I wanted to get the absolute best portable 12 volt refrigerator – freezer for truck drivers that will stand up to full time over the road traveling. You’ll find my in-depth research and reviews here.
Let’s get started by figuring out and understanding what we need our fridge to do for us, how much it needs to hold, and where it needs to fit.
- 1 What I use in my over the road semi truck
- 1.1 Here is a list of 5 things to consider before buying your new travel fridge.
- 1.2 Specialized Marine 12 volt portable fridges
- 1.3 Top Brands of portable 12v compressor based freezer / fridges
- 2 Best Weatherproof Outdoor Refrigerator
- 3 Best Over All Dual Zone 12 volt Truck Fridge
Why do you need a real compressor freezer vs Thermoelectric cooler?
Let’s clear this up right away because when you do a search for truck fridge you’ll get mostly these thermoelectric coolers in the results. Rather than me trying to explain thermoelectric cooling on this review page you can learn more about that on wikipedia here.
I’ll just say that from personal experience you can only keep soft drinks and water semi cold in these things as they are simply iceless coolers, not refrigerators. Milk and other perishable foods will spoil rapidly.
You will be better off with a Yetti type cooler and ice than a thermoelectric. If you want to keep fresh or frozen food a fridge with a real compressor capable of running on 12 volts is required.
In my case I want my portable truck fridge to be able to freeze and refrigerate at the same time, meaning it will need to have two separate compartments one to store fresh cold items and one for frozen food.
I won’t be using mine for camping so things like having it maintain a certain temperature for hours while unplugged are not as important to me as to someone who plans to go out into the woods without a generator.
This will be a 2nd backup fridge / freezer for me. I already have a
small built in Dometic fridge in my truck permanently installed in the cabinet behind the passenger seat. It was similar to a dorm fridge with a very small freezer in the top except that it runs on the trucks 12 volt battery supply.
It has broken and intermittently stopped working on me before which is why I need a more reliable back up portable unit. In addition I cannot reach into it while I am driving to grab a cold drink or snack. I keep the portable next to the passenger seat on the floor close enough to reach it from the drivers seat quickly.
What I use in my over the road semi truck
Currently I am using this large portable Dometic CFX-65DZ as my main truck freezer – fridge combo unit. It sits on the floor behind the drivers seat where the old built-in cabinet used to be. It makes a great nightstand as well. There’s plenty of room left even with a large unit like this one.
I also have this small 20 qt Alpicool that sits on the passenger seat. If you don’t carry a lot of food this is all you really need. You won’t believe the great price you can get one of these for. This was actually my very first real portable fridge-freezer. I’ve had it for over two years now and it still works great.
Both units come with 12 volt and 120 volt adapters so you can take your food to your hotel room with you when you get out of the truck.
I find these are some of the exact sames reasons these two units are so popular with RV’ers. The even make sliders to stow in outside storage compartments while not it use for the larger models.
After all living and traveling in an RV is similar to how some truck drivers live. Except we have a much smaller living area in a commercial truck sleeper vs your RV.
Here is a list of 5 things to consider before buying your new travel fridge.
- Do you need to keep items at different temperatures at the same time?
- What are your size and weight limitations if any?
- Will you need an insulated transit cover for use when the fridge is unplugged or kept outside in hot climates?
- Are you going to be using it on a boat or at the beach in a harsh marine environment?
- Will you need any long 110 volt or 12 volt cords or other accessories?
Dual Zone Temp / Multi Compartment vs Single compartment 12v freezers
Keeping fresh and frozen foods maintained at their proper temperatures simultaneously like at home will require a larger more expensive unit. Or you could buy two, one for frozen and one for fresh foods.
All of the units we will review together are capable of holding sub zero to fifty degree temperatures.
A work around to use a single zone freezer as a dual zone – in some units is to place a thick piece of foam in a single zone fridge, the side closest to the compressor or cooling coils will freeze while the area further away will remain above freezing due to being insulated. Or you can buy the CFX65 DZ which works this way by design all of the cooling tubes are concentrated at one end and comes with removable dividers.
Specialized Marine 12 volt portable fridges
I would not take a unit not designed for harsh salt air environments on my boat or even to the beach very often. If you have ever lived in a humid area near saltwater you know what I am talking about.
If not please take my word for it and spend the extra cash on a specialized fridge. Salty climates cause things to rust and corrode, especially electronics. If you have ever owned a boat with a battery disconnect you may have experienced electrolysis causing corrosion on plugs and wire connections to and from 12 volt DC batteries.
Size and weight limitations
If you don’t plan on removing your fridge from your vehicle often then weight is not such a big deal. Many of the 50 qt fridges can weigh more than 45 pounds.
As far as size goes just make sure to measure the space in the vehicle you plan you keep it while going down the road and compare your measurements to the outside dimensions listed in the product descriptions.
