This year, we’re going to start camping as a family. This means we’re unlikely to be doing much in the way of walking, but more taking the family down to a local campsite, setting up a comfortable tent, the bbq and most importantly, fresh food. As a result, I’m going to buy a 12-Volt fridge or cool box that I can run either off solar power or the car battery and keep my fresh food cool in the summer. In this review, we’re looking at the best 12V cool box
Cool Box Vs. Fridge
I very nearly titled this review, best 12V fridge, however while the words are almost interchangeable the key difference for me between a cool box and a fridge, is the aspect of portability. In my mind, a cool box is something that I can move around, where as a fridge is something that is fixed, such as a fridge in my kitchen at home, or a fridge in a caravan.
In this review we’re looking at cool box’s as we need some portability. I need to be able to move my cool box around to where I need it, and to be able to charge it where needed. I’m planning to use solar panels to charge it during the day, and this means I will probably need to move the cool box around to different areas that have sunlight.
Features Yours Should Have
Fridges and coolers come in a range of sizes, shapes and efficiencies. Sadly, it gets worse given that there is a lot of choice on the market, with some being great, but others totally useless. If you look at reviews across the internet, everyone has an opinion of what is good and what’s not. While it’s probably worth checking out a few review sites to see the general view of a model, users often have this impossible view of what they think a fridge should be able to do, and when this doesn’t work, they rate it one-star.
In my case, I want a fridge to be able to keep fresh food cold while I’m in the countryside. I don’t want a freezer, and I’m expecting it use to a reasonable amount of electricity to keep cool. Below are the features that I’m looking for in a fridge.
- Fridge Vs Freezer – I’m specifically looking for a fridge. I will possibly buy frozen, but I’m not expecting things to stay frozen for long periods. Realistically I would expect a fridge to get down to 0″ C to achieve this.
- Durability – I want a cooler that is built to take a few knocks and drops. I probably will not drop it, but we plan on doing some offroad driving, and it will need to take a few bumps along the way.
- Power Usage – It needs to be 12-Volt and DC useable. This means you could use a solar panel on a hot day to power the fridge.
- Size – realistically is 15 litres per day. If you want to store enough food for three days, you need 45 litres.
- Insulation – I will not be running my fridge the whole time, and thus it needs good insulating to keep cool, especially in the summer month.
- Price – you can get a really cheap portable fridge on Amazon for less than 100, however, will it work correctly and will it last. Honestly, I don’t know, and as such, I think buying a quality product is the way to go.
- Addition Features Include:
- Dual-Zone – allowing you to separate your food into various departments base on the required temperature. In principle a great idea, but realistically, it’s only possible on larger machines. It’s probably not something for me.
- Insulated Covers – Yes, they are an added expense, but an insulated cover will help to keep the unit cool and therefore worth buying.
- Monitor Temperature – I want to be able to monitor the temperature inside the unit as there is no point in running your fridge if it’s already cold.
- Battery Setting – I want to have a low battery setting that will switch off the unit if my battery becomes too low.
Thermoelectric Vs Compressor Coolers
If you want to be able to freeze your food, then a compressor is the right design for your needs. Thermoelectric coolers use the Peltier effect to transfer heat between two plates; effectively, one plate gets hot and the other cold when electricity is passed. The problem is that the temperature achieved is dependent on the ambient temperature, and therefore in the summer months, realistically, you’re not going to a temperature lower than zero degrees.
Suppose you want to be able to freeze. In that case, you need to buy a compressor-type refrigerator that uses condenser coils outside the fridge to turn liquid at a very low temperature, typically -25 Centigrade, to cool the air inside the fridge. While it’s possible to cool a portable refrigerator to freezing temperature, you do need to make sure you’re buying a unit with good insulation to keep it cold once the unit is switched off.
Best 12 Volt Cool Box Reviews 2021
So whats the best 12 Volt Cool box? The honest answer, there is a lot of junk on the market. Review sites, supermarkets, hardware stores, and even online websites have a range of cool boxes, some are good, most are totally useless. The problem with a cool box, the first time you’re going to realize that your’s is no good, is when all your food goes off because yours cannot hold the right temperature.
To understand the best 12-Volt cool box, it’s not only a matter of reading reviews, it’s also a matter of testing a few models out to understand what they can do, and more importantly, what they cannot do. We tested a few models, and came to the conclusion that the best 12 Volt Cool Box , and more importantly, the one I would be buying, is the Dometic CFX 40W.
