5 Things You Need to Know About Portable 12v Fridge/Freezers
- Category: Dad's Dirt Roads: A Blog
- on Wed Dec 12, 2012
- by Mark Stephens on Wed Dec 12, 2012 - (46) Comments
We're four years into ownership of a 12v refrigerator, specifically an Engel MT35, and there's no shortage of questions about it from our readers who've never seen such a critter. The majority, of course, wonder what the downsides are. Is it really worth while for camping and adventure road trips? Won't it kill your battery? What's wrong with a cooler and ice? Can it really keep popsicles frozen?
Unquestionably, a good fridge/freezer is going to cost you close to $1000, maybe less, maybe more. I know, I know. It's as painful as a root canal. Few people are prepared to spend that much on keeping food cold when the alternative is $5.00 worth of bagged ice that'll do the job for three days. So, yes, there's a chance that fridge ownership makes you the equivalent of a hipster scrambling to keep up with the cool kids. But that's on the surface. We bought ours because we were spending more time in far reaches of Mexico for extended periods, and were taking longer road trips so the fridge seemed like a good idea. And it was.
So, let's get to what you came for:
1. Fridges need less power than you think, and they don't kill your battery
Of course, each brand and model comes with their own performance nuances. Taking from the results of a test performed by Graham Jackson of Overland Journal (Summer 2010 issue), the four significant brands out there (Whynter, ARB, Engel, and National Luna) consume between .83 amps (ARB, National Luna) and 3.33 amps (Whynter). Keep in mind that a fridge doesn't run at all times, either. That means, for example, your 55 amp hour Optima yellow top battery will power the worst performer (Whynter) for about 16 hours with your engine off if the fridge ran non-stop. And it won't run non-stop. The ARB and National Luna will stay alive for over 60 hours, same conditions. Sure, that's not the whole story, but why bore the crud out of you with windy blather about amps and wire gauge and all that jazz?
Additionally, these fridges won't just keep things cool. No way, you paid dearly for one and it'll hold up its end of the bargain. You can keep popsicles frozen so solid they'll stick to your tongue on the first lick, even on a beach in Mexico in June. You won't be saying that about an $80 electric cooler.
About Battery Connection and Battery Protection -
Simple. They connect through a standard cigarette lighter style plug. Relieved? They're easy. And smart: don't worry about killing your battery. Fridges from ARB and National Luna just shut off when they sense the battery is getting too low, and you can adjust that setting yourself if you want.
And the good ones also come with a cord that lets you plug into a 110v socket in your home. Having a little bash at the house? Pack the little fridge with Capri Suns for the kids, or jello shots Coke Zeros for your buds. Or popsicles. Or whatever.
2. Yes, you can remove a fridge and put it back in with ease
And it doesn't take a fleet of tools to do so. Since the electrical connection is through a standard automotive power outlet, which most modern cars, SUVs and minivans have in the rear cargo area, it's a piece of cake. Fridges weigh over 40 lbs, though. While I built a custom cabinet in the bed of our truck for our fridge, that's only what made sense for us at the time. Putting a fridge in your car doesn't need to be a weekend project; just put it in the back and plug it in.
3. Fridges are far better today than they were 5 years ago
When we bought our Engel four years ago, it was the best one money could buy on the U.S. market. But times have changed. New models from ARB and National Luna (for example) crank up the competition with simple features like digital temperature setting, integrated thermometer readings, and internal LED lights. The old Engel we have uses a 5-point dial for setting the temperature, which is just a scale of cold, not an actual temperature setting. As in, if you have a nice new ARB or National Luna, you tell the unit you want it maintain a temperature of 30 degrees, or 45 degrees, or whatever makes your popsicle hard you happy. On our four year old model, we just choose a setting between one and five. Five being the coldest. Get it? For what it's worth, we've never cranked this baby beyond 3.
You'd think that insulation would have improved, but again, according to the test performed by Overland Journal, the old Engel unit held in the cold the most efficiently during the shut down test.
4. Fridges are useful for everyday life
- Picture yourself going to the grocery store to buy ice cream. Oh, and then you want to go see a movie after. Go ahead, it won't melt.
- Birthday bash at the house: use the cooler and ice for Cokes and juices, but use your 110v power cord on your snazzy fridge to keep a bunch of popsicles on the back patio.
- Anyone still pumping breast milk? Here's a solution to keeping it chilled if you pump away from home, or need to bring some along.
- You know how you usually throw away food that's been soaked in your cooler-o-ice at the end of a trip? Those days are over. Food stays much cleaner and fresher in a fridge.
5. What's the difference between a fridge and a (much cheaper) Coleman PowerChill?
A world. The Engel, Whynter, ARB, and National Luna units are refrigerators and freezers that operate independently of the ambient temperature. The PowerChill is a powered chiller that will only handle 40 degrees cooler than the ambient temperature - on a 100 degree day, the best you can hope for is 60 degrees for your lunch meat, cheese, juice. No chance for those precious popsicles.
"After I pound these Cheeze-Its," he says, "I'm diving into the fridge for a tasty cold popsicle. They see me rollin' . . ."
You know the rest. (Photo courtesy Chris Shontz)