Exterior construction Materials: Aluminum metal vs heavy duty molded plastic
- What are portable truck fridges made of?
- How well are they built?
- Will they stand up to 30 degree angles leaned over while parked on a slope or underway on a sailboat?
Since we are looking at a pretty large investment as compared to a standard cooler or even a thermoelectric 12 volt cooler, we want to make sure to get it right and select a fridge that will last for many years. Here is an image of an old used Dometic RC1600 3-Way Absorption Camping Cool Box for sale.
I think these things are still made today and are popular in the UK. They even run on a third type of power source, propane.
Ok so we got a little off track here since these are not the type of coolers we are reviewing today. I just wanted to show this one since it goes to the quality of the Dometic / Waeco brand of travel fridges.
In my opinion the Dometic brand is one of the best for overall quality. Heck some of these babys’ are as much as your home unit so again i feel it’s important to get one that will last and you’ll be happy with for a long time.
Top Brands of portable 12v compressor based freezer / fridges
- Engel – featuring Engel Swing compressor
- Dometic / Waeco –
- Whytner – This is a newer off-brand I have seen on Amazon and Home Depot websites getting very good reviews
Engel is the top of the line they are also the most expensive. So if money is no object and you can find one in the right size you are looking for then this in the one I would go with.
The only thing I don’t like about the Engel is the temperature setting. they don’t display the temperature you pick from 123 etc. So you have to get a thermometer to place inside to find the best setting for you.
- legendary quality, will operate trouble free for many years.
- well insulated metal body 3. quiet and very efficient
- temperature setting is not the actual temperature similar to your home fridge
- poor size selection
- most expensive
Dometic is the portable freezer most of us end up going with because of selection and availability.
Price vs quality. Dometic’s are still pricey and the quality is excellent.
Sizes and Selection -The reason I ended up buying a Dometic – they have the best selection available on Amazon Prime with a size configuration for everyone. You can get a mini fridge with cup holders that fits in between your seats even in a Peterbuilt where the seats are really close together. If traveling in a car or van it can go between the back seat passengers, they could use it as an armrest and cup holder.
You can buy an extra large dual zone combo unit that will fit on the floor in between the cabinets in front of your bunk in a sleeper truck. I really like my floor space so I went with a taller and narrower Dometic CFX 65DZ jump to the full review here. This gave me the most cubic feet for the least amount of floor space inside my truck. It’s size allows me to place it longways against the wall behind the drivers seat. This is the space where my original fridge cabinet was, I removed the cabinet allowing me to get twice as much interior fringe space as I would have with a permanently mounted truck fridge.
One of the coolest features (pun intended) is the wifi app that allows you to monitor and adjust the temperature of your fridge and freezer. There are two models where the wifi app is not installed the CFX65DZ and the CFX28. I still went with the dual zone for it’s flexibility and lower power (amp) draw. If you really want the wifi app then go with any of the other models that are in your size range.
- Large selection of sizes for any application
- . Availability there are plenty of suppliers and if you like amazon many of them are available on prime. Wifi app monitoring and ability to adjust the temperature.
- No sharp edges heavy duty molded plastic exterior with reinforced corners. The inside liner is metal.
Wifi app is not available on all models.
The quality is on pace with Dometic. Many claim ARB is better. The selection is not quite as good. The best thing about ARB are there specialty models If I planned on camping, boating or using my fridge outdoors I would purchase their weatherproof model above any other brand make or model. They also have a marine specific model for boating that is less expensive that the weather proof model but I would still go with the weatherproof one for boating.
Conclusion- While I rated ARB number 3 on my list overall. They are number one for a weatherproof outdoor 12v freezer.
- Top quality
- Activity specific models. weatherproof and marine
- Size and selection
These are made from aluminium with lots of insulation sandwiched in between which makes them very efficient. The compressor quality may not be as good as the other brands. Another plus with this brand in the vents are in the front on some models so you may get better ventilation to the compressor which could result in more efficient operation and lower overall power consumption.
- Lower pricing
- Vent location
- Better door seal and insulation
- Edges are not rounded – This was the reason I did not consider this model I thought I might hit a corner and get scratched up having the unit next to my bed.
- The interior metal looks like it can get dented or cut, it appears to be very thin and foil like.
This is another off brand fridge you can get for a song on Amazon. The selection is very limited – only the two smaller models were available when I got mine. I bought the 20 liter size and am extremely happy with it. The 15 and 20 are the same fridge with a different lid. The 20L lid bubbles up leaving enough room to store a 1/2 gallon container of OJ or milk with the top of your carton folded or bent slightly. It’s just the right size for my front seat the top lines up perfectly below my window line without blocking my mirrors on the passenger seat at all. It’s also lightweight and easy to load and unload even when full of food.
