents and pet owners especially know that food and fur can make their way into even the most remote nooks and crannies of an automobile. A specific type of vacuum can reach them. Our car vacuum cleaner reviews focus on units that are designed for automobiles rather than just general handheld units. There is a whole class of vacuums that have extra-long cords, crevice tools, hoses and other features that make them perfect for cars and trucks. For more information, check out our articles about car vacuums.
The best auto vacuum is powerful and portable. Sometimes those two characteristics can contradict each other, though. You have to consider your own situation to determine your best buy when it comes to portability verses power.
Wall Plugin – Generally speaking, the vacuums that plug into the wall are the most powerful in terms of suction, but they force you to be tethered to civilization. If you opt for a vacuum that has to be plugged into a wall, you have to be near some type of civilization in order to use it, which is inconvenient, but it will likely have the suction to handle more stubborn messes.
Battery Powered – These are ultra-portable but you never know when the battery will lose power. The suction on these is impressive but may fade over time, as the battery ages, or they may have less suction in between charging sessions, even early on.
Automobile Powered – If you value portability the most, you will want to consider the units that can be powered by your vehicle, plugged into the 12V outlet, originally used to power the car's cigarette lighter. That way you can use them anywhere you drive. This type of unit is generally going to have less suction than those that plug into regular outlets, but if you really want something that can go anywhere, it may be worth it, and the best ones clean up most messes just fine. They just may not have the suction to clean up anything that is really ground in.
There are a handful of units that can handle wet messes, and it can be nice to have that option, although an absorbent cloth some and hot water can do almost as much for many spills. When it is fully dry you can vacuum as normal.
We tested each vacuum in our lineup on an array of substances. We soiled car seats and mats with dirt, pet hair, garlic skins, crumbs and breakfast cereal, grinding each of them into test surfaces, to see how the vacuums picked up different types of messes, whether course or fine. We recorded how well they extracted each substance from the various car surfaces. For some tests we simply counted the number of passes it took each unit to get the carpet truly clean.
We also dropped dirt in a narrow crevice between a car's front seat and the door frame to see how maneuverable each vacuum is in tight spots. We used any attachments that were included with each unit to access the mess in the narrow spot, giving it every chance to access it.
We considered motor power in our rankings as well, since that generally leads to more suction. We also looked at cord length, which will matter for getting to any spot in even the biggest SUV, as well as the weight of each vacuum. The lighter and smaller the unit, the easier it will be to use for long periods of time. We considered customer service attributes as well, especially warranties. A long-lasting vacuum is more cost effective and a good warranty can ensure that it will last.
We were most impressed with the Black & Decker Auto Pivot Vac, Metropolitan Stainless Hand Vac VM6BS500 and Black & Decker Dustbuster Auto Vac.
The Auto Pivot Vac is the perfect example of a balance between power and portability, which is key in this category of products. The units that plug into cigarette lighters have a reputation for being gutless, but we found this one to have plenty of suction for all the different things we asked it to pick up – dirt, breakfast cereal, crumbs and more. It has an adjustable, integrated crevice tool that can get into lots of tough spots.
Metropolitan's Stainless Hand Vac is pretty, powerful and versatile. This unit made all of our cleanup tasks look easy. It can pick up large messes and has the potential to be useful around the house too for cleaning up computers and tidying up other small spaces. Having to plug into an outlet is a drawback for portability, but in every other way it is a great unit.
Generally a cordless, bagless vacuum would not be our first choice for this category. And it isn't. The Dirt Devil Extreme Power garnered a third-place spot, though, because of its good suction, integrated crevice tool and lightweight design. Assuming you can remember to keep this one plugged in for charging often enough, it will work well for keeping your car tidy.
No cars look like they just came from the showroom besides the cars that actually did. But you can keep your car relatively pristine with the right auto vacuum. Whether you value suction power or portability most, you can find the best car vacuum cleaner for your needs that can help your vehicle look almost as good as new for as long as you own it.