3 Best Mini Fridges for Car or Vans (Portable 12V Options)

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Best Mini Fridges for Car or Vans

With the best portable car fridge, those long car rides can become a lot more fun. Think about it: you’ll have the ability to keep your drinks cool and have snacks whenever you please.

Portable refrigerators are also great for those fishing and camping trips and you can also take them along with you to keep your food cold as you enjoy those outdoor activities. You’ll be able to store beer, meat, perishable food items, or even ice in portable fridge freezers.

For several people, they’re a life-changing investment. That said, finding the perfect portable refrigerator with separate compartments isn’t the easiest of tasks. There are several essential factors that you’ll have to consider like whether it has the appropriate ambient temperature or sufficient storage space.

Moreover, the best mini fridge for cars may not be the best portable freezer or it may not have battery protection. So whether you’re looking for a premium portable fridge freezer or portable electric coolers, the best fridge for a caravan or a car this guide is going to every factor that you’re looking for and then some.

Read on as we take you through the best portable fridges for your car!

Don’t have time to read? Here’s a quick summary of the products we recommend.

Mini Fridge Name Why We Picked It
AstroAI Mini Fridge Suitable for people who are looking for a fridge with an attractive design
Koolatron Cooler and Warmer Suitable for people who don’t have a budget constraint
Dometic CFX Portable Refrigerator Perfect for people who are looking for an energy-efficient option

The Best Mini Fridges for Cars (or Caravans)

AstroAI Mini Fridge

AstroAI Mini Fridge, 4 Liter/6 Can AC/DC Portable Thermoelectric Cooler and Warmer Refrigerators for Skincare, Beverage, Food, Cosmetics, Home, Office and Car, ETL Listed (Black)

Check Price on Amazon >>

This mini fridge has been designed to look like a traditional fridge. It is small, only 6.9-inches wide and it has an internal capacity of 4 liters. This means it is large enough to accommodate a full beer rack or six cans of soda. Moreover, since it weighs less than 5 pounds, carrying it around shouldn’t be a problem either.

According to AstroAI, this fridge does a lot more than just keep your beer cold. It’s also the perfect option for storing skincare products, cosmetics, breast milk, and several other items that can go bad at room temperature.

This cooler does a great job of bringing the temperature down to 37 degrees Fahrenheit from room temperature in only three hours, so achieving the perfect ambient temperature shouldn’t be too hard with this portable refrigerator.

Moreover, the company has also made it clear that this portable refrigerator has not been built to warm food items that are on at ambient temperature. However, it does claim that once you’ve turned the portable refrigerator off, it will do a good job of keeping things warm.

The warming and cooling performance of the fridge can vary greatly based on ambient temperature.

The Pros

  • It has a cute design
  • It has a convenient weight and size
  • It has a large warming and cooling temperature range

The Cons

  • It can’t cool or warm food items or drinks from room temperature
  • Some buyers have also complained that this fridge is noisy while operating
  • It doesn’t have a floor drain plug

Koolatron Cooler and Warmer

Koolatron Kool Kaddy P75 Thermoelectric Iceless 12V Cooler Warmer, 34L / 36 Quart Capacity, For Camping, Travel, Truck, SUV, Car, Boat, RV, Trailer, Tailgating, Made in North America

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This option from Koolatron is a mid-capacity car cooler that also has a warming function. For several buyers, it is the best portable refrigerator within this price range. The one we’ve listed is the 36-quart model that has an ice chest and a classic design. It can be plugged in via a 12-volt function and it has both warming and cooling modes.

However, the company also states that the cooler can stand up in one direction, or you can turn it sideways to turn it into a mini-fridge. It also has removable wire baskets which you can use to keep items separated when you’re using the fridge in chest mode.

Just like some of the options that we’ve already discussed in this article, this machine is also a thermoelectric cooler. This means that you won’t be able to set it to a specific temperature but it will chill your drinks and your food below the 40 degrees Fahrenheit mark. Therefore, just like most other thermoelectric coolers on the market, this machine is going to work best when it’s in an air-conditioned car or room.

