There’s plenty to consider when buying a quality portable fridge for your next four wheel drive adventure.

The primary objective of any fridge is to keep produce at a temperature where it’s not going to spoil. To achieve this, the fridge in your house is plugged into a 240V AC outlet and is rarely moved from its designated location in your kitchen. Oh, and it has to cope with little more than the opening and closing of its compartment doors and climatic variations of just a few degrees throughout the year.

A portable fridge, on the other hand, has many more demands placed on it, yet is still required to keep produce cool and fresh. Bouncing around in the back of a four wheel drive wagon or ute, a portable fridge is subjected to constant movements, extreme angles, ambient temperatures ranging from below freezing to above 50°C, all while operating on your vehicle’s 12V DC power supply.

The portable fridge market is packed with options, so choosing the right fridge for your four wheel drive travels can seem like a daunting task. To help simplify matters, here are some of the most important things to take into account when you’re in the market for a new fridge.

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Size Matters

If you’re heading off on a weekend away with your partner, then chances are you’re not going to need a big fridge to keep your food and drinks chilled. But if you’re off on an extended trip with the family, then you’re going to need something bigger.

Portable fridges generally come in capacities ranging from around 35L to 80L, with several sizes in between. It really goes without saying, the bigger the internal capacity of the fridge, the bigger its external dimensions (and the heavier it will be), so if your vehicle is a Suzuki Jimny, you’ll be hard-pressed fitting an 80L fridge in the back along with all of your other gear. Opt for the biggest fridge you can fit in your vehicle, but not at the expense of having to leave other gear at home.

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Cooling Efficiency

You don’t always have an unlimited, reliable power supply when you’re out in the bush, so you need to choose a fridge with an efficient compressor and good insulation. Most fridge manufacturers will list power consumption in Ah (amps/hour). When comparing power consumption figures between fridge models, it’s important to note the cabinet temperature and the ambient temperature in which the fridge was tested by the manufacturer; a fridge will use more power on a hot day than a cold one.

While the efficiency of a fridge’s compressor is the most important factor when it comes to cooling down the cabinet quickly, it’s the effectiveness of the fridge’s insulation that will aid cooling efficiency over a long duration. This isn’t critical when you’re driving (as your vehicle’s charging system will keep the batteries topped up), but if you’re camped out for a few days in the one location, you’ll want a fridge that doesn’t drain your batteries overnight.

Cooling capacity is also vitally important. Even in ambient temperatures above 50°C (remember, it can get mighty hot in the back of a vehicle) you’ll need a fridge that can reliably keep its contents below 4°C (or lower if you’re using it as a freezer). Any higher than 4°C and your food can quickly spoil.

Some fridges will have a traditional dial to set the cabinet temperature, which will need to be adjusted as the ambient temperature changes. More modern designs feature an electronic control system, where you select the desired cabinet temperature and the fridge automatically adjusts as necessary.

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Build Quality

Portable fridges are manufactured from a variety of materials. To stand the test of time, the external cabinet should be made from a tough and durable material; after all, it’s going to cop some bumps and scratches when it’s stored in the shed or when luggage is thrown up against it in the back of your vehicle.

The design of the external cabinet is also important. Make sure there are no protruding latches or hinges that are likely to catch on luggage, sleeping bags or picnic blankets and the like; check that the power leads (both the 12V DC and 240V AC) fit securely and snugly to the fridge and are not likely to pull free when the fridge is moved; and make sure the fridge controls are recessed so you’re not likely to bump them.

By definition, a portable fridge should be, well, portable. So make sure it has decent handles so you can get a good hold of it when moving it around. These will usually double up as the tie-down points, so check to make sure they’re tough enough to do the job.

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Convenience Features

There are a number of features to look for that will make your portable fridge more pleasant and convenient.

Despite tough construction, you won’t want a fridge that’s so heavy you can’t easily move it around or pick it up to place it in the back of your vehicle. A quality portable fridge will be tough but not too heavy. The weight of a fridge is generally listed on the spec sheet.

