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If you enjoy long trips, owning a solid portable refrigerator for camping is a must. Besides, there is no reason to give up on comfort and convenience just because you’re on the road. That said, this is a small investment that will stay with you for many years to come, thus you should do your homework to find the best 12-volt refrigerator for your specific needs and budget.
Fortunately, when you’re in the market for portable refrigerators for RV, there are literally thousands of options out there due to high demand, so there is something for everyone. On the downside, of course, having to browse through such a vast sea of choices is overwhelming and time consuming. There are also many technical terms, so where do you start?
Worry not, as we have done the hard work of putting together this list of the best 12 volt refrigerator for RV on the market. To narrow this list down to the very best of the best, we have browsed the entire market, carefully examined different models’ specifications, features and users’ reviews from both full-time RVers and professionals.
In this comprehensive guide, you will learn everything any RV owner needs to know about 12 volt camping refrigerator including their benefits, the different types, most important buying factors, a list of the most prestigious brands and our own handpicked list of the very best 12-volt refrigerator models on the current market. At the end of this article, you will also find useful tips and frequently asked questions by fellow campers.
Best 12V Refrigerators Comparison Chart
|No||Top-Rated 12V Refrigerators||Prices||Our Ratings|
|1||Igloo Iceless Thermoelectric - Best of The Best||$||****|
|2||Dometic CFX28 - Editor's Choice||$$$$||*****|
|3||Alpicool C20 - Editor's Choice||$$||*****|
|6||Koolatron P27 Voyager||$||****|
|14||Cho Power Sports Portable||$$||****|
12-Volt Refrigerator Basics
What is it?
In layman’s terms, a 12 volt portable refrigerator is a mini fridge engineered and built for mobile environments like boats, trucks, and other recreational vehicles. 12-volt refrigerators prove to be both light and compact, while still adequately tailor for typical camping needs.
How does it work?
12-volt refrigerators work similarly to standard household models as all of them use the aerosol principle. The key difference is this kind of portable refrigerator works with significantly lower power draw. It can work on propane or electric, or a combination of propane and electric, based on the model selected and on the available power source.
Because it operates at 12V DC, there is no efficiency loss associated with conversion to 120V AC. In 12V fridges, the gases continue to circulate inside the coils instead of evaporating.
In essence, a 12 volt portable refrigerator keeps your food and drink cool by absorbing heat from the inside of the unit and transferring it outside thanks to the vents on the sides of the unit to blow heat off. The cool air produced during the process is trapped inside and prevented from escaping with the insulated inside walls.
Why buy a 12-Volt cooler for RV camping?
Keep foods and beverages cool: With a 12V cooler by your side, you could effortlessly keep all of your snacks and drinks cool while traveling. So, having a fridge in your van is a no brainer!
Save space: Space is certainly a luxury on recreational vehicles and mini 12V coolers can be placed in narrow spots. That is why if you want to conserve available space inside your rig, you should pick up a 12-volt cooler.
Energy efficient: These mini 12-volt refrigerators are also energy saving since they can draw on low power. They don’t work all the time but cycle as needed.
Versatile: For the money that you pay for 12 volt refrigerators, you will get a lot of use out of one. It is ideal for many applications, including off-grid and solar applications. You can also use it on boats, trucks and buses.
Portable: A 12 volt cooler refrigerator is light weight, thus you can move it around without any hassles inside your small rig while figuring out the best layout or change the layout as per the circumstances. Some of them also have a trolley design that makes it easier to transport from your home to your vehicle, or from your RV to your truck or boat.
No DC-to-AC inverter required: Most 12v fridge freezer can also be powered from 120V AC, since they have a built-in inverter that converts 120V AC to 12V DC. In other words, even if plugged into 120V, the fridge still works with 12V DC. Since using an inverter is not very efficient, no DC-to-AC inverter required is highly ideal while camping.
Charge electronics: Plenty of 12-volt coolers pack USB ports that allow them to charge phones, tablets, laptops and so on. As a result, if necessary, you may use your cooler to charge your electronic devices.
Durable: If you’re worried about your investment getting a rough treatment on bumpy roads and will die on you before long, worry not as these portable refrigerators for RV are built for the tough mobile environments and are made of heavy-duty components with special features to withstand shock and vibration while you’re on the move.
Reviews On Best 12-Volt Refrigerators
If you’re well versed with 12 volt refrigerator for RV and know exactly what you’re looking for, grab a cold drink and sit back, below is our carefully selected list of the very best 12 volt refrigerator models for camping on the market.
Otherwise, skip to the next section to learn more about the different types of portable refrigerators for RV, how they work, the pros and cons of each type, and important buying criteria that you must take into consideration in order to pick the best 12 volt refrigerator for your specific budget and camping needs.
Below are the 15 products that boast solid construction and technical specifications, durability, convenient features and the highest ratings from professionals and full-time RVers a like on the market today. Each model will come with highlighted features and both pros and cons so that you can easily compare and pick out the one most suitable for your preferences.
1. Igloo Iceless Thermoelectric Cooler – Best Of The Best
- Storage Capacity: 26 Quarts
- Dimensions: 18.2 x 13.1 x 15.5 Inches
- Weight: 10 Pounds
Why This Is The Best:
Able to keep its contents cool and dry without creating ice, Igloo Iceless Thermoelectric Cooler is quite convenient to use. With a combination of convection cooling and circulating fan, everything stored inside stays equally cool. Additionally, packing a brushless motor, the 12-volt portable refrigerator made by Igloo runs quietly so it rarely disturbs its owner. Because of that, Igloo Iceless Thermoelectric Cooler is known as the best 12-volt refrigerator on the market for RVers that desire a tranquil outdoor experience.
As it’s constructed using polypropylene, the Igloo 12V fridge is pretty light compared to the average refrigerators for RV. Also, featuring a swing-up handle and two molded-in side handles, Igloo Iceless Thermoelectric Cooler allows RVing enthusiasts to relocate it quickly and effortlessly. During transport, the curved back of the refrigerator from Igloo would ergonomically hug your side. Therefore, you should feel comfortable even if you have to carry an Igloo Iceless Thermoelectric Cooler for extended periods of time.
