Going camping doesn’t have to mean lukewarm beer and questionably refrigerated chicken floating in a pool of melted ice at the bottom of your esky. It doesn’t have to mean repeatedly draining your esky and then heading to the servo for more ice.
12V portable fridges for your car or caravan are very reliable these days and do a great job at keeping your food and drink cool while you are out exploring Australia’s great outdoors!
In this article, I will run you through the best 12V portable camping fridge/freezers for your car to help you figure out which one makes sense for you! I'll also take you through a checklist of the things to look out for when choosing your fridge!
To get started, let's quickly compare a representative model from each of the brands mentioned in this article.
I've decided to compare the 45L model (or as close to this as possible) from each of the brands, as this is a popular capacity and almost all brands have a fridge at close to this size.
Brass Monkey 45L Dual
Dometic CFX3 45
Kings 45L Fridge
OZtrail 45L Fridge
631 (L) x 360 (W) x 508 (H) mm
711 (L) x 460 (W) x 506 (H) mm
694 (L) x 398 (W) x 476 (H) mm
652 (L) x 412 (W) x 488 (H) mm
660 (L) x 410 (W) x 430 (H) mm
621 (L) x 485 (W) x 469 (H) mm
0.7 - 1.0 Ah/h
Great value, plenty of features
Bluetooth app control, USB port
2 x 12V sockets, lots of features
Loses points for poor reliability
Handles high temps/humidity
3 years (+2)
3 years (+2)
3 years (+2)
$1299 at TentWorld
$1,139 at TentWorld
Check price at Caravan RV Camping
Best 12V Portable Car Fridges for Camping
Engel MT-V Fridges
Any discussion on the best portable camping fridge in Australia has to mention Engel. In fact, they’re at the top of my list!
Yes, I know that they are expensive and that they don’t have some of the fancier features like Bluetooth app control and USB charging ports, but they make up for this by having an amazing product that damn well does what it is supposed to.
The Engel MT-V fridge/freezers are widely regarded as being the most reliable portable fridges in Australia. The build quality and workmanship that goes into each and every unit is superb.
There are many stories out there of people who bought their Engel fridges 20+ years ago and are still using them to this day!
The units themselves are tough as nails, thanks to the powder coated steel body (not plastic like other brands) that has a nice gunmetal gray finish. The insulation is thick and in conjunction with the heavy duty lid, does a great job of keeping your food and drink cool.
All Engel MT-V fridges use the highly efficient and reliable Sawafuji compressor. They come with 3 year warranties (5 years on the compressor). I can’t recommend them highly enough, although I know that they will be too expensive for many people.
However, if you are going out bush and need reliability, an Engel fridge is your best bet.
They come in 35, 45, 60 and 80L varieties. For more info, check out my full Engel fridge review!
Brass Monkey Fridges
Best Budget Camping Fridge
The Brass Monkey fridges are relatively new to the market but they have quickly become very popular. This is thanks to the fact that they offer the quality and features of a premium fridge at a very low price.
Most of their units come with Bluetooth app control, a USB charging port plus a handle and wheels (like a suitcase) which makes it easy to transport them. They operate at a nice, quiet 38dB, which means you won’t have any trouble sleeping while they are on.
They are sturdy and well built, plus they are backed by a 3 year warranty, which is quite rare for fridges in this price range. They have a wide variety of sizes, ranging from 9L all the way up to 100L.
They are a great option for a caravan or car fridge, just be aware that they can’t be operated for long periods on a tilt, and that the manual recommends that you keep a decent clearance of 100-200mm around them at all times (to prevent overheating).
They are also quite new, so if there are any long term issues with these fridge/freezers, they may not have been discovered yet.
For more info, see my full Brass Monkey fridge/freezer review!
Dometic CFX3 Fridges
Dometic (formerly Waeco) fridges are also hugely popular in Australia. These fridges are high end units that incorporate a number of premium features, yet retain a high degree of reliability (not quite as good as Engel, but not far off either).
The black and white design makes their polypropylene cases look great. The aluminium handles are strong and capable of supporting a fully loaded fridge.
The 50mm thick insulation combined with the Secop compressor makes these units quite efficient - power consumption is fairly low.
Bluetooth app control, USB charging are included, along with a water drain plug, which means you don’t have to empty the entire unit and tip it upside down to get rid of accumulated water. There’s even a dedicated ice maker on one model.
