Camper Van Fridge – Choosing the Perfect RV Fridge: A Comprehensive Guide

Last Updated on February 14, 2024

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Key Takeaways:

  • Types of RV Fridges: AC/DC electric, propane, 3-way, compressor, thermoelectric, and portable fridges offer various features and benefits for different camping needs.
  • Absorption Fridges: Run on propane, electricity, or battery power, offering versatility and silent operation. However, they are slower to cool and have limited capacity.
  • Compressor Fridges: Efficient, fast-cooling, and durable, suitable for long journeys. They’re more expensive and may require more maintenance.
  • Thermoelectric Fridges: Energy-efficient and quiet, but with limited cooling capacity and slower cooling time, suitable for short trips.
  • 3-way Fridges: Versatile with three power sources, durable, and larger capacity, ideal for remote camping but more expensive and require maintenance.
  • Portable Fridges: Compact, lightweight, and energy-efficient, perfect for camping and road trips, but may be expensive and have limited capacity.
  • Choosing the Best Fridge: Consider your camping style, power source availability, budget, and space constraints when selecting a fridge type.
  • Key Factors: Size, power source, temperature control, energy consumption, efficiency, and additional features should be considered when choosing an RV fridge.
  • Maintenance Tips: Regular defrosting, cleaning, checking seals, and inspecting coils and ventilation components are essential for keeping your RV fridge in optimal condition.

If you’re in the market for an RV fridge, you’ve probably discovered there are a dizzying number of options to choose from. From AC to DC to propane to 3-way, 2-way, and even residential models, it can be tough to determine which is the right fit for your needs.

But fear not! We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about RV fridges, so you can make an informed decision and enjoy your travels with cold drinks and fresh food all year round.

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The different types of RV fridges

There are three main types: AC/DC electric, propane, and 3-way fridges. AC/DC models are typically smaller and less expensive, and run on both AC power when you’re plugged into a campground outlet and DC power when you’re driving. Propane models are larger and more expensive but are more efficient in terms of energy usage and can reach colder temperatures. 3-way fridges, also known as absorption refrigerators, run on propane, AC power, and DC power, and are popular with boondockers and off-grid campers.

Absorption Fridges

Absorption fridges are the most common type of fridge found in most RVs. These fridges are powered by propane gas, 12-volt power, or 110 volts when you’re plugged into an electrical outlet. They work by using a heat source to create a reaction that cools the refrigerant inside, which in turn cools the fridge’s interior. Absorption fridges are silent, reliable, and have no moving parts, which makes them easy to maintain.

Pros:

  • Versatile: Absorption fridges don’t require any external power source and can run on three different fuels – propane, electricity, and even battery power. This makes them a versatile option for those who enjoy camping off-grid.
  • Silent operation: Absorption fridges operate silently and don’t produce any loud compressor noise. This is a great option for those who prefer a peaceful atmosphere in their camping area.
  • Low propane consumption: As they don’t rely on a compressor, absorption fridges don’t consume a lot of propane. This makes them the perfect option for campers who have propane tanks in their RV.
  • Easy control: Absorption fridges are relatively easy to control as they often come with a simple temperature control system. You can quickly adjust the temperature to your liking.

Cons:

  • Expensive: Absorption fridges are often more expensive than other types of fridges. They may require a higher initial investment, but they make up for it by being versatile.
  • Slow cooling: Absorption fridges are generally slow to cool, making it a less-than-ideal option for those who need to store perishable food items.
  • Limited cooling capacity: Absorption fridges are typically smaller in size compared to other fridges. They have limited cooling capacity, making it challenging to store a large number of items.
  • High temperatures: Absorption fridges don’t work as efficiently in higher ambient temperatures and may require additional cooling mechanisms to keep them functioning optimally.
  • High Wattage:  One of their drawbacks lies in their significant electricity consumption when connected to power. For users relying on solar energy, operating these fridges in the electric setting poses challenges due to the substantial energy demand they impose.

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Compressor Fridges

Compressor fridges are similar to standard residential fridges and are powered by electricity. They can run on either 12-volt battery power or when you’re hooked up to an electrical outlet. Compressor fridges are more efficient than absorption fridges and can cool much faster. They’re also quieter and have a wider temperature range. However, they’re more expensive and require more maintenance.

