The portable fridge is the best appliance to store and keep your food and beverages cool while on the move, especially during camping. A portable fridge is also called a car fridge or a camping fridge since it can be carried in a vehicle.
The portable cooling system can run on multiple power modes such as propane gas, AC power, or DC power, depending on the fridge model. This article is a complete buyer’s guide, detailing everything you need to know to buy the best portable fridge.
Factors To Consider During Portable Fridge Purchase
Before making a purchase, it’s highly crucial to consider a few factors in a portable fridge, depending on your requirements and preferences.
Portable Fridge Type
Interestingly, there are multiple types of camping fridges available. Each of them has its pros and cons, so choose wisely which one you want to pick.
1. Thermoelectric Camping Fridge
This is the least preferred fridge type in the market. The concept of a thermoelectric fridge says that the content will be cooled with the help of cool air generated by a thermoelectric cooler (TEC), also called the Peltier module.
The module draws 12v DC power and generates heat on one end, and cool on the other end. This is a highly unreliable fridge since it draws a lot of power while still taking a lot of time to cool the content. You may choose this type of fridge if you want to keep the content slightly cooler than the room temperature.
Opening this fridge’s door too often will result in cooling loss. Thermoelectric coolers are compact and have a quiet operation. Users must ensure proper outflow of heat generated by the fridge, or else the Peltier module will fail.
- Compact size lets it fit in tight areas.
- Uses less electricity than a compressor-based fridge.
- Allows precise temperature control with up to 0.1 degrees of precision in some models.
- Unreliable in hot temperatures.
- It takes a lot of time to cool the content.
- Doesn’t allow efficient chilling.
- Attaining extremely low temperatures isn’t practically possible.
2. Absorption Camping Fridge
The absorption gas fridge aims to cool down the content with the help of certain chemicals, including refrigerant (ammonia), water, and hydrogen gas. It evaporates ammonia with water and then mixes
with hydrogen gas to create cool air. This cycle is repeated continuously, hence the name absorption gas.
These types of fridges can operate on propane gas to fuel the above said cooling procedure. Alternatively, these fridges can work on 240v AC power or 12v/24v DC power. The absorption fridge can last up to 20 days on 6Kg propane.
They’re compact and available in different sizes, types (two-way or three-way), capacity, etc. Some expensive models offer additional features such as freezer option, control panel, etc. The idea behind a two-way gas absorption car fridge is to power up the fridge from two power options- 240v AC power and propane gas.
Similarly, a three-way gas absorption car fridge can be powered using 12v/24v DC power, 240v AC power, or propane gas. These are fairly reliable fridge styles, and you can expect your food and beverages to stay cool during your camping trip. Moreover, power consumption is moderate, so you don’t have to worry about electricity expenses.
- It uses moderate energy and gives reliable output.
- Can cool the food and beverages to a satisfactory level.
- This type of car fridge has multiple power options, which means you can opt for either of them as required. In case of AC power absence, consider running the fridge on propane gas.
- They are highly durable if cared for and maintained well.
- The portable fridge can be set up in almost all recreational vehicles without hassle.
- Opening the fridge too often will cause a massive cooling loss.
- You need to run the fridge overnight before your camping trip to generate cooling inside the compartments.
- Powering this fridge with DC power doesn’t create cooling. It’s merely enough to maintain the temperature. You’ll need to run the fridge on AC power or propane in order to remove heat inside.
- The evaporator and heat output vents demand proper air ventilation.
- This portable fridge will fail during high temperatures or if the RV is parked under direct sunlight.
The ambiance temperature (temperature inside the vehicle surrounding the fridge) plays a vital role in generating a cooling effect. Ambiance temperature must be controlled to let the fridge perform well.
3. Compressor Camping Fridge
These demand high electricity and resemble household fridges. It uses a compressor to generate cold air forwarded inside the compartments to cool the content. Due to high electricity consumption, it can generate highly reliable results, and you’ll experience a massive cooling effect in a short time.
The only part that must be cared for well is the compressor, which is the powerhouse of the appliance. It costs more than the other two types of fridges discussed above. You need to keep the rear side quite well ventilated to let the hot air out of the vehicle.
