There’s nothing like having an ice-cold beer ready for dinner even while in camp. Good thing you need not forego this luxury when you’re in your RV because you can get a 12-volt refrigerator to cool things up. If you’re looking for the best 12 volt refrigerator for your rig, this article can definitely help you.
Whether you’re going to camp, on the road for work or simply need to make your mobile home more comfortable, getting a reliable portable refrigerator is important. We’ve reviewed the top 10 travel refrigerators to help you find the one that best matches your needs.
Every item on our list run on 12 Volts DC, which means it can run with just power from your RV or trucks’ cigarette lighter, perfect for when you need a drink while on the road.
So without further ado, here are our reviews for portable refrigerators.
Table of Contents
- 10 Best 12 Volt Refrigerator Reviews 2018
- 1. Dometic CDF11 12v Electric Powered Cooler, Fridge Freezer
- 2. Dometic CFX40W 12v Electric Powered Cooler, Fridge Freezer
- 3. Dometic CFX 65DZ 12v Electric Powered Portable Cooler, Fridge Freezer
- 4. Dometic TC21-DC-A Gray TC21 Tropicool Thermoelectric 12v Cooler/Warmer
- 5. Alpicool C20 Portable Fridge Freezer
- 6. ARB 10800472 Fridge Freezer
- 7. Housmile Thermo-Electric Cooler and Warmer Car Refrigerator Portable Mini Fridge
- 8. Whynter FM-45G 45-Quart Portable Refrigerator/Freezer
- 9. Norcold Portable Refrigerator/Freezer for RV, Trucks, Boats, Camping
- 10. Smeta 12V Lockable Truck Refrigerator Portable Fridge
- What to Look for When Buying a 12 Volt Refrigerator
- Other Important Factors to Consider
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
10 Best 12 Volt Refrigerator Reviews 2018
1. Dometic CDF11 12v Electric Powered Cooler, Fridge Freezer
Dometic is a reliable company known for manufacturing 12 volt refrigerator for trucks and RVs. The CDF11 or CF11 is actually the smallest in their line of coolers. Although it can fit only 18 cans or about 11 liters, it’s good enough if you want a cooler that you can place right beside you because of its small size.
It is on the more expensive side than other coolers in our list, but the Dometic CDF11 is so much more energy efficient than others. It can go from 90 degrees Fahrenheit to 20 degrees Fahrenheit in just 30 minutes, which is fast enough for me. When you first plug it, it can use anywhere between 40 to 60 watts to reach your desired temperature. However, once it reaches your target temperature, it will only consume about 1 to 2 watts to maintain the coolness inside. This means it is really energy-efficient, which actually makes up for its price.
What I love about this 12 volt refrigerator for RV is that it is small enough to carry around, and its material is thick and durable. You can simply knock on the material to know that it is not made of cheap plastic. It’s great for an overnight camp for when you need to chill or freeze your meats and vegetables. However, because of its small size, it will not be able to fit a lot. Also, one thing I noticed is that if it’s not plugged to maintain the coolness inside, the temperature can easily increase. This means it is not well insulated and works like a typical refrigerator at home.
2. Dometic CFX40W 12v Electric Powered Cooler, Fridge Freezer
Since we already tested the smallest of all Dometic refrigerators, our next step is to find other bigger Dometic coolers that are rising in popularity. The next in our list is Dometic CFX40W, which can store 60 cans, equivalent to 38 liters of storage. What I like most about this one compared to CDF11 (aside from the size), is that you can use either AC or DC for this 12 volt cooler. This means you can use this for your solar power system.
This cooler is energy-efficient as well, although of course it consumes more energy than the CDF11 because of its larger size. This would be great for when you would need to be on the road for three to four days as it can store up your meats, vegetables, and sandwiches efficiently. If you are traveling or camping with your family, this cooler can be good enough since a couple days’ worth of food can be stored inside.
Another thing I like is that you can monitor and set the temperature using the Wi-Fi app, which is a pretty nice feature. You can even charge your mobile devices as it has a USB port – a great way to make full use of your power when you’re out camping.
