Caravan fridges, as the name suggests, are versatile refrigerators made specifically for caravans, motorhomes, and fifth-wheelers to store food supplies in and keep them fresh. A caravan fridge makes an off-roader’s life on the road more flexible, and I should know because I use one.
So what do you need to know about caravan fridges? Well, first off, there are at least two common types of caravan fridges – the compressor and the three-way or absorption types. The compressor refrigerator is also known as two-way caravan fridge because it runs on two alternative power sources, while the three-way, obviously, runs on three.
Nevertheless, knowing what the common types of caravan fridges are is not enough to help you decide on the best one to buy. A lot goes into choosing the perfect type of refrigeration for caravans and motorhomes Read on to learn more about the different types of caravan fridge and how to pick the right one.
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What Is the Difference between a Normal Fridge and a Caravan Fridge
Going for long drives in your motorhome is always so much better when you have easy access to ice-cold drinks. That’s exactly why caravan fridges are invaluable if you own a motorhome and love going on trips with the family. Believe it or not, there are some who actually use normal residential fridges in their RVs. While there is nothing wrong with that, there is a wealth of difference between a normal fridge and a caravan fridge, and you’ll see that as you read along.
- Size – Of course, a normal fridge is larger, which means it has more room to store your food and drinks. That translates to fewer trips to the grocery store. However, a caravan fridge may be just the perfect size to fit inside your motorhome.
- Cooling process – Most caravan fridges use the absorption cooling process, so there are no moving parts inside. That means there is no risk of damaging certain parts of it when these get jolted during travel. Suffice it to say, caravan fridges are more equipped to handle the bumps and grinds of the roa
- More power sources – Unless you use an inverter that can work with a battery bank, a normal fridge can only run when plugged into an electric power source. A caravan fridge, on the other hand, can run two or three ways – through mains power, your RV’s battery, or LPG.A caravan fridge is obviously the better choice if you want to keep a refrigerator in your motorhome.
What is the Difference between a Compressor Fridge and a 3-Way Caravan Fridge
As mentioned earlier, the main thing that differentiates a compressor type caravan fridge from a three-way caravan fridge is the power source. A compressor fridge runs on two alternative power sources which are through a 12-volt battery and 240-volt mains power. It’s typically like the refrigerator you use at home. On the other hand, a three-way caravan fridge runs on three – 12-volt battery, 240-volt mains power, and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
How does a Compressor (12V/240V) Caravan Fridge Work
Let’s first look into compressor refrigerators in more detail. If a compressor caravan fridge is not connected to a 240-volt mains power, deep cycle batteries are necessary to run the fridge on 12-volt power. It is highly recommended to have a separate battery to run the caravan fridge. A compressor caravan fridge running on 12-volt battery pulls less power from its source than absorption or three-way caravan fridge does.
Moreover, if you use solar panels for your motorhome, the fridge will simple run using whatever power is stored in the batteries. It will likewise continue to charge from the solar panel array while you’re moving on the road. Compressor caravan fridges usually have a tolerance of up to about 30 degrees; thus, there is no hard and fast rule about operating it on a level surface.
How Does 3-Way (Absorption) Caravan Fridge Work
Now let’s look into absorption or three-way caravan fridges. Among the two, this one is actually more commonly used by motorists. While an absorption caravan fridge also runs on 12-volt battery and 240-volt mains power, it runs on a third alternative source – LPG gas. In addition, it normally comes with a Climate Class ‘T’ rating, which means it is specifically designed to work in tropical climates, even when the temperatures rise up to 43 degrees Celsius.
Most three-way caravan fridges available in the market today are either manual or fully automatic – they do manual energy source selection (MES) or automatic energy source selection (AES). With the fully automatic, it basically looks for a 240-volt mains power first. If that one is not available, it automatically looks for LPG power source, and if that one is not available as well, it settles for 12-volt power.
Unlike the compressor caravan fridge that can function on an uneven surface, a three-way caravan fridge must be operated on a level position. That’s because the gas “absorption” cooling components, as well as its process, is reliant on the unit being balanced in both directions. The three-way caravan fridge must also be subject to regular maintenance since its various parts are susceptible to wear because of vibration and age.
How to Choose the Right Caravan Fridge for Your Motorhome
Not all caravan fridges are created equal. Apart from the type of power source used, these also vary in size or capacity. However, the standard refrigerator used in majority of motorhomes is a small capacity fridge/freezer combination. This has a small freezer section that’s barely big enough to hold a few ice trays.