A fridge with a clever interior design will be more versatile than one with just a basic empty space. Convenient features include a separate area for items such as fruit and dairy products, an easily removed basket in the main section, and a divider to keep heavy items separate from squash-able fresh food items. It’s also handy if the divider can be repositioned to suit your immediate requirements.

Other things to look for in a portable fridge are a cabinet light (it sounds silly, but not all portable fridges have one), a removable lid (for easy basket removal), a smooth interior surface (for easy cleaning), a drain plug (for cleaning and spills) and rubber feet (for grip and stability, because your fridge won’t always be used in the back of your vehicle).

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Other Considerations

Everyone will have their personal preference when it comes to packing a fridge, but a general rule of thumb is to put the heaviest items in the bottom and light stuff on top. Consider pre-packing items like smaller fruits and vegies into separate, easily stackable plastic containers; you’ll fit more in, food will last longer and your fridge will stay cleaner.

Setting the fridge temperature will depend on its contents but remember, if you have food in there such as fruit, veggies and meats, you’ll need to keep temperature below 4°C to keep it fresh. If you have an older-style fridge with a dial, you can turn the thermostat down at night to save power, but if you have a modern fridge with an electronically controlled thermostat you can essentially set and forget.

There’s one aspect of a fridge’s operation that you won’t find on the spec sheet: how much noise it generates. Some fridges are so noisy that you can here them humming and rattling away in the back of your vehicle even when you’re bouncing down a corrugated gravel road. Imagine how loud such a fridge would sound when you’re lying in your swag on an otherwise silent night. Manufacturers don’t list the noise generated by a fridge on a spec sheet, so have a listen to a fridge operating in a store before you purchase one.

Finally, make sure the fridge you buy is covered by a decent warranty, and ensure the manufacturer offers good parts and service back up. If a fridge fails on a trip it can really spoil your fun, so you’ll want to make sure there are retailers in regional areas that can help out if you have a problem.

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ARB Fridge Freezer Range

When it comes to refrigeration on the move, ARB has got you covered with a total of four models in the portable Fridge Freezer range. The 35L model is ideal for short trips or for use as a second fridge on big adventures. Its compact dimensions make it perfectly suited to smaller four wheel drives and SUVs. The 47L Fridge Freezer is one of the most popular sizes in the range. It’s big enough for long trips away and will easily fit in the back of medium to large four wheel drive wagons and utes. If you have a big family or are accustomed to travelling with mates, then the extra space afforded by the 60L model will mean you can keep food and drinks chilled on long trips away. A low profile ensures this big fridge will still suit roller drawer systems. Finally, if you’re planning on taking the family away on an extended off road adventure, the huge 78L Fridge Freezer is big enough to keep everyone stocked up with fresh food and cold drinks.

No matter the size, all models in the ARB Portable Fridge Freezer range feature a durable powder coated zinc steel cabinet, a tough two-piece injection moulded removable lid, strong handles that double as tie-down points, recessed control panel, advanced electronic control system, efficient and quiet compressor and loads of insulation. They also have versatile cabinets with a separate compartment for fruit and dairy, a basket with moveable divider, smooth sides for easy cleaning and a drain plug.

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ARB Fridge Freezer Accessories

ARB also has a full range of accessories including an advanced Fridge Freezer monitor, so you can keep an eye on fridge performance from the driver’s seat, a canvas Transit Bag to protect your fridge from dents and scratches, a tie down system to keep your fridge secure, various fridge slides for easy access to the fridge’s contents, and 12V and 24V wiring harnesses. ARB can also supply and install a range of advanced dual battery systems and chargers to ensure your fridge never runs out of power on the track.

ARB Fridge Freezer

Available in four user-friendly capacities, the ARB Fridge Freezer suits a myriad of situations, from fishing and weekend camping to serious off road tours. For more details, visit: wwww.arb.com.au/fridgefreezer
Contact ARB for part numbers and pricing.

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