Dometic CFX40W 12v Electric Powered Fridge Freezer
- Two Sizes: 40W and 50W
- 40W will hold about 38 Litres, and the 50W, 45 litres
The Domestic range of portable electric fridges comes in a range of sizes from CFX-28, which is a 25-litre cooler, to the CFX-95DZW, which is a dual-zone 90litre fridge. For my needs, we think the CFX-40W or the CFX-50 is about the right size. The 40W will hold about 38 Litres, and the 50W, 45 litres. Both units are about the same size, with the 50W just being a little deeper 18.1″ H x 27.2″ W x 15.7″ D for the 40 and 18.5″ H x 28.5 W x 17.9″ for the 50, and they weigh about the same.
In terms of design, they are made using ABS thermoplastic polymer construction and PU foam insulation and use Compressor electronics to ensure ultra-low power consumption averaging 1 Ah/hr, using AC, DC or solar-powered battery systems. As a unit, technically, they can be split, with one side being colder than the other, and there is an LED screen showing you the temperature in each side. This same LED screen also allows you to set the temperature for each side.
We tested both models, and both have a similar fantastic performance. From switched off and room temperature to cold with a temperature of zero-degrees took almost three hours, and while we didn’t test the freezer function, I cannot imagine it would take much longer to get down to this temperature. Once it’s cold, it easily stays cold with very little power consumption. You can easily run it with solar panels, however, if you run it straight from your battery, make sure you understand the “Lo Med High” setting concerning when the unit automatically switches off. In my case, I set it to low as we were using a separate battery and solar panels, however, if you were using it directly from your car battery, you might need it to be set at high to give you enough power to start your engine.
What’s really impressive is the noise level, it’s really low. I switched in on and had to check a few times to make sure it was running as it’s so quiet. While we left it in the car, if you were strong enough, you could easily move it into your tent, and it would not affect your sleep in all. The problems, and to be clear, none of these are deals breakers, but you do need to be aware before you choose.
The Dometic CFX40W/CFX50W’s are heavy when they’re empty and crazy heavy when they’re full. Yes, it comes with sturdy handles on each side, but I think it would take two people to move. I also think the insulation cover is vital for the summer months. Most of the reviews we read mentioned that it was not necessary, but I really thought that it made help the fridge stay cool and reduce the power consumption that it needed.
Koolatron Kargo P65 Thermoelectric Cooler
The Dometic CFX40W/CFX50W’s are brilliant cool boxes with amazing performance, but they’re not exactly cheap. Spending over £500 on anything cannot be called cheap, but on a cool-box that you might only use a few times a year, probably this is out of the stretch for many people. As a result, this and the below model are two cheaper models that we would recommend in the various designs (12-Volt Portable Fridge & 12-Volt Portable Cool-Box).
First up on our list is the Koolatron Kargo Cooler. This portable electrical cool box is designed for portability. It has a versatile and split lid design which increases access to the contents and can be oriented with the lid on the top or placed on its side more like a standard mini-fridge. In total, the Koolatron can store up to 31 L.
The Koolatron has a thermoelectric design capable of cooling items to -22 degrees-C. The box uses a brushless fan motor that uses less power than your car’s tail light. On the back of the cooler is a power cord that leads to a standard 12V DC adaptor that can plug directly into your car. The box can be used to store snacks and drinks while cold or switch to warm mode to keep takeout and dishes hot. You can even unplug the cooler and still use the residual heat/cold to keep the contents in proper conditions for hours later.
The Kollatron is designed with NASA-inspired technology to make sure that the contents of the cooler stay at the right temperature and do not leak into the surrounding environment.
Tristar Thermoelectric Cool Box
Next up on our list is the Tristar Thermoelectric Cool Box. This cooler box is capable of providing 40V of cooling power and has a 20-litre volume, so it’s perfect for day trips to store your lunch and snacks. The cooler is capable of cooling items to below 18 degrees-C and can also heat items up to 65 degrees-C. The entire cooler is lightweight, too and only weighs just 3.8kg. It also has a 2-meter power cord, so you can plug it in from any position in your car.
The Tristar also comes with some extra attachment to soft power. It comes with both a 250V plug and a standard 12V DC to plug it in the car. It has a practical and simple design, featuring a thick lid on the top with a locking mechanism and a convenient handle for carrying. The design is slightly made awkward by the fact that you have to move the handle down before you can properly open the lid.
Overall, the Tristar is an excellent cooler box and is the perfect accessory to take on your trips on the road. The electrical cooler is energy efficient, has a practical design, is space-conscious, and has a wide range of cooling and heating options. It also has multiple power options as it comes with two power adaptors, a 250V one and a 12V one. So, if you are looking for a good cooler to take in your car on day trips, then the Tristar is a great choice.