The power cord of Igloo Iceless Thermoelectric Cooler could be plugged in typical 12V outlets in RV which means setting it up is a breeze. Moreover, the cord is long so the fridge from Igloo can be put some distance away from the power outlets. Being highly compact, Igloo Iceless Thermoelectric Cooler easily fits into tight spaces in recreational vehicles.
We recently went on a long road trip, and purchased this cooler so we could have our refrigerated foods close at hand and not have to worry about buying ice and draining it after the ice melted. This cooler worked perfectly, both in our hotel rooms and in the car, keeping our food and drinks cold and refreshing. When traveling, it was on the floor behind the driver’s seat, and the noise of the fan running was audible, but barely. It runs very quietly, and keeps its contents consistently cold. Well worth the money, and my wife and I are very pleased with its performance.Shared by Jake S.
- Reasonable capacity
- Portability is top-notch
- Some units arrive with flawed hinges
- A couple of users report melting cords
2. Dometic CFX28 – Editor’s Choice
- Storage Capacity: 27 Quarts
- Dimensions: 16.7 x 24.4 x 13.4 Inches
- Weight: 29.0 Pounds
Why It’s An Editor’s Choice:
Loaded with heavy-duty details such as stainless steel hinges, reinforced corners and a solid lid lining, Dometic CFX28 gives a good account of itself in a lot of conditions. Moreover, the refrigerator from Dometic is fairly compact so finding space for it in recreational vehicles is a simple matter. Since CFX28 is engineered to run on AC as well as DC power, it could be used everywhere you go. Dometic CFX28 has a low power draw which leads to extended runtime and lessened expense.
Besides producing ice for drinks, CFX28 is free of ice and that eliminates the hassle of dislodging items trapped by ice. Also, the inclusion of a drain plug means you don’t have to spend too much time and effort to clean the refrigerator made by Dometic. Unlike traditional refrigerators for RV, CFX28 of Dometic features a USB charging port for electronics so you can use it to recharge your tablets, phones and so on if necessary. That is why CFX28 is considered to be a must-have for modern RVing.
About noise level, the refrigerator of Dometic runs silently so if you like to keep things quiet inside your rig, you should pick it up. Though CFX28 is kind of costly for an RV fridge, it’s a good buy.
Perfect fridge for #Vanlife
I’ve been working seasonally out of my pickup truck for years, conducting biological surveys in the American desert. A few years back I upgraded my kitchen system with a shiny white Yeti cooler, and thought that was a game changer. Ice lasted for days! Still, the ice has the be replaced every couple days in the hottest months, and I grew envious of coworkers who enjoyed cold Lacroix out of their fancy 12V fridges, and evenings spent reading rather than driving to the store for more ice. Finally, my moment came and I decided to upgrade again. I bought the Dometic 50CFX for my truck, as well as a 100W Renogy solar panel for the roof and a deep cycle battery to hold electricity, so my fridge will run through the night. The interior is a little smaller than I expected (the compressor takes up some space) but the exterior dimensions are the same as my old 50 quart Yeti. I can carry more vegetables and Lacroix than ever, without that wet block of ice taking up half the space! I’ve been in the desert for a month now and have zero regrets spending the big $$ on this new fridge. It is quiet, keeps a consistent temperature, and requires pretty much zero maintenance. Now people are envious of me, and when they compliment my sweet off-grid solar-charged fridge, I smile and offer them an ice cold Lacroix.Shared by Elizabeth C. Wolff
- High endurance
- Useful storage dividers
- Outstanding battery protection
- Control module needs to be overhauled
- Complaints about fluctuations in temperature show up intermittently
3. Alpicool C20 – Editor’s Choice
- Storage Capacity: 21 Quarts
- Dimensions: 22.4 x 12.6 x 12.6 Inches
- Weight: 22.1 Pounds
Why It’s An Editor’s Choice:
Light but rugged, Alpicool C20 proves itself to be an excellent companion for RVers that travel on a regular basis. Designed to resist vibration, C20 is well-protected against bumps and hits so it holds together rather well in use. Besides that, the 12V fridge freezer of Alpicool could work on inclines up 45 degrees and that is a big plus in plenty of camping settings. Since Alpicool C20 has handles on both sides, moving it from spot to spot is a walk in the park.
With a sealed body and high-density foam insulation, the refrigerator of Alpicool is capable of keeping your snacks and drinks cool in hot climates. As for power, C20 runs on vehicle batteries and it boasts three protection levels (low, med and high) to keep the batteries from being depleted. That is why you don’t have to worry about C20 of Alpicool exhausting the battery bank of your rig. Through the user-friendly digital control panel, you can change the temperature to your liking.
C20 arrives fully assembled and it’s accompanied by a DC power cord so you could start using it immediately. The included owner’s manual should let you master the operation of the Alpicool 12-volt refrigerator in just a moment.
I’ve been on the road for 3 weeks with it and it’s been doing great. When the truck shuts off, it barely uses much battery as long as you set it to eco. You can have 2 stacks of 5 banquet frozen plates or 6 if you want to use that extra top space or put some water bottles, there’s enough gap for my protein shakes too! Barely makes any noise, the only thing that bothers me is the bright light but that’s nothing. Vents are in the right place and it also comes with a wall plug so if you’re like me, have things prechilled before heading out. May purchase a bigger one later, worth the investment!Shared by BWP.Carlos
- Great price
- Save power
- Intuitive interface
- Kind of loud
- RVers notice inaccuracies in temperature reading
4. ARB Portable Fridge Freezer
- Storage Capacity: 50 Quarts
- Dimensions: 20.0 x 27.7 x 14.9 Inches
- Weight: 53.0 Pounds
Why We Love It:
About to embark on a long trip and need to bring a lot of stuff? If that is the case, it’s strongly recommended that you take a close look at ARB Portable Fridge Freezer. Possessing a huge storage capacity, the 12-volt compressor refrigerator RV of ARB could be used to simultaneously chill multiple items. As it’s engineered to keep the contents from being logged by ice, ARB Portable Fridge Freezer permits you to remove foods and beverages in a blink of an eye.
