What Is the Difference Between a 12v Fridge and a 12v Cooler?
If you are in the market for a portable 12v fridge you’ve probably come across 12v refrigerator/freezers and 12v coolers. While 12v coolers sound awesome and are much more budget-friendly than 12v refrigerators they don’t have the same purpose.
12v coolers usually can only cool around 32 degrees colder than the temperature outside. You see the number 32 degrees and think, perfect it can cool to 32 degrees. That isn’t the case though. If it’s 80 degrees where the cooler is then it’s only going to be 48 degrees in the cooler. That’s 8 degrees higher than fridge safe temperature.
12 volt refrigerators are built more robust than 12 volt coolers and are made to keep food at fridge safe temperatures no matter how hot it is outside and some can even be used as a freezer.
These portable refrigerators are perfect for those how camp or live out of a car, truck, or van. They are even excellent for long road trips, you can bring snacks, store food safely and save money. The best part is there’s no ice involved. No more food floating around in an ice water bath or buying ice.
In this article, I outline the unique features and review some of the best portable camping 12 volt refrigerators you can buy.
Best 12 Volt Refrigerator
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12 Volt Refrigerator Reviews and Info
The ARB portable 12 volt refrigerator is one of the most heavy-duty, energy efficient, and easy to use portable fridges on the market today.
The 50 quart size is their most popular and portable but they sell models from 37 to 82 quart sizes. And there’s even an extreme heavy-duty weatherproof 63 quart version with a stainless steel exterior and a weatherproof control panel.
There’s something for everyone with ARB, but for camping, van life, or road trips their 50-quart version is going to be a fantastic option.
The outside measurements are 27.75 inches long, 15 inches wide, and 20 inches tall. The interior has two compartments for dairy and regular food. The dairy measures 6 inches long, 11.2 inches wide, and 8.1 inches tall. The main compartment is 13.2 inches long, 11.2 inches wide, and 15.75 inches tall.
The empty 50 quart version weighs 53 lbs.
To illustrate the measurements the portable 12 volt refrigerator is tall enough to hold a 2 liter bottle of soda, or 72 12 oz cans.
An important feature of ARB portable fridges is the adjustable automatic battery protection system. You can leave it plugged into your vehicles 12v outlet while the engine is off without worry. The 12 volt refrigerator will continue to actively cool and shut off when your battery gets drained a certain amount. This keeps your battery from dying or getting damaged.
It’s also very efficient. Using thick insulation and special hardware the camping fridge can maintain sub-zero temperatures in 90-degree heat and only use 0.87 amps per hour.
The ARB is built for off-roading and getting bounced around. The compressor is a heavy-duty Danfoss that can get the portable fridge temperatures down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
The ARB can sit at angles up to 30 degrees without being affected.
The control panel is mounted to the front and uses an LED display. You can control the temperature settings electronically and there is an internal LED light that automatically illuminates when the fridge/freezer is opened.
The 12 volt refrigerator comes with a DC (12v) power cord which connects to vehicles 12/24 volt DC power outlet. There is also an AC power cord included which plugs into any common household outlet. You can run this portable fridge in your vehicle or at home.
ARB has some pretty awesome accessories to make their portable refrigerators even more durable, portable, and efficient.
The ARB Protective Canvas Cover adds another layer of insulation and protection to your camping fridge.
If you are planning on storing your ARB fridge under a bed or in a storage compartment you can buy the ARB fridge slide that allows you to easily slide the fridge in and out.
There is also a custom tie-down system to secure the portable fridge to the slide out or the floor or a van or truck bed.
And last but not least, if you don’t have the proper plugin for your vehicle they sell an easy to install wiring kit with a 20 foot 10 gauge cable. Using this kit you can keep your fridge powered without worrying about the wiring or outlet being compatible. You can also install it in your truck bed so you can have your fridge running without having to have it in the cab.