Unfortunately, these units are quite expensive. The included power cables are also fairly short (1.5m) so keep that in mind if you have a setup that requires long cables.
The fridges are backed by a 3 year warranty (5 year on parts) however a number of people who have made a warranty claim have commented on how poor the Dometic customer service is. This is a shame considering how expensive the units are.
Otherwise, they are a great fridge and an excellent choice for a 12V portable fridge/freezer. If you want to read more, see my full Dometic CFX3 review!
Best Fully Featured Camping Fridge
The myCOOLMAN fridges are also relative newcomers but they have quickly developed quite a following. They claim that their units have been specifically designed for 4WD camping, through the addition of a number of unique features.
The body of the fridge feels very sturdy and comes complete with reinforced plastic on the corners to protect them from bumps and scrapes. The carry handles also sit flush with the body, meaning that the unit takes up less space in your boot.
I love that there are 12V power connections on both ends of the fridge - this makes it easy to hook up to power regardless of the orientation. There are also built in bottle openers on both ends.
Another thing I love is the emergency override switch. Even if you do have a fault with the electronics (unlikely on these units), you can override any error codes and force the fridge to begin cooling with this switch.
With other brands, faulty electronics can result in repeated error codes that shutdown your fridge. They basically become unusable until they are repaired.
As you would expect, there is Bluetooth app control, a USB charging port (3A!) and a water drain plug. Much like Engel, there is a 3 year warranty on the fridge and a 5 year warranty on the compressor.
My only gripe is the short 1.2m power cables. They should include some longer ones, as these will be too short for some setups. The myCOOLMAN fridges are also fairly expensive, but that is to be expected when you consider the quality that you are getting.
Check out this myCOOLMAN fridge review for the full details!
Adventure Kings produce entry level camping gear that is good for people that are on a budget or just getting started. Their portable camping fridge range is no exception.
Their units get the job done most of the time, although the build quality is noticeably poorer on these units than the other brands mentioned in this list.
The insulation on the body and the lid feels thin, with the top of the lid itself feeling quite cool while the fridge is in use. The seal on the lid is also quite thin and this no doubt contributes to heat leaking into the unit.
There also aren’t any extra features like app control or USB charging. They are covered by a 2 year warranty, although the Kings customer service is quite poor by many accounts. The warranty claim process seems to be very slow and tedious, sometimes stretching out over many months.
Despite all of this, the Kings fridge/freezers are priced very well. They are some of the cheapest car fridges out there and for most people, they do a good job of keeping their food and drink cool while out on a camping trip.
These days, you can pick up a Brass Monkey fridge/freezer for a similar price, so I tend to recommend them to people over the Kings fridges these days.
As always, my Kings fridge review has the full details!
The OZtrail fridges are another contender in the 12V fridge/freezer category. The fridges are virtually identical to a particular type of Brass Monkey fridges (those with the LG compressor) and I suspect that they are made in the same overseas factory.
In saying that, they are still quite robust units, reportedly capable of handling temperatures up to 55°C and humidities up to 90% (although probably not both at the same time!). They feel quite solid and have thick insulation running the whole way around them.
They can run continuously at angles of up to 30°, which is quite impressive. They unfortunately offer only a 2 year warranty, whereas Brass Monkey offer a 3 year warranty on virtually identical models.
They also don’t come with any Bluetooth app control or USB ports for charging. To find out more, see my OZtrail fridge freezer review!
What To Consider When Choosing A 12V Camping Fridge?
A portable camping fridge for your car or caravan is a serious investment, with some models topping out at almost $2,000. The last thing you need is to spend that kind of money only to find out that you overlooked some important feature.
Too often I hear of someone who purchased a fridge only to find out that it doesn’t fit properly in their car!
Check out the list below to avoid these kinds of mistakes.
Before you start narrowing down to particular brands and models, have a think about what capacity you’ll need for a trip. All models describe their sizes in both litres and in can capacity, which makes it easy if you are planning on using it solely as a beer fridge.
The sizes below help you figure what is best for you if you will be using it as a regular food and drink fridge.