Being a front opening model, the ARB fridge is considered to be the best 12V refrigerator at its price range for rigs with fridge slides. Furthermore, ARB Portable Fridge Freezer has a splendid control interface that consists of a flush LED display and push-buttons. As a result, you can monitor the temperature and apply adjustments as you see fit. Last but not least, thanks to the incorporation of an oversized full-grip latch, the lid of the refrigerator made by ARB is firmly secured.
Upon purchase, ARB Portable Fridge Freezer comes alongside a AC cable and a DC cable. Hence, you could use the 12V fridge from ARB in your RV and your house. In terms of maintenance, ARB Portable Fridge Freezer contains a useful drain plug so it’s fairly simple to clean.
We’ve been using this fridge for a couple of months now in our RV. I thought I wanted the next bigger size, but it wouldn’t fit in the limited space we have. As it turns out, this thing is cavernous. It holds a lot of cans of beer, 4 x 5 across the bottom and 2 layers, so 40 cans, plus there is a little space towards the rear above the compressor that hold another 6 pack. It will hold 2 liter pop bottles standing up, ditto with wine bottles. Our intent was to use this for beer and soda storage, but it’s so big that we often put food in it also. We boondock almost exclusively and rely on solar power, so I was a little worried that this would pull too much power, but no, it’s just fine. It really doesn’t add much load to the electrical system at all. When it starts up, it pulls about 3 amps, but then settles to about 1.5 amps while it cools. It’s well insulated, so once it’s at temperature, it stays there a long time without having to run the compressor.
The auto-switching of the power source is a great feature, we leave it plugged into 110V all the time and have hard-wired it to the 12V system. When we plug into shore power, it automatically switches to 110V, and auto switches back when we’re on 12V. The only problem I had was originally I’d plugged it into one of the light circuits in the RV, which wasn’t quite enough for it. I ran a dedicated line from an empty slot in the power converter directly to the cooler, and now it’s working just fine. I added a picture of it in our RV, something to note is you need to have ventilation at the back for the compressor, which is built -in in the cabinetry on either side.Shared by Dale Anson
- Low noise level
- Fantastic reliability
- Resilient construction
- Several people complain about receiving damaged units
- Insulation still need some work
5. Whynter FM-45G
- Storage Capacity: 45 Quarts
- Dimensions: 23.5 x 16.5 x 20.5 Inches
- Weight: 45.0 Pounds
Why We Love It:
With an enduring powder-coated steel housing, FM-45G of Whynter could take on everything that RVers throw at it. Needless to say, the fridge from Whynter is particularly well-suited for RVing enthusiasts that like to go off-roading. As it integrates an adaptable compressor cooling system, FM-45G is able to keep snacks and drinks cool in a wide range of conditions. Whynter FM-45G also has a fast freeze mode that lets it rapidly bring all of the contents to -8 degrees Fahrenheit.
In use, FM-45G can be directly plugged into AC and DC power at the same time but it’s going to prioritize AC power. If AC power suddenly fails, the Whynter portable refrigerators for RV would automatically switch to DC without requiring outside interaction. A low power indication is present on the unit so it’s easy to tell if the charge in your battery bank is approaching exhaustion. For handling, FM-45G of Whynter packs two robust stainless steel side handles that help you get a good hold of the unit during transport.
To reassure RVers about the quality of its 12V RV refrigerator, Whynter backs FM-45G with a one-year warranty. If you want to have a decent insurance policy then Whynter FM-45G is the best 12-volt refrigerator for you.
Great refrig. Cools and freezes fast, only uses 60 watts on AC and 5 amps on 12v DC. Great for camping, and much lower power draw than my thermo-electric cooler, and 5X faster cooling. Very quiet too, it has two motors: One 12V compressor motor and one 12V condenser fan. So quiet, even at night in the camper, it lets me sleep, no problem. Well insulated and all metal construction, very strong but weighs about 48lbs. Thermostat is digital and is +/- 3deg of my calibrated thermometer. Unit cools to about 4deg below set point, then cycles off unit it rises to set point, then turns on. Has 3 compressor power settings, MAX, Auto and Eco-mode. Amp readings: MAX=5.5 amps, Auto=4.5 to 5 amps, Eco=2.8 amps. Has low battery cut off. DC voltmeter to show input voltage and current Temp at the same time. Also has automatic switching from AC to DC and back to AC without moving wires, switches or plugs. Just leave both AC and DC connected all the time, and it prioritizes AC if present. During travel, it falls back to DC seamlessly. Seems like there is a 110V to 12V step down supply inside that runs the controller, and that runs the motors. Had mine for 2 weeks camping and so far it’s a solid unit.Shared by BRUCE MCCASKIE
- Nice warranty
- Handy wire baskets
- Consistent operation
- Barely acceptable customer support
- Fan occasionally makes clicking noises
6. Koolatron P27 Voyager
- Storage Capacity: 29 Quarts
- Dimensions: 17.25 x 15.25 x 15.25 Inches
- Weight: 11.1 Pounds
Why We Love It:
Built to the modern standards, Koolatron P27 Voyager is held in high esteem by many RVers, novice and veteran alike. Using advanced solid-state thermoelectric cooling technology, P27 Voyager ensures that RVing enthusiasts don’t have to work around messy ice while arranging the contents. In addition, the 12V portable fridge made by Koolatron could warm snacks and drinks all the way to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of that, once it comes to versatility, Koolatron P27 Voyager is certainly the best 12-volt refrigerator money can buy.
As the Koolatron 12-volt refrigerator only features a single moving part, which is the fan motor, it’s very reliable. P27 Voyager has relatively undemanding maintenance requirements as well so keeping it in working order is a piece of cake. About noise level, P27 Voyager of Koolatron operates in a silent manner so it seldom bothers people in its vicinity. Aside from that, with the low-profile build, the 12V fridge of Koolatron should fit narrow spots in recreational vehicles.
Regarding price, Koolatron P27 Voyager is inexpensive and that makes it a superb model for RVers that have limited budgets. P27 Voyager normally runs on DC power but by pairing it with the optional adapter sold by Koolatron, the unit could run on AC power.
