12V Refrigerators: A Buyer’s Guide

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Camping and RVing with ice coolers is all fun and games till you reach for your food and find melting ice all over it. Then you remember that portable 12V refrigerators have long been invented.

If you’ve had an experience of the sort, then you must have learned a thing or two from it.

However, now that you are here, we are offering you in-depth information about 12-volt refrigerators.

Daytripper, RVer, or Outlander? There are certain things to note about 12-volt refrigerators.

A good 12-volt refrigerator will be a loyal companion on a road trip or any recreational event you are planning with friends and family. It could also be a perfect car refrigerator if you are keen on having a refrigerator in your car.

What makes this type of refrigerators even more awesome is that an average portable 12V refrigerator can run on your car battery easily. Plus they are also designed to withstand the scrapes and bumps that you may experience on the road.

But here’s the thing; finding the right one can be such a herculean task that you may even be tempted to pass up on getting one. Even if you stay through with trying to find one, without adequate information, you may eventually make a poor choice.

However, we are here to serve you with the 411 of 12V refrigerators and how to buy the best. The good news is that choosing the perfect one is based on your preferences and needs to a large extent. But that doesn’t rule out the fact that there are basic rules and factors to consider before you buy one.

Come along with us and let’s show you how to find the perfect 12V refrigerator for you.

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Why Portable 12V Refrigerators are Useful

As with RV refrigerators, a portable refrigerator can be used in a number of ways. Of course, because they come small, you may not enjoy as much versatility from them as you will from regular refrigerators.

However, 12V refrigerators will provide you with some options. For instance, you can choose these refrigerators based on your preferred power source — AC, DC, or LP gas.

That said, here are some common uses for portable 12V refrigerators.

Road Trips

What is a road trip without food, snacks, and drinks? Boring, right? Now imagine that you actually have all that but don’t have a proper cooling system on the trip. The experience is better told than experienced.

A portable refrigerator is unarguably that road trip companion that you mustn’t forget to take along with you.

In fact, the Golden rule of road-tripping is that even if you forget your road trip partner, you shouldn’t forget the portable refrigerator. Oh, we were just kidding! We only meant to emphasize the importance of a good 12V fridge.


It is not out of place to want to cool off at your cabin or at a friend’s next weekend. But, it will be out of place not to have a portable refrigerator there with you. One thing is sure: you can’t be without something to munch or sip on if you own a mini-fridge filled with your necessities. A 12-volt refrigerator will be perfect for holding your food supplies.


Trucking can be so draining and time-consuming that it won’t be long before your stomach starts growling. If you plan to truck or do a cross-country tour soon, then you should most definitely have a portable refrigerator.

You can have healthy foods within your reach and also not run out of a can of cold beer whenever those cravings come.


Often times, you find ‘camping’ and ‘ice coolers’ in the same sentence. But ice coolers come with some issues that a good portable refrigerator(like a compressor model) can deal with it.

Outdoor events can be more fun and memorable when there’s a good portable refrigerator close by.

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Types of Portable 12V Refrigerators

Don’t get us wrong. We are not averse to ice coolers. Ice coolers have their own roles to play, however, 12V refrigerators are necessary if the goal is to chill food and drinks for a longer period of time.

Portable refrigerators come in 3 different types. In the next section, we will let you in on how these types differ and the common pros and cons associated with them.

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Portable Compressor 12V Refrigerators

The most popular of the portable 12V refrigerators are the compressor models. A portable compressor refrigerator features a compressor among tubes and pipes. It works with pressurized gas that eventually changes into liquid form. This liquid refrigerant will then go through the evaporator tube to cool the system.

Unlike the thermoelectric models which pump heat out to cool the refrigerator, the compressor models use compressed gases as the cooling medium.

In case you didn’t know, compressor refrigerators are also referred to as true 12-volt refrigerators because they use refrigerants. Thermoelectric models, on the other hand, are referred to as 12V coolers or warmers. But those aren’t the focus here.

Let’s learn more about the pros and cons of portable compressor 12V refrigerators.




Pros and Cons of Portable Compressor 12V Refrigerators

Being the truest in the pack, compressor 12V refrigerators can have their temperatures set to function as either freezers or fridges. Of course, it will take some getting-used-to to know how to achieve that. But once you do, you can have your chilling needs met on the go.

You may also choose to partition a dual-zone model properly so that the partition separates the freezing zone from the cooling zone. That way you can determine were perishable foods like meat can be kept to avoid spoilage.

What’s more? Compressor units are energy-efficient. They barely use up battery power. In fact, the consumption rate is usually at 1 ampere per hour or even less. However, as with regular refrigerators, the 12V cooler tends to do more work when the ambient temperature gets hotter. More so, more work automatically translates to more power consumption.

So, if you live in warm climates, you may need to get a power station like the Jackery 240Wh Backup Lithium Battery for outdoor electronics like a 12V refrigerator. Having one will reduce the chances of draining your car battery.

