Portable fridge/freezer with caravan

Texpat

New Member
Nov 7, 2021
14
12
3
Melbourne, VIC
Hey folks, thinking of getting a portable fridge/freezer to use with our caravan to supplement the teeny, tiny fridge inside, and was hoping I could tap into the wealth of experience here. It will become clear down below that I know nothing about this space, and we're new to expand-ing. :) I appreciate anyone taking the time to answer even one of the questions below!

I've seen fridges with 2 compartments w/ separate lids/entry, fridges with one big compartment, and fridges with what looks like 2 compartments (or levels?) under the same lid. Are all the fridges with 1 lid either a fridge OR a freezer, or are there any around the 50L size that have both fridge AND freezer?

There seems te be a huge difference in price between various fridges...you've got the Engle and Dometics of the world ($$$) and things like BECOOL and Victorian Coolroom that seem to run a lot less expensive ($) for similar size. Should these be avoided or are they ok?

What do most folks use their portable for...extra fridge space, or extra freezer? (Or both?)

Our van has a 12v plug outside, so we can plug it in there while on mains. Will it run fine there, or anything to be aware of re: the draw from different brands or fridge types?

Do you just leave your fridge out at night or when you're not around, lock it to the van somehow, or put it up in your vehicle?

Our vehicle (120 Prado) is not set up for dual batteries. Thinking of getting an Anderson plug in the back to run the portable fridge while we're driving, and just disconnect it if we stop for a bit. We'll be doing the same with the van fridge. Anyone else doing this? I'm guessing as long as we don't open the fridges too much, or stay stopped for too long, we'll be ok.

Anything else we should be aware while looking for portable fridges?

Thanks!
 

Boots in Action

Well-Known Member
Mar 13, 2017
1,670
1,409
113
Ferny Grove, Queensland
Hey folks, thinking of getting a portable fridge/freezer to use with our caravan to supplement the teeny, tiny fridge inside, and was hoping I could tap into the wealth of experience here. It will become clear down below that I know nothing about this space, and we're new to expand-ing. :) I appreciate anyone taking the time to answer even one of the questions below!

I've seen fridges with 2 compartments w/ separate lids/entry, fridges with one big compartment, and fridges with what looks like 2 compartments (or levels?) under the same lid. Are all the fridges with 1 lid either a fridge OR a freezer, or are there any around the 50L size that have both fridge AND freezer?

There seems te be a huge difference in price between various fridges...you've got the Engle and Dometics of the world ($$$) and things like BECOOL and Victorian Coolroom that seem to run a lot less expensive ($) for similar size. Should these be avoided or are they ok?

What do most folks use their portable for...extra fridge space, or extra freezer? (Or both?)

Our van has a 12v plug outside, so we can plug it in there while on mains. Will it run fine there, or anything to be aware of re: the draw from different brands or fridge types?

Do you just leave your fridge out at night or when you're not around, lock it to the van somehow, or put it up in your vehicle?

Our vehicle (120 Prado) is not set up for dual batteries. Thinking of getting an Anderson plug in the back to run the portable fridge while we're driving, and just disconnect it if we stop for a bit. We'll be doing the same with the van fridge. Anyone else doing this? I'm guessing as long as we don't open the fridges too much, or stay stopped for too long, we'll be ok.

Anything else we should be aware while looking for portable fridges?

