A 12V refrigerator is a very handy companion to have whether you’re taking the boat out for the day, cruising to that picnic in the park, 4-wheelin’ it in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, or any of a 100 other activities where it would be great to have cold drinks available.
Which 12V refrigerator should you buy? The first thing you need to ask yourself is if you need a cooler or an actual compressor-based 12V refrigerator. What’s the difference? There is a really big difference! Coolers are great during the cooler days of Spring and Fall, but when it comes to cooling in the heat of summer you may have a problem.
Typical coolers only reduce the temperature inside to about 40
degrees below the ambient (nearby) temperature. That means if the temperature reaches the 90’s F, you will be lucky to get the temperature in the cooler to lower than 50 degrees F. Cool, but not nearly cold enough for most food and drinks. Many cooler manufacturers recommend you to pre-chill food, beverages, and even the cooler itself prior to using it.
A 12V refrigerator, on the other hand, can keep your food and drinks chilled to temperatures at or below that of your home refrigerator whenever you need it and that is probably more of what you would expect from a 12V refrigerator.
Interested in seeing other capable portable refrigerators and cooler? Be sure to see our other articles about some of the best!
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- Electric Cooler for Car: 9 Iceless Portable Thermoelectric Coolers Playing It Cool
- Portable Cooler: Top 18 Best Rated Anywhere Portable Coolers
- Dometic RV Refrigerator: Dometic Portable Fridge Freezer Powerhouse
- Camper Refrigerator: Portable Refrigerator Saves Camping Trip
- Truck Refrigerator: Over-the-Road Trucker Fridge Buying Tips
- Portable Refrigerator: Top 8 Portable Real Fridges
That being said, there is another big difference between coolers and refrigerators; the price! A typical high-quality cooler will probably cost you around $100 – $300. A good compressor-based 12V refrigerator will run into the hundreds or even more than a thousand dollars. If you really need a 12V refrigerator and not the cooler, the fridge will be worth the price to you. If you are only looking to keep drinks cool in your air conditioned car or truck while traveling, then the price of a cooler makes more sense.
12V coolers and refrigerators have come a long way in just a few years with more efficient operation, more features, digital electronics, and low-voltage cutoffs to protect your vehicle’s battery.
We searched outdoor forums, refrigerator forums, RV forums, retail sites, consumer sites, social media, manufacturer sites, and customer reviews sites to find the most popular and highly rated portable refrigerators and coolers.
Take a look at our list and see if one of these 12V portable refrigerators is the best portable refrigerator for your needs!
With seven-stage temperature regulation that can achieve cooling temperatures down to 45 degrees F below ambient temperature without ice, Dometic’s high-tech TropiCool cooler line-based Dometic TC-35US 37-Quart Portable Thermoelectric Cooler/Warmer is a great choice for use in trucks, RVs, and other vehicles where you need to keep food and beverages cold or hot while on the road. It has integrated intelligent special electronics with a power-save circuit and memory function incorporated into a dust-proof and moisture-proof soft-touch keypad with an LED temperature display. Its solid polyurethane foam insulation keeps contents cool longer without power.
- Unique 7-stage thermoelectric temperature regulation for heating and cooling provides cooling temperatures down to 45 degrees F below ambient temperature without ice
- Built-in intelligent special electronics with a power-save circuit that switches off power when the desired temperature is reached
- Memory function is incorporated into a dust-proof and moisture-proof soft-touch keypad with electronic LED temperature display
- Plugs directly in to any available 12V vehicle power port or can be powered by a 120-volt outlet using an optional power adapter
- Sturdy handle folds away when not in use and makes the cooler easier to transport away from the vehicle for picnics, BBQs, camping and other adventures
Detachable lid with magnetic lock makes loading and cleaning easier
- Internal fan switches off automatically when the unit is opened
- Detachable lid with magnetic lock
- Sturdy, fold-away handle
- 1-Year limited warranty
- Dimensions are 35H x 18.12W x 14.81D inches
- Very well insulated
- Perfect for use in semi-trucks
- Efficient energy usage
- Like dual voltage capability
- Have to be careful not to block air flow
- Can drain vehicle battery if not careful
- Large size makes it
The Dometic CDF-11 Portable Freezer/Refrigerator claims to be the smallest portable true refrigerator/freezer available on the market. If you like your beer cold…and who doesn’t, this model will hold 6-12 oz. cans and keep them as cold as you like. Weighing only 19 lbs., the CDF-11 is a lightweight, portable fridge that is easy to carry. It even comes with cup holders to hold those cold cans comfortably while you relax making it a great car refrigerator. Even for a small package it has some great features.
