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
- List of 10 Top-rated 12 Volt Refrigerator Reviews 2022
- 1. ICECO VL90 Pro Dual Portable Refrigerator
- 2. BougeRV 12 Volt Refrigerator Dual Zone Portable Fridge
- 3. Costway Car Freezer Travel RV Refrigerator
- 4. ARB 10810602 63 QT Elements Portable Fridge Freezer
- 5. Whynter FM-45G 45-Quart Portable Refrigerator Freezer
- 6. Engel MR040F-U1 AC DC Portable Refrigerator
- 7. Ausranvik 26-Quart Portable Fridge Car Refrigerator
- 8. Alpicool C20 Portable Fridge Freezer
- 9. Cho Power Sports Portable Refrigerator Freezer
- 10. Norcold NRF30 Portable Refrigerator
- What to Look for When Buying a 12 Volt Refrigerator
- Other Important Factors to Consider
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
List of 10 Top-rated 12 Volt Refrigerator Reviews 2022
1. ICECO VL90 Pro Dual Portable Refrigerator
I adore the ICECO VL90 Pro Dual more than the ARB 63 QT Elements. This 12V fridge for van has a more substantial capacity, a more thoughtful design, and an equally impressive performance no RV family should miss.
With its 90-liter (95 quarts) capacity, I can keep 150 cans of beer, 108 bottles of soda, or 37 bottles of wine and other beverages in this fridge. I love that it has two separate compartments with their own lids. Unlike the ARB Elements, this RV refrigerator has discrete controls and doors for each section.
Although this is a 12V mini fridge, it behaves like a residential-grade refrigerator. I love the LED lights, the waterproof baffle, the drain hole, the removable basket, and the removable handles. I can only imagine the countless hours the creators and engineers put into this compact refrigerator.
Wowing me further are the convenient AC/DC ports. There are outlets on both sides, eliminating the hassle of fridge positioning in a cramped RV. I also like the USB ports that are suitable for charging my mobile devices.
I can dial the refrigerator to MAX for maximum cooling or set it to ECO for cost savings. The AC transformer is an excellent addition, allowing people to pre-cool the fridge at home before RVing.
Sadly, I miss the ARB Element’s electronic lock in this RV refrigerator.
2. BougeRV 12 Volt Refrigerator Dual Zone Portable Fridge
The BougeRV 12V RV Refrigerator Dual Zone Portable Fridge is almost similar to the ICECO VL90, except it has a smaller capacity and a sportier design. Its 37-quart dual compartment might be small for a family, but it is sufficient for a couple.
Thirty-seven quarts is not that bad. I can still pack 57 canned drinks, 27 bottled beverages, or a dozen wine bottles in the RV fridge. The best part is I can decide which compartment to use as a cooler and a freezer.
Like the VL90, this 12V fridge for van has discrete controls and lids. I can use one section as a freezer and the other as a cooler or fridge. People can also use the whole unit as a chest-type freezer, preserving food up to minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit.
One thing that separates this RV fridge from the VL90 and Elements is its wireless integration. Tech-savvy RV owners can download an app and use it to control the RV refrigerator. Of course, one must ensure an internet connection for the fridge to make the link work.
I also adore the fridge’s design. There is a chopping board on the fridge’s lid, perfect for processing fish and game. It also has a USB port for juicing up mobile devices and other USB-enabled gadgets. Surprisingly, this refrigerator produces a barely perceptible hum.
Unfortunately, I also miss the Elements’ electronic lock in this RV refrigerator.
3. Costway Car Freezer Travel RV Refrigerator
This portable 12-volt refrigerator is a product that I will never get tired of – it cools drinks pretty fast and keeps them in the right temperature while on the road: truly perfect for road trips.
I ordered this before the 4th of July as I thought it would be nice to use for tailgating – and I was right! I didn’t run out of cold beer even though there were about 10 adults in our group – people noticed it and kept asking where I got it from. They were pretty surprised by how it just keeps spewing out cold drinks even though we kept taking out perfectly refreshing drinks from it.