- Cooling output is sublime
- A few units come without instructions
- Power cord fall out from time to time
7. Ausranvik APR-25D
- Storage Capacity: 26 Quarts
- Dimensions: 23.0 x 13.0 x 14.0 Inches
- Weight: 32.4 Pounds
Why We Love It:
Boasting intelligent battery protection with three settings, Ausranvik APR-25D is good at preserving the quality of the battery bank. If input voltage falls lower than the setting that RVers choose, the Ausranvik refrigerator would promptly shut down so the batteries should never run down. As it possesses premium grade insulation, APR-25D could keep stuff frozen for nearly half a day if power is interrupted out of the blue. By employing a memory function, APR-25D of Ausranvik eliminates the need to reset the temperature when power resumes.
Interestingly, APR-25D has a built-in USB port so in times of need, you can use it to recharge an assortment of electronic devices. Moreover, since a drain plug is included in the bottom of the fridge made by Ausranvik, draining water is by all accounts child’s play. Besides that, Ausranvik APR-25D utilizes a touch control interface so you can manipulate its performance to meet your preferences. The refrigerator of Ausranvik comes with AC and DC cords, thus, it can run on both AC and DC power.
The storage space of Ausranvik APR-25D is split into two sections: main and side. The side section receives less cold air than the main section so if you have some items that you want to keep chilled instead of frozen, place them in there.
- High efficiency
- Small and light
- Technical support is less than ideal
- Hinge should be strengthened
8. Costway Electric Cooler Refrigerator
- Storage Capacity: 55 Quarts
- Dimensions: 27.5 x 14.0 x 21.0 Inches
- Weight: 36.0 Pounds
Why We Love It:
Made from ABS plastic, Costway Electric Cooler Refrigerator is shockproof which is why it could withstand serious vibrations and abuses. Also, the fridge of Costway incorporates a convenient flip-top layout so RVers would be able to access stored contents at a moment’s notice. Packing quality impermeable liner, Costway Electric Cooler Refrigerator can keep a wide range of foods and beverages in good conditions. The compressor of the Costway refrigerator offers rapid cooling without consuming power excessively as well.
Similar to other 12-volt fridges on the market nowadays, Costway Electric Cooler Refrigerator has battery protection levels designed to stop batteries from being drained completely. Hence, if you care about the battery bank of your rig, you should add the Costway refrigerator to your shortlist. During operation, sounds emitted by Costway Electric Cooler Refrigerator tend to be barely audible so it is well-liked by those that have sensitive hearing. Featuring an ergonomic handle, the fridge from Costway can be moved around by virtually everyone.
With LCD display and digitized temperature adjustment, Costway Electric Cooler Refrigerator permits RVers to grapes the working temperature at a glance and make timely modifications. All in all, the fridge made by Costway is essentially the best 12-volt refrigerator for RVing enthusiasts that favor straightforwardness.
- Fair cost
- Low power draw
- Structural integrity is excellent
- Cables still leave a lot to be desired
- Temperature reading is a bit off on occasions
9. Dometic CF-025
- Storage Capacity: 24 Quarts
- Dimensions: 21.6 x 16.7 x 10.2 Inches
- Weight: 28.0 Pounds
Why We Love It:
So all you need is a basic and practical 12-volt cooler refrigerator for recreational vehicles? Then you would come to like CF-025 of Dometic. Slim and sleek, CF-025 is a breeze to carry and the amount of space that it occupies is generally deemed inconsequential. Being impact-resistance, the fridge made by Dometic could handle plenty of hits in use. Additionally, with low power consumption and first-class three-stage battery protection, Dometic CF-025 is capable of preventing dead batteries.
Though the capacity of the Dometic refrigerator is unexceptional compared to its competitors, it can still support usual RV adventures. Thanks to the LED light in the interior of CF-025, you should have an easy time organizing snacks and drinks. CF-025 of Dometic contains a coated removable wire basket too so you have multiple options in terms of item arrangements. Through the top LED display and push buttons, you could read the temperature and increase/decrease it as you like.
Since CF-025 is sold with a DC cable, you can put it to use the moment it leaves the packaging. As for accessories, CF-025 of Dometic could be paired with an insulated cover for improved efficiency and reduced energy usage. Dometic backs its fridge with a two-year warranty so if your CF-025 fails due to manufacturing defects, you may claim yourself a free replacement.
- Sturdy body
- Splendid handling
- Slightly pricey
- Handle needs to be overhauled
10. Engel MR040F-U1
- Storage Capacity: 40 Quarts
- Dimensions: 25.0 x 15.5 x 18.5 Inches
- Weight: 48.0 Pounds
Why We Love It
As it consumes less power than other refrigerators, Engel MR040F-U1 is sought after by RVing enthusiasts that like to cut down utility expenses. Depending on the current settings, the fridge of Engel could run on AC or DC power but its automatic voltage selection gives priority to AC. Furthermore, MR040F-U1 still operates normally on inclines up to 30 degrees off level which guarantees consistent cooling in many applications. Engel MR040F-U1 has a removable heavy-duty handle as well so relocating it is just a cakewalk.
Integrating a tough corrosion-resistant ABS case, MR040F-U1 is pretty well-guarded against corrosive elements in the outdoors. Therefore, the Engel fridge is regarded as the best 12V refrigerator for RVers that like to camp in marine environments. Aside from that, with a rather low noise level, Engel MR040F-U1 allows people to enjoy chilled snacks and drinks in a relaxing atmosphere. A wire basket is present too so owners of MR040F-U1 can set the contents as they see fit.
While Engel MR040F-U1 is undoubtedly an expensive unit, the values that it offers nonetheless match its price tag. The refrigerator made by Engel is backed with a reassuring three-year manufacturer warranty that brings users peace of mind.
- Stable output
- Enduring and quiet
- Undemanding maintenance
- Owner’s manual is poorly written
11. Dometic TC21
- Storage Capacity: 21 Quarts
- Dimensions: 17.7 x 16.5 x 11.9 Inches
- Weight: 16.3 Pounds
Why We Love It
Possessing a lightweight construction, TC21 of Dometic is highly portable so it’s an excellent choice for RVers that like to go on short trips. With the use of thermoelectric technology, TC21 is able to cool and warm contents too. Because of that, if you opt to purchase the refrigerator from Dometic, you could prepare chilled beverages and warm snacks. In addition, as it boasts seven-stage temperature regulation and a digitalized control interface, Dometic TC21 greatly facilitates temperature management.