3. Dometic CFX 65DZ 12v Electric Powered Portable Cooler, Fridge Freezer
Actually the most expensive in our list, the Dometic CFX 65DZ is also the biggest. It can store up to a whopping 60 liters, or about 106 cans. Although really expensive, it has been improved significantly from other models. I like that even with this size, its power consumption is nearly the same as that of CFX40W, which is around 30% improvement as compared to its predecessors.
This is a great portable refrigerator for camping as it can store up to a couple of weeks’ worth of food for a family of four to five. It has three battery setting levels, but I feel like using only the lowest setting is best. I actually don’t like the high battery setting as the unit turns off almost as soon as it is attached to a battery.
Once it has reached the temperature you set, the compressor hardly runs anymore, which means they greatly improved the insulation on this one. It can go as low as -7 °F, which is great for your deep freezing needs.
4. Dometic TC21-DC-A Gray TC21 Tropicool Thermoelectric 12v Cooler/Warmer
If you want more than just cooling your drinks and would also want to be able to warm it up as needed, then you’ll need a thermoelectric cooler/warmer. In Dometic’s line of cooler/warmers, we recommend the Dometic TC21 Tropicool. Since it’s a thermoelectric cooler, it is not able to achieve a really low temperature as coolers using compressors, so if you want your food or drinks to be colder or to actually freeze up, I suggest getting Dometic CFX40W or Dometic CFX 65DZ.
What I like about this unit is its added functionality of being able to warm your food up. Like other Dometic products, it is very energy-efficient. I am happy that this portable refrigerator for truck can be used for both AC and DC, so you can plug in an outlet or use the cigarette lighter. Both plugs are provided. Just make sure to not cover the vents as it has a tendency to become very hot.
5. Alpicool C20 Portable Fridge Freezer
If you are looking for a 12 volt refrigerator compressor that can deep freeze your food, Alpicool C20 might just be the one for you. For the value that it offers and the size of the unit, it is actually affordable which is pretty awesome. It can fit up to 25 cans or about 20 liters, which is great for a couple of people camping out over the weekend. Its simple and straightforward design is pretty likable, although you would need to be careful in carrying it and putting it down as the plastic doesn’t seem as thick as Dometic coolers.
It has Max and Eco mode, but I love the Eco mode more as it really saves a lot of power. However, this only works well for when your car is running when plugged in the cigarette lighter or you plug it in a wall outlet. But if you will be using this on your battery, it can cause problems.
What I hate about this unit is its useless battery protection mode. Its highest setting for battery protection will only turn off when the battery reaches 11 volts, which is like draining the battery of power. Using your RV’s battery to keep it running overnight can be problematic the following morning. The lowest setting drains the battery further to 9.5 volts, which can actually damage a battery.
6. ARB 10800472 Fridge Freezer
If you need to be able to store up to two weeks’ worth of food for your road trip or camp, this ARB portable fridge may just be the right one for you. The ARB 10800472 – 50 Quart size is perfect for a lone trip for a couple of weeks, or a family trip for three to five days.
It has AC and DC plugging options so you can use your vehicle’s cigarette lighter or you can plug it into your solar energy system. Based on experience, it can easily maintain the coolness inside, especially if you purchase the insulating jacket. It works continuously without hitch, keeping your food frozen when you’re your truck is running, so that’s good. If you’re planning to plug it to your solar power system, make sure that the battery has enough power, else the compressor won’t even start.
However, if you’re not careful, it can easily drain your battery of power, so always make sure it’s set to conservative power if plugged to a battery. If your solar system is not pulling enough power from the sun, then you’re going to have to turn your vehicle on to keep the fridge running.
Although it can definitely keep frozen food frozen, it seems that it can’t freeze food itself. The difference in temperature between the top and bottom is very evident, so make sure you place the food you need to keep fresher at the bottom. It seems that the cold bleeds through metal parts of the cooler. Even with the travel bag, you would need to place additional insulation to keep the temperature down.
7. Housmile Thermo-Electric Cooler and Warmer Car Refrigerator Portable Mini Fridge
The Housemile Thermo is the smallest 12 volt refrigerator for RV that we have on this list. Just like the Dometic Tropicool, this is a cooler/warmer. Since cooler/warmers don’t use compressors to cool the unit up, the lowest temperature setting it has is just enough to keep your drinks and food cool. This unit is not ideal for maintaining frozen food, as it may end up melting down.