This type of car fridge is available in several styles, sizes, features, and appearances. Based on the budget, you may opt for a standard fridge with the most general features or opt for a fridge with luxurious features. You’ll get the most reliable freezer in a compressor-based camping fridge to carry and store chilled food items and beverages.
- Opening the fridge too frequently won’t cause so much cooling loss.
- It allows quick recovery of cooling loss occurring due to power cut or opening the door.
- You don’t necessarily have to run the fridge overnight to cool the compartment before your camping trip. Running it for 3-4 hours is enough.
- A two-way compressor fridge can run on 12v/24v DC power or 240v AC power.
- They won’t fail even in hot ambiance temperatures.
- You can park your recreational vehicle under direct sunlight, and the fridge will still work like a charm.
- It can stand properly even on uneven terrain. An inclination of up to 30 degrees is permissible.
- The DC power drawing feature is meant to attain energy efficiency when on the move.
- Some compressor-based fridges are tricky to handle. Less tech-savvy people might get stuck with the settings.
- Compressor generates noise, which can irritate people in the limited enclosed area of the RV.
- You’ll be required to make additional purchases, such as an AC adapter.
- Running the fridge on solar panels will lead to the fridge turning off at night.
Portable Fridge Size
Fridge size is determined in two ways- internal volume and external dimensions. The internal volume is measured in liters, which helps us know the storage capacity of the portable fridge. You’ll get plenty of options for all three types of fridges. Let’s discuss them.
1. Up to 25L
If looking for a personal use fridge, go for any fridge with a volume of 25 liters or below. It can store not more than 27 cans, which must be enough for an individual road trip. Truckers prefer this size in addition to individuals going on small road trips. This size is perfect if your camping trip is 1-2 days long. This is a compact or small-sized portable fridge.
A 35 liters fridge can hold up to 47 cans. Such capacity is perfectly suited for up to two people who’re looking for a weekend trip. If you’re an individual, this fridge can help you stock food and beverages for up to one week. This is a compact or small-sized portable fridge.
The 40 liters size is considered the standard car fridge size. It can hold no more than 60 cans and allow an individual to store food for up to one and a half weeks. If you’re going with a partner, then you can store up to a week’s food and beverages. Moreover, this size is ideal for storing food for 4 for a weekend trip.
A 50 liters portable fridge can let you carry 72 cans on average. It’s a perfect size for a family trip who’re looking to elope for a weekend. Not recommended for individuals since the capacity will be underutilized.
Any 65 liters portable fridge Is suited for storing food for five people. It’s roughly equivalent to 105 cans. This site has plenty of room for storing fruits and beverages. However, this size will consume significant space in your recreational vehicle with limited space. Additionally, weight is another factor to take care of.
6. Above 80L
Such a massive size is enough for storing food for a family if going out for a week or two. Its volume is equivalent to 120 cans. Going beyond 80 liters isn’t recommended unless you’re a really large family or you’re going out on a really long trip. Please remember increased internal volume means increased power consumption to cool the stored content.
Cost is critical when buying a fridge. A fancy model with extraordinary features will cost more. Whereas, consider a standard model with the most common features if you’re looking to save money. You’re expected to shed somewhere between $800- $2000 for any two-way fridge with a capacity of 40 liters. A three-way fridge of the same capacity might cost you between $350- $1300.
This price excludes the price of mounting hardware and cover. You might encounter additional expenses if the fridge installation demands alteration in your recreational vehicle. For instance, making required modifications for hot air outflow and fridge stand (if required).
Fridge, Freezer, Or Both?
Some portable fridges come with a cooler, which merely keeps the content cool. If you’re looking for a freezer, there are separate models. You’ll experience high electricity consumption, though. Moreover, some models are a duo of both fridge and a freezer. A model with a fridge and freezer will be costly, though.
A double compartment model encapsulates the fridge and a freezer, keeping the freezer chilling while keeping the fridge compartment cool. Single compartment fridges are slightly more affordable, where the frozen items are stored at the bottom while the cold items are stored at the top. There are no dividing walls, just a single compartment.
Knowing the current drain of a fridge is very important since it helps control expenditure on power consumption. A portable fridge of one ampere will be too low, making the fridge unreliable. Similarly, a five-ampere current rating will be too high, leading to heavy power consumption.