If you go with this option, you’re going to have a more versatile fridge that is capable of warming up whatever you put into it.

The Pros

  • Amongst other options in this price range, this one is perhaps the most affordable
  • It has a convertible design meaning you can use it both as a fridge or as a chest fridge freezer
  • Since it’s lightweight carrying it around is easy

The Cons

  • The adapter of this AC costs extra
  • Its cooling capacity can be limited when it’s in a hot climate

Dometic CFX Portable Refrigerator

Dometic 9600000469 Coolbox, 62 x 42.5 x 34.2cm, Grey

Check Price on Amazon >>

You’re going to have ample flexibility with this option, too since you’ll be able to cool or freeze whatever you want to. Since there are separate compartments for fruits and vegetables sorting stuff in the fridge is going to be easy as well.

You’ll be able to control the temperature through the machine or you can also use the application that is available on the Playstore or the App Store. However, several people have reported that there are several complications in the application built for the Dometic CFX portable refrigerator. We can also say that it’s one of the most durable options that you can go for currently since it has reinforced edges and stainless steel hinges.

Since it has AC and DC, power consumption is low and it is also a great option if you’re trying to set it up with a solar setup.

The Pros

  • It has an LED light inside of it
  • It can cool down items fairly quickly
  • It has digital controls that are easy to use

The Cons

  • The compressor of this fridge can get a little noisy
  • It is a bit heavy

Should You Buy a Portable Fridge with a Thermoelectric Cooler or a Compressor?

cold bottled drink

The answer is fairly straightforward.

If you’re looking for a portable fridge that can cool or freeze drinks and food from room temperature, then it would be a wise decision to opt for one that has a compressor. We’ve also placed a product with a compressor on this list. A cooler that has a compressor is essentially a portable fridge.

It’s effective and it’s a tried and tested approach when you talk about cooling technology. However, finding cheap one is hard. Compressor refrigerators are heavy. If a chest fridge or mini-fridge has a compressor, it’s going to be hard to move around because of which you have to sacrifice the portability factor.

A thermoelectric cooler, on the other hand, has a simpler construction. It’s a lot more affordable, and it uses a technology called the Peltier phenomenon to create heat. It then absorbs this heat which goes on to create cold air that cools the contents of the fridge.

While this may sound fancy, it’s essential to remember that thermoelectric cooling is a lot less efficient compared to a compressor-based cooling system. While it may give you empty space to store your food and drinks, they may not stay cool for a long time. That said, these fridges are lighter to carry since they don’t have a compressor.

How Long Can I Leave Portable Refrigerators Plugged Into a Vehicle?

There’s no defined period. You can leave it plugged in for as long as you want. So as long as your caravan or car is running, you can keep it one and it’s going to keep your fridge charged for a long period.

That said, when you do turn off the engine, make sure that the fridge isn’t running. This can drain your car’s battery within two to three hours. When you return, the contents of your fridge freezer are going to ice-cold because of the refrigerator temperature, but your car won’t start.

As soon as the car stops turning on, your fridge will soon become useless, too. This may leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere so make sure you don’t make this mistake!

Can I Put Ice In Portable Fridge Freezers?

Yes, but whether there’s going to be a need to do this or not depends on the kind of fridge you’re buying for your car.

If you have one that has a compressor-based cooling system you won’t have to take ice along with you on your trip since these fridges do a good job of reducing the temperature of drinks and foods. They’re also going to ensure that their temperature stays constant.

That said, if you’re thinking of buying a thermoelectric cooler for your car, we recommend that you pre-chill your food and drinks before you place them into the cooler and then turn it on.

If you want, you can also package the items you’re going to put in the cooler in ice and the cooler will keep the ice frozen for a longer period of time. That said, this also depends on how much fridge space you have. 12-volt thermoelectric coolers can handle this with ease.

The Different Kinds of Portable Fridges

You can get different kinds of portable fridges for your caravan or your car. Out of the options that you find on this list, you’ll have to select an option that aligns with your traveling style and any other preference that you have.