There are several popular brands of caravan fridges of both the compressor and three-way types that you can choose from, with capacities ranging from 40 to 230 liters. These also come in one- or two-door options. Some of these brands include VitriFrigo, Waeco, Dometic, Engel, and Electrolux.
WAECO RPD 190 Compressor-Type Fridge
The Waeco RPD 190 upright compressor-type caravan fridge has a 140-liter refrigerator and a 45-liter freezer. A Danfoss BD-50F Kompressor with a temperature range of up to 50 degrees below ambient runs the fridge. Other notable features of the Waeco RPD 190 are:
- Internal light
- Adjustable shelves
- Vegetable compartments
- Doors with patented door locks and can be adjusted for left or right hand opening
- Depth of 610mm x Width of 590mm x Height of 1340mm (flush mount frame included)Weight of 45kg
VitriFrigo DP 2600 Compressor Fridge
The VitriFrigo compressor refrigerators are assembled and tested in the company plant in Italy. It runs on 12-volt and 240-volt with an option for automatic cutover to 240-volt when it connects to mains power through a mobitronic. Nevertheless, as mentioned earlier, most compressor fridges are directly wired to 12-volt battery power sources charged while plugged into a 240-volt mains power or solar panels.
In particular, the VitriFrigo DP 2600 caravan fridge has a combined capacity of 240 liters (180 liters for the refrigerator and 60 liters for the freezer). Its flush mounted surroundings run off a Danfoss BD50F compressor. Notable features include:
- Internal light
- Adjustable shelves
- Vegetable compartments
- Doors that are adaptable to left or right hand opening
- Weight of 64.5kg, most of which is due to the 50mm thick wall insulation, 70mm thick freezer insulation, and 90mm thickness of the freezer door
- Average power consumption of 40W/H
- Dimensions of 590mm Width x 580mm Depth x 1335mm Height
The Dometic RML8551 comes with a removable freezer compartment with a clip system that makes removing the compartment quick and simple. By removing the freezer compartment, the refrigerator’s cooling compartment is expanded and power consumption is reduced. It runs on 12-volt battery power, 240-volt mains power, and LPG, employing the manual energy source selection system. It likewise has a 189-liter capacity.
A noteworthy thing about the Dometic RML8551 is its automatic flame failure device that shuts off gas flow while running on LPG power source once the flame is extinguished. It also has a gas indicator that lights up when the gas is lit. These are important safety features to prevent users from carbon monoxide poisoning. Some notable features of the Dometic RML8551 include:
- Noiseless operation
- Secure door-locking with vent option
- Fingertip door opening
- Flexible shelves
- Adaptable door hinge for left or right hand opening
- Battery-powered ignition unit
- Weight of 44kg
- 525mm Width x 626mm Depth x 1245mm Height
Engel ST90F 2-Way Compressor Fridge
The Engel ST90F two-way compressor fridge has an 80-liter capacity. It’s a free-standing unit with a separate freezing compartment inside. It is cleverly designed to fit into limited spaces inside caravans and even boats. It also features automatic switching between 12-volt/24-volt DC and 240-volt AC. Some notable features include:
- Reversible door
- Replaceable door panel that you can customize and match with the interior of your motorhome
- Polyurethane insulation
- Thermostat controlled
- Compatible with a generator and solar panel
- Compact and lightweight
Here’s the thing; you may not be able to purchase a brand new model of the Electrolux RM212 since the brand has since been bought out by Dometic. Nevertheless, if you see someone selling a second-hand Electrolux RM212, I’d say go for it since it’s a very good model.
It’s a three-way absorption fridge, which, as has been discussed in this article, means it can use three alternative power sources – 12-volt battery, 240-volt mains power, and LPG. It has a 60-liter capacity. Some features you’ll see in this model are:
- Fridge cooling capacity: +7 degrees C at ambient temperatures up to 32 degrees C
- Frozen food compartment: 5 liters up to -12 degrees C
- Thermostatic control on caravan fridge mains operation
- User-friendly control panel
- Net weight of 20.7kg
- Dimensions are 617mm (H) x 486mm (W) x 474mm (D)
When Should You Defrost Your Caravan Fridge?
It’s important to defrost your caravan fridge when the frost layer exceeds 3mm thickness since the cooling efficiency of the unit will be severely affected. Not only will the cooling efficiency decreases but its power consumption will increase, too. Here’s a step-by-step guide to defrosting your caravan fridge:
- Adjust the thermostat knob and bring it to “stop”.