Consider buying a balanced current rating fridge so that it performs well even if you park your recreational vehicle under direct sunlight. A balanced current drain of a fridge makes it suited to work in high ambient temperatures too. Five amperes are a good choice if you’re going for a freezer or a fridge with a built-in freezer since it needs to draw more energy to chill and freeze the content.
Battery Protection Provision
Some fridges are designed to cut off power consumption in case of low battery power. If you’re powering your car fridge through your car’s battery, it must cut off the power supply when the car battery is low. The absence of such a feature can leave you with a dead battery.
Moreover, running a fridge on a low battery will hinder the compressor’s performance and longevity. Draining your car’s battery severely through a portable fridge will reduce your car battery’s life.
12v DC Connectivity
Your portable fridge must have a proper 12v DC connector. Most fridges ship with a cigarette lighter plug, which is highly unreliable. There’s a chance of it getting unplugged whenever your vehicle hits a pothole. Another problem with the cigarette lighter plug is that it cannot draw heavy current when needed. As a result, your fridge may fail to deliver the required cooling.
Therefore, it’s suggested to go for an Anderson-style plug, which is considered highly reliable. It can draw heavy current as and when required and won’t get unplugged on bumpy roads automatically.
Mounting Facility And Mounting Hardware
Merely placing your fridge in your vehicle isn’t feasible. You must mount it with the vehicle’s wall so that it stays in place. Otherwise, there’s a high chance of your fridge slipping or tipping when turning your vehicle at tight corners. Moreover, the fridge can bump into the walls, leaving damage to the walls and fridge itself.
Check whether your fridge supports mounting hardware. Some cheap models don’t allow you to mount the fridge to the wall. Additionally, you need to ensure that the fridge you’re buying comes with a mounting kit or whether you need to buy it separately. There are plenty of OEM mounting hardware kits available, which are universal to almost all portable fridges.
Portable Fridge Slides
Fridge slides are an added convenience and aid user-friendliness. It allows convenient sliders that slide on the rolling hinges. Being an additional feature, it can add to the cost of the fridge. Drop slides are considered very convenient.
Better insulation means better cooling and less load on the compressor. Good insulation allows keeping the cold air trapped inside the compartment. The fridge walls and doors must be very thick to achieve effective insulation.
Some cheap models come with thin walls, which makes them sleek and hinders the insulation. Ensure to ask the seller about the insulation. Excellent insulation means large outer dimensions and low internal volume.
Thermostat And Thermometer
A built-in thermometer lets you know the current internal temperature. It’s another convenient feature designed to improve user-friendliness. Some expensive portable fridges have a built-in thermostat that turns off the compressor when the set temperature is achieved. This helps in saving power and maintaining the internal temperature with ease.
A thermostat in a portable fridge is similar to a thermostat found in household fridges and air conditioners. However, you can also get a thermometer installed separately if you want.
Adequate Temperature Range
Most portable fridges in the market have a temperature range of 10 degrees Celsius to -18 degrees Celsius. Ensure that the fridge you’re buying has an ideal temperature range that suits your needs.
Please note that a portable fridge may have a different temperature range depending on its type, such as compressor-based, thermoelectric-based, or gas-absorption-based. Additionally, a portable fridge has a different temperature range set as opposed to household fridges.
Drain plugs are very helpful in cleaning the bucket where melted ice gets collected. It’s another feature that makes fridge maintenance easy. Simply unplugging the drain plug would flush all the content collected in the bucket.
Most portable fridges nowadays come with this common feature, but it’s feasible to check whether the one you’re buying has a drain plug or not. A drain plug eliminates the need to tilt the fridge or tip it over.
A durable body along with durable internal components is very crucial. Some manufacturers rely on cheap and low-quality raw materials to build the body. A durable body may be made of metal such as steel or a mix of multiple metals. In comparison, non-durable appliances have a plastic body, easily breaking down if knocked by some heavy object.
Additionally, plastic has a very low life expectancy than steel and other metals. It’s suggested to go for a metallic body (if possible). However, some appliances made of plastic have a really durable plastic body, which can last for 5-10 years without worries. Other materials include fiberglass, though fiberglass is slightly expensive, resulting in an increased product price.
A good compressor can last for more than ten years if not abused. Since the compressor is the fridge’s core, do your best to know everything about the compressor. Consider going for reputed compressor brands like Sawa, Fuji, SECOP (also called Danfoss), and Waeco.
