How to Choose the Best 12 Volt Cooler
Gone are the days of a foam cooler with ice. With these types of coolers, your ice will melt constantly, you’ll have to drain the cooler constantly, and you’ll have to stop for more ice constantly. Even if you invested in a higher-quality, hard cooler, you’ll still have to deal with melting ice and draining your cooler.
Since you’ll have electricity in your RV, you don’t have to deal with all that frustration. You can get an electric-powered, 12-volt cooler that can be powered directly from your RV. Choosing one isn’t as simple as looking at the right price. There are other considerations that you should take into account. Keep reading, and we’ll break them down for you.
Three Types of 12-Volt Coolers
There are three types of 12-Volt coolers, and they have very different operations. The three types are absorption, compressor, and thermoelectric. While absorption coolers are typically the most popular coolers for RVs, the other two may be more suitable for your needs.
An absorption cooler uses heat to activate the cooling process. It heats and cycles refrigerant, which causes it to go from a liquid state to a gas. Then the gas is condensed back into a liquid, which is what causes the cooling effect. These coolers are popular for RVs because they can run on two to three of the main power sources in an RV: 110V AC, 12V DC, or propane. While versatility is what makes this cooler type popular for RVers, it does use a lot of power. It’s not energy efficient, but it is effective.
- Inexpensive compared to other types.
- Ability to use three different power sources.
- Very quiet.
- Can’t freeze food.
- Is limited to cooling only about 30 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the ambient temperature.
A compressor cooler operates much like an absorption cooler, but it has a small motor that makes it a little more powerful. These types of coolers usually run on both AC/DC power, and they tend to be a little noisier than absorption coolers because of the compressor. However, they use less power and can get colder than absorption coolers no matter what the ambient temperature is.
- Gets colder than absorption coolers.
- Can freeze food.
- Uses less energy.
- Tends to be a little more expensive.
- Can be noisy.
A thermoelectric cooler works through the Peltier Effect. We’ll explain this on a basic level without getting into too much scientific detail. The Peltier Effect is when the heat is conducted through two pieces of metal and pushed to one end of the metal. This also creates a cooling effect that gets pushed to the other end. The cool end sticks out into the cooler, causing it to get cold while the hot end disperses the heat into the air.
Thermoelectric coolers are the least popular out of the three types because they’re only about 10 percent energy efficient. Despite the inefficiency, there are situations where they are a better fit than the other two. Since a thermoelectric cooler is the most inexpensive of the three, they’re great for people on a budget. They also use very little energy, so they’re perfect for RVs.
- Extremely quiet with little to no vibration.
- Low power consumption.
- Low cost.
- Doesn’t get very cold.
- Only comes in small capacities.
Choosing the type of 12-volt cooler that you want is half the battle of choosing the right one. It will also depend on your power source. However, since you’re here, it’s evident that you’ll be using 12 volt power. The good news is that all three types run on a direct current power source, so your options are open.
Twelve-volt coolers are usually given measurements in two units. The first would be how many quarts it can hold, and the second is how many cans it can hold (as in soda/beer cans). This doesn’t mean that it can only hold cans. You may want to put food, two-liter beverages, medicine, or anything else that needs to be kept cool.
When considering size, you’ll want to consider what you’ll put in it, how long your trip is, as well as how many people will be using it. On average, a 50-quart cooler will be sufficient for two- to- three people for a few days. You don’t want to get a cooler that’s too big–the less empty space in the cooler, the colder it will remain.
Features, Accessories, and More
Most 12-volt coolers aren’t just boxes with a plug. Some features and accessories can make them more convenient or more suitable for your needs. Handles and wheels are an important consideration, especially for larger-sized coolers. You’ll want comfortable handles that are easy to hold and won’t fatigue your hands and fingers. Wheels make it easy to move the cooler around.
Some coolers come with shelves and baskets so that you can separate the contents of the cooler. Some cooler doors may have shelves and racks specially designed for drink cans or bottles. Some coolers may even have a freezer section.
Weight may not seem like it’s important, but some 12-volt coolers can be heavy. If you’ll be handling the cooler alone, you may want to opt for a lighter cooler. If you’ll have help, make sure you have good handles so that two people can carry it at once, or an extending handle so you can easily wheel it around.
There could be other impractical features that aren’t necessary but are nice to have. For example, some coolers can double as food warmers with the flip of a button. Another example is having a USB port on the cooler to charge your small devices. If you enjoy having quirky items, these types of features may be impressive to you.
