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Which type of caravan fridge is best for me ?

What types of refrigeration are use in RV’s, Caravans and Motorhomes ?

How often have you pulled into a campsite and immediately started comparing gear with your neighbours before you've even set up?  When we’re talking about caravan appliances, everyone has an opinion – and fridges are no exception. After all, this is the one piece of kit that can keep your food fresh, your beer cold and your icecream frozen.  So whats best a 3 Way Fridge, or a 2 Way Fridge?

Three Way Refrigerators

The most common type of refrigerator in caravan, motorhome and fifth-wheeler is a ‘three way’ absorption refrigerator.  It is called three way as it has three alternative power sources ie: 12V, 240V and LPG gas.  

'Three way' refrigerator systems are now available in manual (MES) and fully automatic (AES) energy source selection with the fully automatic system first seeking 240 volt (mains power) if it is available and, if not, then seeks LPG or lastly 12V.

Some of these refrigerators have a climate class rating and Climate Class ‘T’ refrigerators are designed to work in tropical climates where the temperatures up to 43 degree C.  For more information see the foot of this page.

Compressor Refrigerators

Another type of refrigerator used in RV’s is the 12V/ 240V compressor refrigerator/freezer.  Two popular brands of this type are VitriFrigo and Waeco / CoolMatic Danfoss Kompressor fridges.  The capacity of these refrigerator/freezers range from 40 litres up to 230 litres.  There are models featuring two doors ie: one for the large freezer compartment and the other for the refrigerator.

Vitrifrigo compressor refrigerators are Italian designed 12V/24V caravan and motorhome refrigerator with an option for automatic cutover to 240V when connecting to mains power via a mobitronic.  However, the trend these days is to have the compressor refrigerator wired direct to the 12V house battery bank and the batteries are charged whilst on 240V mains power or from solar panels.

On 12V power the compressor refrigerators have less draw current than the absorption refrigerators and if your RV is connected up to solar panels it will simply be charging off the power stored in your batteries and being charged by the solar panel array as you are travelling.

If you want to know more about how an absorption refrigerator or a compressor refrigerator actually work mechanically do a search on line as there are a number of websites with information and diagrams.

Unrealistic expectations

No caravan fridge will cool a carton of non-cold beer in an hour or two!  Buy it cold and put it straight in the fridge. Nor will any caravan fridge adequately freeze a lot of newly caught fish. Power will be drawn continuously, doubling or tripling consumption yet will still not freeze quickly. Doing this requires a chest freezer made for such use, and generator powered.

Correctly installed and sensibly used RV fridges will work as intended, but marketing mostly advises what a product may do, not what it cannot do. A fridge’s temperature range is thus usually revealed the technical data, but not necessarily in promotional literature.

Gas and three-way fridges must suit the climate in which they are used. There may also be unrealistic expectations. Fishers (particularly) may grossly underestimate the energy needed to freeze their catch.


Defrosting should be done whenever the frost layer exceeds a thickness of about 3mm as cooling efficiency can decrease and power consumption increase.  To completely defrost the refrigerator turn the thermostat knob to ‘stop’.  Don’t use anything sharp as this could pierce the refrigerator plate and cause irreparable damage. After defrosting, empty the drip tray and turn the thermostat knob to the desired setting.

Climate classes

According to a number of technical factors, which relate to how the refrigerator has been built and designed, refrigerators have different climate class ratings.

Essentially, there are four climate classes, although they can be combined with each other giving rise to a widened range of classifications.

The climate classes (the letter symbol for climate classes) can be found in the technical data or specifications located on the data label stuck inside the refrigerator, usually at the top or bottom, and sometimes in the fridge’s fruit tray, or even in the manufacturer’s catalogue. The classes are identified by the following symbols: (the following temperatures are based on the temperature range in which the appliance can operate at room temperature).

Climate Class

Minimum Temp

Maximum Temp


10 Deg C

32 Deg C


16 Deg C

32 Deg C


18 Deg C

38 Deg C


18 Deg C

43 Deg C

In some models of refrigerators the following classifications are also available:
SN / ST = running at room temperature from 10 ° C to 38 ° C
SN / T = operation at room temperature from 10 ° C to 43 ° C.

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