Alternatively, if you’re aware of some best-selling car fridges in your locality, feel free to purchase that model if it suits you.
Position Of Vents And Evaporator
Every model has different vents for hot air outflow and evaporator vents. You need to check the exhaust fan’s location in the fridge. After inspection, you need to ensure that the vents don’t get covered after installing the fridge in your RV.
The basic objective of vents inspection is to ensure that you make necessary adjustments during installation so that the hot air outflow doesn’t get obstructed.
Controls should be user-friendly and must be easy to set. You should be able to set the desired temperature according to the requirements. Some high-end appliances can have a huge number of controls, while some entry-level models may leave you with the most common settings.
Baskets act as a separate portion to store food items like fruits and vegetables. Some portable fridges have removable baskets, while some have a sliding basket that you cannot detach completely. You must aim for a fridge with removable baskets because it becomes very easy to clean. Please note that not all portable fridges ship with a built-in basket.
Cover acts as an insulation to allow efficient cooling while consuming less energy. A cover helps trap the cold air within the compartments. Reduced battery drainage and less compressor run are a few results you’ll experience with an added cover.
Some fridges demand users to purchase a cover separately, while some manufacturers include it with the product. Please remember that if you’re purchasing a cover separately, ensure that it’s compatible with your car fridge model, and it must not cover up the vents and other hot air outflow holes.
Availability Of Spare Parts
The availability of the correct spare parts is very crucial. Otherwise, you might be left with an unrepairable fridge whenever it breaks down. While manufacturers give away several years of warranty on their products, it’s quite natural for the fridge to break down after the warranty voids.
Spare parts of popular models and fridges by popular brands are more likely to be available in the market. However, so unrecognized brands and cheap models are less favored by the consumer due to lacking spare parts availability. You must also ask the seller the expected repairing expense on the fridge to know how much you need to spend whenever your fridge wrecks.
Reducing Power Consumption Of Your Portable Fridge- Essential Tips
By now, you’ve got an idea of what things you need to look for when buying a car fridge. However, merely buying the best portable fridge isn’t enough. Once you’ve purchased an item, it becomes your duty to control your electricity bills. Let’s focus on a few tips that’ll help you save on your fridge’s power consumption.
- Avoid stuffing your fridge with hot or warm food. If possible, pre-chill or pre-cool your food items in your regular household fridge before storing them in your portable fridge. Since portable fridges aren’t so energy efficient, they’ll consume a lot of power to cool the warm or hot content.
- Thermal covers (as discussed above) are ideal for enhanced insulation to achieve effective cooling. A thermal cover directly lowers your fridge’s power consumption.
- A vehicle parked under direct sunlight experiences greenhouse gases, which are enough to raise the ambiance temperature. Consider bringing out the portable fridge from your vehicle at the camping spot but remember to mount it in a dry place and away from direct sunlight (probably under the tree shade).
- Eliminate free space in your fridge. Your fridge should be filled up with items. Here’s the physics behind this- When you have empty space, it’s filled with air. The air gets cooled that escapes from the fridge the moment you open the door.
- Consider turning off your car fridge at night if the night temperature is very cold.
- Avoid keeping the freezer dial to -18 degrees Celsius all the time. A slightly warmer thermostat will not affect your food but will leave a great positive impact on electricity consumption.
By the end of this article, we’re aware of some useful tricks associated with camping fridges that can help save money on electricity. We also covered the key points to be noted when filtering the best fridge for you.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Let’s view a few FAQs concerning a camping fridge.
- Does a camping fridge drain the car’s battery?
A camping fridge will drain a car’s battery when the car is parked. While the car is moving, the battery keeps getting charged. You might be left with a dead battery anytime soon, right from the moment you leave your camping fridge running on your parked car’s battery.
2. What’s a three-way fridge?
A three-way fridge is a name given to a camping fridge model that can run on three power modes-
- 12v or 24v DC
- 240v AC
- Propane gas
3. Explain three-way fridge Vs. two-way fridge?
A two-way fridge is limited to working on two power modes- 240v AC and propane gas- instead of a three-way fridge that can additionally run on DC power.
4. Does an RV fridge work better on gas or electricity?
RV fridge shows better output on electricity as compared to on gas. However, expect your fridge to consume a lot of electricity to deliver outstanding performance.