That said, we thought we should also let you know that the crop of 12V refrigerators being churned into the market nowadays typically come with battery sensors. These sensors cut off battery power as soon as low voltage levels are detected. With these sensors, an extra battery may not be necessary.

Compressor units also function on both inclined and leveled surfaces. This is a benefit that you won’t get from absorption units. So, you don’t necessarily need a leveling surface.

On the flip side, compressor units may come with relatively high operating costs. Remember that they tend to be pricier than all other models. And that’s apart from the extra costs incurred in purchasing an extra battery. And if you have to use a portable generator to charge it, that will be more money going out. Of course, it will be better if you have an alternative charging source.

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Compressor units could also get noisy like regular refrigerators. But some models become quiet after a couple of minutes. In any case, the noise level is usually manageable.

Quick Recap:


  • Dual function as freezer or fridge
  • Energy efficient
  • Suitable for use on inclined and leveled surfaces
  • Feature thermostats.


  • Tends to be noisy.
  • Relatively high costs


Portable Absorption 12V Refrigerators

Absorption refrigerators are similar to compressor refrigerators because they also have a moving fluid called refrigerant gas. The two refrigerator types use refrigerants at low boiling points. Their modes of operation are also alike. In both cases, their refrigerants evaporate while boiling. It is during evaporation that the heat is taken away from the refrigerator to provide a cooling effect.

However, absorption refrigerators tend to take longer to cool when compared with compressor refrigerators.

Pros and Cons of Absorption 12V Refrigerators

Just so you know, absorption refrigerators may run on a combination of AC, DC, or LP Gas. But they tend to be more efficient when they run on gas. Yet, with gas power supply, you may need to make plans for adequate gas supply or be sure there’s a place to refill the gas along the way. Also, gas absorption refrigerators need ample ventilation so that they can run properly.

That said, absorption refrigerators also have their downsides.

First, they take up ten times more power than the compressor refrigerators. Ideally, there should be a separate battery dedicated to it. You will also need to consider recharging the battery.

More so, an absorption refrigerator will only cool items as long as the temperature is not lower than 30 degrees below ambient temperature. It will not function properly in extremely hot weather conditions.

Absorption refrigerators also require leveled surfaces before they can function well. A major challenge with this is that you won’t always be able to achieve a leveled surface.

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Quick Recap


  • Usually runs on 3 different power sources.
  • Optimal efficiency when it runs on gas.
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  • Needs leveled surfaces to function well.
  • Doesn’t offer temperature control.
  • Consumes relatively more power.
  • Cools to at most 30 degrees below normal temperature.


Portable Thermoelectric 12V Refrigerators

If you are looking for a portable 12V refrigerator, look no further than a thermoelectric unit. A thermoelectric refrigerator is suitable for keeping items cold for a short period of time.

Refrigerators of the sort are also the most affordable of the three 12V refrigerator types. What’s more? Connecting a thermoelectric cooler to a power source is pretty easy.

Pros and Cons of Portable Thermoelectric 12V Refrigerators

Typically, a thermoelectric 12V cooler can be used in reverse mode as a warmer. So, it is a suitable choice if you are not keen on keeping your food and drinks warm or cold for a long time.

Of the 3 refrigerator types that we have covered in this article, these fridges are the most portable and are usually lightweight and easy for just one person to carry. They also tend to take up only very little of your real estate.

However, the thermoelectric 12V fridge is probably our least recommended when it comes to functionality

So, when it comes to thermoelectric 12V fridges, it is important to note their cooling game is not so fantastic and only very few give the user the liberty to control the temperature. In fewer words, don’t expect arctic cold temperatures.

In fact, once the ambient temperature gets to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, you can rest assured that a thermoelectric unit may not be able to keep the food or drinks warm.

At best, they are ideal for keeping cool items cool and warm items warm till you need them.

That being said, a typical 12V thermoelectric fridge can serve as a perfect beauty fridge where you can keep beauty products that need to be stored at cool temperatures. They can also be used for storing medicines and, sometimes, breast milk for a while.

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Quick Recap:


  • Perfect for a one-day use
  • They can function as coolers or warmer


  • Quite noisy
  • Not useful once the outside temperature rises above 77 degrees
  • Consumes power excessively
  • Doesn’t provide temperature controls

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How to Choose the Best Portable 12V Refrigerators

Now that you know the 3 common types of portable refrigerators, you may already have a clear idea of what to go for. But shopping doesn’t end there. You need to know the consideration factors to keep at your fingertips while you are shopping.

Here are a few of them:

Size and Capacity

External dimensions seem to be unnecessary because portable refrigerators are designed to fit into small spaces. But don’t get carried away by that, just be sure the space you will be placing it in will be sufficient enough for it.

And while you are focusing on external dimensions, be sure to look out for the interior space too. This is the capacity. Again, the storage capacity of a portable refrigerator is usually designed to hold just a few necessary items. Still, the capacities vary. So be on the lookout for the one that meets your needs perfectly.

You may want to consider an absorption refrigerator because absorption refrigerators tend to be the largest of the 3. But you may want to consider it among other factors.

