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Fridge for Campervan (Everything You Need to Know)

If you are like us who enjoy the freedom of long distance road trips, a fridge for your campervan is an absolute must-have.

Refrigerators don’t just add comfort to your trip, they ensure you don’t get severely sick by eating an off cucumber (don’t ask…).

Below, I’ll touch base on absolutely everything to do with campervan fridges. Dare I say, by the end you should be somewhat of an expert.

What is a Campervan Fridge?

fridge for campervan

That right there, is a fridge placed in a luxury campervan. Fridges for campervans serve pretty much the exact same purpose as the conventional ones you use in your home.

The only difference being their size, of course. I’m sure you understand why they’re made smaller when looking at this picture.

I’d say the points that define a fridge for a campervan are:

  • Requires low voltage ideally 12 volts
  • Designed with ease of use in mind
  • Price

Can You Use a Normal Fridge in a Campervan?

fridge for campervan

The answer is, yes you can. But would you really want to?

Refrigerators designed for homes are almost always bigger, I mean of course, look at all the space you have in your home compared to your van.

When it comes to the power requirements for a normal fridge vs a campervan fridge (specifically thermoelectric cool boxes) the draw is generally quite similar.

The only difference being that household fridges run on 240v mains electrics, as do almost all household appliances.

This means if you were to put a normal fridge in your campervan you’d have to hook up an inverter to keep it running.

This would mean energy lost, as you’d have to covert 12v into 240v. The process is not so efficient and you could lose up to 15% of your power in doing so.

In summary:

  • Yes, you can use a normal fridge in a campervan. However, there are much more energy efficient alternatives out there.

What is The Best Fridge For a Campervan?

All jargon aside, when it comes down to it, there are really only three types of fridge for campervans:

  • Thermoelectric Cool Box
  • Compressor Fridge
  • 3-Way Fridge

Each have their positives and negatives, let’s look at each of them a bit more closely.

Thermoelectric Cool Box

Thermoelectric Cool Box Key points:

Cost$27 – $340
Powered by12V/24V
Cooling power10-15 degrees below ambient temperature

The thermoelectric cool box is the cheapest option of the three.

They work by sucking out the heat inside the cool box and dispersing it out into the surrounding atmosphere.

Unlike most traditional fridges, thermoelectric cool boxes don’t actively cool the contents inside. Instead, they simply maintain a relatively low temperature based on the ambient heat outside the box.

Therefore, on a superhot day, the cool box may only be able to reduce the internal temperature by 10 – 15 degrees lower than the current outside temperature.

Thermoelectric cool boxes also require the most power out of all the three options listed.

They use a staggering 80W. This means you’ll need 120W of solar energy and a 110ah battery to be able to power this hungry beast.

Read: Campervan Solar Panel (All you need to know)

Compressor Fridge

compressor fridge
Cost$340 – $2700
Powered by12V/24V
Cooling powerCan cool below freezing point

Perhaps the one campervan fridge on our list that works in a similar way to the one you have at home. The only difference being that it runs on 12V instead of 240V.

These fridges compress gas into a liquid and back again, this way the fridge is able to cool all the contents inside, in fact it can even freeze it.

These types of fridges use less power than the thermoelectric cool box, however one can notice the trade off in the price difference.

A compressor fridge for campervans comes in various shapes and sizes, meaning you’ll have lot’s off flexibility when it comes to placing your fridge in your campervan.

3-Way Fridge

3-way fridge for campervan
Cost$475 – $2700
Powered by12V/240V/LPG Gas
Cooling powerCan cool below freezing point

A 3-way fridge can run off 3 different types of input.

First and foremost, it runs off of 12V, remember this is what your campervans electrics will be set to as a standard.

Additionally, these types of fridges are able to run off of 220V, this is the same electrical input your home runs on. That includes most campsites.

Lastly, 3-way fridges are able to run off of LPG gas. This allows your campervan fridge to be powered by something other than your battery.

The last point is perhaps this fridge biggest selling point and also its biggest weakness. 3-Way fridges are harder to install yourself due to the fact they run off of LPG gas.

Also, the multiple options for power input usually results in price being higher.

How Does a Campervan Fridge Work?

This all comes down to which type of fridge you decide to install into your campervan. As I already mentioned there are three main types of campervan fridges, how they work all depends on their internal design.

How Does a Thermoelectric Cool Box Work?

Thermoelectric cool boxes use a fan to suck out the internal air in the cool box and excrete it into the surrounding atmosphere.

These boxes are usually insulated with polystyrene or polyurethane to retain the cold energy inside. Thermoelectric cool boxes are used rather to chill the food inside but are not able to freeze anything.

How Does a Compressor Fridge Work?

First, the compressor constricts the refrigerant vapor. Doing this raises the pressure and ultimately the temperature. Then it pushes the hot vapor into the coils of the condenser on the outside of the fridge.

When the hot gas in the coils meets the cooler air of your campervan it becomes a liquid.

In liquid form the refrigerant cools down as it flows through the expansion valve into the evaporator coils which are located inside of the freezer section of the fridge.

