Four Types Of RV Refrigerators

Choosing suitable RV refrigerators can be quite confusing if you have no previous experience in this field. Just to make it a bit easier, the camper refrigerators come in four basic versions. Passive coolers using ice to keep cool,  12V thermoelectric coolers which you simply plug in your "cigarette lighter", compressor refrigerators & freezers using 12V/110-240V electricity for power and absorption refrigerators/freezers using propane gas and electricity as above.

These refrigerators are made just like any other household units using PU-foam for insulation and sturdy materials for casing. They all work just fine when you're driving or using an electrical hook up in a camping site, but when you go "wild camping" things change a little bit.

So let's take a look at the different types just to get the general idea here.

Passive Coolers And Bags

Passive coolers use ice, reusable gel packs or frozen water bottles to keep everything cool. They can be either one of those cheap coolers that you can buy just about everywhere or more robust and long lasting cool boxes or large ice chests that will keep anything cool up to 10 days.

These are used by caterers, fishermen, medical suppliers, campers and sailor.  They come with a double insulated lid and non staining & odorless white food grade interior which is easy clean, carrying
handles, heavy duty hinges, and with an optional seat cushion to rest your behind on when you're tired.

They come in many shapes and sizes and also as water proof shoulder bag. The trick is in the thick layer of pressure injected polyurethane foam for the walls and the lid (up to 3in or 7.5cm).

This is more than enough to keep anything cool for several days in a row depending on the outside temperature and a limited time of lid opening.

Thermoelectric Coolers

These light weight portable coolers are the basic solution for cooling your food and beverages on the move. They have a cooling capacity of up to 30°C(86°F) below the ambient temperature which should be more than enough in most cases.

Most of them can use the thermoelectric energy for cooling and heating. Reliable and cost-efficient, they're great for any vehicle, picnics and camping or any other every day use.

They come in a variety of shapes and small sizes and with different kind of electronics to choose from. All are coated all around with PU foam and are made from sturdy molded materials.

The power source can be either 12V or 24V and can be also plugged into 110/240V power source. However, they will drain your vehicle battery flat in a few hours if you're standing still with no other source of power available, therefore they are not a perfect of the grid adventure companion.

Compressor RV Refrigerators And Freezers

If you're out for some action and adventure and need a serious trouble free RV refrigerator and freezer that will keep your food and beverages cool and frozen under any kind of ambient condition, the compressor refrigerators are what you're looking for.

Just like any other RV refrigerators, they come in many shapes and sizes. They can be either portable or build-in your camper units with a top lid or side opening door.

Aware of the fact that cold air stays at the bottom, the top lid opening version is the best you can find. With the side door opened, you just let all the cool air out of your fridge.

The power consumption of compressor refrigerators depends on the ambient temperature. The cooler the ambient temperature, less power is needed and vice- versa. But the preset inner temperature will always stay the same.

So if you're using any kind of heating in your camper, your refrigerator will use more power. Body heat alone is enough to raise the inside temperature of your vehicle.

This is where the portable units like the Engel come in to consideration. You can simply remove them, place them outside (still plugged in) and even use them as a place to seat on.

I run the Waeco Cool Matic CB 40 built-in cooler box in my Volkswagen camper van conversion and it has been running just perfect for years now. Like many compressor refrigerators it uses the quiet and power-efficient Danfoss compressor.


Depending on the ambient temperature the cooler will drain a 90Ah auxiliary battery in 2-3 days set on minimum power. I never had a need to go above minimum power because the drinks are ice cold as it is. If you plan on "wild camping" for longer periods of time, you can use a solar panel to charge your battery and keep your refrigerator running.

Compressor refrigerators are not cheap and despite the power efficient compressors still need a lot of power to run. But they have the best cooling and freezing capabilities among RV refrigerators and impeccable performance under any kind of condition.

Absorption Refrigerators And Freezers

Absorption refrigerators are also known as three-way refrigerators because they can run either on propane gas, 12V and 110/240v mains power.

Using propane gas or electric heating element for power source this type of RV refrigerators use a series of basic chemical reactions by heating the ammonia solution in a closed system of tubes behind the cooler box and the casing itself.

They come in various shapes and sizes and can be either portable or build-in units with a top or side opening depending on the model.

For decades absorption refrigerators have been the number one choice among camper or motorhome manufacturers. The absence of any moving parts makes these fridges silent and the low propane consumption allows you to enjoy the freedom of your camper, when no other power source is available.

However if you ask the camping folks that use these RV refrigerators on regular basis, you will usually find these three minor problems sometimes causing a headache or two.

To work properly these units need to be leveled. In other words you will always have to level out your  vehicle.

Lack of ventilation is another often overlooked problem. These fridges usually have a couple of vents or a chimney to allow the exhaust heat to escape. The vents can be blocked by insect nests or other dirt that can build up. This will cause the unit to malfunction or not work at all.

A lot of people install additional vents from computers to help the air circulation, which is very helpful in the summer heat.

The propane burner can also be a source of trouble. Carbon buildup from the heating flame will slow down the cooling process.

Absorption refrigerators need annual proper care and maintenance, specially after a longer storage period otherwise you will probably end up drinking luke-warm beer. And that's not all that fun, is it now?

Which RV Refrigerator To Choose?

This really depends on where and when will you use it.

A simple and cheap thermoelectric cooler is perfect for everyday use if you have constant power available. But they are not as power efficient and only come in small sizes.

The trouble-free compressor refrigerator has excellent cooling capability under any circumstances and doesn't need any leveling. It drains quite a lot of power, but if you're on a camping site hook up or use a proper solar panel it will run cool forever.

The well known absorption refrigerators will work for ages with proper annual maintenance. However, you will hear some people complain about it's cooling capability in harsh summer heat, do to the poor air circulation.

And if you want to build your own camper, consider the location of the refrigerator and the space available and the number of propane bottles and propane appliances that you will carry on board. has many types of RV refrigerators on stock. Just search in the box below, take your time, read all the reviews and decide what you really need.

Down the line the choice is entirely yours...

› Refrigerators

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.
Share this page:
Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.