A Portable 12V Fridge

vehicle 12 volts adaptor

These are compressed-based cooling systems and as we’ve mentioned already in this article, these are some of the most highly-preferred options in the market today. These fridges can perform well in all kinds of vehicles.

Be it a boat or a 4 x 4 they’re built to last and are extremely efficient at keeping your drinks and food items chilled for the longest of times.

A 12V fridge has a compressor that has a variable speed and they’re going to consume very little energy when you’re using them. That is also why people prefer using them as a freezer or a fridge since they also have an option for a dual-zone.

Some of these also have stainless steel hinges that ensure you can easily open the fridge when you need to while ensuring the door is robust.

You can find them in several configurations: freezer, chest, a dual-zone refrigerator, and verticals. In many cases, they’re also going to have the capability to operate at an inclination of up to 30 degrees, too.

However, if this is not explicitly stated on the fridge’s box or on its product description, we recommend that you keep the fridge perfectly level while you’re driving.

Tilting the machine on the wrong can have detrimental consequences that its warranty may not cover. However, since most of them have this feature, they are one of the best options for that nomadic van life.

All of that aside, even though compressor-based fridges are the best option that you can go for, they do have one potential downside: the cost.

This option is going to be more expensive than any other option that you go through in this list, and this is going to be a factor that you’ll have to consider. Moreover, since you’re going to need an auxiliary battery with these fridges and a potential charging source (like solar panels or a 220-volt connection) there may be some additional costs involved, too.

If your ultimate goal is to transform your caravan into a house on wheels, we would recommend investing in a quality 12V compressor refrigerator.

Pro Tip: Many people purchase a 220V fridge and then pair it with an inverter. The only thing this connection gives them is a headache since it’s going to spoil the auxiliary battery a lot earlier.

A Cooler: A Fridge that’s Going to Need Ice

This is that typical cooling option that almost every nomad starts with. They’re an affordable option, you can easily find them in almost any hardware shop, and if you want them to cool stuff down, you’re going to need ice (a lot of it).

While you can go for the cheapest options in the market today, we can assure you that they’re not going to do a good job of keeping these things cold.

While every cooler essentially works the same way, some do a good of keeping the heat outside, while others don’t keep their contents cool for too long. One great option in this industry is coolers from Coleman.

They have an insulated cover, keep temperatures consistent and the food that you put in them can easily last for two days.

If you don’t want to use a lot of ice with your coolers, you can also try putting in frozen drinks or frozen food to ensure they stay light and easy to carry.

While you’re at it, we would also recommend picking up an option that has a drain for the water. This is going to make it a lot easier to keep them clean and your food isn’t going to rot, too.

Lastly, if you’re thinking of going to the beach with these, you must first make sure that they have the storage capacity needed, and that they have wheels. This way, they’re going to be a lot easier to carry and you’re going to feel a lot more comfortable!

A Thermoelectric Fridge: The Perfect Option for Some

group camping in front bonfire

This is an option that fares well for those shorter road trips, but it may not work well in a place that is too hot. While they will have an eco mode, it won’t work too well in a challenging climate. These refrigerators are going to need a 12V connection, but they’re not going to have the capability to cool drinks and food items below room temperature.

However, some options in the market (like the MobiCool) do claim that they can cool items below the 20 degrees Celsius temperature mark. If you’re looking for an option that keeps your snacks and drinks chilled while you’re on those fun road trips then you should consider buying a thermoelectric fridge.

It’s going to meet all of your needs as long as you’re not traveling to a spot that is chock-full of sunlight. That said, if you’re looking for an option that can easily refrigerate your meals while you’re on a camping trip, then we’d recommend getting a 12V compressor fridge.

A Three-Way Fridge

A three-way fridge or a trivalent fridge are commonly used in motorhomes (caravans) or in a big trucks or vans. They can maintain ambient temperatures, and you can also set separate temperatures.