The best thing about the Housemile Thermo is that the 7-liter type is so small you can easily carry it around, even with food inside. It is so small you can set it up right beside you when driving, making it easy to reach out for a cold drink when you get thirsty on the road.
What I like about this cooler is that just like the Dometic Tropicool, it can also keep your food warm, so you can still enjoy its delicious warmth after hours of driving. It can heat up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
8. Whynter FM-45G 45-Quart Portable Refrigerator/Freezer
If you want an actual refrigerator to bring with you on your adventures, then the Whynter FM-45G is the one. I love the no-nonsense, sleek industrial design of this 12 volt portable cooler, that when you look at it, it doesn’t look as if it won’t run on your cigarette lighter, but it definitely would. You can plug it on AC or DC, whichever is available to you at the moment.
This bench-type mobile freezer has a flat surface, which can be doubled up as a small table. However, we don’t recommend that the Whynter FM-45G be sat on because the weight of a person might compromise the insulating seal on the lid. This unit is very well insulated; it’s as if you’re running it from your home instead of from your truck because of how well it can maintain its cold temperature, which is pretty awesome for its price. What I love most about this unit is that you don’t need to use insulated covers or jackets to prevent any coldness from seeping out, which is wonderful. It means it’s well-insulated.
It maintains an even temperature all throughout, which is so much better than other coolers that cool the bottom but is warmer at the top. However, this can also be the disadvantage if you want to just maintain the coolness of some food, and freeze the rest, because you can only set it to one temperature. If you set it at a very low temperature, you might end up freezing everything.
9. Norcold Portable Refrigerator/Freezer for RV, Trucks, Boats, Camping
If you’re looking for a refrigerator that’s compartmentalized inside, the Norcold NRF30 is perfect for you. There’s no need to create a partition inside as it’s already done for you. I like that you wouldn’t need to worry about your sandwiches getting frozen and your meat getting soggy. The way it works is that the upper compartment gets cold based the spillover from the cold at the bottom, so you pretty much get the desired temperature for all your food.
You can use the AC and DC power source, and the DC plug is included in the unit. The bummer thing is that the AC connector is not included in the unit and you would have to purchase one for yourself. I believe that item should already be included in the purchase, which is a disappointment.
I like its removable and reversible lid, which allows you to change the way you open this 12 volt portable refrigerator. The material is noticeably thick and durable, which is a good thing if you happen to go on a bumpy road. The plastic is corrosion-proof as well, which is advantageous if you like camping out.
10. Smeta 12V Lockable Truck Refrigerator Portable Fridge
The Smeta Lockable Truck Refrigerator is the only upright portable mini refrigerator in our list. If you’re looking for an upright mini fridge that goes well with your RV, this is the one for you. It looks exactly like the minibar refrigerators in hotel rooms. One look at it and you would think it can’t possibly run on your cigarette lighter, but it does.
What I like about this refrigerator is its classy look. As its name implies, it’s a lockable refrigerator, which is great so that you won’t have to worry about your fridge door opening up when you make a sharp turn and spilling its contents out. The lock is also good in making sure that the door is properly closed and sealed to prevent the cool air from leaking out. Its adjustable thermostat has six levels of coldness, so I would advise using the maximum setting when the refrigerator is full. However, the thermostat levels do not indicate the temperature expected per level, so you would need a thermometer to check the temperature if you need it to be exact, especially for medication.
One thing I am disappointed about this unit though is that it has no freezing capacity. It can keep your food cold, but your frozen items might end up melting. It does not make use of a compressor, which is why it is not able to freeze anything. Alternatively, this can be a good thing if you only want to keep things cold; since you can be assured that it will not use much energy and will not give you the trouble of draining your battery.
What to Look for When Buying a 12 Volt Refrigerator
If you want to get the best 12 volt refrigerator for your needs, here are the qualities that you should look into:
Cooling capacity – do you need a cooler or a freezer? A cooler can keep your food and beverages cold, but will not freeze anything nor keep frozen food from melting. If you will be camping or moving from town to town for several days or even weeks, a mini-fridge that can preserve frozen food for a long time would be best for you. Also, take into consideration how low the temperature could go and how long it takes to reach that temperature when plugged in a cigarette lighter.