Pros:

One of the significant benefits of compressor fridges is that they’re highly efficient and can cool down to extremely low temperatures. This makes them ideal for storing frozen items or keeping your drinks super chilled on long journeys. Additionally, compressor fridges tend to use less energy, which is a great feature when you’re out camping and don’t have access to a 240V power source. Moreover, compressor fridges are very durable and can withstand harsh weather conditions, which is essential for campers and road trippers who enjoy going off the beaten track.

Cons:

One of the most significant drawbacks of compressor fridges is their price. Compressor fridges can be noisy when they’re running, which can be a nuisance when you’re trying to sleep in the van or enjoy a peaceful outdoor experience. Finally, compressor fridges require more maintenance than other types of fridges and can be challenging to repair if anything goes wrong.

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Thermoelectric Fridges

Thermoelectric fridges use the Peltier effect to cool the interior. They’re powered by electricity and can be used with either a 12-volt battery or when plugged into an electrical outlet. These fridges are lightweight, compact, and have no moving parts, making them easy to carry and maintain. However, they’re less efficient, and their cooling capacity is limited, making them only suitable for short trips.

Pros:

  • Energy-Efficient: Thermoelectric fridges are energy-efficient when compared to compressor fridges. They use less energy to keep the interior of the fridge cold, which makes them ideal for people who want to conserve energy and limit their carbon footprint.
  • Quiet Operation: Unlike compressor fridges, thermoelectric fridges do not make a lot of noise during operation. They are ideal for people who want to enjoy peace and quiet while camping or sleeping in their camper van.
  • Compact and Lightweight: Thermoelectric fridges are compact and lightweight, which makes them ideal for people who have limited space in their camper van. They do not take up a lot of space and can be easily stored when not in use.
  • Affordable: Thermoelectric fridges are affordable when compared to compressor fridges. They are a good option if you are on a budget and looking for an economical option to keep your food and drinks cold.

Cons:

  • Limited Cooling Capacity: Thermoelectric fridges have limited cooling capacity when compared to compressor fridges. They are ideal for keeping small amounts of food and drinks cold but may not be suitable for longer trips or if you have more people to feed.
  • Environmental Factors: Thermoelectric fridges are affected by external environmental factors such as ambient temperature and humidity. If you are camping in a hot and humid area, the fridge may struggle to keep the interior cool.
  • Slow Cooling: Thermoelectric fridges take longer to cool down when compared to compressor fridges. This means that you need to plan ahead and pre-cool the fridge before adding your food and drinks.
  • Not Suitable for Deep Freezing: Thermoelectric fridges are not suitable for deep freezing food. They are designed to keep food and drinks cool, but they cannot freeze them.

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3-way Fridges

3-way fridges work similarly to absorption fridges and are powered by propane gas, 12-volt power, or 110 volts when hooked up to an electrical outlet. The primary difference is that these fridges have a third power source, making them more versatile and reliable. They’re more expensive than the other types of fridges and require more maintenance, but they’re ideal for long trips and off-grid camping.

Pros:

  • Versatility – One of the biggest advantages of 3-way fridges is their versatility. They can run on three different power sources, making them an excellent choice when camping in remote locations. They provide the convenience of keeping your food cold without relying on electricity, which means you won’t need to worry about finding a power outlet.
  • Durability – Most 3-way fridges are built to withstand rugged camping conditions. They are designed to be sturdy and can handle bumps and vibrations during long drives, making them a fantastic option for those who love adventure.
  • Larger Capacity – As compared to other types of fridges, 3-way fridges often have a larger capacity, which means you can store more food and drinks. This makes them ideal for extended camping trips, where you need to carry enough supplies to last for days.

Cons:

  • Price – One of the biggest downsides of 3-way fridges is that they are more expensive than other types. However, the upfront cost may be worth it if you plan on using it frequently or for extended periods.
  • Maintenance – Like any other fridge, 3-way fridges require regular maintenance, which can be challenging when camping off the grid. You need to clean the condenser coils, monitor the propane pressure, and check the battery voltage regularly.
  • Limited Cooling Performance – While 3-way fridges can keep your food and drinks cold, they are not as efficient as compressor fridges. They take longer to cool down and can struggle in hot weather conditions.
  • Propane Safety – When using propane, it’s important to follow safety protocols and be wary of potential hazards. This means ensuring proper ventilation in your camper van and having a carbon monoxide detector on hand.
  • High Wattage: For individuals dependent on solar energy, utilizing these fridges in the electric mode presents difficulties due to their substantial energy requirements.