That said, this is an option that must remain fixed in one spot. They’re going to need a ventilation outlet and they usually work at 12 volts with some additional propane.

With propane, they can prove to be very efficient and they’re going to save you a lot of energy this way. That said, you’re only going to be using them on 12V when you’re on the road and the engine will have to be turned on for this, too.

If you asked for our recommendation, we’d say that these are the best option with compressor cooling technology if you plan to leave your fridge in one spot. Moreover, we’d also recommend getting the propane installation so you don’t have to depend on areas that have an electrical system or a campsite with electricity.

It has low electricity consumption, and a 13kg propane bottle should easily last you two months (however this also depends on your usage).

Chest Fridges

empty mini fridge

Why would anyone get these you may ask? Well, one part of the reason is that cold air is going to stay at the bottom which means it won’t be able to escape easily. When you have a chest fridge, the door is going to be at the top.

The cold air is going to start accumulating at the bottom of the fridge and it’s not going to have room to escape.

On the other hand, when you have an upright fridge, the cold air stays insulated inside the fridge because of the seal around the doors of your fridge. That is why every time you open your fridge door, the fridge loses its cooling and has to build it back up all over again. That is also why you should open your fridge door only when you have to.

The food and drinks that you put in your fridge or freezer compartment are going to have a thermal density that is considerably higher than the air that surrounds them.

Most of the coldness of refrigerators is stored in the food and in the drinks that are placed inside of them. That is also why it is a lot easier to keep a full fridge cool compared to one that is empty.

Moreover, since vertical fridges are arranged in a certain way, all of us lose out on vital open space that is on the top of our food. While manufacturers can bring them to good use by increasing the number of shelves, this would make it harder to extract stuff from the fridge.

They Have More Capacity and Can Be Organized Easily

All of us are used to of standing in front of an open fridge. We have these machines in our homes or in our apartments. However, getting to know that chest fridges are easier to organize than vertical fridges may come as a surprise to many people.

This may raise the question: why can it be harder to organize a front-opening fridge that has drawers compared to a chest fridge that makes you stack stuff on top of each other?

The fridges that we have in our homes are a lot bigger than chest fridges and they give us ample room to organize the contents of the fridge just the way we want them to.

However, the same can’t be said for a portable cooler that you’re putting inside your car. Even though it may have a separate dairy compartment, there’s a lot of wasted empty space in these smaller options.

This makes the compressor work harder to cool the contents of the fridge as well. Even if you have shelves in your electric cooler, you’re still going to have to stack every item on top of each other.

When you want to take something out of the fridge, you’ll have to remove items from their original position to get to an object.

This way, there’s going to be a lot of empty space between the bottom and the top shelf. This isn’t an efficient use of space.

The Pros and Cons of Portable Fridges for Your Cars

The Pros

Portability

relaxing beside caravan

The most prominent advantage of portable fridges is that they have a portable aesthetic. If you want, you can bring it into your caravan, use them outside it when you’re camping, or you can also take them with you when you’re going to watch a baseball game.

Through the USB port, you can easily hook them up in your car and you can have a chilled can of beer no matter where you’re going or where you are!

The Added Storage Space

Another key advantage of portable fridges is that they can add to the space you need to store items inside your home. Even though several people have refrigerators inside their homes, they may sometimes need the extra storage space, and may not have the money needed to get one.

This is when they can use the portable fridge! They’re considerably cheaper than a full-sized fridge and they can also do the same job! Some of them even have a traditional ice chest.

You Don’t Have to Worry About Ice

cold beer in fridge

This is perhaps the most important advantage of having a mini-fridge in your car. Since you’re always going to have access to ice, you won’t have to worry about having a cold beer.

A Compact Size

Whether you’re camping, living in an apartment, in a dorm room, or traveling in a camper van, the mini fridge’s compact size will ensure you can take it anywhere. Moreover, if you’re looking for a mini-fridge that can support the storage capacity of your fridge this can be the perfect option.

Thermoelectric fridges consistently rank high on energy efficiency and they can hold ample beverages and food inside of them, too.