The ARB Portable 12v Fridge Freezer is one of the best products you can buy to keep your food safe and cold on any camping trip for any amount of time. It’s easy to use, efficient and has many features that make it durable and long-lasting. You can take it on crazy roads and park on uneven ground without having to worry about it shutting off and your food spoiling. For keeping food cold while camping, or full time living in a van, car, or truck ARB is a fantastic way to go.
- Heavy-duty and durable
- Battery run-down protection system
- Large inner storage
- Can refrigerate or freeze food
Whynter is another great company that specializes in portable fridges and freezers. Their 12 volt refrigerator/freezer can get very cold and has some great features that make it perfect for using as a full-time or camping fridge.
Whynter makes portable fridges in many sizes but their 45 quart slim fit version is the perfect size for cars, trucks, or vans. If you prefer a version with a fewer features they also sell the 45 quart FM-45G and a 34 quart version
If you want to go bigger and better there is the 62 quart dual-zone portable fridge and freezer. The dual zone is cool because it has two separate compartments for a freezer and a fridge. If you live full-time in a van, car, or truck and have extra space, the dual-zone is more convenient.
Wynter also sells a regular 65 quart portable fridge with almost all the features of the 45 quart portable refrigerator.
The slim fit 45 quart Whynter 12 volt portable refrigerator/freezer is 27 inches wide, 14.5 inches long, and 20 inches tall. The inner compartment measures 21 inches wide, 10 inches long, and 15 inches tall. It’s the perfect size for storing in a truck bed or under a counter or bed in a van.
The total weight when empty is 52 lbs.
The Whynter FM-452SG or “Sim Fit” is portable and small in size but has the features of a larger 12 volt refrigerator.
It can reach temperatures as low as -8 degrees Fahrenheit and an alarm sounds if the lid is open for more than 60 seconds.
There are two removable wire baskets and an interior light.
Everything is controlled by a small LED screen and buttons on the front of the fridge. There is also a “fast freeze” mode which will get the freezer down to -8 Fahrenheit as fast as possible. The screen also has a battery power indicator.
The lid opens longways so you can easily get food in and out of it. There are two small metal handles on each side and you can lock the fridge as well.
Because it’s meant to go on camping trips and rough roads, the fridge can work like normal up to a 30-degree angle. The body of the fridge is made with a powder coated steel outer shell and has a drain plug for easy cleaning.
It comes with a 12 volt DC plug and an AC plugin for a normal household outlet. You can plug them both in at the same time. When there is AC power the fridge will draw power from that when the power is lost it will switch over to the DC power source.
There is no battery run-down safety feature on this unit, so be careful when you have it plugged into your vehicle if it isn’t on.
This 12 volt fridge uses up to 70 watts while running.
Whynter sells transit bags for almost all their portable refrigerator/freezers to help protect and insulate. Unfortunately, there isn’t one for the slim model.
The Whynter 12 Volt Portable Refrigerator/Freezer is an excellent little refrigerator/freezer to use while camping or living in a van. It’s shape and metal body make it perfect for having inside a vehicle or under a bed or counter in a van. I don’t think it would be as good as some of the others for a truck bed but if you secure it right it will be fine.
If you want a 12 volt portable freezer then this is one of the best you can buy. It gets down to sub-zero temperatures and is well insulated.
- Gets down to -8 Fahrenheit
- “Fast Freeze’ Mode
- Can be plugged into AC and DC at the same time
Alpicool makes a traditional cooler style portable refrigerator/freezer with a few unique features. They sell multiple sizes in their CF (car fridge) series.
Normally for a car, van or truck would recommend the 48 quart size but the 58 quart size is the same height as all the other car fridges on this list and will fit in a covered truck bed. They also have a smaller 37 quart portable fridge if you want something even smaller.
The 58 quart Alpicool 12 volt car refrigerator measures 27.2 inches long, 13.6 inches wide, and 20.6 inches tall. Like all chest freezer style 12 volt fridges there is one main compartment with a basket and a smaller dairy compartment that sits over the compressor.
