Choosing The Right Fridge For Your Motorhome: A Comprehensive Guide

Author: Your RV Good Guide   Date Posted: 26 September 2023


Motorhome travel offers the ultimate in freedom and functionality. And one of the key components that marries these two elements is your motorhome’s 12V fridge. RV fridges are specially designed for the rigours of the road. They’re built with distinct cooling systems, power sources, and design features that set them apart from their homebound counterparts. That also means there’s a lot to consider when it comes to buying one.

To help make it easy, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to choosing the right fridge for your RV. We’ll guide you through the differences between the range of campervan fridges available, including the difference in power sources and cooling systems. We’ve also got essential tips to help you pinpoint the perfect fridge for your motorhome. Here’s what we’ll cover:

But first, let’s answer a couple of commonly asked questions…


Can you put a regular fridge in a motorhome?

Every component of a motorhome has been crafted or chosen to withstand the unique challenges of travel including vibrations, temperature fluctuations, and sporadic use. These dynamic conditions are very different from the consistent environment of your home. Domestic fridges, however, are not built for constant movement.

Additionally, home fridges are reliant on a consistent power source. While our homes rarely face power interruptions, the same can't be said for life on the road. Motorhomes frequently shuffle between power sources, be it from the engine, a house battery, or campsite power provisions. This inconsistent power isn't ideal for a regular fridge, which demands stable electricity for optimal functioning.

There's also the critical aspect of size and weight. Regular home fridges, with their larger dimensions and heftier build, can be a cumbersome addition to the confined space of a motorhome. Their weight might also affect the overall payload, balance, and fuel efficiency of your vehicle. Remember, every added kilogram counts when you're on the move.


How are RV fridges different from regular fridges?

What exactly differentiates an RV fridge from your typical household fridge? Let's have a closer look:


Power sources

Motorhome travel is all about flexibility. And RV fridges embrace this principle fully. Designed for adaptability, campervan fridges have the option of switching between different power sources.

Depending on the type of RV fridge you have, these power sources include your 12/24V house battery when on the move, 240V mains supply at a campsite, or LPG gas. Some RV fridges use all three and are known as 3-way fridges or absorption fridges. These fridges have the ability to switch between the most efficient power source depending on whether you’re parked up or travelling. We’ll delve deeper into the unique features of these fridges further on.

Other campervan fridges may only use your 12/24V battery and some have the ability to switch to 240V mains when you are plugged in and are known as 2-way fridges. In contrast, household fridges rely solely on mains power.


Mobility and durability

Motorhomes are, in essence, homes on wheels. As they traverse diverse terrains, they encounter bumps, turns, and constant vibrations. RV fridges are engineered with this lifestyle in mind. They come fortified with robust components, reinforced shelves, and lockable doors to ensure everything remains intact and operational, no matter the road conditions.

Your average home fridge stays in one place and isn't built to handle travel stresses. So, it doesn't have the same mobility-focused design and tough build that RV fridges do.


Absorption fridges (3-way fridges)

Absorption fridges, commonly referred to as 3-way fridges, work on a gas flow heating exchange system. This unique mechanism essentially relies on a continuous cycle of heating and cooling to refrigerate the contents inside, rather than the traditional compressor methods used in home fridges.

One of the standout features of absorption fridges is their adaptability with power sources. They can be powered by your Vehicle’s alternator while you're driving, switch to 240V power when you're plugged in at a campsite or utilise LPG gas when off the grid. This versatility allows the fridge to transition between power sources as required, ensuring efficient cooling no matter where you are or how you're powered. Other benefits include:

  • Quiet operation: Absorption fridges typically operate silently, offering a peaceful camping experience.
  • Mobility-friendly: These fridges are designed for those constantly on the move, they adjust well to being on the go.
  • Durability: They tend to have a lengthy lifespan, making them a good investment for regular campers.

Things to know:

  • Installation: A certified gas fitter is necessary for safe installation, given their capability to run on LPG gas.
  • Positioning: Absorption fridges need to be relatively level for optimal performance. So, ensuring level positioning becomes crucial when parked.
  • Ventilation: Good ventilation is essential. Without adequate airflow, not only can the efficiency be reduced, but it can also pose safety risks.
  • Efficiency: These fridges are designed to be most efficient on LPG so, if you want to run them on 12v predominantly then a 2-way fridge would be a better option.


Compressor fridges

Compressor fridges use a compact compressor unit to generate the cooling required. This mechanism involves the compressor pressurising a refrigerant, which then circulates through coils, extracting heat from the interior and releasing it externally.