- Avoid using anything sharp when removing frost layer as it can cause irreparable damage to the refrigerator plate.
- After the unit is completely defrosted, empty the drip tray and turn the thermostat back up to your desired setting.
NOTE FOR VITRIFRIGO USERS: If you’re using a VitriFrigo caravan fridge, make sure not to push the drip tray too far into the back as this may interfere with cool air flow. In addition, the best setting for the thermostat is 4.2.
Is it Safe to Run a Three-Way (Absorption) Caravan Fridge on Gas While Traveling?
For your safety and that of everyone traveling with you, never run your caravan fridge on gas while under tow. Doing so is extremely dangerous, and you’ll be putting your lives at risk. Make sure all appliances that run on gas are turned off while traveling because there are just too many sources of ignition along the way, which can generate a spark and start a fire if ignored.
If you want to use your three-way fridge while traveling, connect it to an in-house battery or a power source in the tow vehicle.
How Can I Operate My Caravan Fridge to its Full Efficiency?
Make sure to follow these tips if you want to operate your caravan fridge to its full efficiency:
- Turn the caravan fridge on using the mains power in your house at least two days before your intended departure date. This is important to give some time for the fridge to cool down to a constant temperature.
- Before placing your food and drinks in your caravan fridge, make sure you have pre-cooled these in your home refrigerator.
- Use airtight plastic containers to pack your foods.
- Place a cover on the ice blocks in ice trays in the freezer.
- Make sure the air vents of the caravan fridge are clear of obstructions.
- Install fiberglass batts at the top and side walls of the fridge for insulation.
- Buy a small fan that you can fit under the condenser fins to cool it down where it is hottest.
- Try to make a curved tin top to let hot air flow out smoothly from the fridge.
- Try installing a solar fridge fan in the vent compartment at the back of the fridge.
- Try installing a 12-volt Fridgemate cooling fan that you can attach to the bottom of the fridge compartment. This fan blows up cool air into the coils and up to the top vent.
- When the motorhome is parked, make sure to cover or shade the outside of the RV with a canvas awning particularly where the fridge vents are. This is even more important if you’re using an absorption-type or three-way fridge.
How do Climate Class Ratings Work?
As briefly mentioned earlier, climate class rating refers to the maximum temperature that a caravan fridge can work in. It is the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) that sets the standard climate class ratings for fridge performance wherein:
- “SN” and “N” ratings, respectively, referring to Subnormal and Normal, are caravan fridges designed and rated to work up to 32 degrees Celsius.
- “ST” or subtropical rating specifically refers to fridges that can work up to 36 degrees Celsius.
- “T” or tropical rating, as mentioned in the early part of the article, is for fridges that can work up to 43 degrees Celsius.
Basically, the maximum temperature a climate class rated fridge can work on depends on the highest ambient temperature in the air. As long as ambient temperature is within the maximum, cooling performance will be good. However, if the ambient temperature goes beyond the climate class rating, then cooling efficiency is affected.
To give you an idea, if the outside temperature is 42 degrees Celsius and your caravan fridge is rated for 32 degrees Celsius maximum, then the drinks inside the fridge will be 10 degrees warmer.
If you plan to use your motorhome to drive to places known to be extremely hot, make sure your caravan fridge is “T” rated. It’s good to note, though, that climate class rating is not something mandatorily observed in Australia.
Can Caravan Fridges Be Regassed?
No. It is not possible to “re-gas” a caravan fridge. Nevertheless, what you can do if it seems the absorption system isn’t working the way it should is to take it out, turn it upside down, and try to shake it to clear some of the deposits that may have built up in the pipes. Make sure you let it settle for about 12 hours in the right position before you use it again.
How Long Does A Caravan Fridge Take To Cool?
More often than not, the freezer compartment of a caravan fridge cools after a couple of hours when you plug it in. However, if you want to use it to its full efficiency, meaning you want the refrigerator compartment to be cool as well, make sure you plug it to a mains power at least one or two days before your actual trip (when you’re going to use the fridge for hours on end).
Do Caravan Fridges Have To Be Level To Work?
Yes. Unlike a normal fridge, a caravan fridge depends on gravity to help it cool down. If the caravan fridge is on uneven surface, it will be less efficient in keeping your food items cold. Hence, you need to make sure it is level or even in all directions to get it to work to its full efficiency.