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Installation Surfaces

Where you mount the refrigerator is an all-important factor that you must consider. This really depends on the type of refrigerator anyway. For instance, the absorption models usually need to be leveled for them to function properly. So, you may want to consider the location as well as mounting hardware.

Compressor refrigerators, on the other hand, can work well on flat and inclined surfaces.

The reason this factor is noteworthy is that it helps you avoid undue drama and mess. If the refrigerator requires a flat surface, for instance, and you make a sharp turn while driving, injuries may occur as a result of accidental spills.

So, you want to look out for mounting points that are sturdy and even handles to hold the unit in place.


This is one factor you don’t want to joke with or it won’t be long before you are in the market to replace a refrigerator that damaged quite too quickly.

In identifying how durable a refrigerator is you’ll also learn about its construction materials.

Your refrigerator should be able to thrive under certain weather conditions. Not that they should be used under extreme weather conditions but they should be able to hold up well in warm and cool climates.

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This is particularly useful if you are tending towards the direction of compressor models. We suggest that you go for well-insulated refrigerators any day. Moreover, thick walls can reduce the compressor load significantly. This will, in turn, preserve the lifespan of the fridge.

We also suggest that you zero in on the outer material. You may want to go for thermal covers that could enhance the insulation of your cooler.


If you are keen on controls, then you may want to look out for models that will allow you to adjust and also see your settings. A refrigerator with digital controls and display screens may be your best option if you are a fan of controls. So it helps to be on the lookout for models that offer such features. They are convenient to use and pretty easy to monitor.

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Bottom Line…

We cannot overemphasize the importance of having your own portable refrigerator on your road trips, camping sprees, and cabin adventures. More so, they are great appliances for extra storage in RVs and outdoor events.

Now that you’ve come to the end of this buying guide, you can decide on the perfect one based on your needs and preferences.

It is also important to note the peculiarities, benefits, and downsides of the different refrigerator types before you make a choice.

We can rest assured that you’ve learned a thing or two from this buying guide and you can now make an informed choice. Go ahead and place an order for that 12V refrigerator right away. We hope you’ll be more than pleased with your choice.

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12V Refrigerators — Related FAQs

How Much Power Does a 12v Fridge Need?

A 12-volt fridge needs between 1 and 6 amps per hour when running. The average is about 2.5 amps. A fridge doesn’t run round the clock, so it will only pull current anytime the compressor comes on. This energy consumption, however, will depend on some factors.

Some of the factors that determine the energy consumption rate of a fridge are the temperature that the fridge is set to, the ambient temperature, the size of the fridge, what it is being used for, and the compressor style.

Can I Use Solar Panels Without a Battery?

You can use solar panels without a battery. Even though having a battery backup can be a good idea, not everyone necessarily needs it.

Especially if you live in an area where there is hardly power outage during dark hours (early in the morning and at night), not having a backup battery should not be an issue for you. If also you do not have any serious use for power at those dark hours, you can do without a battery. Using just solar panels without bothering about energy storage will reduce your carbon footprints.

Can I Run a 12v Fridge from a Solar Panel?

You can run a 12v fridge from a solar panel. If you can use the right solar power configuration and power requirement calculation, you can safely run virtually any type of refrigerator with solar power.

You have to know the average power that your refrigerator consumes when designing your solar power configuration. An easy way to find these power requirements is to check the nameplate ratings on the inside of the refrigerator. That way, you can know its voltage and current demands. If, for example, the refrigerator reads 130 volts and 4.8 amps of current, simply multiply both numbers to get the refrigerator’s power requirements in watts.

Can You Use a Normal Fridge for Camping?

You can use a normal fridge for camping, so long as you can put the uniqueness of its needs into consideration before proceeding to install.

To use a normal fridge, you would need a 120 volts outlet to get power. It is not likely that your RV has a 120-volt plug in its fridge cabinet, so you may have to install one. Also, you have to consider the airflow needs of the fridge you plan to install, as it will likely differ from that of a RV fridge. When this is the case, you may have problems trying to enclose it in a cabinet.

Will Camping Fridge Drain Car Battery?

A camping fridge can drain a car battery if the car/vehicle is not in use. To stop the fridge from draining the battery, you have to keep the vehicle running.

But because running the vehicle means burning much fuel, consider installing a dual battery system, or an auxiliary switch between the battery and the camping fridge. With an auxiliary switch, you can simply turn off the fridge when it is cool, to avoid running the battery down. Some modern camping fridges are able to stay cold for longer, even when there is no power.

Do I Need Dual Batteries for a Fridge?

You need dual batteries to keep your fridge serving optimally when you are outdoors. When your RV is not running, your fridge is likely to drain the battery; hence, the need to have a dual battery system.

Because it may be impossible to run your RV endlessly, having a dual battery system helps to handle your power needs while the vehicle is parked. The dual battery system can be wired into the vehicle in a number of ways. A second battery is charged while the vehicle is running, so you have a ready battery when you need it.

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