Once you’re planning a street journey, meals and drinks are a necessity. For journeys on main highways, it is easy to make a pit cease at a comfort retailer to purchase sodas and snacks, or hit a grocery retailer or restaurant for bigger meals. Nonetheless, whenever you’re venturing off the overwhelmed path — particularly for multi-day off-road expeditions — you may must carry all your meals and drinks with you. Whereas it is true that you may rely solely on shelf-stable MREs and freeze-dried tenting meals, this stuff are sometimes expensive, unappetizing, and/or unhealthy resulting from excessive ranges of sodium and preservatives. The flexibility to carry actual meals — contemporary meat, eggs, cheese, fruits and veggies, and so forth — makes each journey extra pleasant, whether or not it is a half-day solo outing or a cross-country household expedition. Contemporary meals is not simply tastier, it is more healthy and more cost effective than vacuum-packed “tenting meals.” This realization led me to improve my 2022 4Runner overland car construct with a Dometic CFX3 fridge, which runs on AC energy from a wall outlet or 12V DC energy from a car or cellular battery pack.
First, let’s check out the professionals and cons of cellular 12-volt refrigeration.
Why Use a Fridge As a substitute of a Cooler?
Nearly everybody already owns an everyday cooler or ice chest, whether or not it is an outdated Coleman or a flowery new Yeti. These insulated containers can maintain issues chilly for a couple of days with the addition of a pair baggage of ice. That mentioned, there are quite a few causes most American properties switched from insulated iceboxes to electrical fridges practically 80 years in the past. Many of those causes additionally apply to storing meals at campsites and in autos. Listed here are a few of the issues related to ice-filled coolers:
- Ice melts rapidly. In heat climates, or in case your cooler is not very well-insulated or sealed, your ice might soften in 48 hours or much less. You then’ll must go purchase extra, which results in our subsequent level…
- Ice should be re-supplied steadily. Shopping for ice isn’t costly, however the associated fee does add up, and it is actually a problem. Extra importantly, there are various locations the place you merely will not be capable to resupply — multi-day tenting or looking journeys in distant areas, for instance.
- Meals security is a critical concern. Ice retains your cooler extraordinarily chilly (perhaps even too chilly) at first, however the temperature steadily rises over time because the ice melts. At first, you could freeze meals inadvertently; on the finish, perishable gadgets akin to meat and dairy might creep up into the >40°F “hazard zone” the place micro organism thrives. Nothing ruins a day quicker than puking your guts out resulting from spoiled meals.
- Ice makes a large number. As soon as it is melted, you are left with a cooler stuffed with tepid water that leaves remaining contents soggy. And in case your cooler’s drain would not seal completely, that water might leak and soak all of your different gear.
- Coolers could be surprisingly costly. Excessive-end, American-made coolers can simply set you again $400 to $600, particularly if you need options like wheels and latches. You may all the time purchase the cut price model for a fraction of the associated fee, but it surely won’t be as sturdy or as well-insulated.
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Above: All this meals match into our CFX3 55IM fridge, with room to spare and no considerations about melting ice. The detachable baskets make loading and cleansing simple.
In the event you’re a critical camper, hunter, or overland fanatic, 12-volt fridges alleviate most of the issues above, however they are not with out drawbacks. Listed here are a few of the downsides to purchasing a cellular fridge:
- Excessive up-front price. Fridges aren’t low cost, particularly when you’re searching for one massive sufficient to feed a complete household for a number of days. Dometic’s present choices vary from $500 to $1,400. Nonetheless, we might argue the long-term advantages outweigh the associated fee.
- They’re solely pretty much as good as your energy supply. In lots of circumstances, this is so simple as plugging your fridge into the 12-volt outlet in your car, however these shops usually solely present energy when the engine is working. In the event you’re parking longer than a couple of hours, it is best to have a battery, energy financial institution, or photo voltaic panel that may maintain the fridge working and the meals chilly till you begin driving once more. (I am going to clarify how I rectified this later.)
Dometic CFX3 55IM 12-Volt Fridge
As soon as I made a decision to select up a 12-volt fridge for my 4Runner challenge, I rapidly settled on Dometic, an organization that has been a frontrunner in cellular fridges since 1968. Dometic fridges are widespread within the RV and “van life” markets amongst people who reside on the street for months at a time, so I figured they’d supply a reliable resolution for the shorter tenting and overland journeys I’ve deliberate. Particularly, I selected the Dometic CFX3 55IM mannequin, which presents a 53-liter storage capability and built-in ice maker. That capability is equal to 83 soda cans, and should not have any hassle holding sufficient meals for a small household for every week. MSRP for this mannequin is $1,080.
Above: The ice tray incorporates two detachable ice dice molds.