I really liked how it could store a lot (54 Quarts or 52 liters) and still get from 90 degrees Fahrenheit to 32 degrees in half an hour – I think even my old fridge at home can’t do that.
It’s great at keeping frozen items from going bad, especially while on the road. I don’t like wasting food so I think if I don’t find a campsite to plug into the grid and I have frozen food that I don’t want to go to waste, I would just use its 12-volt DC power source option.
I wouldn’t say it’s a deal-breaker, but I think if it were a few pounds lighter (it weighs 36 pounds when empty), it would be much more convenient to use. My wife wanted me to bring it to my kids’ soccer game so I brought it; but I think if it were just her, she would find it a bit heavy to load it into the trunk by herself.
4. ARB 10810602 63 QT Elements Portable Fridge Freezer
RV owners who want a reliable and versatile 12V fridge freezer should consider the ARB 10810602 63 QT Elements. Its impressive design and outstanding performance offer RV families a chance to enjoy more fun-filled parties and get-togethers anywhere their motorhomes bring them.
Having a splendid tailgating or camping experience is now more exciting because of this 12 volt freezer with an integrated refrigerator compartment. Its 63-quart capacity sufficiently accommodates about a hundred canned drinks, enough to quench our thirst for several days on the road. The fridge cabinet is also spacious for food items, especially fish caught fresh from the lake or river.
I appreciate the compressor’s design, making it more efficient to run the RV refrigerator than other types. Its solid construction is also breathtaking. The fridge’s lid and body feature premium-grade 304 stainless steel, complete with thick insulation to prevent heat from escaping. The handles are a great bonus for carrying this 12 volt fridge freezer from the RV to the picnic grounds and back.
The bolts and hinges are also tamper-proof, giving me peace of mind leaving the RV refrigerator out in the open while my family has fun by the lake. It has a lock mechanism requiring a four-digit PIN code. The user controls are also a joy to manipulate. I can see the DC voltage from the readout and can adjust the display’s brightness.
Unfortunately, the company requires a 15-amp draw for this RV refrigerator. Most RV cigarette light adapter only has 10 amps.
5. 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.
6. Engel MR040F-U1 AC DC Portable Refrigerator
Not all RV refrigerators are created equal. This should always be in your mind when shopping for the best RV refrigerator. If you want only the best fridge for your RV, this one from Engel will surprise you with its top-notch performance.
This 12-volt refrigerator from Engel is truly amazing. I like how it was designed. It is compact and sturdy, meaning it can take being carried around. Its heavy-duty plastic case protects the important components inside. In addition, it is lightweight considering its size. Two persons can easily carry it without using a wheel cart. I also like the color of this product. It is very easy on the eyes and it really looks elegant.
In terms of performance, I can’t say anything bad about this product. It chills and makes ice very quickly. Moreover, the temperature can be easily controlled through the small knob on the side. I also enjoy the fact that this fridge is very energy-efficient. It can be easily switched from AC to DC, with AC being the priority power source.
What I’m not fully satisfied about this product is the fact that it lacks security features to prevent unauthorized access. It doesn’t have a lock so other campers can get away stealing drinks from this fridge. I just wish that a reliable locking system included in the design. In any case, I’m using an old chain-and-lock method to secure my drinks and food as of the moment.
7. Ausranvik 26-Quart Portable Fridge Car Refrigerator
If you’re looking for a fridge that can cool your food and drinks even when it’s blazing hot outside your camper, this 12-volt fridge from Ausranvik is a good choice.
What I really like about this portable fridge is that it’s very easy to clean: its drain plug is built-in – I don’t have to flip it to drain it, I just remove the plug, wait a bit for it to drain, and wipe down any remaining moisture. My teenagers like the USB charging port the most, ‘cause, you know… kids and their gadgets.
It holds a lot due to its 45-liter capacity, yet it is still small enough to fit even in the passenger’s seat. Its 12-Volt DC-powered compressor can go as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit, which means I can even freeze water to ice. It took a while to freeze water, but it was definitely able to stay true to its promise.