Thanks!
Hi @Texpat , you will get plenty of suggestions on your questions from the many members on this forum, I am unable to give you advice on portable compressor fridges as I don't have one, I have a highly modified 3 way Finch fridge approx 40 litres which I run on gas when off grid or on 240 volt when available. I don't have any worries about leaving it outside or battery power - who wants a portable 3 way fridge anyway!! But I always chain it closed up to the van when in caravan parks as it is tempting for people to help themselves to the cold contents!! Something you will have to consider if you do not have it in the back of your vehicle. I use it to keep extra milk, wine and beer as well as other items that need to be kept cool when there is no room in my 93 litre van fridge. It does the job quite well too getting the beer and drinks down close to freezing if given time!
Some portable compressor fridges have two compartments, to be used as a fridge and freezer but the divider can be removed to make it all fridge or all freezer too. These are very efficient but come at a cost if off grid. Battery power!!! A 50 litre compressor fridge will draw approx 40 amp hours of battery power daily which you will have to generate/replace every day, so you need two batteries and plenty of solar. So it is not just purchasing a good portable compressor fridge. That will be just the start of your expenses to have that convenience. And your tug alternator will not fully charge your extra battery in your tug unless you have a DC to DC charger. All these issues can generally be overcome with dollars and monitoring your battery power and usage. Think and plan carefully so you get the best return for your dollars spent.
 

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Crusty181

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Feb 7, 2010
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Mentone, VIC
Ive had my 40ltr Engel since 2008 and until 12 mths ago I never had a dual batt sys in the various cars and pre dual batt we travelled around Oz for a year with that 40ltr Engel in the car with a 150w solar blanket so its very do-able. I used to leave the fridge on all the time even at home empty or otherwise now only turn it on when im using it, but either way in the field once its on i dont ever turn it off. Its a pretty hard life for a single battery, but for weekends etc id never experienced an issue. I have the dual battery now, and a fixed 160w panel and the panel seems to adequately keep up with the fridge. Sawafuji, Danfoss and Secop are the compressors of choice. Sawafuji is Engel so you wont find it elsewhere. Danfoss was in Waecos but when Dometic rebranded Waecos they developed their own compressor. Danfross was aquired by Secop and youll find either in other branded fridges incl Kings 4WD fridges. Not all things are equal, and Kings fridges have been tested to perform worse than an Waeco with supposedly the same compressor. Which ever way you go, your success will be likely better with one of the 3 compressors mentioned, or the Dometic brand.

Engel has a lower spec'd max power consumption but that isnt all it may appear to be. Waeco/Dometic's higher max has the capacity to smash down cabinet temperature and return to cycling, Engel in extreme heat doesnt have the ability to smash the temp down and is likely to cycle less trying to keep up and it will use more power.

Engel has a very long history, and with the longevity runs on the board is the undisputed reliability winner. This isnt to say that Engels never fail, and other fridged always die prematurely, just that statistically speaking the Engel should last longer and have less issues
 
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mfexpanda

Well-Known Member
Apr 1, 2011
4,164
5,159
113
Brookfield, Vic
Hi
We have a few fridges
We have a 42 litre Engel 30 odd years old
A 50 Ltr Waeco a 75 ltr Waeco 2 door dual zone and regretfully a 70 ltr dual zone kings
My pick is the Waeco 75 ltr
It keeps our drinks cold and freezes fish that are caught as well as frozen food while traveling
The kings let me down 4 days brand new into a trip so is now at home on freeze keeping dog food frozen running on 240v
If you have the room dual zone 2 doors are best
Reliability is key when traveling
 
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Drover

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Nov 7, 2013
11,410
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QLD
www.expandasdownunder.com
First off you have to decide or figure out what you actually want to use it for, having once had a 14.44 I used my Engel as just a freezer as the one in the van fridge was bluddy useless, I wished I had a dual compartment one but back in 1978 when my Engel was first plugged in they didn't have them....... She's done the miles for sure and is still plugging away....
I would plug my Engel in outside the van into the 240 plug at parks, it was chained to a wheel along with its stand and had a window alarm fitted that would and did wake the dead if moved...... In my vehicle I had an anderson it would plug into direct from battery no fancy bit of kit used, later in my Colorado it lived in the back plugged into an aux battery which was charged from a panel on roof in camp or ran off main car battery when engine running again no fancy gizmo's.... In earlier years it was kept going by all sorts of set ups......
I like Engels but they are expensive, I would certainly go for the fridge/freezer combo's, the simpler the control set up the better, you really don't need blu tooth to operate your fridge ........... You need to match a fridge to your situation, there are many brands out there, lots are rebranded and they all have horror stories... your camping style is your guide, off grid, then you will need to possibly uppgrade your solar/battery set up or go for a 3 way so you run it on gas, or you can set up your tug with a portable aux battery which runs it when on the road and you pick it and the fridge up and put by the van and plug into a portable panel ... If mainly parks then its easy a stand for beside the van and a chain is the only extra...............