Durability – no doubt that if you’re roughing it out in the wilderness, your refrigerator may also be exposed to harsh elements. Your camping refrigerator should be durable enough to be able to withstand the change in weather and the occasional bumps on the road.
Power usage – since you are relying on just the power of your RV’s engine and maybe solar power if you have a system installed, it is important that your car fridge does not use too much power. It would be a bonus if the unit you choose can also be used on AC. (Portable coolers are usually DC).
Storage Capacity – how big or small do you need your refrigerator to be? If you like camping out with your family or you are on the road for weeks on end and want to have a steady supply of food, a big cooler of about 30 to 60 liters would be optimal for you. If not, then a smaller one is fine.
Insulation – to prevent the cold temperature from “leaking”, your fridge should be insulated enough. If necessary, get an insulating cover if offered to keep your unit cool even at high ambient temperatures or when your fridge is directly exposed to the sun.
Mini fridge price – how much are you willing to shell out for this device? The price actually depends on the features and the brand. If you go for popular brands like the Dometic, you can expect the price to be higher, but you can also expect quality. If you choose a bigger unit, then the price would definitely increase as well. If you want to get the most out of your money, choose from the ones we reviewed above.
Additional features that not all coolers have but can come in handy are:
Being dual-zone or having compartments inside – so you can separate food that should be frozen from food that only needs to be chilled.
Having the ability to monitor the temperature – if a temperature display would be a huge advantage so you don’t need to open the fridge to check if it’s still cool enough inside.
Having a low battery setting – this is so the device will automatically turn off and won’t drain your battery of power.
Good customer service – this part is often overlooked but is also important. If in case something goes wrong with your unit, it would be great if you can easily contact their customer service to have your fridge repaired.
Other Important Factors to Consider
What is a 12 volt refrigerator. How does it work
A 12 volt refrigerator is actually a portable cooler that can keep your food, beverages and medicine cold while you are traveling. It is made to work even with just 12 volt power so it can be powered up by a car cigarette lighter, which is only able to produce a current of about 10 to 15 amps, equivalent to 120 to 180 watts.
In essence, a 12 volt cooler refrigerator cools up your food by removing heat from the inside of the unit and transferring it outside. This is why there usually are vents on the sides of your cooler to blow heat off. This cooling effect is made more efficient with the help of the insulated inside walls of your cooler.
Types of 12 volt refrigerators
Now there are two major types of 12 volt coolers, and how they work depend on the type of cooler you have. If you would notice, in our list of 12 volt refrigerator reviews, three of them are what we call thermoelectric coolers. The rest make use of compressors. Let us further discuss the difference.
- Thermoelectric Coolers
This type of cooler makes use of the Peltier effect, which states that when a current passes between two plates of different semiconductors, heat transfer occurs. Essentially, one plate loses heat and the other gains this heat. What manufacturers do is place the cooling plate inside the refrigerator, and the heating one outside. When the inside plate cools, it effectively lowers down the temperature inside the unit and maintains it, especially if the cooler is well insulated. In order to release the heat, ventilating vents and fans are added to keep the cycle of heat exchange going.
Because heat is simply exchanged, the reverse can also be done, with the heating plate placed inside and the cooling plate placed outside. This is the reason why thermoelectric coolers also double up as warmers. With a simple switch, the cooling plate becomes the heating plate and vice versa.
Since it makes use of heat exchange, the temperature achieved by the cooler is actually dependent on the ambient temperature. If the outside temperature is really high, it gets hard for the cooling unit to keep the temperature really low. Most thermoelectric coolers can only go down as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you want to just keep your food cold, a thermoelectric cooler is good enough for you. As compared to a typical cooler, there is no need to place ice inside to keep your food chilled, so you will have more space for other items.
However, the heat exchange thermoelectric coolers facilitate is not enough for the unit to freeze anything. This means it can’t produce ice nor keep your frozen food in a frozen state. Conversely, it does not use a lot of power when facilitating the heat exchange, so it can still run as expected even when the engine is turned off.
- Compressor-type Refrigerator
A 12 volt portable freezer that makes use of a compressor that works exactly the same as your typical refrigerator at home. Compressor-type refrigerators make use of a cooling agent or fluid refrigerant, condenser coils located outside the unit, an expansion valve, and evaporator coils located inside the unit. The fluid refrigerant being used turns to liquid at a very low temperature, typically -15 Fahrenheit; this is the main ingredient that cools up the inside of a refrigerator.