I think the handles could be improved, though – I have large hands and I tend to carry it by holding it from the bottom, as my hands couldn’t fit in the handles comfortably. Other design areas are good, though. Its shockproof design means it can hold its own even when I go through rough roads and I can’t help the appliances from bumping up and down, even when they are screwed down.
8. 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.
9. Cho Power Sports Portable Refrigerator Freezer
This portable freezer cooler has solved one of the many issues that my family and I face during our camping trips: not enough cold storage space for all our food and drinks.
I like to go on camping trips with my two brothers and their families, so I thought of getting an RV cooler; the problem with this, though, is that most coolers don’t keep things cold as long as I want it to. Considering that there are always more than 15 people in all our families combined and would, therefore, need a better option than a regular cooler, I got this camper fridge instead.
I am glad to have made this choice because since I got this portable fridge, I never had to worry about having enough cold drinks for everyone or having to find storage space for leftovers that we can bring back home.
I especially like that this freezer/fridge has durable wheels and a telescopic handle, which makes it really convenient to carry around, and as such, it could easily replace a typical cooler – except you don’t have to add bags of ice just to keep your items cold for a long time. The insulation does a great job of maintaining the temperature inside the fridge. This means it doesn’t have to use up a lot of power in keeping the desired temperature.
My only concern with this freezer/cooler is that the rolling wheels are not seamlessly built into the body of the freezer, so they are a bit protruding. The wheels could get caught in something more easily than if it were designed in a way that the body of the freezer protects the wheels.
10. Norcold NRF30 Portable Refrigerator
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.
ARB 10800472 Fridge Freezer (Outdated)
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.
Engel MT45 Platinum 12v 110v Fridge (Outdated)
My fridge in the RV broke down before the summer started, so I went into panic buying mode and got this Engel Fridge Freezer without thinking about the price too much. I don’t know what I would do without a working fridge in the RV – I don’t even want to imagine what kind of chaos it will bring if our food goes bad even before the end of each of our trips.
Fortunately, it has proven to be a good buy, as it has all the features I want in an RV freezer. It could either function as a fridge or freezer, depending on the temperature you set it to and cools pretty fast when using either AC or 12V DC power.
It doesn’t take up much space in the RV, and since it is top-opening, accidents are easily prevented during the trip.
To be honest, while I think it has a nice design, I would prefer if it is available in other colors; right now, I think it is only available in platinum (I’m not even sure if it’s actually platinum, maybe that’s just what they call the fridge series, not the color – its color looks a bit in between gold and silver). I think if it were available in rose gold or black (like most phones nowadays), it would look a lot more sophisticated.
I also didn’t like that it is quite heavy (about 70 pounds, most likely because it’s made of galvanized steel), so it’s not like a typical cooler that you can lug between places.
Dometic TC21-DC-A 12v Cooler (Outdated)
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.
Dometic CFX 65DZ 12v Portable Fridge (Outdated)
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.
Dometic CFX40W 12v Fridge Freezer (Outdated)
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.
Dometic DM2652RB RV Refrigerator (Outdated)
If you are considering RV refrigerator replacement options, the best thing to do is to purchase the one that can last a long time. Presenting Dometic DM2652RB Americana Double Door RV Refrigerator, a powerful fridge that will keep your road trips fun.
One of the best things about Dometic is how it easily fits an RV space. It doesn’t cramp the walking space, therefore reducing any chance of blocking the way to any part of the RV. Standing at 6 cu ft. and measuring 24 x 23 x 53.8 inches, this unit can be easily installed inside the RV.
The design is another commendable feature of this product. It is certainly built to last due to its solid steel framing. It has a three-position freezer shelf. Moreover, it has a door lock that protects the contents from spilling out especially if the RV is passing through a bumpy road. Finally, it has its own juice rack, so the kids won’t have to shift the other contents just to get access to this drink.