These fridges have a flexible power operation. They can draw power from a 12/24V battery while you're on the road and some can also switch to 240V mains once you're parked up and plugged in at a campground. Other benefits include:

  • DIY installation: The design of many compressor fridges allows for self-installation, saving you the potential costs and hassle of a professional setup. If the fridge has a 240V option, an electrician may be required to install a power supply if one doesn’t exist already.
  • Powerful cooling: Thanks to their dedicated compressor units, these fridges offer robust cooling capabilities, ensuring your food and beverages remain at the desired temperature.
  • Freezing abilities: Unlike some other camper fridges, compressor units often have the capacity to freeze items, expanding your food storage options.
  • Energy efficiency: While they are powerful, many modern compressor fridges are designed to be energy efficient, ensuring you get the most cooling for your power consumption.
  • Rugged use: A significant advantage is their ability to function efficiently on uneven terrains. Unlike absorption fridges, compressor fridges don’t need to be perfectly level to operate.


Things to know:

  • Power management: When you're not connected to mains power, you'll need to use your house battery to operate the fridge. This means you’ll need to plan for regular recharging to keep the fridge operational.


Portable fridges

Portable fridges are generally powered by either the 12V or 24V house battery in your motorhome, or by 240V mains power supply. There are also now many absorption fridges on the market. Some portable fridges can run with their own onboard battery alongside solar panels. Their compact design means they don't take up much room, yet they're powerful enough to offer very efficient cooling. Portable fridges are ideal for those times when you’re setting up for a picnic away from your motorhome or just need that extra cooling capacity. Other benefits include:

  • Compact: Their space-saving design ensures they can easily fit in various spots, making them a versatile addition to your camping equipment.
  • Efficient: Despite their size, portable fridges are engineered for low power consumption, allowing for prolonged use without draining batteries quickly.
  • Mobility: Their lightweight design paired with handles or grips in most models ensures you can move them around with ease.
  • Advanced features: Many modern portable fridges come equipped with digital displays, temperature controls, and more.
  • Expandable storage: For those times when your main fridge is packed to the brim, portable fridges step in as the perfect backup, offering additional storage space.

Things to Know:

  • Dual functionality: Some models come with fridge-freezer capabilities, allowing you to enjoy both cooling and freezing in one compact unit.
  • Continuous cooling: Some models are equipped with removable batteries which means you don't need a constant power connection.
  • Plug and play: Many portable fridges can be easily plugged into the motorhome's cigarette lighter socket, ensuring seamless integration and ease of use.

READ MORE: Check out our guide to the best portable fridges for camping in 2023.


Thermo-electric fridges

Thermo-electric fridges work by using a phenomenon known as the Peltier effect. This is where electrical current flows between different conductors causing a temperature difference. Instead of traditional refrigerants or compressors, these fridges utilise solid metal to transfer thermal energy, a process that offers certain distinct advantages. They are versatile in their power sources, functioning seamlessly on 12/24V DC or 240V mains power. Their benefits include:

  • Heating ability: A standout feature of many thermo-electric fridges is their dual nature. Apart from cooling, some models can be switched to heating mode, making them multifunctional during trips.
  • Compact: Their construction allows for a sleek and space-saving design, ensuring they occupy minimal space in your motorhome or camping setup.
  • Minimal maintenance: Without the moving parts or refrigerants found in conventional fridges, thermo-electric units typically require less upkeep and have fewer components that might fail.
  • Precision temperature control: With digital controls and advanced technology, these fridges often boast precise temperature settings, ensuring your food and beverages are kept at the ideal temperature.


How to choose the best fridge for your motorhome

As you can see, not all RV fridges are created equal. So how do you know which is best for you? Let’s have a look at some of the key considerations that will help narrow down your choices:

  • Size and capacity: Think about your typical motorhome journey. Are you frequently on the move with the whole family, or are you more of a weekend wanderer? Gauge the fridge size and storage capacity based on the number of people, the duration of your travels, and the amount of perishables you usually carry. Remember, while a larger fridge offers more storage, it also takes up more space and might require more energy.
  • Power options: Think about what power options you use most often. Maybe you're the kind of motorhome traveller who's frequently off the grid, or perhaps you prefer campgrounds with ready power access. Assess your travel patterns and choose a fridge equipped with power options that complement them.
  • Temperature control: From keeping your veggies crisp to ensuring your drinks are perfectly chilled, precise temperature control is a godsend. Opt for a fridge that allows easy temperature regulation, especially if you're storing a variety of foods and beverages that demand specific conditions.
  • Energy efficiency: When it comes to RV travel, energy efficiency isn't just a buzzword – it's a necessity. A fridge that saps power quickly could leave you with insufficient energy for other essentials. Check out the energy ratings and pick a model that strikes a balance between performance and energy consumption.
  • Durability and quality: Your fridge needs to be a resilient traveller. Ensure the model you're eyeing is robustly built, and capable of withstanding vibrations, temperature fluctuations, and the occasional bump.


Find the right fridge for your motorhome with RV Super Centre 

We hope this guide has given you some helpful information on which campervan fridge is best for you. Still have questions? No problem, the friendly team at your local RV Super Centre are always happy to help. And if you’re ready to buy, head online and check out more of our quality campervan fridges.

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