As its name implies, the compressor compresses the fluid refrigerant, effectively raising its pressure and temperature. The high pressured refrigerant in gas form is then pushed through the condenser coils that are exposed to ambient temperature. Since the ambient temperature is lower than that of the refrigerant’s temperature, the refrigerant turns to liquid form, still at high pressure. The expansion valve then forces this fluid through a tiny hole, turning the refrigerant into really cold mist.
As this cold mist flows through the evaporator coils, it absorbs the heat from the air, therefore cooling down the inside of the unit. When it absorbs enough heat, the refrigerant turns back to gas form in the evaporator. The compressor then pumps the cooling agent back towards it so it can be compressed again until the desired temperature inside the refrigerator is achieved.
Since the cooling agent can achieve very low temperature (as low as -27 degrees Fahrenheit), compressor-type coolers are able to actually freeze food and beverages. However, enough power, proper insulation, and a robust design are necessary to keep your mini fridge running properly while you’re on the road.
Is a 12 volt refrigerator necessary for you
If you are the type who is always on the road, or you like to go out camping for extended periods of time, then yes, a 12 volt cooler refrigerator is an important item to have. There would be no need for you to frequently find the nearest stop or town to buy the food you need, as you can store it in your fridge cooler. You can be sure that your food is kept fresh and cold as needed.
The difference between having a mini fridge with freezer and an ice cooler is that you don’t need to worry about running out of ice to keep your food cold. Because you have a portable freezer, you can keep your meats and vegetables frozen for an extended period. There would be no need to rely on hunting or canned food when you’re out camping with RV. If you’re out fishing, it’s best to use a portable freezer if you will not be cooking the fish immediately.
12 volt refrigerators also work well with solar power systems, so you don’t need to plug it into your vehicle. Even if you don’t use solar power, there is little chance of your battery running out when your fridge is plugged, especially if you make use of the low battery settings that these types usually have.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the best 12v refrigerator for RV?
If you want to get the bang for your buck, the Whynter FM-45G 45-Quart Portable Refrigerator/Freezer, Platinum is the one for you. We believe this is the best car refrigerator because it fits all the qualities we mentioned above when looking for a 12 volt fridge.
It is the most affordable when you take into consideration its cooling capacity, storage capacity, durability, insulation, power usage, and price. The only drawback is it does not have partition inside, which you can easily make up for with the use of cardboard, foam insulation, and a little creativity.
How do 12 volt coolers work?
The cooling process actually depends upon the type of cooler. Basically, a 12 volt dc refrigerator uses electricity to facilitate a heat exchange between the air outside and the air inside the refrigerator. With the help of the cooling system, the heat inside the unit is absorbed and then expelled outside through vents or coils. The process is repeated until the desired temperature is achieved.
Where to buy 12 volt refrigerators?
It is easy to find 12v refrigerators nowadays since going off-road is gaining popularity. You can find one in home improvement and department stores such as Lowes, Best Buy, Walmart and Home Depot. They are also available online at Amazon and eBay.
Should I buy Dometic 12 volt refrigerator accessories?
- Insulated Cover
Yes. Having an insulated cover is great for preventing leaks, which can make your unit more efficient. It can stay colder for longer periods, and the compressor would not have to turn on as often, which means you can save on energy.
- Slide Mount
If you want to be able to easily access your refrigerator, then yes you should. The slide mount is recommended if you install your mini-fridge on the storage bay of your RV, making it easy for you to load or unload food.
A portable refrigerator would be a great addition to your RV home as it solves a lot of common problems, particularly with food storage. Once you finally have a camping fridge, you will realize that you can never again camp without it. If you want cool drinks and fresh food while in the middle of your wildlife adventure, get the best 12 volt refrigerator and you would never look at camp food the same way again.
We would like to thank you for reading this article. Find out more about how to choose the best RV air conditioners with our reviews and ratings. Furthermore, please take a look at the best RV washer dryer combo and best RV heaters, to buy the best one for your RV appliances, heating, ventilation and air conditioning.