In terms of energy efficiency, I really have nothing to say to this RV refrigerator. I like how it can be powered using propane or electricity, whichever is in huge supply at the moment. With power consumption on gas 1501.28 BTU/h, I certainly can stretch my propane supply for a long time.
What I don’t like about this RV refrigerator is the thermal fuse. It was only the fridge’s third month and the thermal fuse got blown when I switched from AC to DC. Fortunately, I was able to contact a repairman to fix the issue. However, now I have to be extra careful with how I power this fridge.
Smeta 12V Refrigerator Portable Fridge (Outdated)
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.
Dometic CDF11 12v Electric Powered Portable 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.
Housmile Thermo-Electric Refrigerator (Outdated)
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.
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.
What size 12 volt fridge do you need?
The right size 12-volt fridge for van life depends on how many items one wants to put into the refrigerator and available camper space.
For example, a 25-liter (26.4 quarts) portable fridge can hold about 27 canned beverages, suitable for a quick lunch. A 35-liter (36.98 quarts) RV refrigerator is sufficient for storing food and drinks for two people on a weekend adventure.
A 40-liter (42.26 quarts) unit can accommodate 60 cans of drinks for a trio of weekend thrill-seekers. A family of four might want a 72-can/50-liter (52.83 quarts) refrigerator, while a 60-liter (63.43 quarts) 12V cooler fridge is enough for families heading to sporting events and other large gatherings.
An 80-liter (84.53 quarts) refrigerator is an excellent choice if one wants a portable refrigerator to bring to a Woodstock-like event. This fridge can handle at least 120 canned drinks.
However, RV owners must realize that some RV refrigerators have freezer compartments. Hence, the canned beverage capacity will be lower to accommodate the freezer section.
How many watts does a 12v fridge use?
Portable refrigerators operating on 12 volts of power require about 40 to 50 watts to run. However, these appliances need a higher wattage (about 80 to 120 watts) to kick start the operation.
Determining the refrigerator’s wattage rating is straightforward if one knows the voltage and amperage ratings. For example, a 12V compressor fridge with 3.5 amps will require 42 watts of power (12 volts x 3.5 amps).
Calculating the amperage is also easy if data about the refrigerator’s voltage and wattage ratings are available. For instance, a 12-volt, 50-watt refrigerator draws 4.17 amperes from the battery (50 watts ÷ 12 volts).
Unfortunately, it is not always the case because manufacturers have electrical ratings. For example, the CFX3 Dometic 12V fridge has a rated input power of 50 watts. Manual amperage computation results in 4.17 amperes (50 watts ÷ 12 volts), yet the brand rates it at 7.5 amperes.
How long can you run a 12 volt fridge?
How long a 12-volt refrigerator for campervan runs depends on the battery’s rated capacity in ampere-hours (Ah), battery type (lithium vs. lead-acid), and the refrigerator’s hourly energy requirements.
It is worth noting that RV refrigerators run only for 20 minutes hourly. Hence, one can calculate the refrigerator’s hourly energy consumption by dividing the fridge’s amp rating by three since there are three 20-minutes in an hour. For example, a 4.5A refrigerator will use 1.5 amperes hourly (4.5 ÷ 3 = 1.5).
Lithium batteries have a greater depth of discharge than lead-acid batteries (80% vs. 50%). A 100Ah lithium battery has 80Ah of usable energy, while a lead-acid battery only has 50Ah. In the example, a 1.5Ah RV refrigerator will run for 53 hours (80Ah ÷ 1.5Ah) on a lithium battery, while it might only last 33 hours (50Ah ÷ 1.5Ah) on a lead-acid battery.
Hence, a 12 volt refrigerator full size (about 18 cubic feet) will run for six to eight hours on a 50Ah lithium battery while operating only for four to five hours on a 50Ah lead-acid battery.
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 most trusted RV air conditioners, RV roof vent fans, best RV vacuums and best RV grills with our reviews and ratings. Furthermore, please take a look at the best RV dehumidifiers, RV thermostats, RV washer dryer combo and RV heaters, to buy the best one for your RV appliances, heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
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