How hot is too hot for a 12V compressor fridge?

Fridges are pretty amazing pieces of technology, and certainly make camping and travel a lot more enjoyable. However, have you ever stopped to think about how hard your 12V compressor fridge has to work to keep your food cold, or even frozen?

Last weekend my brother had issues with his fridge not cooling properly in the back of his 4WD, and it eventually cut out and stopped working completely mid afternoon. The inside of his car was getting super hot, despite the windows being down and it not being much more than 30 degrees.

The day before we left for Cliff head and Horrocks, we had a scorcher in Perth, topping out at about 42 degrees. I decided it’d be clever to turn both the fridge on in the car, and the freezer on in the camper trailer to get them cooling a few hours prior to putting food in them. As I slid the camper freezer out, I noted how hot it was inside the box that it lives in (and in fact the entire camper). 

Despite this, I turned it on and slid it back in, and when I came back a few hours later it was showing an error, and 37 degrees. When I reset it, the compressor would kick in and shake badly, and then fault out again. I left it for a bit and tried a few times, with no luck, eventually plugging 240V power in which made it come on and smooth out. Once it had started to cool I went back to 12V, and it has run OK since.

However, I went out a number of times that day at 7PM and 9PM, and the tunnel boot was still seriously warm, with the air coming out of the Evakool fridge vent really hot. I think we got lucky, and will be far more conscious of how hot the fridge is getting going forward, but it is a bit of a worry with how many are mounted badly.

Fridge in our Reconn
Our Reconn R2 fridge can get seriously hot in the front hatch

How hot is too hot for your fridge?

The hotter the ambient temperature, the harder your fridge is going to work. The colder you want your fridge to run down to, the harder its going to run. The unfortunate thing is that so many fridges are in poorly ventilated locations, or areas that just get seriously hot.

If your ambient temperature is getting above 45 degrees, its going to work pretty hard. When we were at Horrocks Caravan Park we had several 42 + degree days, so its not hard to see how temperatures can skyrocket in a closed off area. 

In shade at Horrocks
We hit 40 degrees a few times at Horrocks, and were glad of the awning for shade

Where does your fridge live?

I’ve seen them mounted in aluminium toolboxes on the front of the camper, and I’ve got no doubt that this would comfortably hit 60 degrees inside without any ventilation. 

Even in our Reconn R2, there’s no air flow and the camper is black (not a good colour!), which means it absorbs a heap of heat. The kicker though, is that if we aren’t at camp, we lock things up, which means its got zero air flow. This is fine for a couple of hours, but if you are gone all day and its hot, your fridge is going to cook. 

On our big lap of Australia I’ll monitor this, and hopefully we can travel with the weather so we avoid any majorly hot spots, or we’ll have to put some ventilation in.

Camper trailer boat loader
Where does your fridge live?

How can you keep your fridge cooler?

Insulation, and ventilation are really your only options. I know a lot of people with Ute Canopies that complain about their canopies getting too hot, and when you see the colour of them, its not surprising. Canopy insulation is hugely popular to reduce some of the heat getting in, and I’ve seen a lot of people installing scupper vents, or fans. The issue with this is you introduce a spot for dust ingress, which is no good either.

Our canopy is white, and never gets hot. We’ve got our Upright Fridge as open as it possibly can to let the heat dissipate from the fridge, and have had no issues with it in that regard. Our camper one is more of a challenge, and without cutting holes we can’t really make it cooler, so we just monitor it and do what we can to look after it.

Private camping at Cossack
Our upright in the white Dmax canopy

High temperature = high power consumption

If you haven’t done much camping when its warm, it can be quite a shock to see how much extra power your fridge will draw keeping items cold. On a 20 degree day you’ll use far less power than if its 35 or 40 degrees, and that can be amplified even further if your fridge is in a location that gets even warmer.

Ultimately, be aware of the temperature that your fridge runs at, and have some sympathy towards it; they do an awesome job and a broken fridge on a warm day is not much fun to deal with!

Battery voltage
Hot weather will make your fridge use a lot more power

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