The best 12v refrigerator will depend on a personal need and budget, but certain factors should be considered before we look at the best refrigerators we could find.
Types of 12v refrigerator’s:
Camping fridges remove the heat from inside the enclosed space and transfer it by different methods to the outside. The most common technologies used are:
· Compressor / 2-way fridge
· Absorption / 3-way fridge
· Eutectic fridge
Compressor / 2-way Fridge
These are the most common type of 12v refrigerator and work similar to a normal household fridge. As the name suggests they can run on 12v DC power (battery) or AC power. They stay cold over a wide range of ambient temperatures and are not so draining on your car battery when in use.
Compressor type camping fridges can range from $600 to $2000.
Absorption / 3-way Fridge
This is the oldest type of 12v refrigerators and it can run on 12v DC, AC or gas. They are very efficient when running on gas and if you are travelling for extensive time away from power, it might be a consideration for you.
However, they do have some drawbacks, they are not as effective as the compressor type in warm ambient temperatures and when they use 12v DC power they are about 10x more power hungry than its cousin. If you decided on this type of camping fridge a dual battery system is a must.
To function properly, these fridges needs to be dead flat which can be problematic if you install it in a camping trailer. A supply of gas also needs to be carried to cover the whole trip.
Although these fridges are cheaper, think between $350-$1300 they are becoming rare.
These 12v refrigerators are almost the same as the compressor type, but with a twist. While you are drive, the fridge is cooling eutectic pod’s or briny solution pod’s build into the side of the fridge. When the pods are frozen the fridge switches off and the pods keep the content of the fridge cool, so no more power is drawn.
These fridges are an excellent alternative if power supply is an issue or if you need to consider the cost savings for a dual battery system.
These types of fridges use electricity to transfer the heat out of the fridge and are not really very effective. This is only good enough to keep your groceries cold while you drive home or keeping drinks cool while you are at your kid’s ball game. A good camping cooler is just as effective and cheaper.
ARB 50 qt
The Compressor: The beating heart of your fridge
This is by far the most important part of your fridge and buy the best quality you can afford.
SECOP (former Danfoss) and SawaFuji swing motor compressors are well know and of high quality. These manufacturers have designed the units for 12V touring purposes and you can expect a 3-5 year warranty on them. In recent years Waeco has started to produce their own quality camping fridge compressors.
A couple needs about 40l-50l space and a family around 65l depending on the length of the camping trip. The space you have in your car of trailer is the major limiting factor. Buy as big as you have space to spare, the price difference between a 50l or 65l should not be a factor. It is also recommended to have a bit of open space around the fridge for cooling circulation.
This is an important factor to consider. Do you have a dual battery system or are you going to run it from your starter battery. Do you solar power or AC for supplement? 12v refrigerators draw from around 1 amp (low) to 5 amps (high). However that’s only when the compressor is running and obviously they don’t run continuously, so the best measure is the average it draws in a 24-hour period. Most quality fridges will draw 1-2 a/h over a 24-hour period.
A fridge that draws a lot of power when it’s starting will cool the content faster and switch off sooner.
As the saying goes “you get what you pay for” is very relevant here. Quality brands come with a warranty and seeing that these units are expensive, it is something to keep in mind. When they break down, guaranteed, it will be in an remote place and finding a service agent or parts in a one horse town is always easier when you have a common, quality unit.
The materials used to construct the box can range from steel, injection molded plastic to fiberglass. Do not sweat this too much, manufacturer does a lot of research to construct a durable box. The day where steel is the only material to buy is over. If you really worried about the construction make the sales person stand on the lid to test it.
A good seal of the lid is very important to keep cool air inside.
The better the camp fridge is insulated the less power it will use. Thick sides and insulation inside the lid is important. Plastic fridges will conduct less heat than metal ones and fiberglass the least. A travel bag is a good add-on for a metal fridge to minimize heat transfer.
Dual zone or Fridge/Freezer
Fridge/freezers can run on either or, but not both at the same time. Dual zone ones are compartmentalized and uses the freezer side to keep the fridge side cool. Some dual zone camping fridges have two lids and you can adjust the temperature separately. Freezer obviously uses more power than a fridge.
Some features can make your life so much easier:
· Battery protection is a great feature, especially if you run the 12v refrigerator from a single starter battery. With this feature the fridge will shut down when the voltage drops below a certain level to prevent damage to your battery or running it flat.
· Temperature setting is nice if you need to keep at specific temperatures.
· A thermometer to make sure the fridge is running normal
· A bung plug for easy cleaning.
· Tie down point is great; a loaded fridge is heavy and must be secured.
· A removable lid for when space is a problem opening it inside the car.
· Internal LED light for getting that midnight snack.
So here are the best 12v refrigerators for your money:
ARB is a huge name when it comes to 4wd camping accessories.
This fridge uses a Danfoss compressor and is rated at a tiny .87 a/h. With features like front mounted panel, drain plug, electronic temperature settings and internal LED this is one of our top choices.
Have a look at this video to show some of the features:
Whynter 45 qt Fridge / Freezer
Whynter specializes in 12v refrigerators and this fridge is good value for you money. This is a compressor type that can cool the fridge to -8 deg F.
It’s got a fast freezing function that lowers the temperature rapidly and has LED front panel indicators.
It’s of solid construction, however the securing handles are a bit questionable.
Engel Marine Fridge/freezer
Engel is another huge name when it comes to portable camping fridges and this fridge was with made with the marine environment in mind, but it makes it a great camping fridge.
Its durable ABS case is of solid build and is designed for harsh conditions. It uses Engels own swing motor that sips power and is very quite.
A 12v refrigerator is expensive, but the comfort it provides is unbeatable. If you buy a quality product you will get years of service on it.