The ice cold refrigerant is now able to absorb all the heat inside the fridge as it flows through the evaporator coils.

Finally, the refrigerant evaporates back into a gas (due to the raised temperature) where it flows back to the compressor and the entire process begins once again.

To understand the process visually, I recommend check out this article.

How Does a 3-Way Fridge Work?

As I already mentioned, a 3-way fridge has three ways of generating power either via a 12V battery, 240V mains power or by a LPG gas cylinder.

Unlike the compressor fridge, the 3-way fridge doesn’t use a compressor. Instead, it uses a gas flow exchange to cool the inside of the fridge.

This works by extracting heat from the back of the fridge and using it to cool the internal temperature.

Why Do I Need an Inverter To Run My Campervan Fridge?

Firstly, it’s important to understand function an inverter actually has in your campervan. I created a simple infographic to give you a visual example.

how an campervan inverter works

An inverter is a necessary accessory if you want to run ordinary 220V mains appliances in your campervan, like a fridge for example.

Basically, the inverter converts 12V direct current (DC) from your car battery/solar panel into 220V mains voltage alternating current (AC).

Most of your household appliances run off of 220V. So, if you want to use things such as televisions, power tools or fridges in your campervan, you’ll need an inverter to do so.

How Long Will a 100ah Battery Run a Fridge?

There is a basic calculation you can use to work out the amount of battery you’ll need in order to power your appliances.

The algorithm is the following:

X = Power of appliance and Y = 12V

  • X divided by Y = C
  • 100ah divided by C = total running time

So let’s have a visual example again.

how long will an 100ah battery run a fridge infographic

So this means a 100ah battery will power a 50W fridge for approximately 24 hours before it goes flat.

Keep in mind though that some campervan fridges will also state what percentage of the time their motor is operating.

So, for example let’s say our 50W fridges motor only runs 15% of the time (as once the fridge is cold it doesn’t need to work as much).

Your calculation would now look like this:

  • 50W divided by 12V = 4.1ah
  • 15% of 4.1ah = 0.75ah
  • 100ah divided by 0.75ah = Battery will power campervan fridge for 133 hours before it goes flat.

Bare in mind if you constantly open and close your fridge to grab a cold one, you’ll increase the amount of time the motor needs to run.

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need To Run a Campervan Refrigerator?

This all comes down to what sort of fridge you have inside your campervan i.e. the amount of power it requires to operate. Remember your fridge will draw power from your vans battery, and your solar panel will simply recharge your battery.

So the question you should rather be asking is: “How many solar panels do I need to recharge my battery, consistently and efficiently?”

First you need to figure out how many amp hours your vans battery currently produces.

Let’s say you have a 200ah (amp hours) battery system, powering your van. You’ll need take into consideration that only 80% of those amp hours are useable due to depletion limitations.

This means you’ll really only have 160 amp hours in total to draw on.

From experimentation if you learn you can last 2 days from that battery, it means you consume more or less 80 amp hours a day.

The average 100W solar panel produces about 30 amp hours a day.

If you wanted to fully recharge your battery system each day you’d need a 300W solar panel or x3 100W solar panels.

In general I’d recommend installing a 12v compressor fridge made specifically for solar panels in order to optimize it’s energy consumption.

They are quite expensive though, the one I have in our campervan costs $550.

how many solar panels do you need to power a fridge

Why Are Campervan Fridges So Expensive?

The five main reasons fridges for campervans are so expensive is because:

  • They need to be made with stronger materials with added insulation.
  • They are consistently cooled by a tiny reliable compressor.
  • Campervan fridges usually have other functions, such as USB ports.
  • Some models have pin code locks (for those who have the munchies).
  • They need to be able to accommodate various power sources such as power from a van or solar panels.

How Long Will a Campervan Fridge Last?

  • The average life expectancy of a compact campervan fridge ranges 4 to 12 years with an average life expectancy of 8 years.

Prolong the life expectancy of your fridge by:

  • Cleaning the coils.
  • Giving it sufficient space to breathe.
  • Making sure your fridge is level.

Read more on how to prolong your fridges life expectancy here.

How Much Do Fridges For Campervans Weigh?

The weight of your fridge depends on the volume it holds. Our fridge holds a volume of 40L and weighs 24kg (52 pounds)

Below I’ll give you an idea on what the average fridge weighs. For this example I will use the brand Snomaster.

40L24kg (52 pounds)
60L26kg (57 pounds)
80L30kg (66 pounds)
100L36.5kg (80 pounds)

Final word

I hope you find this fridge for campervan article worth the read and I trust you can leave this space being that much more informed on the topic.

Your feedback means the world to us, so if you have any further questions on the topic please do not hesitate to ask in the comments sections below.

Furthermore, if you have any experience camping with a fridge that’s hooked up to your solar system please do share your expertise on the subject.

At Softback Travel there’s nothing more we enjoy than living sustainably and efficiently whilst on the road and this is a topic that fascinates us greatly!

So please, if you have anything to share GO FOR IT!

Further Reading:

Or you can check out our entire blog


Monday 11th of July 2022

Thanks for taking the time to write this - best explanation I've seen yet, especially for non-techies like me:)