Is Your Food in the Danger Zone?When it comes to refrigeration for your campervan, there are two types of 12 volt systems available: Compressor type fridge freezers, which work just like the fridge in your kitchen, and thermoelectric cooling systems.
12 volt portable thermoelectric cooler/warmers have cooling temperature ratings based on specified degrees below ambient temperature.
For example, a cooler rated at 30º F below ambient temperature will cool your food to 50º F on an 80º F day. The Van Sage is not a fan of storing meat and other perishables at 50º F.
So we’re NOT recommending this type of cooler. It might be okay on cool days, but even then, if you’ve got the heat cranked up to 70º F in the van, your “cooler” is only cooling to 40º F, still not cold enough for meats, cheeses and other foods that can grow food born pathogens.
This “below ambient temperature” type of cooler costs a lot less than a compressor cooled fridge/Freezer, but it’s important to consider the cost of spoiled or unsafe food.
Okay, enough about that. You know where we stand. Moving on…
Colder is Safer
One of the most powerful, useful, even beautiful tools ever created for campervans, RV’s and boats, is the portable 12 volt mini fridge freezer.
These snappy little machines sport full-on coolant compressors just like the fridge/freezers in kitchens, and they’re very efficient, so they don’t kill your battery.
Most of all, the fridge freezer will keep your food as cold as you desire, all the way down to rock-solid frozen if necessary.
A Better Investment in the Short and Long Term
Many campers will buy one of these portable units to start out, then, when they upgrade to permanently installed refrigeration in their van, they’ll keep the smaller one for backup or as a dedicated freezer.
My van is too small for a permanent fridge, so I’m totally happy with my 35 quart fridge/freezer.
I know what you’re thinking; “A standard ice cooler is 40+ quarts. Will 35 quarts be enough for all my favorite, delicious foods?”.
Icebox coolers: Problematic
- Ice can take up 4+ quarts of space.
- The cost of ice adds up fast.
- A big part of that cost is the time it takes to keep the cooler stocked with ice.
- Icebox coolers don’t keep food at consistent temperatures.
- Your food gets soggy. Yuck.
So when you’re contemplating and calculating the cost of cooling your food, keep the above facts in mind because they are actual costs that will be eliminated by a high quality fridge/freezer unit.
Efficiency is King
A big concern of adding any electrical device to a conversion van is the amount of power it uses. This is one aspect of 12 volt portable fridge/freezers that I feel very comfortable with.
Because the units we recommend feature quality compressors and other components, they tend to be very efficient.
Other factors like seal and insulation quality, and accurate thermostat control all add up to great efficiency in these refrigeration systems.
These features make it possible for the fridge to keep your temperatures right where you need them while only using short, infrequent bursts of power.
The Van Sage Best 12 Volt Fridge Freezer Check List
We’ve got some recommendations for the best fridge freezers available, and here’s a partial list of our criteria for our selections:
- Reputable compressor: This is a biggie, since your fridge will go through many cycles, you need a quality compressor, built to last.
- Good insulation: Better insulation provides less stress on the compressor and lower power usage.
- Low voltage protection: Alerts you before your 12 volt battery gets too low.
- Quality Seals: Impacts all functions of a fridge freezer.
- Power: Needs to run on either 12 volt battery power and 110/240 volt shore power.
- Warranty: The manufacturer must back up their product for quality, function and repair.
While these are truly magical gadgets, I do have a couple of caveats. You’ll want to make sure your camper van fridge/freezer is anchored well, as they’re a bit heavy and should not be allowed to jostle around.
But the units on our list are all built well and intended for travel, so it’s not a huge concern.
And then there’s the prices; they’re not cheap.
But consider the craftsmanship that goes into these machines. Whether you travel a lot and the cost of ice is obvious, or you just like your food to be at safe temperatures and not water logged, you’ll soon realize the bargain that a good campervan refrigeration unit truly can be.
- Compressor cooling vs Themoelectric: Get the safe one.
- A 12 Volt Fridge Freezer is a valuable, versatile investment that can last many years.
- Icebox coolers don’t save money, they have very real costs beyond initial purchase.
- Important: Seals, compressor quality, insulation, low voltage protection, warranty, AC and DC power options.
- We’ve found the fridge freezers that meet all these criteria.
- These great machines cost a bit, but they’re worth it in the long run.
The Best 12 Volt Fridge Freezers
There’s a wide range of pricing, so be sure to click through to see each of them.
Engel 40 Qt. Portable Fridge Freezer MR040
- Portable top-opening 12/24V DC – 110V/120V AC fridge-freezer
- Solar compatible – Highly efficient Engel swing motor – low Amp draws (even at start-up)
- Highly efficient, it typically draws around 1 to 2 amps per hour
- Ul approved – 100% cfc-free compressor
- Comes with both AC and DC cords
★ VanSage Top Pick
Dometic CFX-40US Portable Fridge Freezer – 38 Liters
- Holds 60 12-oz. cans
- Set temperature from -8 DegreeF to +50 DegreeF (-22 DegreeC to +10 DegreeC)
- Runs on 120-volt AC, 12-volt DC or 24-volt DC power
- Soft touch digital controls and strong latches, hinges and drop-down handles
- 41L/43 qt./1.4 cu. ft
ARB 10800352 Fridge Freezer – 37 Quart
- Can maintain an interior temperature of 0 degrees for true in-vehicle refrigeration and freezing
- Holds up to fifty 12-ounce cans, and can also accommodate a two-liter bottle of cola
- Continues to actively cool contents while the vehicle is off, and features an adjustable automatic battery protection system that prevents vehicle battery run-down
- Includes two power cables: the DC power cable connects to your vehicle’s 12/24-volt DC power outlet, and the AC power cable plugs into a standard household AC power outlet
- Exterior Footprint: 27.75″L x 14.96″W x 16.85″H — Main Compartment: 13.27″D x 11.22″W x 12.64″H — Dairy Compartment: 5.95″D x 11.22″W x 4.96″H
EdgeStar FP430 43 Qt Portable Fridge Freezer AC/DC
- Volume: 43 qt. / equivalent to 60 12oz. cans, Range: -8°F to 50°F; Outside Dimensions: 20.8″h x 24.7″w x 17.7″d
- 12/24 volt power lead: 6′ detachable power cord, 115 volt power lead 8′ detachable power cord
- Flash Freeze function rapidly cools the unit to -8°F, Warranty: 90 days labor, 1 year parts
- Compressor based cooling method freezes faster than Thermoelectric counterparts
- For a larger version of this model please see FP630 or FP861; Inside Dimensions: 14.96″ h x 11.42″w x 18.50″d