This fridge is a single-zone mannequin, so apart from the small ice tray, it retains all its contents at one temperature. It may be set as little as -7°F to maintain meals frozen stable, at a extra typical 36°F for refrigeration, or as excessive as 50°F to preserve power and maintain non-perishable contents cool.
Above: The world above the ice tray is right for storing smaller gadgets like canned drinks.
Dometic’s VMSO3 compressor makes use of normal R134a refrigerant, and might run on both AC energy from a wall outlet or 12/24-volt DC energy (rated at 8.9 amps) from a cigarette-lighter-style automotive outlet. A pair of 6.6-foot cables are included for every energy supply. Due to a vibration- and noise-reducing housing, the compressor can also be surprisingly quiet; it is rated at 48 dB(A), and I had no hassle sleeping within the 4Runner proper subsequent to it.
Above: A drain plug on the backside of the Dometic CFX3 permits customers to scrub out the fridge simply.
Not like residential fridges that get a continuing provide of “clear” electrical energy from the ability grid, cellular fridges are designed to run on car alternators, batteries, and solar-powered techniques which have a lot larger voltage fluctuations. The Dometic CFX3 has good voltage regulation to cope with inconsistent or “soiled” energy sources. Its three-stage dynamic battery safety system ensures the fridge will flip off earlier than it totally depletes your truck’s battery — in a worst-case state of affairs, your meals will get heat, however no less than you will not even be stranded. (For deep-draw dual-battery techniques, you possibly can restrict or disable this safeguard.)
The “IM” on this fridge’s title signifies that it options an ice maker with two detachable silicone ice dice trays. When the ice maker is turned on by way of a menu setting, it will produce 50 small cubes of ice in a couple of hours. It is excellent for a pleasant cocktail on the finish of an extended day on the path.
Controls & Monitoring
Via the CFX3 cellular app for iOS or Android, customers can connect with the fridge over Bluetooth (quick vary) or over a WiFi community (for distant entry). This presents the flexibility to energy the fridge on or off, see present DC voltage, and test temperature historical past within the final hour, day, or over the course of every week. On this identical graph, power consumption information (in amp hours per hour) is tracked that can assist you forecast how lengthy the fridge will run underneath present circumstances.
Above: The CFX3 cellular app presents management over all of the fridge’s settings, together with WiFi community entry and battery safety stage. If the fridge is linked to an exterior battery, the Low setting can be utilized to maintain the fridge working till the battery drops to 10.1V, extending run time; Medium shuts off at 11.2V and Excessive shuts off at 11.8V.
It is potential to set an alarm at a temperature threshold, alerting anybody within the neighborhood if the fridge begins warming up resulting from low battery or ambient circumstances. The app may ship a notification if the lid is left open for greater than 3 minutes.
With out the help of the app, the CFX3’s features could be managed by means of the built-in weatherproof buttons and coloration show. The show prominently reveals enter voltage, WiFi and Bluetooth standing, present temperature, and any alerts or notifications the consumer has configured. A setup menu permits the consumer to show the ice maker on or off, change temperature models, regulate battery safety stage, configure wi-fi community settings, and extra.
An Disagreeable Shock: Guarantee Trade
Above: The three screws that had been purported to retain the latch had been seemingly by no means put in on the manufacturing facility. This was solely the start of the problems with the primary CFX3 I acquired.
After I acquired the CFX3 fridge and excitedly eliminated it from its field, I seen the latch on the lid appeared crooked. After taking a better look, I noticed all three of the small screws that had been supposed to connect it to the lid had been lacking, and the latch fell out in my hand. I scoured the field, however the screws had been nowhere to be discovered. This was mildly annoying, however I figured I might all the time ask Dometic to mail me some alternative screws — not the tip of the world. However that was solely the tip of this iceberg (no pun supposed).
Above: Plugging within the fridge resulted in a brilliant pink error message on the show in addition to the cellular app.
As I plugged within the CFX3 fridge for the primary time, the display screen greeted me with a brilliant pink message: !WARNING 33. After checking the handbook, this warning code signifies compressor failure. I adopted the directions and power-cycled the fridge, however this error continued and the compressor refused to begin on AC or DC energy. Pondering that this fridge will need to have been constructed at 4:50pm on a Friday, I picked up my cellphone and referred to as Dometic customer support. A useful and sympathetic younger woman listened to my description of the problem and walked me by means of some troubleshooting steps, however finally decided that the unit was faulty and would must be exchanged underneath guarantee.
Above: Warning 33 corresponded to a compressor failure. This meant I had acquired a faulty fridge and would wish to alternate it underneath guarantee.
