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campervan fridge
  1. Campervan
26th April 2023

Campervan fridges: the ultimate guide

If you don’t know the differences between a compressor, absorption or thermoelectric fridge, this blog will explain how they work and will help you decide which is best for your campervan holiday.

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A vital ingredient of any camping holiday is having a decent campervan fridge in which to store ice cool drinks, dairy goods and other perishable products. 

The market for campervan fridges is wide open in terms of brand and specification, from the specialists such as Waeco, makers of the cavernous CoolMatic CRX50 and Dometic, makers of the bijou CoolFreeze CFX 35, right through to globally know white goods manufacturers such as GE, Frigidaire, Whirlpool, Bosch and Hotpoint. 

Despite the range, you basically have three types of fridge to choose from when planning your campervan refit: a compressor fridge, an absorption fridge or a thermoelectric fridge.

campervan fridge

What is a compressor fridge?

Compressor fridges are regular domestic fridges. They use a compressor to control the flow of fluid refrigerant. It is forced under pressure through an expansion valve that makes it expand and convert into a cold gas.

The chilled refrigerant then flows through the coils inside the fridge removing heat from the contents of the fridge. The compressor then squeezes the refrigerant, turning it into a hot, high-pressure gas.

The hot refrigerant gas then passes through the coils on the back of the fridge, expelling its heat and turning back into a liquid. This is why compressor fridges produce heat outside and cold inside. 

The liquid refrigerant is then forced back through the expansion valve and the process begins again.

The pros of a compressor fridge

A compressor fridge is usually cheaper than an absorption fridge but there are a number of other benefits too:

  • Easy to install – all you need to do is plug it in
  • No need to cut a hole in the side of your van to expel the heat that is generated
  • Runs intermittently so it is more energy efficient
  • Easy to use and virtually maintenance free
  • Doesn’t need to be levelled to work efficiently
  • Usually bigger on the inside compared to an absorption fridge of the same external dimensions
  • Can be powered by a leisure battery or solar panel
  • Efficiency is less affected by high ambient air temperature

What is an absorption fridge?

An absorption fridge converts the liquid refrigerant into a gas using a heat source. They are often known as 3-way fridges as the heat source can be delivered by 12V, 240V or LPG gas.

Essentially, the way absorption fridges work is that refrigerant is heated until it evaporates into a gas in a low-pressure vessel and then collects heat from the interior of the fridge. The hot gas passes through a heat exchanger and heat is dissipated to the air outside the fridge. The loss of heat causes the refrigerant gas to condense back into liquid form to then repeat the process.

There are disadvantages of having an absorption fridge, including:

  • You’ll need to service it regularly
  • Must be level to work
  • Expels more heat than a compressor fridge
  • You’ll need to cut a vent in the van wall or restrict its use to the awning, which may not be practical

The pros of an absorption fridge

There are a number of advantages for choosing a 3-way fridge:

  • Can run on 12V, 240V or LPG gas
  • Available in larger sizes
  • Runs silently

What is a thermoelectric fridge?

Apart from a fan to help with airflow, a thermoelectric fridge has no moving parts and no refrigerant fluids, which makes it more environmentally friendly than a compressor or absorption fridge. 

Thermoelectric fridges work by passing an electric current through two plates made of different materials. The plates are then sandwiched together to create an element. When an electrical current is passed through the element, one side gets hot and the other side gets cold.

The side of the element that gets hot is attached to a heat sink – a row of aluminium fins designed to disperse the heat.

The cold side of the element is fitted inside the fridge. Any heat from the inside of the fridge is absorbed and passes through the element into the heat sink, and is then released into the surrounding ambient air.

Unlike the compressor fridge, the thermoelectric fridge must run constantly to keep cool. This means that running costs can be higher compared with other fridge types.

What are the pros of a thermoelectric fridge?

Thermoelectric fridges have a number of advantages, including:

  1. Apart from the cooling fan, there are no moving parts so there is little that could go wrong
  2. Environmentally friendly as they do not contain hazardous chemical refrigerants
  3. Easy to install
  4. No need to worry about ventilation
  5. Can run on 12V or 240V
  6. Run silently
campervan fridges

So which is the best campervan fridge?

A compressor fridge is probably your best bet for your campervan refit because it is simple to install, energy efficient (as it runs intermittently), requires no extra ventilation and works well even in the hottest of summers. 

Absorption fridges need adequate ventilation and even then they can struggle to keep cool when the outside temperature is high. No one wants warm beer or curdled milk after a long day soaking up the sun on the beach so we would recommend avoiding absorption fridges if possible! 

If you have a green conscience or have fitted solar panels as part of your campervan refit, a thermoelectric fridge may well be the one for you. 

Keep a cool head and choose the right insurance

Shopping around for a good insurance deal might leave you hot and bothered so chill out and let us do the hard work for you. 

Sterling campervan insurance starts at just £165 a year and comes with free personal possessions cover (up to a value of £2,000) and free European cover for up to 90 days. 

You can even include home start and European breakdown cover or standalone camping equipment cover which protects camping-related furniture and furnishings, personal possessions, luggage and camping accessories.

Call 0344 381 9990 for a swift no obligation quote or book a callback at a time that suits you. 

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