The Black + Decker 12V Dustbuster Flexi is a car vacuum for those on a budget, folk who are looking for a gadget to help keep their car looking presentable, if not as good as new. It's lightweight, which is helpful, although its size and the fact it's corded won’t be for everyone. Suction isn't the strongest, so it can struggle to pick up finer debris and pet hair, and its overall design leaves a lot to be desired, too.
Lightweight in use
Included tools help you to clean all areas
Low suction for hit-and-miss performance
Some poor design decisions
Corded model might not suit everyone
Why you can trust TechRadar
While the Black + Decker brand may drum up thoughts of power tools and home improvements before cleaning, the Black + Decker Dustbuster Flexi is a portable vacuum cleaner aimed at keeping your car in tip-top condition. It’s one of at least five vacuum models currently offered by the company for the car market, and is powered via a 12V connection that uses your car’s accessory power outlet, or the old “cigarette lighter” socket.
In terms of looks, it follows a far more traditional vacuum style than most other car units we’ve tested, in that it has a larger main body for collecting debris, and a 1.5m-long hose for reaching around the car. It has a 5m cable, too, which should allow you to clean all the way into the boot of most cars. Considering that you need a power source at all times, that’s important.
Its form factor is convenient for those who may struggle with weight of an all-in-one or stick vacuum. The hose is super-lightweight, and there’s an ergonomic handle on the main body for moving it around as you go.
The cleaner is accompanied by two accessories, a crevice tool and a soft brush tool. They’ll be fine for most cleaning tasks you’ll need in the car, happily getting into the nooks and crannies over some of the all-in-one cleaners we’ve tested.
There’s a single level of suction and a 19fl oz/560ml dust canister. Note that this Black + Decker vacuum is noisy, despite feeling relatively soft on suction, but it can deliver an acceptable clean of both large debris and small debris – with perseverance. Several passes will be required to get a good finish, with cleaning time longer than a more powerful cleaner, such as the Dyson V7. It can’t tackle ground-in dirt and pet hair either; it simply doesn’t have the power to handle it.
The flap for emptying the bin sits on the side of the vacuum’s main body, so isn’t the easiest for doing so cleanly, especially as it becomes more full. There's a removable and washable filter as well, but that, too, is tricky to keep clean.
Overall, this is a handy car vac for those who need something that’s low on cost and lightweight in use – and who aren’t the best at remembering to charge devices. It’s probably the best vacuum cleaner for occasional spills and regular tidies rather than heavy-duty clear-ups, so busy families should probably look elsewhere.
Price and availability
- List price: $69.99 / £49.99
The Black + Decker 12V Dustbuster Flexi costs $69.99 / £49.99 and is available from Amazon, as well as home stores such as Lowes in the US and Argos in the UK. Prices do fluctuate, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the model if you’re keen to pick up a bargain. At the time of writing, it wasn't available in Australia, although it does appear on the Australian Black + Decker website, so stock may appear in the future.
The 12V Dustbuster Flexi sports a more traditional design next to the rest of the company’s stick vacuum offerings, and is also available in a more powerful and cordless variant, too (18V).
This is one of the cheapest car vacuums we’ve tested, but being a corded instead of a rechargeable battery model is always going to result in a lower price. While this might make it less convenient for some, others will appreciate the fact that it's always ready to use by simply plugging it in.
- Price & availability score: 4/5
- 19fl oz / 560ml bin
- Weighs 3.28lbs / 1.49g
- Single suction mode
The design of the Dustbuster Flexi feels like car vacs of old, in that it's basically a smaller, less powerful traditional vacuum cleaner, powered using the 12V accessory port where the cigarette lighter once was (or maybe still is, depending on your car).
This means there's a larger main body for collecting dirt, and a 1.5m hose that you can move around the car for as far as it will stretch. The latter makes it much easier on your arms, since you won't be carrying the main weight of the vacuum with you. Simply place it on the seat or floor of the car, and use the lightweight hose for cleaning.
And, with 1.5m of hose to play with, plus accessories such as the crevice tool, you'll be able to reach into most tricky areas, including door bins and dashboard compartments. There’s also a 5m-long cord, so you can take it the length of the car; we stretched it into the boot of a large SUV without issue. An ergonomic handle makes the cleaner easy to move around the car with you, too, and this doubles as a place to secure the hose when it isn't in use.