Dometic supplied an RMA transport label, and I boxed up the fridge and dropped it off at a neighborhood FedEx retailer. Twenty-seven (sure, 27) days later, I acquired a alternative CFX3 55IM. Evidently, this was a irritating expertise and positively not what I anticipated from a $1,000 product from a widely known model. Nonetheless, it is a pattern measurement of 1, and I could have merely been very unfortunate.
Fortunately, the alternative fridge had a properly-installed latch and a useful compressor, so I proceeded with testing.
Within the Subject
I took my new Dometic CFX3 fridge out on a three-day tenting journey for some area testing. Ambient temperatures ranged from about 30°F at evening to about 65°F through the day. Earlier than the journey, I plugged the fridge into an AC energy outlet at my home to “pre-cool” to my desired setting of 36°F, after which packed it with meals. Subsequent, I loaded it into the again of my 4Runner and linked it to the 12V DC plug on the entrance of my Objective Zero Yeti 1500X energy station (as reviewed in Situation 52 of Offgrid). The Yeti was linked by way of a Yeti 12V automobile charging cable to a DC plug behind the 4Runner. When the truck is working, it expenses the ability station which offers secure energy to the fridge; when the truck is not working, the fridge runs solely off the ability station’s battery.
Above: The Yeti 1500X supplied greater than sufficient energy for the fridge, in addition to my different digital gadgets.
Throughout the journey, the CFX3 cellular app confirmed a secure inside temperature that solely fluctuated up and down barely because the compressor cycled on and off. The insulation seems fairly good, and the latch clicks shut for an air-tight seal. If I am being choosy, it could be a bit too tight, since I did should remind my buddies to present the lid an additional agency push to ensure it closed.
Above: Screenshots exhibiting inside temperature and energy consumption in 50-degree ambient temperature (left) and 80-degree ambient temperature (proper). Observe that the Ah/h graph scale isn’t constant between the 2 screenshots; do not take note of the peak of the bars, solely to the numbers they point out.
My Yeti 1500X battery has a rated capability of 1,516 watt hours, or 140.4 amp hours (Ah) at 10.8 volts. At a full 12V, that works out to 126Ah. Throughout the journey, energy draw hovered round 0.5Ah per hour on common, which equates to a complete of 36Ah over the course of the 72-hour take a look at.
In less complicated phrases, the fridge used rather less than 30% of the ability station’s capability in three days (about 10% per day).
Above: In long-term off-grid settings, a photo voltaic panel can be utilized to recharge the Objective Zero Yeti through the daytime.
Granted, the cool to chilly climate was ideally suited for this take a look at. Later, I examined the CFX3 in 80-degree ambient temperatures, and it consumed about 1.4Ah per hour on common. Beneath these heat circumstances, it’ll use roughly 72% of the Yeti 1500X’s battery in three days (about 24% per day). Needless to say opening the lid steadily will improve power consumption. These run occasions may be prolonged by altering the fridge’s battery safety mode to permit decrease minimal voltage.
Whatever the climate, I should not have any hassle in any respect working the CFX3 fridge for a number of days on the Objective Zero battery with no need to begin the truck’s engine or plug in a photo voltaic panel.
Regardless of my frustration in direction of the faulty unit I initially acquired and the delay in receiving a alternative, my expertise with the CFX3 fridge improved dramatically as soon as I acquired one which wasn’t a dud. The fridge feels sturdy and sturdy, suits properly into the again of my 4Runner, and has tons of area for meals and drinks. I loaded it with bacon, eggs, hash browns, and salsa for breakfast burritos, plus cream for the espresso I made in my JetBoil every morning. It held chilly cuts, sliced cheese, and condiments for sandwiches at lunchtime. For dinner, we had extra steaks, burger patties, and brats than we might eat. All that hardly put a dent within the cavernous capability of the CFX3 55IM — it is wonderful how a lot room you could have for meals when your cooler is not half stuffed with ice.
I used to be pleasantly shocked by how quiet and energy-efficient the CFX3 was within the area. My Yeti battery had no hassle working it for a number of days, and will be capable to handle every week of typical use in cool climate. And the ice maker, whereas not mandatory, is an added luxurious that impresses everybody whenever you’re 50 miles from civilization.
Any time it isn’t sitting in my car, I maintain this fridge plugged in to the wall in my “man cave” as a mini-fridge for drinks. There’s additionally an emergency preparedness worth to think about — if the ability goes out resulting from a storm, I can load perishable gadgets from my residence fridge into the Dometic and run it off battery energy. The meals would not spoil and the day is saved. Preserve that one in thoughts in case you have to persuade your partner that your $1,000 fridge is not only for holding beer chilly.
For extra data on the Dometic CFX3, go to Dometic.com.
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Disclosure: These hyperlinks are affiliate hyperlinks. Caribou Media Group earns a fee from qualifying purchases. Thanks!
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