The large compartment is 10.3 inches wide, 12.9 inches long. and 17 inches tall. The smaller compartment is 10.3 inches wide, 6.5 inches long, and 10.5 inches tall. If you measure using soda cans it can fit 60 of them. When empty the entire unit only weighs 35 lbs.
The Alpicool uses and LCD display to adjust the temperature. There is also a built-in interior LED light. This portable camping fridge can also be used as a freezer and can reach temperatures as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Like the ARB Portable 12v Fridge Freezer the Alpicool has a built in car battery protection system to stop it from running down or going dead.
See Also: Best 12 Volt TV For RV/Campers/Skoolies
There are large plastic carry handles on each side and it opens long ways. The portable fridge can run at angles up to 45 degrees, which is more than the other 12 volt refrigerators on this list.
Alpicool has made a very efficient low power consuming 12 volt fridge, the power rating is only 45 watts. The other portable fridges on this list use around 70 to 80 watts to start up. This one only uses 45 watts, which makes it good for solar.
It can run on DC (12 volt/24 volt battery) power and AC power. Each kind of power cord is included with purchase. There is also an ECO mode you can turn on to save even more energy.
Unfortunately, Alpicool doesn’t sell any covers or additional products that work with their portable car refrigerators.
The Alpicool CF55 Portable Refrigerator/Freezer is very lightweight for its size and uses very little power for how cold it can get. It’s going to be a great option for people who have limited power a lot of the time and don’t turn on their vehicle very often. They added a lot of cool extra features like the inner LED light and being able to run even at 45 degrees. All of these things make this an excellent portable budget-friendly 12 volt refrigerator/freezer.
- Low power consumption
- ECO Mode
- Battery protection system
In the world of travelers and campers Dometic is a well-known name. They make a wide variety of camping appliances and gear and their products can be found in RVs, travel trailers, and vans. So of course they make a portable 12 volt refrigerator/freezer.
Dometic has a bunch of different 12 volt refrigerators but one of their best for running with a car battery when traveling or camping is the CFX 50W. They have smaller versions like the CFX 40W and the CFX 35W.
If you are planning on using a Dometic for full-time living in a van, car, or truck and you have space the CFX 75 DZW is a really good option because there is a fridge and a freezer compartment. You can have frozen food and cold food at the same time, not either-or like most other car fridge/freezers. It’s versatile and convenient but heavy, weighing 70 lbs and it’s big, measuring 37.6 inches long.
Because space is usually limited in a vehicle especially when packed down with camping gear I like the CFX 50W. It has some fantastic features and doesn’t take up a ton of space.
The CFX 50W is a 49 quart fridge. Its outer measurements are 28.5 inches long, 18 inches wide, and 18.5 inches tall. It will fit in a covered truck bed with room to spare. There are two inner compartments. The large one is 13 inches long, 13 inches wide, and 14.6 inches tall. The smaller compartment over the compressor is 6.5 inches long, 13 inches wide, and 6.75 inches tall.
When empty the entire camping fridge weighs 45 lbs.
The Dometic fridge can reach temperatures as low as -7 Fahrenheit which can be controlled by buttons and the LCD screen on the side or with an app on your phone when connected to wifi. It also has an inner LED light.
The body is made of durable plastic for holding up against travel and rough roads. There is a robust handle on either side for easy lifting.
There is a USB port for charging phones and small electronic devices, and a drain hole for cleaning. It can run normally at an angle up to 30 degrees.
The Dometic 12 volt refrigerator has a built in battery protection system which will shut down the fridge before the battery dies.
The CFX 50W is true to its name and runs on up to 50 watts of power. It can use AC or DC (12 volt) power and comes with a power cord for each kind.