- Noise level
- No cupholders
- Longevity of compressor and electronics are unknown or untested – I’ve owned mine for about six months as of May 13th 2018 when I updated this review page. So far is seems like an excellent little fridge and has performed flawlessly for me. It’s just not a well know brand that’s been around a long time.
Best Weatherproof Outdoor Refrigerator
As I briefly mentioned above if I were going to use my freezer outside in the elements where it could get wet specifically I would by this ARB that is specifically made to be outside in all weather conditions.
Best Over All Dual Zone 12 volt Truck Fridge
You can’t go wrong with the Dometic CFX 65DZ – this is the one I ended up buying. If you want a dual zone (2 compartments that refrigerate and freeze at the same time) that is only 28 inches wide vs about 36 inches for the larger 95CFX DZ.
I thought about one of the larger models and keeping in up on the top bunk but wanting to keep the power consumption low I went with the taller more compact model. I do occasionally have a passenger – kids in the summer time. I decided to go with the one that would fit perfectly where the factory fridge cabinet was located in my truck behind my driver’s seat.
The 65 size single zone model would be an excellent choice as well even after my purchase I wonder if I should have gotten this one because of the WIFI app capability and slightly larger baskets since there is no divider for a freezer space. I mostly want to use mine as freezer since I already have a small 20L Alpicool for the front seat where I keep my water bottles, lunch-meat, milk cartons basically all of my refrigerated items.
The reason I purchased this freezer in the first place was to prepare healthy frozen meals to take with me on the road. For this reason the fridge will pay for itself in no-time at all. I’ll be eating better and enjoying my time in the truck on the road better than ever before. Not to mention the ability to carry enough food to last 3 or 4 weeks at a time means I won’t need to deal with the truck stop parking mess as often to be near a restaurant.
Dometic CFX 65DZ Review
This model was available on Amazon Prime for two day delivery, for me this was the deciding factor between several different models I was having a hard time making a final decision between a few of the Dometic and one of the Engle models.
It came packed well in the factory box wrapped in plastic. The delivery guy left it downstairs it was quite heavy to lug upstairs. It’s much easier to move around out of the box with the handles.
The handles are spring loaded to keep them tight against the sides, if you naturally let them go they snap hard and make a loud noise. Not a big deal the snap surprised me though.
Once I got it un-boxed. I found the instructions with two cords one 12 volt and one 120 volt so you can plug it in a home or in a hotel room.
I plugged her in and left the factory settings alone while I read the instruction manual which includes instructions for all of the CFX models sizes 28 through 100. I does not list the CFX 75 DZ though.
It took 30 minutes to go from 75 F to 37 F using the 120 volt adapter. Once I started loading frozen food in freezer basket with no divider the temp jumped down to from 37 to 19 in about 20 minutes while opening the door several times to put more stuff in.
The freezer basket is the perfect size to use one gallon freezer bags for your food storage. By itself it’s not big enough to put many square plastic containers in. You can hold a lot more in this compartment compared to the cabinet permanently installed truck fridges.
However if you are looking to have more frozen space then you’ll have to remove the divider and use the whole thing as a freezer. One feature I think I will really like is it appears the cooling tubes are all concentrated in the freezer end on the inside. I think this is why the power consumption is rated lower on the 65DZ vs the 65W (same model dual zone vs single zone).
So far in my testing to find the best temperature to where I can keep frozen food in both main compartments and still use the small space above the compressor for non-frozen refrigerated items. If you set the temp to 5 F it freezes to too main compartments without freezing the third compartment on the opposite end from the freezer compartment. This is without the plastic divider in place.
Tips for maximizing the interior space of your new freezer
If you really want to maximize the amount of food you take along I would consider have two separate units one to freeze and one to refrigerate if you have the space.
If you want everything to freeze then in this unit you need to remove the plastic divider set the temp at 0 F or below.
If you want to have more space like you do in the single zone model then set the temp a little above zero and keep the frozen stuff in the main compartments and you can still use the third compartment for warmer refrigerated items.
If you buy boxes of individually wrapped food open up the box and throw it away
Use freezer bags instead of hard plastic containers to store food.
Keep it full and pack everything tight you don’t need any air space or flow – this type of fridge works more efficiently when its full. As you empty it add water bottles to keep it full.
Get some thermometers for the inside to verify the set temp especially with this model since one end is designed to be colder than the other.
Selection tips before you buy
Find the exact compartment measurements for the model you are considering. Then make some boxes or plastic containers that are the same size as the interior compartments of the fridge. Finally buy all of the food you want to take with you and try and fit it into those boxes. This may seem a little overboard but better to get it right the first time then to go through the trouble of having to return and exchange your fridge.
I really like this freezer and I am sure it will last a long time. One thing all brands have in common with all portable compressor based freezers is they look or seem like they should be larger on the inside in photos and based on the outside dimensions. If your space is flexible then I would go one size (10L) bigger than what you think you will need.