Once you’ve taken all the choices above into consideration, you’re ready to purchase the perfect 12-volt cooler. We’ve researched several 12-volt coolers in search of the best ones for your RV or car. The seven we’ve listed below were the top ones we found and are great choices for you to consider based on the information above.
The Best 12v Cooler – The Results
Dometic CDF11 10-Quart Portable Cooler/Freezer
For a portable compressor cooler, this one is fancy. It has plenty of features that make it extremely convenient. It has a digital display that tells you the exact internal temperature. You get to choose between Celsius or Fahrenheit, and you can adjust the cooler to your desired temperature using the clearly marked plus and minus signs. The temperature range is from 0 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Dometic CDF11 has a capacity of 10 quarts or 13 cans. It’s more of a personal cooler, although it can be suitable for a couple of people for a few days. The cooler dimensions are 14.4 x 21.3 x 9.3 inches, and it only weighs about 18 pounds. It’s also good for holding sandwiches or other small food items.
Two stand out features of the cooler are the pair of drink holders on the top and the shoulder strap for transporting it. It’s made from an impact-resistant hard polymer, so it’s highly durable and insulated.
- Has an interior light.
- Comes with a basket.
- Has three-stage battery protection.
- It’s very expensive for the size.
- Strap wears out quickly.
Bottom-Line: This is a great, personal cooler for one or two people who need to keep food cold in small quantities.
Alpicool C20 21-Quart Portable Cooler/Freezer
The Alpicool C20 Cooler is versatile. It can be powered by both AC/DC power. It can also be powered by 240-volt AC power and comes with an AC adapter and a DC adapter. It has a temperature range from -4°F up to 50 degrees Fahrenheit and has excellent insulation.
The Alpicool C20 has an interesting touch screen display panel. It shows the temperature, vehicle battery level, the power and settings buttons, and the plus and minus buttons for adjusting the temperature. Our only concern is that if the display fails, you can’t adjust the temperature.
The cooler has a 21-quart/25 can capacity. It measures 22.4 x 12.6 x 12.6 inches and weighs about 22 pounds. It’s lightweight, but instead of a strap, it has two handles for carrying it. The handles are small and will only accommodate your fingers, so it may get uncomfortable if you carry the cooler for too long.
- Can run at up to a 45° angle.
- No seam interior makes it easy to clean.
- The thermostat isn’t always accurate.
- Included instructions aren’t helpful.
Bottom-Line: This is a great portable cooler for a group of three to four people who may be traveling on rough terrain or overseas.
ARB 50-Quart Classic Series II Portable Cooler/Freezer
Best 12v Cooler
The ARB 50-Quart compressor cooler is one of the more advanced portable refrigerators on the market. It’s a sturdy, rugged-use freezer with wireless connectivity capabilities. The cooler is made with a zinc steel outer casing and has fair-sized, recessed steel carry handles. It also has stainless steel hinges on the injection-molded lid.
The cooler has a back-lit LCD with buttons light up as you touch them. The panel is bright enough to see at night, but not so bright that it disturbs your sleep. A built-in wireless transmitter allows you to view and control the cooler from your smart device through a Fridge Connect app, a very convenient feature.
The cooler measures 28 x 15 x 20 inches and holds 50 quarts. It has a temperature range of 0°F to 50°F. The cooler is a little heavy at 45 pounds, but steel handles make it easy to pick up. Designed for rugged use, this cooler is a long-lasting investment.
- Has a fruit and dairy compartment.
- Has an interior LED light.
- Rubber feet gives it extra stability.
- It’s very expensive.
- Thermostat is sometimes off by around 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bottom-Line: If you can fit this in your budget, this is a tough cooler that will withstand the roughest RV rides/camping and keep your food cold for years.
Housmile 32-Quart Thermoelectric Cooler
Best Budget Refrigerator
If you need an inexpensive fridge for some beverages and snacks, the Housmile thermoelectric 32-Quart fridge will cool enough to enjoy a crisp, cold beverage on a hot day. It’s a dual-functioning model because it can also function as a warmer. As a fridge, it has a temperature range of 41°F to 59°F, and it can warm up to 140°F, so you don’t have to eat cold food.