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Portable Fridges

Portable fridges are compact, lightweight, and perfect for those who love camping and road trips. They’re powered by electricity and can be used with 12-volt batteries or when plugged into an electrical outlet. Portable fridges are more efficient than thermoelectric fridges and can maintain a stable temperature for a more extended period. However, they’re more expensive than thermoelectric fridges and require more maintenance.

Pros:

  • Portability: Portable mini fridges for camper vans come in handy when you want to travel light. These compact fridges can easily fit in the back of your van, and you can take them with you wherever you go.
  • Energy Saver: Many portable mini fridges are designed to operate on low power, making them ideal for camping trips. They can run off a 12V battery while your vehicle is on the move, and they can also be powered by a solar panel during prolonged stays.
  • No Need for Ice: With a portable mini fridge, there’s no need to worry about finding a store to buy ice or dealing with the mess it leaves behind in your cooler. You can store fresh foods, drinks, and snacks without the fear of melting ice ruining them.
  • Durable and Easy to Clean: Portable mini fridges are built to last, and they’re easy to clean. They’re made of sturdy materials that are built to withstand the demands of travel, and they come with removable trays and shelves that make cleaning a breeze.

Cons:

  • Expensive: Portable mini fridges can be costly and not fit everyone’s budget. While it’s an investment, the longevity and portability of the device make it well worth the cost.
  • Limited Capacity: The size of your portable mini fridge for camper vans will depend on the storage space available in your van. Therefore, it may not have the capacity to store larger items like milk cartons or frozen foods.
  • Not ideal for hot climates: Portable mini fridges are not ideal for use in hot climates since they rely on cool air from outside to maintain their temperature. If the temperature outside climbs above 90°F, it may not work well.
  • Noise: Some portable mini fridges are noisy, and this can be a deal-breaker. Annoying sounds can affect your peace and quiet, which is one of the reasons why people go camping in the first place.

How to choose the best fridge for you?

So, which type is best for you? It really depends on your individual needs and preferences.

  • If you’re planning on staying at campgrounds with hookups most of the time, an AC/DC fridge may be a better option since it’s more affordable and doesn’t require propane.
  • If you’re a serious boondocker or plan to spend a lot of time off-grid, a propane fridge may be a smart investment since it will use less battery power.
  • If you have lots of solar on your roof, you can just get a low-wattage residential fridge. While not specifically designed for RVs, these fridges have become more popular with van dwellers and full-time RVers. They offer all the features and conveniences of a regular fridge, including large storage capacity, separate freezer compartments, and ice makers.
  • And if you want the ultimate flexibility, a 3-way fridge is the way to go.

Key Factors To Keep In Mind

When choosing a fridge for your camper van, there are several aspects to keep in mind. These include the size of the fridge, the power source, the temperature control, and the energy consumption. RV fridges come in different sizes, so you need to consider how much space you have in your camper and the amount of food or drinks you would like to store. The power source determines how the fridge runs while the temperature control lets you regulate the temperature according to your needs. Furthermore, energy consumption is an important factor, as the more energy the fridge uses, the more battery power it needs.

You’ll also want to look at the energy usage and efficiency of different models. The more efficient a fridge is, the less battery power it will use and the longer it will last on a single charge. And don’t forget to consider other features like adjustable shelves, thermostats, and automatic defrost options.

Maintenance and Care for Your RV Fridge

It’s essential to take good care of your RV fridge to ensure it operates efficiently and has a long lifespan. First, always defrost your fridge regularly. Secondly, clean the fridge with a soft cloth, mild detergent, and warm water regularly. Thirdly, check the fridge seals to avoid air leaks that lead to energy wastage. Finally, inspect the coils and ventilation components to ensure the fridge operates smoothly.

Conclusion

Choosing the perfect RV fridge can seem overwhelming, but with a little research and planning, you can find the right model to fit your needs and budget. Whether you opt for a smaller AC/DC fridge, a larger propane model, or a versatile 3-way fridge, you’ll be able to enjoy fresh food and cold drinks no matter where your travels take you. So get out there and start exploring!

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