For handling, the Dometic portable refrigerator for camping has a rugged handle that folds down outside of use so RVer can move it at will. The magnetic lid of TC21 happens to be detachable, thus, you could put in and take out items without issues. In use, Dometic TC21 maintains operation even if left tilted to the side and that lets it adapt well to an assortment of camping applications. The 12V fridge made by Dometic packs a robust interior divider so it can keep all of your stuff secured.
Since it employs a power-save circuit, TC21 is more economical than run-of-the-mild refrigerators for recreational vehicles. Available at a comparatively reasonable price, the fridge of Dometic is the all-time favorite of various budget-minded RVers. Following the trend, TC21 of Dometic could also be powered by both AC and DC.
- Decent capacity
- Impressive insulation
- Some units seem used on arrival
- Quality control could use several improvements
12. Dometic CF18
- Storage Capacity: 19 Quarts
- Dimensions: 18.3 x 16.3 x 11.8 Inches
- Weight: 26.4 Pounds
Why We Love It:
Thanks to the integration of a high-powered compressor, Dometic CF18 could keep its contents chilled regardless of ambient temperatures. Packing a fully insulated body made from impact-resistant polymer, CF18 keeps cold air from escaping and decreases the power needed to preserve interior cooling. As the Dometic fridge also has a dynamic battery protection system with automatic shutoff, you don’t have to worry about it depleting your batteries. Dometic CF18 incorporates a memory function that maintains preset too.
With a small build, the refrigerator made by Dometic permits RVers to save space and since it carries a handy handle, its portability is fantastic. The lid of CF18 opens to the side and it’s detachable as well, hence, you can access your foods and beverages quickly and conveniently. Boasting well-divided storage compartments, Dometic CF18 greatly facilitates content organizations and that helps RVing enthusiasts avoid plenty of headaches. Last but not least, the fridge of Dometic releases just a few sounds in use so it’s quite quiet.
Dometic CF18 is a DC-only model so you have to power it by that battery bank on your rig. Aside from that, as Dometic distributes its refrigerator with DC power cord, you could set it up in a flash. About accessories, Dometic offers an optional insulated cover for CF18.
- Strong and dependable
- Straightforward controls
- A bit overpriced
- Overheat is reported by a couple of RVers
13. Norcold NRF30
- Storage Capacity: 32 Quarts
- Dimensions: 15.6 x 22.0 x 15.7 Inches
- Weight: 39.6 Pounds
Why We Love It:
Being a versatile 2-in-1 product with freezer and refrigerator compartments, Norcold NRF30 could match a wide range of cooling needs. The interior of the refrigerator from Norcold is made from stainless steel which simultaneously boosts cooling efficiency and inhibits stains. Additionally, NRF30 possesses an intuitive electric control display that RVers can use to monitor and set temperature as they like. In the case that installation issues occur, the LED indicators of Norcold NRF30 would light up to warn the users.
Constructed using corrosion-proof plastic, the exterior of NRF30 is capable of taking on an assortment of outdoor elements. As the Norcold fridge contains two heavy-duty removable handles, transporting it is going to be a walk in the park. The hinge of Norcold NRF30 is both reversible and removable so you can change the way it opens in seconds. NRF30 primarily runs on DC power but if you wish to use it in your house, all you have to do is to pick up the optional AC adapter.
To stop the batteries from being drained all the way, the refrigerator made by Norcold includes comprehensive battery protection with up to three settable levels. NRF30 automatically ceases operation if voltage drops below the chosen level and returns to work after voltage rises up again.
- Noise level is low
- Top-notch handling
- User-friendly interface
- Steep cost
- Plug falls out now and then
14. Cho Power Sports Portable Freezer Cooler
- Storage Capacity: 42 Quarts
- Dimensions: 23.0 x 15.0 x 19.0 Inches
- Weight: 28.0 Pounds
Why We Love It
Able to accommodate various items at the same time, Cho Power Sports Portable Freezer Cooler is deemed to be an ideal model for extended camping. Featuring a combination of a telescoping handle, side handles and wheels, the fridge of Cho is superior to classic units once it comes to portability. Therefore, if you seek a mobile refrigerator, Cho Power Sports Portable Freezer Cooler is the best 12-volt refrigerator for you. As the Cho fridge utilizes an anti-vibration design, it could navigate lots of terrains.
Through the top touchscreen of Cho Power Sports Portable Freezer Cooler, RVers can easily set temperature and mode of operation. Furthermore, the refrigerator made by Cho has a useful USB port for charging portable devices. As a result, with Cho Power Sports Portable Freezer Cooler, you could recharge all electronics. Employing a built-in circuitry designed to prevent total draw of the battery, the fridge from Cho would keep the battery bank of your rig in top shape for years.
With a high-performance compressor, Cho Power Sports Portable Freezer Cooler keeps stored snacks and drinks cool in typical environments. Also, the compressor of the Cho fridge runs silently so it remains quiet in use. Cho Power Sports Portable Freezer Cooler is accompanied by a DC power cord as well as an AC wall adapter.
- Affordable and reliable
- Uncomplicated maintenance
- Certain units come without manual
- Users notice damages on newly-delivered fridges
15. Koolatron P20
- Storage Capacity: 18 Quarts
- Dimensions: 17.25 x 8.75 x 16.0 Inches
- Weight: 9.6 Pounds
Why We Love It
Narrow and light, Koolatron P20 is well-received by RVing enthusiasts that own small rigs and want to conserve space. The absence of laches in the top lid means you and your fellow RVers could casually take snacks and drinks out of the Koolatron fridge. Because P20 plugs directly into DC power outlets on recreational vehicles, getting it running is essentially a piece of cake. Interestingly, Koolatron P20 can be switched between cooling and warming mode which allows it to adapt to plenty of applications.