The 12V Dustbuster Flexi's power button sits on this handle, and is quite a heavy-duty switch with a satisfying click on and off. There's only one level of suction, so once it's switched on, you don’t need to worry about returning to the main body to make any adjustments.
At 19fl oz / 560ml, the dust compartment is among the most generous we’ve tested – but that doesn’t mean all of the space is particularly usable. For a start, the door for emptying the bin is on the side of the vacuum, meaning if the bin is too full, it's next to impossible to avoid spilling any dirt onto the floor on emptying, not to mention on your hands. Having to tip the whole 1.5kg vacuum – hose, cord and all – on to its side isn’t the easiest, either.
To clean the filter, you have to remove the bin from the main body by pressing the release button on the back and twisting it off. You can then pull out the filter for cleaning and run clean water through the bin. This is worth doing regularly – following our standard tests and a general car clean, the filters were quite dirty and the vacuum had lost some suction as a result.
Available in a single colourway of silver/grey and red, the 12V Dustbuster Flexi has a transparent bin so you can keep an eye on the level of debris. This model is a little plasticky to the touch, and pretty functional looking, too, but the way the hose is stored when it isn't in use keeps it as compact as possible for storage.
- Design score: 3/5
The Black + Decker Dustbuster Flexi might not have the smallest and most convenient form factor, but it's always ready to go. With no batteries to charge, or any drop-off in performance, it's a reliable appliance.
That doesn’t mean it offers the best performance, however. Put your hand in front of the hose end with the vacuum switched on and the suction feels very light indeed, despite the level of noise suggesting otherwise.
The Black + Decker did perform fairly well in our standard tests, though, especially considering its price. It does best with large debris on upholstery, collecting the majority with a single pass. Finer dirt requires more perseverance and, to a critical eye, it struggled to clear up all signs of a crushed biscuit. It also found dirt on the carpet more difficult to collect, since its level of suction couldn't get deep enough.
Collection of more regular car dirt is hit and miss. It was largely fine with dried mud, but leaves were left behind. Even using the brush tool, pet hair was pretty much left untouched – this isn’t the vac for car-proud pet owners, nor busy families who might need something that can manage more heavy-duty cleans.
There’s also an annoying issue with dirt sitting inside the hose, so when we switched the vac off and put the hose down, a fair amount of debris that hadn’t been sucked into the main body dropped back out.
- Performance score: 3/5
Black + Decker PD1200AV 12V Dustbuster Flexi Vacuum score card
|Price & availability
|A sub-£50 price point is great, especially when it’s regularly on sale too, but you won’t get use out of this anywhere else than the car, unlike some of its competition with rechargeable batteries.
|While there have been some thoughtful design considerations, such as the compact hose storage, the bin design is a considerable flaw that affects use.
|While it will lift some of the easier dirt from your car interior, the Black & Decker simply doesn’t have the power for heavy-duty cleans.
Should I buy?
Buy it if...
You need a lightweight cleaner
While its overall weight is heavier than most handheld vacs, you only have to hold the hose while cleaning, which is very light indeed.
You forget to charge tools and gadgets
As a corded car vac, it will never be out of charge when you need it most.
You’re on a budget
It’s one of the more budget-friendly car vacs we’ve tested, and it can be often be found at lower than RRP, too.
Don't buy it if...
You want something quick
The relatively low suction means a good clean can take several passes, which can make whole-car cleans frustratingly slow.
You have pets
The suction isn’t strong enough to shift bedded-in pet hair –you’ll need a more powerful cleaner for that.
Design is important to you
There have been some usability oversights here – in particular, the way in which the bin door opens.
Verity is a freelance technology journalist, with previous on-staff roles at What Hi-Fi?, Stuff, Pocket-lint and MSN.
Having chalked up more than 15 years in the industry, she has covered the highs and lows across the breadth of consumer tech, sometimes travelling to the other side of the world to do so. With a specialism in audio and TV, however, it means she's managed to spend a lot of time watching films and listening to music in the name of "work".
You'll occasionally catch her on BBC Radio commenting on the latest tech news stories, and always find her in the living room, tweaking terrible TV settings at parties.
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