When you’re setting up your 4×4 to suit your needs, your fridge selection can make or break all your hard work. You might have the absolute ideal set up in the back of your vehicle, then you plonk your Aldi special in the middle, and suddenly none of it works how its meant to. Not only is a 12v fridge a considerable investment financially, they also tent to be expensive in terms of space as well.
As is often the case, there is no single correct answer here. There isn’t much in the offroad world that is one size fits all, but at least when you’re fridge shopping there are really only three styles to choose from.
The good old-fashioned chest fridge is probably the picture most will form in their mind when thinking about 12v refrigeration. It’s a simple evolution of the humble esky – an insulated box with a lid, only it’s cooled by a compressor instead of ice. In fact, so close are the esky and chest fridge that many brands haven’t tried to reinvent the wheel, they’ve simply attached a refrigeration compressor to the side of an esky and called it good. There’s good reason for this – they just work.
The drawback to this style tends to be the height. Not so much the height of the fridge itself, but the height of your 4WD. If you’re running bigger tyres and a couple of inches of suspension lift, you’ll be lucky to be able to see into your fridge in the back of the rig. If you’ve got a drawer system under the fridge, forget seeing what’s in there. Unless you throw a drop slide between those drawers and your fridge.
Drop slides and tilt slides have been a great innovation for 4WD tourers. They do come at a cost, though, both in terms of dollars and weight. You’ve probably already spent somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000 on the fridge, which can be quite a big and heavy thing alone. To then have to go and spend another $700 to $2,000 plus is a big ask. Accommodating another 30-35kg of slide can also be a deal breaker if you’re running out of payload. Still, for bulk storage and reliability they’re hard to beat.
What was once a style purely aimed at caravans and motorhomes, the upright fridge has seen a surge in popularity over the last few years for three main reasons: 1) There are more pure 12v upright fridges available, when previously all upright options were three-way (able to be powered by 12v, 240v or LPG). The second reason is that the cost of an upright can often work out better than a chest fridge.
The third reason is the huge surge in popularity of the high-end canopy set ups on 4×4 utes. This style of vehicle really lends itself to the upright fridge style for the same reason that drop slides came to fruition; canopies are quite high off the ground. There’s also the fact that it’s easier to just open an upright fridge than it is to pull out the drop slide and open a chest. And then once the chest is open, you’ve still got to dig through the contents to find that last beer. In an upright, everything is on display. You’ll lose a little storage, and gain a little convenience.
The drawer fridge has risen so sharply in popularity that the style is finding its way into some residential fridges, with many offering a separate drawer section, or a pull out freezer drawer.
Whilst the drawer option leaves you with a smaller capacity fridge, quite often you’ll find that two drawers may work better space wise than a single upright. They’re simple to use, nothing falls out of them, they take up very little space and they are very light. What’s not to love? Well, you can forget storing tall bottles upright; you are very limited for height inside the fridge. There’ll also be a not insignificant power consumption jump with two drawers Vs one upright.
HOW TO CHOOSE
Obviously everyone is different, but we find these chest fridge guidelines particularly helpful. Think about which of these things are important to you, and spend your money accordingly.
- Chest fridges are generally more efficient. Cold air sinks, right? So it makes sense that having the lid on top will let out the least amount of precious cold air when you open it.
- Chest fridges are portable. You can take it out of the car if and when you like. Put it in the house for family Christmas to store the leftovers if you like – you can’t do that with an upright or a drawer fridge.
- Chest fridges are big and heavy. The biggest footprint of all three options, and especially when coupled with a slide, they’re the heaviest.
- Chest fridges open at the top. Do you have the height in your application to even open the lid?
- Chest fridges can operate on just about any angle. If you’re stuck half way up a track on a nasty lean and you feel like a cold drink, you can forget opening that upright fridge.