As for handling, P20 has a practical folding handle so you would have an easy time moving it between locations. Besides that, with the incorporation of a brushless motor, the refrigerator made by Koolatron boasts a low noise level and operates normally even if tilted. Made from enduring plastic, P20 of Koolatron also holds itself together well in regular use. Finally, sold at an inexpensive price, P20 is by all accounts the best 12-volt cooler for RVers that don’t like to spend big bucks.
In terms of maintenance, the smooth plastic liner of the fridge from Koolatron proves to be very simple to wash. Hence, it’s a breeze to keep P20 in top shape as you travel from one camping location to another. As proof of confidence, Koolatron willingly backs its 12-volt refrigerator with a one-year warranty that covers all manufacturing defects.
- Noiseless operation
- Good values for the price
- Low-profile construction
- Storage capacity is modest
- A couple of users complain about missing cord
Types of 12-Volt Refrigerator
Chest-style vs Front-loading
In terms of design, you can choose between chest-style refrigerators and upright, or front-loading refrigerators. These are designed to tailor for different floor plans and preferences, so depending on where you would like to place the freezer, one should be more convenient for accessing food and drinks than the other.
In general, if you only need a small unit to store cold drinks to refresh yourself and stay awake while driving for a long time, for instance, a chest-style freezer located near your driver seat would be what you need. Otherwise, if you need a larger unit to store a lot more, a front-loading 12 volt refrigerator is the way to go.
Compressor, thermoelectric and absorption
In addition, regarding how they work, virtually all 12V portable refrigerators could be divided into three types: compressor, thermoelectric and absorption. Once you know how they operate and thus understand each type’s pros and cons, it’s easier to make an informed decision about which system is best for your off-grid needs.
- Highly efficient at keeping cold
- Low power consumption & does not run all the time but cycles on and off
- No DC-to-AC inverter required
- Operates well on non-level ground
- Not quiet: vibrates when running and can be quite loud when cycles on.
Compressor refrigerators compress cooling agents/fluid refrigerants to regulate the temperature. The principle behind a 12 volt compressor refrigerator RV is, in a nutshell, the same as that of a regular household standard refrigerator.
A compressor refrigerator operates thanks to a special chemical substance. This “refrigerant” can turn from a liquid to a gas at fairly low temperatures, compared to, for instance, water. When it turns into a gas, the refrigerant is able to absorb heat from the air inside the fridge’s cabinet.
The liquid refrigerant circulates through the coils inside the fridge. This circulation lowers the pressure and the liquid again evaporates into a gas. The gas absorbs the heat from the air inside the fridge cabinet.
The gas refrigerant goes back to the compressor and is compressed by the compressor. As the gas’ pressure increases, its temperature also increases. The refrigerant then circulates through the coils in the back of the fridge, then cools down as heat is evacuated inside the fridge’s cabinet. At a certain temperature, the gas turns into a liquid.
Now that the refrigerant is a cold liquid again, it’s ready to head back to pick up more heat and continue cooling your fridge, and the cycle starts all over again.
You can see that heat is absorbed from inside the fridge and is released inside the fridge’s cabinet. This is why proper ventilation in the fridge’s cabinet is important for the unit’s efficiency.
Why compressor refrigerators?
One difference between a 12 volt compressor refrigerator for RV and other refrigerators for recreational vehicles is that models of the type operate normally on inclines as well as level grounds, which is ideal when you’re traveling off-road on uneven grounds.
Another plus is that compressor refrigerators run on low power as they don’t run constantly. Instead, they cycle as needed: a compressor refrigerator generally runs between 30%-40% of the time. When attached to a thermostat, compressors cycle on and off to keep temperatures within your desired range.
Compressor fridges are the most common type of fridge you’ll see on the road, and for good reason. These fridges are built with durability and efficiency in mind, and are the top choices for full-time RVers who are constantly on the road. Although they cost more, full-time campers swear by them and deem the initial investment well worth the benefits they get from these units.
- DC powered, such as the 12-volt sockets in your car
- Can operate on uneven, non-level grounds
- Cheaper than compressor refrigerators
- Generally last longer than compressor refrigerators due to having less parts
- Quieter than compressor refrigerators
- Not as efficient as compressor refrigerators in keeping things cold
As their name suggests, thermoelectric refrigerators rely on electricity for cooling. More specifically, they rely on the Peltier effect, that is by creating a temperature difference by transferring heat between two “conductors” made from different materials by applying electrical current to them.
Thermoelectric cooling is also known as “solid-state” cooling, because there is no liquid refrigerant required for cooling the inside of the fridge. Instead, solid metals are used to transfer thermal energy.
When DC voltage is applied and direct current runs from one conductor to the other, there’s a change in temperature at the junction where the two conductors meet. The exact change in temperature will depend on the materials of the two different conductors. For instance, if you run electricity from a zinc wire to a copper wire, the temperature will drop at the joint where the wires meet.
Although such thermoelectric effect is negligible, it can be multiplied in order to create a substantial enough cooling effect to properly keep your food and drinks cool.
Such multiplication of thermoelectric effect is typically done by multiplying the number of junctions between the two conductors. When electricity runs through the system, one conductor will exclusively become the cold side while the other becomes the hot side. The cold side goes inside the refrigerator, while the hot side connects to a “heat sink”. Here, metal fins will dissipate excess heat on the outside of the thermoelectric refrigerator.
Why thermoelectric refrigerators?
Thermoelectric refrigerators are used for smaller sized units, since the system takes up less space than compressor units. Though thermoelectric refrigerators cannot freeze and produce ices and generally are not as efficient as their compressor counterparts, they can keep the temperature of the contents tens of degrees below outside temperature.
So if you go on a short trip and the climate of the destination is rather cool, you can settle for models of the type, as they are cheaper than their compressor type counterparts and can still offer good value for money.
Another advantage of this type of portable refrigerators is they have no moving parts, so they will generally last much longer than a compressor unit, which requires several fans and lengthy coils for the refrigerant to pass through and absorb/dissipate heat.
In addition, while a compressor fridge vibrates when running and can be quite loud when it cycles on, the electric current required to run a thermoelectric unit is perfectly quiet, unless a fan is added to improve air circulation.
Finally, if you’re an environmentally conscious consumer, keep in mind that a thermoelectric fridge is greener than a compressor unit. The refrigerant can cause damage to the ozone layer if it leaks from a faulty unit.