- 15-20L - These small fridges are light, highly portable and great for a day trip or a quick overnighter for 2 people
- 30-40L - A good size for 2 to 3 people to enjoy on a weekend away
- 50-60L - Big enough for a family over a 3-4 day trip, or a couple for a 7 day trip
- 70-80L - These big boys will keep a family going for just about a week
- 90-100L+ - I’m not sure what you’re doing but these fridges are probably big enough to let you do it
When going on a camping trip, space in the boot of your car is always at a premium. You’ll need to make sure that the fridge you want to buy isn’t too tall or long to fit comfortably in your boot.
If you want to access the fridge contents while the fridge is in the car, you’ll need space to be able to open the lid as well.
Also bear in mind that you shouldn’t pack gear up hard against the ventilation grid on your fridge. It is essential that hot air can be expelled from the fridge freely, otherwise it will overheat, causing it to work harder, use more power and potentially even resulting in damage.
Brass Monkey and Kings fridges require 150-200mm clearance around them while they are in operation.
Most of these fridges are pretty hefty on their own, let alone full of food and drink. If you’ll be loading your fridge into and out of your car often, keep the weight of the unit in mind when purchasing.
As I said earlier, these fridges are a serious investment. On top of that, they are going to be seeing much rougher conditions than your fridge at home. They’ll be loaded in and out of your car many times, bounce over gravel tracks and even get drenched in rain.
Most portable fridges are made out of plastic polypropylene as it is cheap, doesn’t conduct heat readily and won’t rust. However, plastic is flimsier than steel, and will get damaged more easily.
For this reason, some fridges (such as the Engel range) are made from powder coated steel. This makes them more durable, but also heavier.
Also take a look at how thick the insulation running around the fridge is. Thicker insulation will mean that your fridge doesn’t absorb heat easily and will therefore be more efficient. Your compressor won’t need to run so often, extending its life and resulting in lower power consumption.
If you will be bouncing over rough tracks in your 4WD, make sure that the lid has some solid latches on it to keep it shut. Cheap fridges don’t have these and the lids can pop open under rough conditions.
A water drain plug or bung is also a nice to have. These fridges are heavy, and it can be a pain to completely unload them and tip them upside down to drain water that has accumulated in the bottom.
Single Or Dual Zone?
Another big decision is whether you’ll go with a single or dual zone unit. Single zone units can only be operated as either a fridge or freezer, whereas dual zone units have independent temperature control and can be run as both a fridge and freezer at the same time.
If you are planning on using your unit as just a drinks fridge, then single zone will be fine for you. If you are going on a longer trip and would like to take some frozen food, or perhaps some ice cream, then a dual zone unit is probably best for you.
Once you exhaust your supply of frozen goods, you can run a dual zone unit as two separate fridge compartments if you like, so there is no wasted space.
Also be aware that freezers consume considerably more power than refrigerators.
All portable fridges need to run off DC power, as this is the power supplied by all standard battery setups. This is different to the mains power you have at home, which is known as AC power.
Thankfully, virtually all camping fridges these days can run off a combination of both 12/24V DC power as well as 240V AC power. This means that you can run them at home straight from a wall socket (useful for cooling down your unit before a trip) as well from a 12V DC battery while out on the road.
Always double check that the fridge you want to buy supports both AC and DC power.
Rated Current Draw
Another thing to be aware of is the rated current draw for a particular unit. This is the maximum current that the unit is expected to draw while it is in operation and is typically measured in Amps, based on 12V DC operation.
If you are using a battery to power multiple 12V appliances, you need to make sure that even if all appliances are drawing power at the same time, they don’t exceed the maximum current output of your battery, otherwise you will short circuit your system (this can damage your gear).
For example, your battery might have a maximum output of 10A, and your fridge may be rated for a maximum current draw of 4.2A. This is an acceptable situation.
Note that while the current draw above is important, it doesn’t tell you anything about the actual power consumption of the unit.
This is because a fridge doesn’t run at its maximum current draw round the clock (unless it’s a terribly inefficient fridge). It will run for a while, reach the set temperature, then switch off for a while.
The capacity of must 12V batteries is measured in Amp-hours (Ah). If a battery has a capacity of 40Ah and your fridge has a maximum current draw if 4.2A, then your battery theoretically has the capacity to run the fridge at full speed for 9.5 hours (40Ah/4.2A = 9.5h).
Put another way, a fridge drawing 4.2A instantaneously will consume 4.2Ah of power each hour. 4.2A x 1 hour = 4.2Ah.
However, as I just said, your fridge won’t run at full speed for 9.5 hours straight, so a more useful number is the real world power consumption.
