Camper Trailer Refrigeration | Everything You Need to Know

One of the conveniences of having a camper trailer is its ability to be packed down to a smaller size for towing. In some ways, this feature will also influence the size or height of the fridge that can fit in its interior. Thus, the maximum capacity that can be stored by the refrigerator will also be affected.

One of the most common types of trailer fridge is the absorption refrigerator. It is different from the ones found in the home because it does not use a compressor or any moving parts at all to operate. Absorption refrigerators use a heat source (eg: 12V/230V/LPG gas) for energy to drive the cooling system. In addition, the refrigerator relies on the cooling effect of the liquid (ammonia) as it evaporates into a gas.

So, if you want to keep your food fresh while camping, a trailer fridge is needed. This would allow to go on camping for far longer and go to remote places. You can also save more money because relying solely on take-outs and roadside restaurants can get quite expensive especially if you bring your kids with you.

What Are the Types of Camper Trailer Refrigerators?

As mentioned earlier, there are many types of trailer fridges, one of them is absorption refrigerators. The other types of fridges are:

  • Eutectic refrigerator: is a compressor driven refrigeration system coupled with a cold storage device such as a eutectic tank which contains a liquid which is chilled and frozen during a refrigeration cycle. Where a conventional refrigeration system requires power all day a eutectic system does not. This results in much lower power consumption and it also lessens the need for stop/start operation of the unit. Eutectic fridges can also be programmed to turn on during the day so it can be charged by solar panels.
  • Compressor refrigerator: is powered by a compressor through AC/DC power. This makes it versatile because you can run it off of shore power if your trailer is plugged in or through your trailer’s built-in batteries when electricity is not available. This kind of refrigerator cools faster and more efficiently. They are also unaffected by changes in altitude.
  • Absorption refrigerator: can be powered through LP gas. This makes it more flexible compared to other models that require compressors. Absorption fridges are usually 2-way fridges. 

Three-way absorption refrigerators with a climate class ‘T’ or tropicalised rating are designed to work in ambient temperatures up to 43 degrees C but often there is a dissatisfaction with their overall performance so we now see the introduction of eutectic refrigerators.

What Should I Look For In A Camper Trailer Refrigerator?

Like any other appliance that you’d purchase, choosing a trailer fridge can be quite confusing. There are so many models and brands that seem to have what you are looking for.

However, are you really getting your money’s worth or is that AUD $3,000 refrigerator too much? These are the things that you should look for:

  • Capacity: consider the average length of your trips so that you can haul enough food. Also, check if it can fit inside your camper trailer.
  • Price: look around for the best deals. Camper trailer fridges can be quite an investment so choose one which fits your budget. You should also consider purchasing refurbished models which also does the job.
  • Find more options: find reviews and comparisons of as many models that fit both categories above. This will help you find the perfect trailer fridge for your needs.

What Model Camper Trailer Refrigerator  Should I Get?

Jayco camper, an Australian brand that makes trailers, comes with a single door Dometic 3-way fridge/freezer. Three-way fridges have alternative power sources (LPG gas/12V/ mains power). 

Another model is the Dometic 90 L absorption fridge/freezer with a refrigerator volume of 80 L and freezer volume of 10 L. The fridge dimensions are 766 mm high x 550 mm wide x 565 mm deep and weight 29 kg (empty). 

Another feature is the vents, flue kit, a gas flame indicator, and the ability to reverse the door to the left or right hinge. Other notable brands are:

  • Kimberley Karavans use a remote mounted (Danfoss) compressor 133 L fridge/freezer with their Karavan model and eutectic refrigerators in their Kamper models. 
  • The off-road custom-built Ultimate Campers at Moruya, NSW have an option for a 3-way refrigerator/freezer or a 125 L eutectic fridge/freezer system in their XTrak model.

Are Chest Freezers Available for Camper Trailers?

Yes. The most common mobile refrigerator for camper trailers is the portable chest fridges. These usually run on 12V/230V and gas or electric models are also available. One good thing, however, is the inclusion of a fridge and a fridge box by most manufacturers of camper trailers. 

For example, Cub Trailer’s top of the range off-road camper trailer ‘Drover’ model comes with a fridge box. There is an option for solar panels on the hard-top camper. Kimberley Kamper also has has a model with a similar feature. 

The range of chest fridge/freezers is large and varied. Some popular brands are:

ARB

ARB 4 x 4 Accessories released the 47 litre ARB fridge/freezer with a Danfoss compressor (made in Germany) coupled with a smart electronic control system to maximise cooling efficiency down to -18 degrees C. 

The ARB fridge/freezer features a separate compartment for fruit and dairy, reversible basket, internal LED light with magnetic switch that automatically turns the light off when the lid is closed plus a drain plug in the base of the fridge for easy cleaning. The fridge/freezer is able to be operated on 12/24DC and 100/230 AC and it has an integrated battery protection system that allows users to select the minimum operating voltage for the fridge to prevent excessive discharge of the vehicle battery. 

ARB states the power consumption is – 0.87 amps/hour* *Power consumption tested at 3°C cabinet temperature, 26°C-31°C ambient temperature range, test duration of 66 hours and supply voltage of 12V DC. Accessories such as a tie-down system, fridge slide and an insulated fridge bag are available.

