Gear, Planning/Construction

Do you (really) need a fridge?

You drove all day in hot weather, you’re tired, sweaty, and the only thing you want, now that you have found a nice place to stop for the night, is a cold beer. Simple, just open the fridge and get one. Sit down, and enjoy. Very simple and so satisfying. Yes but, how much did that cold beer cost you in electrical power, to stay cold old day? Let’s look at the pros and cons of installing a fridge in your overland vehicle.

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The pros are obvious since we all have a fridge at home and we know what it can do. The main points are that a fridge allows you to:

  • Keep meat and meat products below 4ºC so that they stay safe to consume.
  • Same with dairy products.
  • Keep fruits and vegetables fresh.
  • Keep drinks cold.

As far as cons:

A fridge really suited to overlanding vehicles is expensive. Normal RV fridges don’t do it for us. They are too inefficient.

  • These fridges will run on 12V and will need power, lots. That means one secondary battery or more.
  • To keep the secondary battery charged you will need a DC to DC charger to charge it while driving.
  • You will also need an AC to DC charger for charging in campgrounds.
  • All this electrical stuff will require heavy gauge cables, fuses, etc.
  • Maybe you’ll even need a solar panel and controller.
  • A battery monitor is necessary to make sure you don’t run the battery too low and reduce its life.

What I am getting at is that simply opting for a fridge adds a long list of requirements to operate the fridge. That means a fairly complex and expensive electrical installation. Is that cold beer worth that much?

From my experience here in Argentina and with my own vehicle, the fridge has been the most frustrating part of the truck. Granted, here in Argentina the cool accessories that are common in North America, Europe or Australia are either not available or ridiculously expensive. So we have to make do with often ill-adapted components to get more or less the same result. Our fridge is a hotel-type solid-state mini-fridge that cannot cope with the hot temperatures in the truck. It runs almost non-stop and draws way too much current of about 9 Amps. Regardless, we have found on our trips that in any hamlet somewhere we will be able to purchase ice bags, which will last a day or two. We have been vegetarian for sometime and do not need to keep meat. We eat cheese and occasionally yogurt, but hard cheeses keep well in a cooler with ice, so do delicate vegetables. Butter will also keep well in an icebox. So for us a fridge no longer seems like an absolute necessity. We all have to evaluate our needs based on our lifestyle, diet, budget, etc. Just be very conscious of the fact that a fridge is a much more serious decision than might seem at first glance. Below is a list of manufacturers that make fridges and even freezers for overlanders:

ARB, Dometic, Edgestar, Engel, Indel, National Luna, RC Rough Challenge, Smittybuilt, Snomaster, Whynter, etc.

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