A mate has a Ridge Rider Supercheap job, its a battered thing many years old and still works everyday in his work ute, my son in law has gone through 2 Waeco's in the same period, you will hear Engels die yet mines is 43 yrs old, so its hit and miss I think.

Any 12v connection for a fridge should be by an Anderson plug with a proper sized cable supplying power, not a cig lighter poor connection and often cable size is too small............. Fridge should be kept out of sun with some air flow around it .......

My advice is to read a lot, ignore a lot of the reviews, they are often rubbish but figure what you actually want, your camping style will dictate that.
 

millers

Active Member
Mar 25, 2011
269
226
43
Adelaide
As everyone has said the choose of fridges will need to be yours after you figure out what you will use it for. Security is important have been parked next to people that have had their fridge taken from outside the van in a caravan park. Some of the duel zones have removable dividers and other do not. With the caravan fridge we do run a wireless thermometer to be able to check the temp without opening the door. If the fridge doesn't provide internal temps this can be a good option to save lifting the lid.
On a trip to WA the portable fridge ran as a freezer, running off the car during the day (in the back of the ute), running from the caravan batteries at night when free camping (usually overnight only and stayed in the ute) and then moved to the caravan when in caravan parks (running off 230V and usually 2 plus days).
We are planning to do a 4 night "free" camp, so need to decide if the 2 x 100Ah and single solar panel on the van will run the caravan (lights, radio, water pump) and the fridge work that period. The other option is to set up the ute with second battery and solar panel to run the fridge with the option to plug it into the caravan for a night if required.
To help with powering the fridge in the ute, I have an external anderson plug on the caravan, which is about to be shifted to the draw bar, so I can plug it in without removing it from the ute. Also use 230V external outlet with extension cord if in a caravan park.

Good luck with the choice.
 
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geedub

Member
Aug 23, 2017
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Sydney
A second fridge is a good idea if you are running a 3 way as the temperature control on a 3 way is pretty hopeless the freezer works Ok and stays cold but the fridge can drift up or down depending on the ambient temperature.
I have 2 12v frifges an old engel 38l and a new Dometic 75l with twin compartments.
The Engel is great and has done a heap of work but has 2 drawbacks.
1. Noise - it can be a bit noisy if kept in the van
2. Temperature control - it is an older model without a settable temperature controller, just a knob and it can freeze things you don't want frozen if the ambient drops. I have been meaning to wire up a controller to it but haven't done it yet. It fits nicely in the back of my car on a fridge slide and has that famous Engel reliability.

The Dometic is much quieter and has 2 temperature controlled compartments. It is also larger and heavier and doesn't fit in the back of my car.
I leave the Dometic in the van generally and use it to store perishables that I don't want frozen or above 4 degrees. I Have a 12v outlet and a 240v wired in the back that I leave it connected to. When camping on private secure property I will connect it to the external 12v but not in van parks or free camps. Even if I could secure it outside I would be concerned about thieves trying to run off with it (and cause damage) or the contents.

I have a 150A/hr AGM battery in the van and a 150w portable panel and haven't had any problems keeping the battery charged as long as I get a bit of sun.
I'm very happy with the dometic so far, the controls are easy to use and it stays at the set temperature, It doesn't disturb your sleep with noise and seems ok on power usage. I looked at cheaper fridge/freezers but diidn't want to chance unknown reliability, though I would have bought a Bushman as everyone I know that has one loves them but I wanted seperated compartments. I may get one as a replacement for the Engel in the next few years when I retire and tour more without the van.