Absorption refrigerators are also referred to as two-way or three-way units. A 3-way fridge can run on either propane , 120-volt AC or 12-volt DC. A 2-way fridge typically operates with propane & 120-volt AC.
RVers would opt for absorption units when propane is the main energy source and there is no solar energy available.
- Quite efficient when using propane
- Not efficient when in absorption mode (120-volt AC or 12-volt DC)
- Efficiency dependant on room temperature
When propane is used, a propane flame heats a chamber holding a solution of water and ammonia until the liquid boils. The ammonia gas rises to another chamber, the condenser, where it cools back into a liquid.
When 120-volt AC or 12-volt DC is used, that is in the “absorption mode”, absorption refrigerators change the gas into a liquid by employing only heat instead of the compressor like their compressor counterparts. There are also no moving parts other than the refrigerant gas, which travels around in a circle of tubes.
Compared to other types of fridges, absorption refrigerators consume lots of power so they could easily exhaust your battery bank. These fridges tend to be dependent on ambient temperature too, thus their efficiency is not up to par compared to the other two types.
Top Brands Of 12V Fridges
You could buy your refrigerator from practically whatever brand you like but if you care about reputability then keep an eye out for these names:
Being a long-established manufacturer, Dometic knows exactly how to put together products that meet the expectations of RVing enthusiasts. Needless to say, Dometic is held in high esteem by RVers from novices to veterans. Dometic’s portable refrigerators for RV have a good reputation for functionality and reliability, plus superb customer support.
A key difference between Dometic and other brands is that Dometic uses their own compressors, while most refrigerators manufacturers use the same SECOP/Danfoss 12V variable speed compressors. These variable speed compressors have become the benchmark in the industry and are known for their high-efficiency, high-quality products.
That said, Dometic’s compressors are super fine too, as sworn by users across the globe.
By constantly innovating and applying the latest technologies into production, Igloo can assemble solid fridges that never fail to please. So in the case that you seek a refrigerator built to modern standards, Igloo would have excellent options for you.
Headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, ARB makes a wide range of high-quality accessories for vehicles. Fridges from ARB receive compliments from RVers around the globe.
Known as one of the leading brands of automotive appliances, Wagan manufactures outstanding refrigerators that last for a long time. If you don’t want to replace your fridge often, you should buy from Wagan.
Since it’s both a manufacturer and a distributor, Koolatron is capable of offering well-made fridges at reasonable prices. Hence, Koolatron is the top brand for RVers that happen to have tight shopping budgets.
Danfoss are known for their highly reliable and durable compressors refrigerators, so if you’re opting for a compressor unit, Danfoss is among the safest bets for your money.
Whynter is a budget brand that also uses their own compressor. While their functionality and features meet typical off-grid needs, there have been many reviews that raise doubts on the lifespan of Whynter units.
Engel’s portable freezers are legendary for being able to run for decades without issues. Many full-time RVers rate units from the brand as the best 12 volt refrigerators for RV thanks to their superior durability. Engel’s units generally feature a metal cabinet and are known to effectively withstand brutal knocks and bumps on the road.
Best 12-Volt Refrigerator Buying Guide
Different people usually have different preferences so RV communities don’t agree on which model is the best 12 volt cooler refrigerator. However, if you want to spend your money wisely, you must review the following criteria before committing to a purchase.
As RVers rely on refrigerators to keep beverages cool and prevent frozen foods from melting, it’s only natural that cooling output requires special attention. You could deduce the ideal output for your fridge by thinking about what you intend to bring while traveling. Overall, if you only put basic stuff in the refrigerator then it’s fine to settle for a standard model. On the other hand, if you have exceptional temperature demands, it’s suggested that you grab a high-output fridge.
To put it plainly, the storage capacity of a refrigerator dictates the number of things that it’s able to accommodate at any one time. Though it’s handy to own a high-capacity fridge, you need to remember that capacity is linked to size. That means as storage capacity grows, size also increases so you may experience a couple of space issues if you forget to make proper calculations. Therefore, you should take into account the planned position of your fridge and decide accordingly.
In addition, for your convenience, the best 12 volt refrigerator should have dual zones or compartments to separate the items that need to be freezed and others that only need to be kept cold.
To prevent the cold temperature from escaping the unit, the best portable refrigerator should be well insulated. If necessary, get an insulating cover to keep your portable fridge extra cool when it gets hotter outside or when your fridge is directly exposed to the sun.
Refrigerators in recreational vehicles would be subjected to a lot of bumps and hits as RVers move between camping locations. Because of that, it’s essential that you give endurance some thoughts as you check out models on the market. The last thing you want to spend your money on is a flimsy refrigerator that just falls apart after a few trips so be thorough. To reach an objective conclusion, besides making direct assessments by yourself, you ought to read the reviews of fellow RVers.
Since the average fridges for RV run on electricity, it’s strongly recommended that you keep power consumption in mind. When you’re off-grid camping, the best 12-volt refrigerator must be very energy efficient, since batteries and solar are both expensive.
While most 12 volt portable refrigerator models on the market use the exact same highly efficient, variable speed industry-standard compressor as mentioned above, a few brands use their own compressor, and some manufacturers are able to achieve greater energy efficiency due to better insulation, configuration, and compressor controls.
To calculate a unit’s daily power consumption, you will need to look for the number of amps it consumes per hour from the nameplate ratings, which are typically somewhere on the inside of the refrigerator.
The nameplate ratings list the appliance’s voltage and current demands. For example, a fridge may read 120 volts and 5 amps of current. Most models on the current market typically consume in between 1 amp and 6 amps an hour when running, with 2.5 amps being the market average.
Multiply these two quantities to calculate its power demand: 115 x 4.5 = 600 watts of power per hour. Alternatively, for example, if a fridge pulls 5 amps and has a 40-percent cycle, the power consumption is: 5 amps x 24 hours x 40% = 48 ampere hour per day.
Having a solid 12-volt camping refrigerator around is all but useless if you fail to provide it with enough energy. Hence, you should see how much power you could spare for a fridge and look for models that fit it. That is going to help you narrow down your shortlist.