12V Refrigerator: Features
- Claims to be the smallest true freezer/refrigerator available
- True refrigeration in a thermoelectric size doesn’t depend on ambient temperature
- Deep freeze-capable down to approximately 0 degrees F (-18 degrees C)
- Nice looking two-tone light/dark gray cabinet
- Uses very low power for long refrigeration times without a power source
- Electronic thermostat has a digital temperature display to keep you informed
- 3-stage battery monitor reduces risk of a dead battery
- Can easily be fastened into any vehicle using safety belt
- Comfortable shoulder strap and light weight of only 19 lbs. (8.8 kg.) makes this unit easy to carry
- Handy interior light
- Twin cup holders keeps cans right at hand during trips
- Holds 0.37 cu. ft. (10.5 liters) or 6 – 12 oz. cans
- Comes with a DC connection cable
- Great quality
- Love dual-voltage design
- Great passive cooling with heavy-duty insulation
- Very low power usage
- AC/DC adapter must be purchased separately
- Interior may be smaller than expected
Another great cooler from Koolatron, the P-85 Krusader model is hard sided and large. In fact, Koolatron claims it is the largest 12V cooler available. There is no doubt that it can hold enough 12-ounce cans to support some serious partying. This cooler is a great answer to buying all that expensive ice that you have to search for, takes up most of your space, and costs so much. Take a look at all of its great features.
- 12V thermoelectric module is powered by the 12V power outlet (cigarette lighter) in your vehicle
- Cools to approximately 40 degrees F below ambient temperature
- Largest capacity of any 12V cooler
- Holds up to 80- 12 oz cans
- Capable of providing either horizontal or vertical storage
- Brushless internal circulation fan motor
- Rugged construction for long life
- Koolatron 12V coolers can also function as warmers for food and beverages when needed
- Built-in sliding shelf
- Made in America
- 1-Year manufacturers warranty
- Dimensions of 20H x 20.5W x 15.5D inches and weight of 16.6 lbs.
- Lightweight and durable
- Good value
- Great cooling and heating capability
- Low power usage
- Best when plugged in for a few hours prior to use
- No automatic shutoff to save battery
- No thermostat
Smaller and less expensive, the Black & Decker TC212B Travel Cooler & Warmer does a great job cooling or warming food and beverages simply using your 12V vehicle power outlet. This model even has a low voltage cutoff to protect your vehicle battery from draining. With new technology thermoelectric cooling/heating and its compact size, you will want to take this cooler everywhere you go. Here are its main features.
- 12 standard can storage capacity
- Uses 12V vehicle power outlet (cigarette lighter)
- New technology thermoelectric heating and cooling cools down to 40 degrees F below ambient temperature and heats to approximately 120 degrees F
- Low voltage cutoff protects your battery
- Small enough to rest on vehicle seat or other convenient location that is accessible during travel
- Handy zippered side storage and accessory pouch
- Built-in dual can/cup holder
- Quiet operation
- Good cooling capability
- Perfect size
- Good value
- No place to store power supply onboard
- 120V AC power supply not included
- No automatic cutoff to save battery
- Must pre-cool food and beverages
This combo 12V refrigerator and freezer gives you the ultimate capability for all those great adventures you are planning. A true refrigerator and freezer, it doesn’t depend directly on ambient air temperature for cooling. The ARB 10800472 50-Quart model is the most popular; it holds up to an amazing 72 12-ounce cans. Here are its main features.
- True refrigerator/freezer
- Largest in-class capacity for 12V fridge/freezers
- Holds up to 72 12-ounce cans
- No ice necessary with this unit
- Powerful Danfoss compressor and control system
- Built-in digital thermostat automatically controls temperature
- Capable of maintaining 0 degrees F for true portable refrigeration and freezing
- Heavy-duty insulation and hardware provides colder temperatures longer
- Separate dairy/fruit compartment
- Front-mounted control panel with large buttons and bright LED display
- Patented, durable hinge system on front-opening lid
- Tough EZ latch tightly secures and seals the lid
- Automatic cutoff protects your battery
- Cools passively after power is removed
- Uses less power than competitor brands
- Capable of using both 12V DC and 120V AC power
- Power system is completely self-contained eliminating external power adapters
- Built-in cable retention for easy storage
- Cooling compartment rear-facing LED light
- Drain plug makes cleaning easier
- Outside dimensions are 27.75L x 14.96W x 20H inches with main interior compartment dimensions of 13.27D x 11.22W x 15.79H inches and a dairy compartment with dimensions of 5.95D x 11.22W x 8.11H inches
- Very durable
- True refrigerator/freezer
- Plenty of storage capacity
- Very efficient use of battery power
- Very heavy
- Plastic latch is poor quality
- Temperature display not accurate
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Which 12V cooler or fridge is your favorite? Which model is at the top of your list to buy? Please take a moment to leave a comment below.
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As always, thanks for reading! I sincerely hope that this article has given you valuable information to help you choose your 12V refrigerator!