Let me start off by saying that I am not an OTR trucker. I hauled wheat four summers within states from Texas to Montana and that is the extent of my trucking experience. I have spent a lot of time in truck stops talking to truckers and I even spent a year pumping diesel at one. Something I learned from my experiences and those long talks with OTR professionals is that there isn’t a lot of room in a truck and you need to keep things as simple as possible. Take a truck refrigerator for instance. It seems like that would be a simple thing to buy, but it turns out that a truck refrigerator is definitely not. This article aims to simplify the process of choosing a truck refrigerator as much as possible.
There are many considerations that can go into buying a truck refrigerator:
- Are you short or long haul?
- Do you have a sleeper?
- Are you looking for a permanent installation or more portable?
- Do you need a lot of room or are mostly interested in keeping drinks and snacks cold?
- Do you need a freezer, too or just the truck refrigerator?
- Do you operate in very hot climates mostly or mostly moderate to cold climates?
- Would a chest refrigerator or an upright refrigerator work better for your situation?
- Do you have readily available 120V power or are you counting on using 12V DC power?
- How much can you spend?
Let’s look at some of these considerations in an effort to help you choose a truck refrigerator.
Truck Refrigerator: Short or Long Haul
Short haul truckers often don’t have sleepers and in other words don’t have a lot of room. They also, typically don’t need to store food for long periods because they don’t spend as much time on the road during each trip and can reasonably stop more frequently. Short haul truckers probably need a smaller refrigerator mostly designed for beverages and snacks. Short haul truckers should also definitely consider an ice cooler as an alternative to a refrigerator or electric cooler.
Long haul truckers will have a sleeper of some sort and usually more room for a larger refrigerator or cooler. They need to store more food and drinks longer because they stop less frequently. Ice coolers probably won’t be as effective for long haul truckers.
Heat Waves or Blizzards
There are basically two types of truck refrigerators to choose from. There are thermoelectric coolers and true compressor-based refrigerators.
The compressor-based models are like the refrigerator you have in your kitchen at home.
Thermoelectric coolers on the other hand are completely different animals. They depend on the ambient temperature to perform cooling. They are normally rated to cool down to 40 degrees F below the ambient temperature. That means if you mostly operate in cooler climates a thermoelectric cooler can more easily reach temperatures you might expect for cold drinks and to preserve food. In hot climates where it might be difficult to keep temperatures cool in your truck, the cooler may struggle to get the temperature down to 45 or 50 degrees F. In reality, at those temperatures, your food may not seem cool at all. Depending on the foods, you may even find that it’s not cool enough to keep them from spoiling.
Chest or Upright Refrigerator
Chest refrigerators have the advantage that when you open them the refrigerator experiences less loss of temperature because the cold air stays in the fridge. Uprights let cold air out and hot air in when you open the door and it may take several minutes to restore the temperature inside the fridge.
Chest refrigerators have the disadvantage that you have to stack food in horizontal layers and you will need to remove food to get to food at the bottom of the fridge. Vertical fridges allow you to stack the food vertically and you can usually get to most of the food with just a small amount of moving things out of the way.
Most chest refrigerators are designed to be portable and have features that make them easier to move around. Uprights are not usually designed to be portable and so you should plan to leave them in one place for most of the time. The portability of chest models also gives you the flexibility to use them in other vehicles like your personal vehicle or other situations when you’re away from the truck like camping or sporting events.
Freezer and Refrigerator
When you talk about a truck refrigerator you usually mean without a freezer. Freezers are available either by themselves or in combination with a refrigerator. Some models can turn the whole unit into a freezer or refrigerator/cooler depending on what you need.
If you decide buy a standard compact refrigerator because they are inexpensive, you will either have to have an AC port in your truck already or you will need to have an inverter. An inverter simply converts DC power to AC power. Be sure and check the power requirements of any AC fridge to buy to make sure you get the right size inverter.
About the cheapest thing you can do is to put a good quality ice chest in your truck. It’s hard to say if it’s actually cheaper in the long run because you have to buy ice. But, an ice chest could be a short term immediate solution.
You could also buy a compact refrigerator. These can be inconvenient for a number of reasons. They are typically boxy which makes them difficult to place in a truck. They use AC power which means you have to use an inverter. They don’t stay cold easily if you open them often because they lose cooling when you open the door. Their upright configuration means you have to be able to swing open their door so although there may be room for the fridge, there might not be room to open the door. Drinks and food may fall out easily when you open the door from shifting that happened during driving. Compact refrigerators are not designed to be portable and certainly not designed to endure the vibration and shock of riding in a semi. In general, it’s not recommend that you use a compact fridge in a truck.
Thermoelectric fridges or thermoelectric coolers can be cheaper than compact fridges and are typically designed to be portable. They cool down to 40 degrees F below ambient temperature which makes them less effective in hot climates. Comments we have received from truckers seem to say that thermoelectric fridges are a problem in most cases. They just don’t cool very well. One advantage of a thermoelectric fridge is that some can also be used to warm food and drinks.
True refrigerators come in portable and mountable models and are the most expensive of the fridges you might consider putting in your truck. True fridges are compressor-based and can keep food and drinks cold just like your fridge at home.
The portable models have the advantage that they can be removed from your truck to use in other vehicles, in your home, camping, sporting events, or other outdoor adventures. Portable fridges are also typically capable of using either AC or DC power which adds to their flexibility.
The mountable models are uprights and have some of the same issues as compact refrigerators. The advantage of mountable models is that they are designed to take the vibration and shock associated with moving vehicles like RVs and trucks.
Our recommendation is to buy a portable true refrigerator. Their flexibility, performance, and design make them perfect for using in a truck. Although they are more expensive, their reliability, durability, and ability to be used away from the truck make it easier to justify the additional cost. Our feeling is that most truckers will be happier with the performance of a portable true refrigerator.
There you have it. We have given you our tips on buying a truck refrigerator. Ultimately you have to decide, but we hope this article has given you valuable information that helps you choose a truck refrigerator for your rig!