The fridge measures 14 x 11.8 x 18.5 inches (not including the extending handle) and weighs 12.7 pounds. The fridge is made of hard PVC plastic material, including the wheels. It has a handle that extends out almost 16 inches, so it’s easy to roll around. It also has side handles if you prefer to pick it up and move it. While PVC plastic isn’t our ideal material choice for a refrigerator because it has lousy insulation, it is durable. Since it’s a thermoelectric cooler, you can’t expect it to get icy cold.
- Long handle makes it easy to roll.
- Doesn’t cool well in outside temps. of more than 77°F.
- The handle is only big enough for fingertips.
Bottom-Line: This is a great, affordable fridge/warmer for people who are camping in mild to moderate weather.
Whynter FM-45G 45-Quart Portable Freezer/Cooler
Best Refrigerator for Durability
This isn’t the most attractive of portable refrigerators, but it works well. The Whynter FM45G is functional and practical. It has the look of a military-grade piece of equipment. Even though it’s not military-grade, it does have a tough, powdered steel outer casing as well as strong, stainless steel handles. It’s a rugged refrigerator that will last a long time.
This 12v cooler refrigerator doesn’t have a bunch of extra features to brag about. There is a small LCD panel on the side that shows you the interior temperature. Other than this, it’s just an electric box that keeps food cool. It has a temperature range from -8°F to 50°F, meaning that it can freeze food & beverages, but it does take a while to get to this point.
The internal dimensions of the fridge are 18.5 x 11 x 15 inches, but some of this space is taken up by the compressor step, which measures 7.5 x 11.25 x 8 inches. It comes with two wire baskets – one basket is the same depth as the freezer while the other is shorter because it goes over the compressor step. The refrigerator weighs 45 pounds. Overall, this is an excellent fridge for someone who simply wants to keep your food cold.
- It’s constructed well and built to last.
- Reinforced corners
- Can function even when tilted up to 30°.
- The compressor takes up a lot of interior space.
- The front lock seems a bit flimsy.
Bottom-Line: This ice chest is very basic for the price range it’s in, but if you want a good, long-lasting cooler, then this is a great choice.
Norcold NRF-30 32-Quart Portable Cooler/Freezer
Best Portable Fridge & Freezer
The Norcold NRF-30 is one of those electric coolers that doesn’t have a lot of features other than a small LCD screen but is priced higher because of the sheer quality of the freezer. One of the main things we like about this refrigerator is one of the interior compartments is stainless steel. While it would be nice for the entire interior to be stainless steel, having at least one of the two compartments as stainless steel will help to prevent scratches and punctures. The other compartment is refrigerator-only, so you don’t have an all-or-none freezing experience.
The fridge is made of a hard, high-quality, corrosion-proof plastic material that isn’t easy to crack or break. The handles are made of the same high-quality material and are removable. The same goes for the lid, which is also reversible if you want it to open from the other direction. The freezer measures 15.6 x 22 x 15.7 inches and weighs around 39 pounds. It has a 32-quart/40 can capacity and a three-stage battery protection system.
- Has separate compartments for frozen food & chilled food
- Gets cold quickly.
- Has an interior light.
- AC power cord must be purchased separately.
- Cigarette-lighter plug has been reported to be too loose.
Bottom-Line: If you don’t mind splurging, this is an excellent 12v cooler for people who travel with a mixture of different food and drinks.
Smeta 1.0 Cu. Ft. Absorption Mini-Fridge
Best Mini-Fridge Model
This is the only absorption refrigerator that made the list because it works very well. It’s more of a mini-fridge than a cooler, although, due to it being an absorption fridge, it doesn’t get as cold as the other portable refrigerators. As long as you keep this in mind, you won’t be disappointed.
For a small refrigerator, it has a roomy interior. It has an adjustable interior shelf and two-door shelves. The refrigerator has an interior light to make it easy to see on the inside. The temperature range is limited (as stated, it’s an absorption fridge) to 37℉-53℉. The mini-fridge measures 15.7 x 16.5 x 19.7 inches and weighs around 35 pounds. It’s extremely quiet since it has no moving parts and uses very little power. You can choose between DC and AC power, and it conveniently comes with both adapters.
- Comes in multiple capacities.
- Door is reversible.
- Silent operation.
- Interior light doesn’t work with DC 12 volt power.
- No battery protection system.
Bottom-Line: If you prefer more of a refrigerator-style cooler, this is a great, high-quality mini-fridge that will last for a long time.
Last update on 2021-05-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API