Since space is literally gold when it comes to an RV, the unit you’re opting for must fit the space available in your rig. In addition, it is best to ensure you will be able to bring the unit in through the RV’s front door, which funny enough, many RVers have forgotten to do.
It is also important to make sure that there will be enough ventilation on all the sides of the appliance. Otherwise, you might have to do some carpentry modifications if needed if you can’t find a unit that fits your floor plan perfectly.
To have a clear grasp of what you’re paying for, look at the features of the model you’re eyeing. You will come across many models with a multitude of advanced features like digital controls, wifi apps control and additional accessories for effective space organization. Some units have adjustable hinges to allow you to more easily fit it into the available RV space.
Another handy feature is some units can run on solar energy, so that you use it off-grid by hooking it to your solar-power setup. An additional important feature is battery protection, where the unit will automatically shut off if it senses low battery power.
The best 12 volt refrigerator that offers the highest value for money should depend on your specific needs. In general, most 12V RV refrigerator models come with the following standard features:
- LED lighting inside.
- Dividers and lift-out organizer baskets.
- Separate dairy compartment.
- Can operate at up to a 30° incline.
- Floor drain plug for easy cleaning.
- Low voltage cut off to protect your batteries.
Factory warranties is a somewhat reliable measure of how functional and durable a unit is; it expresses the manufacturer’s confidence in their products’ quality. You can expect to get warranties from 1 to 3 years, depending on the brands. For instance, ARB and Engel offer 3-year warranties, while Dometic and Norcold offer 2-year warranties. Truck Fridge and Whynter offer only 1-year warranties on their portable refrigerators for RV.
RVing enthusiasts have an assortment of expenses to cover so prior to every purchase, price is undoubtedly an important consideration. In general, unless you have sophisticated needs, it’s unnecessary to empty your wallet to pick up a premium model. Today’s market consists of many decent 12-volt refrigerators that come at relatively affordable prices. Nonetheless, for your own good, it’s widely advised that you steer clear of unimaginably cheap fridges as they often have less than ideal quality.
FAQs About RV 12-Volt Refrigerators
How many amps does a 12v fridge use?
A compressor fridge doesn’t run constantly but cycles on and off as needed to keep the temperature inside within the desired range. A refrigerator generally runs between 30%-40% of the time.
To calculate a unit’s daily power consumption, you will need to look for the number of amps it consumes per hour from the manufacturer’s specifications. Most models on the current market typically consume in between 1 amp and 6 amps an hour when running, with 2.5 amps being the market average.
For example, if a fridge pulls 5 amps and has a 40-percent cycle, the power consumption is: 5 amps x 24 hours x 40% = 48 ampere hour per day.
Why are 12v fridges so expensive?
They are designed to be more efficient despite their small sizes, and with extra insulation. For convenient off-grid usage, 12v portable refrigerators must accommodate different power sources, including propane, electricity, power from your vehicle, and solar power. In addition, they often have other features for extra convenience, like USB ports, or wifi/remote control.
Many claim that since only a tiny fraction of the fridges made are designed to work on 12-volt DC and using a power inverter is highly inefficient, the law of supply and demand dictates the higher price of 12 volt refrigerator for RV models.
Can you run a 12 volt fridge from a solar panel?
In general, with the right solar power configuration and power requirement calculations, you should be able to run any portable refrigerator with solar power. You will also need an inverter to store such solar energy in your batteries for use when the sun is down.
When choosing the size of your solar panels, keep in mind that the power rating or wattage of your panels determines the rate at which you can deliver charge to your system. The amount of solar panels you require will be determined by the amount of charge that you need to return to your system during the sunlight hours of each day.
You need to ensure that you have enough solar panels to cope with your typical daily energy consumption. A good rule is to overrate your system consumption by 20% so that it can cope with cloudy days and unexpectedly high power usage.
For a 12 volt system, if you consume and therefore need to return 100 ampere hours of charge to your batteries each day, and you have 6 sunlight hours each day you will need:
100 ampere hours x 12 volt / 6 hours = 200 wattage of solar panels.
Since it is recommended that you always overrate your requirements by at least 20%, therefore you would need solar panels with a total rating of at least 200W to run your portable fridge and meet other energy consumption needs.
How do I keep my RV fridge cold while driving?
Running your RV fridge when you’re stationary is a no brainer, but when you are in motion, it may be dangerous to run your portable fridge, since these units use a lot of energy. So how do you keep your stuff cold while on a 8-hour long drive to your next destination?
Since it is not recommended to keep your fridge running while driving, below are simple and easy tips to prepare for the long drive:
- Crank the temperature down the night before or a few hours before departure to get the fridge to the lowest possible temperature before you have to turn it off.
- Fill open space with frozen beverages or ice packs. These won’t spoil as they thaw, and they won’t create much moisture either.
- Do not open the fridge on the road when it isn’t running. To avoid losing any precious cold air in your refrigerator, simply pack a small separate cooler with whatever food and drinks you will need to access during the drive.
- Last resort: If your drive is just too long for the above measures to work, then the last resort can be to run your generator while you stop to eat or for a short break and plug the fridge directly into the generator.
How long would a 12-volt portable refrigerator keep its contents cold once unplugged?
Assuming that the fridge is sealed and its lid is closed, it could keep the stored foods and beverages cold for several hours if the power supply is abruptly cut. The insulation of the refrigerator should trap cold airs inside and stop them from escaping.
Do I have to buy additional accessories for my fridge?
Overall, 12V refrigerators work pretty well by themselves so you don’t necessarily have to purchase accessories for your fridge. Still, if you wish to optimize your investment, you can get insulated covers, slide mounts and others for your refrigerator.
What needs to be done to keep 12V fridges in top shape?
Maintenance requirements vary between models so it’s best that you check out the owner’s manual to learn how to care for your fridge. The average 12 volt-refrigerator for RV would only need to be cleansed from time to time with water and cloth.
Is it possible to use refrigerators for RV in households?
Run-of-the-mild 12V camping fridges tend to be accompanied by two sets of cords: one for 12-volt ports and one for residential outlets. As a result, you could set up and use your 12-volt refrigerator in your house.
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Last Updated on June 25, 2021