Even if you’re using them in an apartment or a house, you won’t have to worry about them taking up a lot of space since they can easily fit onto your countertop.

The Cons

Limited Quantity

staring a carrot in fridge

Since mini-fridges usually have a compact size and are supposed to be efficient, the amount of food and drinks that you can store in them is fairly limited. We do not recommend buying them for your household since they don’t have the space to support a family.

While they will keep your food chilled, they won’t be able to store a lot of items.

Lack of Cooling

This depends mainly on the cooling of the appliance you’re getting. Some models have temperature control capabilities while other do not. Moreover, it’s hard to achieve extreme temperatures with mini-fridges. They will ensure that your food doesn’t rot, but you can’t expect icy cold food or drinks.

Ice cream may even melt, too.

The Buyer’s Guide to a Portable Fridge

Thinking of buying a mini-fridge for your car? Consider going through these factors when you’re selecting an option.

The Price

handing fridge keys

A mini-fridge that has a high-performance compressor is going to be a lot more expensive than every other option in the market. That said, there’s a wide variety of brands that you can go for and the price of these options is going to fluctuate accordingly.

If your budget isn’t allowing you to get an expensive fridge, we recommend studying the more affordable options carefully.

Freezer Capabilities and its Capacity

How much space will you need? If you buy a mini-fridge that is bigger than the option you need then you’ll directly be spending more money than you have to for something you can’t use. Furthermore, having a fridge that is too small for usage means you’ll have to shop for groceries a lot more often.

Needs can vary from one person to another. Most mini fridges can function as a fridge or as a freezer. However, if you need both at the same time you’ll have to look for a particular option.

The Compressor and Energy Efficiency

vehicle 12 volts port

Since you’re not going to be connecting your fridge to the main power source, you’re going to need an efficient option. Most mini-fridges in the market use the same compressor.

The Weight and Exterior Dimensions

If you already have a designated space for the mini-fridge, you’ll have to consider the dimensions of that spot before you buy an option. Some brands are going to be wider, while others may be taller.

Weight is a vital factor, too. If this fridge is going to be in your car too often, it should be light so you can move it easily off the vehicle.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are portable refrigerators good?

A portable fridge is a perfect alternative to camping with perishable food items when camping. A streamlined system eliminates the constant refilling of water from coolers.

What is the most energy-efficient portable fridge?

The 12v Dometic CFX3 Refrigerator. These products have a high degree of performance that is comparable in quality to a 12-V refrigerator. Dometic is known for producing high-quality 44 and mobile home components.

How do portable car refrigerators work?

At high pressure, the compressor pumps the chilled liquid out of the pump and pumps it back into evaporators. The refrigerant, now hotter than the inside temperature, flows through the condensing system and the hot vapors at high pressure generate heat through the help of fans.

What is a 12 V refrigerator?

A 12-volt RV refrigerator gets most of its power using 12-volt electrical energy in your home or car battery. These refrigerators use electricity rather than propane. Other refrigerators or two-way RV fridges use propane to cool their systems.

Are there portable fridges?

Portable fridges are small yet easy to carry. Various models have freezers for small items. You can find an adapter for all outlets, excluding 12V sockets.

Are camping fridges worth it?

A good 12v fridge will not only eliminate ice problems but can also be used for different meals in different sizes. It’s possible to store frozen items in the freezer so campers can stay overnight for a longer time without needing additional equipment.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve gone through some of the most popular mini fridge freezers for cars it’s time for you to decide which one suits your needs best.

At the end of the day, the final decision that you take boils down to the features that you’re looking for and how you plan to use the fridge. If portability is a big deal to you, consider going for a lighter option that has handles and wheels.

This is also what makes mini-fridges such a great machine to own. Whether you’re on a picnic or at the beach, they can keep food and drinks fresh and cold. It’s also important to remember that while we’ve listed the best options available right now, there’s no telling where the market is headed since technology in this space is rapidly evolving, too. Buy one from this list and make those long drives hassle-free!

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