Because Dometic knows travel and the camping life they have an optional heavy-duty insulated cover you can buy for any of their portable fridge/freezers with storage pockets which includes a phone pocket for when you are using the USB port.
Because some of the portable fridges can weigh up to 70 lbs you may want to get some slide mounts. You can store the portable fridge/freezer under a bed or in an outer storage compartment and access it easily with the slide mounts.
The Dometic CFX 50W 12v Fridge/Freezer and any of the other Dometic fridges are popular because of their quality and unique features. They are perfect for van life or just a weekend camp trip. Some people even use them as an extra freezer in their travel trailers and RVs. Whatever your portable fridge need is Dometic has you covered.
- Can monitor and change inner temp with phone
- Energy efficient
- Lots of size options
- Battery protection system
Linsion makes a budget-friendly portable 12 volt fridge/freezer that can get down to very low temperatures and has the features of a higher end fridge.
The 54 quart fridge is very portable and will fit in a truck bed under a cover. The outer measurements are 22.8 inches long, 14.3 inches wide, and 20.4 inches tall.
There are two inner compartments the larger one is 11.8 inches long, 11.2 inches wide, and 17.2 inches tall. The smaller compartment is 2.6 inches long, 11.2 inches wide, and 10.9 inches tall.
The Linsion can reach temperatures as low as -13 Fahrenheit. Everything is controlled by an LCD panel with an ECO and MAX mode.
It has built in battery protections in different levels. H3 (High), H2(medium), and H1 (low). The portable refrigerator has vibration protection and can run at angles up to 45 degrees. When empty it weighs 44 lbs.
It can run on DC (12v) or AC power and each kind of power cable are included with purchase. The highest watts used is 72 but it’s rated for 40 watts.
Unfortunately, there are no insulated covers or accessories for Linsion car refrigerators.
The Linsion 12 Volt Refrigerator/Freezer is a great little budget-friendly camping or travel refrigerator. It’s simple, has built-in battery protection, and doesn’t draw a lot of power. If you need something to keep your food cold on your next weekend out then this is going to be a great choice.
- Gets as low as -14 Fahrenheit
- Built-in battery protection
I have to hand it to Dometic, they’ve done a fantastic job with their line of 12 volt refrigerator/freezers. Not only does it have built in battery protection you can monitor and control the inner temperature of it from your phone. They even added a handy USB port for charging electronics.
Basically, with Dometic refrigerators, you get a lot of options, bang for your buck, and peace of mind because you are buying from a brand that knows travel and camping gear inside and out.
What to Consider
The first thing you need to think about is how much space do you have in your van, car, or truck. This will be a huge factor when choosing a portable fridge because they come in all shapes and sizes. Also, you need to have room for the compressor vent because restricted airflow can damage it.
Some of the 12 volt refrigerators have optional sliders you can buy that you bolt to the floor and use to easily slide the fridge in and out from under a bed, counter, seat, or an outer storage area. It will even work in the trunk of an SUV or truck bed.
If you are planning on storing your camping fridge in a truck bed under a cover make sure you measure how much space there is. Some of the larger portable refrigerators are tall and won’t fit under a low truck bed cover.
If you are planning on camping where it’s going to be very hot and the sun will be shining on your vehicle you may want to place the portable refrigerator in a cool shaded area. It can get very hot in vehicles and super high temperatures can make it hard for any refrigerator to stay cool. It has to work harder which can drain your battery faster and even damage the compressor.
50 watts doesn’t seem like much and if you have a large battery being charged with a solar panel you should be ok. But make sure you keep an eye on it. If you have a few shady days things can start getting low and you don’t want your fridge running out of power and ruining your food.
If you want to read more about amps, watts, voltage and what it all means. Check out this article.
Some of these 12 volt refrigerators are built to be used more long term than others. Any of these portable fridges will be amazing for a weekend or even a month. If you plan on using it full time make sure you get something that will last.
Have any questions about 12 volt refrigerators? Leave a comment.