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6 Reasons Why 12V Fridges Are Essential For Van Life

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Have you ever wondered if a 12V fridge is worth it for your van conversion? With the costs of RV fridges, leisure batteries, and solar all coming down, we think picking up an affordable electric fridge for the camper van is a no-brainer.

In this post, we go over 5 reasons why 12V fridges should be in every van conversion and why they are superior to traditional ice cooler chests.

So if you’re ready, let’s get to it.

Yuko Infront Of Her Dometic Fridge

1. More Convenient Than An Ice Cooler

One of the biggest benefits of getting a 12V fridge is that you are not reliant on buying ice to cool the box. That means no more having to run to the closest grocery or convenience store every three days to top up on ice.

Because the fridge runs on 12V electricity, it can stay cold as long as your leisure batteries don’t run out of charge. And assuming you correctly calculated your ideal battery and solar size, your fridge should almost never run out of power.

Relying on electricity, instead of ice, means you can wild camp for longer periods of time before having to drive back into town to restock on supplies. With a traditional cooler, you’re forced to leave your camp spot once all the ice melts, unless you enjoy watching your meat and vegetables go bad. But with a 12V fridge, you only have to leave when your food and water is depleted.

2. RV Fridges Do Not Require Lots Of Power

Unlike traditional refrigerators, fridges designed for RVs & campers are incredibly energy efficient. A typical top-loading 12V fridge only consumes 1-2 Amps per hour, depending on the outside ambient temperature.

RV fridges are energy efficient because they operate using DC electricity, meaning you don’t an inverter to power the fridge. It can run directly from your leisure batteries. Secondly, these fridges  are typically designed with energy saving features in mind, such as thicker wall insulation and low-power consumption compressors. Put together, these features allow campers to keep their food and drinks cold without worrying about draining their batteries.

In our van, we use a 40L Dometic fridge and it uses about 18 Amps per 24 hours period. That’s only 18% of a standard 100Ah leisure battery per day. With a properly sized solar array, your battery should have no problem powering the fridge day in and day out.

How To Connect A 12V Fridge? If you haven't started your electrical wiring, check out our 12V installation post to see how you can connect the fridge to your batteries.

Dometic 12v Fridge Controls

3. Better Temperature Control Than A Cooler

Certain foods, like meat and dairy, are important to be stored in a cold environment where temperatures don’t fluctuate too wildly. Would you want to eat that package of ground beef if you knew that it had been stored in a place that alternated between being cold and warm?

Temperature control is critical for some foods and this is another reason why 12V fridges are significantly better than traditional ice coolers.

An ice cooler relies on ice to keep its contents cold. But the inside temperature of a cooler is dependent on how much ice remains inside. The less ice, the warmer the temperature. As a result, the internal temperature of an ice cooler can vary drastically. On the other hand, 12V fridges utilize a compressor and refrigerant system to maintain a temperature that is reliably consistent.

Additionally, with an electric fridge, you’re able to easily adjust the internal temperature with the simple push of a button. This is ideal for those who require accurate and reliable temperature control for their food and drinks while camping.

For example, when our fridge is full of mostly fruits & vegetables, we like to increase the fridge to roughly 40F (4C). But with meat, we like to decrease the temperature down to 37F (3C) to help keep the meat fresher for longer. It’s a small adjustment, but one that is easy to do with a 12V fridge.

4. Perfect For Ice-Cream Lovers

A 12V fridge is essential if carrying a quart of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is critical to your van life adventure. Many larger fridges will often have two compartments, with one section intended for storing items below freezing temperatures.

For example, this Dometic 75L fridge has two zones, allowing you to keep one compartment in sub-zero temperatures so that your ice cream stays safe from melting and spoilage.

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5. RV Fridges Are Affordable

Many people still believe that 12V fridges are expensive, but this isn’t always the case. While high-end models, like those from Dometic and Arb, can cost in excess of $800, you can easily find more affordable options online.

Below is list of three of the most popular, budget-friendly 12V fridges that provide ample storage space and reliable performance.

6. Wiring A 12V Fridge To A Battery Isn't Rocket Science!

Perhaps you’re hesitant to get an RV fridge because of the electrical wiring involved. And yes, there will be installation required to connect the fridge to your batteries.

But you don’t have to be an electrical engineer to do this. If you follow our electrical guide, we’re confident we can get your fridge (and other electrical devices) up and running correctly and safely.

If you’re just looking for electrical wiring diagrams, we provide free ebooks to help get you started.


In this day and age, it’s a no brainer that 12V fridges out-compete traditional ice coolers. Fridges keep food and drinks cold longer, are better at maintaining a constant temperature, and aren’t nearly as expensive as they used to be.

In fact, an RV fridge is one of our top-5 van life essentials.

If you have any questions about van life with a RV fridge, please reach out to us with an email on our contact page.

Happy building!

Thank You For Reading!

We’re Yuko and Eric! We both grew up in Asia ( Japan & Hong Kong ), we left our jobs and homes in 2018 and started traveling full time from Canada to Argentina in our self-converted camper van since end of May 2019. “Asobo” means “Let’s play” in Japanese. We named our site “Asobolife” because the life is always uncertain and we live only once so it’s important to always keep positive, playful mind and enjoy the moment you are in the present. We also want to use this website to share our road trip and van building experiences to inspire our readers. We hope you enjoy!

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