Bushman

Bushman produces a powder-coated steel cabinet 12V fridge/freezer with a digital thermostat and low battery cut out to safeguard your battery. The fridge/freezer capacity varies with low lid 35 litres, high lid 42 litres and 52 litres with the optional extension collar. 

It is run by an ACC GD30FDC Brushless compressor (made in Spain) which is rubber mounted to its own base plate. Dual lids and baskets are standard accessories and it features a low battery protection system. Bushman states the power consumption – ‘With refrigerator set at -4c @ 24c ambient the Bushman uses a mere 16 Amp hours per day’.

Engel

Engel chest fridge/freezers have been around for years and come in various sizes and range in capacity from 14 litres to 80 litres. They are 12V/24V/230V compatible. have the combi fridge/freezer which has a separate fridge and freezer compartments with digital temperature readout. 

There are those Engel chest fridge/freezers with a steel coating, a tough plastic coating and others with a polypropylene cabinet. The DC power consumption for the 40-litre chest fridge/freezer is stated to be – ‘Variable from 0.5 to 7 AMPS Maximum’. Engel also has a large range of accessories such as transit bags, fridge slides, hinge locks and basket separators.

EvaKool

EvaKool is an Australian company that produces a 35 litre, 62 litres and 82 litres 12V/24V dual temperature fridge/freezer powered by a Wancool ACV20DC compressor and fully insulated base, walls and lid. 

It features an automatic change over from AC to DC, a low battery voltage cut out and operates as a fridge/freezer in the same cabinet or as a whole fridge or whole freezer. EvaKool also has a range of custom fridges for camper trailers and caravans. EvaKool state the 35-litre fridge, operating at an ambient temperature of 32oC will use between 1.0 – 2.5 A/h depending on the setting.

National Luna

National Luna fridge/freezers are metal inside and out with all models having built-in 12V and 230V with automatic AC/DC switching and a low battery cut out. The National Luna range starts at 40-litre unit up to 125-litre unit and is powered by Danfoss compressors.

Trailblaza

Trailblaza (made by Norcoast Refrigeration Company P/L) fridge/freezers have a two-in-one range with two compartments which you can run both as a fridge or both as a freezer or one as a freezer and the other as a refrigerator or the bottom half of each compartment as a freezer and top half as a fridge. 

One compartment can also be turned off altogether. Trailblaza has a brushed finish, platinum and checker plate exterior option. They feature a built-in 230V AC power pack and a switch to operate a variable speed compressor. Feedback on 4WD forums reports highly on the Trailblaza fridge/freezers as well as the after-purchase service.

Waeco

Waeco produces the CoolFreeze compressor fridge/freezer range powered by a Danfoss BDF compressor and constructed of tough polypropylene plastic. Waeco also has the CFX portable chest refrigerators with two or three compartments – freezer, fridge and dairy. 

Waeco state their compressor refrigeration is ‘just right’ for use with solar systems and provide excellent refrigeration even in extreme heat. Waeco state the power consumption for the CFX-50 50-litre fridge freezer – ‘Ave. Power Consumption: 0.77 amps/hr (@ 12V, 5°C interior, 32°C ambient temperature)’.

Should I Get Gas/Electric Powered Chest Fridges?

These refrigerators are great because they have no moving parts and use gas or propane as their primary energy source.  A gas refrigerator uses ammonia as the coolant, and water, ammonia and hydrogen gas to create a continuous cycle for the ammonia. If you need refrigeration for your RV then Gas or Electric powered chest fridges are the way to go. 

Dometic (yes, they make every kind of trailer fridges) makes 3-way (12V/Gas/230V AC) chest fridges that can store 39 litres (F400 EGP) and 50 litres (RC1180 EGP). Waeco also manufactures the CA-35-litre chest fridge which has alternate power sources of 12V/230V AC/LPG gas. 

The LPG gas option is great for use in remote locations. Another model that you should consider is the Waeco combi box which is a fridge/freezer combination which combines a 30-litre fridge and a 16-litre freezer.

Caution: Do not use these refrigerators in confined spaces such as tents or vehicles, especially when anyone is sleeping. These fridges can generate high concentrations of CO (carbon monoxide) and cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Please be careful when using this equipment.

Related Questions

Does A Camper Have to Be Level for The Fridge to Work?

Yes. For an RV Refrigerator to operate properly it needs to be level. The older the model of Fridge; the more important it is that it is kept level. A good rule of thumb is that the fridge can be plus or minus 2 degrees from plum. That equates to half a bubble out of the level line.

How Long Do RV Refrigerators Last?

RV refrigerators from known and better brands like Dometic will on an average last for 12-15 years or even more.

Can I Run My Travel Trailer Refrigerator While Driving?

An RV fridge can be used while driving. Although there are some concerns with running propane while driving, it is still possible. You could also set your RV fridge to use battery power, which is usually enough to last until reaching your destination.

How Long Will RV Refrigerator Run on Battery?

A standard RV fridge, while running on propane draws a negligible amount of current to power the electronic control panel up front- so if that’s the only power draw, your batteries could last weeks. Running it on DC electricity, though, will drain your batteries in about 3 hours.

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