Many brands measure this for single zone units at a set fridge temperature of 5°C and an ambient temperature of 32°C. For dual zone units, it is based on a set fridge temperature of 5°C, a set freezer temperature of -15°C and an ambient temperature of 32°C.
Based on these factors, a typical single zone fridge consumes around 0.8-1.1 Ah per hour, whereas a dual zone fridge/freezer consumes around 3.0-3.5 Ah per hour. If the numbers on the fridge you are looking at are much higher than this, it is probably quite an inefficient fridge (poor compressor, insulation or both).
For more info, check out this great article on the 12 Volt Blog which is all about how much power various 12V appliances consume.
Low Voltage Battery Protection
In saying all of this, many people won’t use a dual battery setup, but will prefer to run their fridge off their car starter battery. This is fine, but you need to be careful that you don’t flatten your battery, otherwise you won’t be able to start your car in the morning.
To avoid this issue, most 12V fridges come with built in battery protection systems (typically 3 stage). Setting your protection system to high or medium means that the fridge will automatically switch off while there is still a safe level of charge in your battery. This is good for single battery setups.
For dual battery setups, you can switch the protection system to off, to allow the fridge to drain your battery further before switching off. This is fine as we would rather keep our food cold than preserve charge in the battery in this instance.
Read more about the battery protection system in the Kings fridge manual.
If you are sleeping in the same room as your fridge (typical with a caravan fridge setup), the last thing you need is the loud whirring sound of the fridge compressor keeping you up at night.
More than a few people have complained about this before, but manufacturers do not often seem to measure noise data for their units. In saying that, Brass Monkey have measured their units to operate at 38dB, which is fairly quiet.
For smooth operation of your fridge, the refrigerant inside your unit needs to be able to move freely within the cooling circuit.
If the fridge is kept on an angle for a long period of time, the refrigerant may pool in one location (such as on the outlet of the compressor), which means that your fridge won’t stay cool.
Check the manual, as the maximum acceptable tilt angle varies by brand. The OZtrail fridges can be operated for long periods of tilts up to 30°, whereas the Brass Monkey fridges can only handle up to 5° for a sustained period (as detailed in their manual).
You don’t want your fridge switching off just because you parked on a hill!
Wireless App Control
This is a novel feature that has started appearing on some models. Basically, you can now use wireless technology (usually Bluetooth but sometimes also WiFi) to both monitor and control your fridge via a smartphone app.
You can monitor the fridge temperature and current draw, plus set a new temperature if you like.
While not essential by any means, a simple check of your smartphone gives you peace of mind that your food and drink are being cooled at safe temperatures.
Read more about the Dometic smartphone app.
A camping fridge is a big investment, so you want to make sure that you get a decent warranty to protect you from any defects or issues with your purchase.
Thankfully, most brands offer at least a 2 year warranty on their fridges. The higher end brands typically offer a 3 year warranty on their fridge, plus 5 years on the compressor.
Some brands honour their warranties better than others, so keep that in mind as well. You can find out more about this by checking out the individual reviews I have done for each brand.
There’s a couple of other features that while not essential, are definitely nice to have.
A USB port for charging your mobile devices is great if your phone is dying while you’re out fishing or by the campfire.
An internal light makes it easy to find what you are looking for while digging through the fridge at night.
Some brands have even started adding built in bottle openers to their units! Another one I like is the reversible lid. This allows you to open the lid from either direction, making it easy to access the fridge in any orientation.
There are a ton of different portable camping fridges out there that are suitable for your car or caravan, but the right one for you depends on a number of factors.
For those who need reliability and quality above everything else, I highly recommend that Engel MT-V range. They are tough, rugged and can handle everything you can throw at them without missing a beat.
If you want a quality fridge but can’t stretch your budget to go for a premium model, I highly recommend the Brass Monkey fridge/freezers. They are reasonably well built, come with a ton of premium features yet are very affordable.
Two runners up which I also love are the Dometic CFX3 fridges and the myCOOLMAN fridges. Both of them are very high quality, reliable brands. Their fridges are sturdy, robust and come with lots of features, plus they are backed by long warranties. They are both excellent options.
Anyway, I hope that you have enjoyed this breakdown of the best 12V portable car fridge/freezers for camping! What’s your favourite camping fridge in Australia? Do you still have questions?
Let me know in the comments below!
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