The Truckfridge range of 12/120v fridges uses the same compressor as the more expensive Norcold/Vitifrigo/Isotherm units with a slightly lower build quality. The TF130 is their largest option, and it’s got more than enough space for a Sprinter build.
Lots of 12v fridges use thermo-electric cooling. That includes the coolers that you can plug into your cigarette socket. Those tend to be able to cool around 30 – 40 degrees below the ambient temperature. In other words, on a hot day they won’t keep things well refrigerated.
A better option is a true compressor-based fridge. These use the same technology as home refrigerators, but running on a 12v supply. They are more expensive than the thermo-electric version, but they can keep food frozen in pretty much any temperature.
The top fridges in this category tend to use Danfoss/Secop compressors. Manufacturers include Dometic, Norcold, Vitifrigo, Isotherm, Engel, ARB, and Truckfridge. A dirty little secret is that Truckfridge and Vitifrigo are both made by the same company (Indel). One brand is aimed at people who want posh stainless steel looking appliances for their RVs, the other is aimed at people who live on the road and haul cargo.
There are also two styles of 12v fridge: chest style, which look a bit like a cooler, and upright style, which look just like home refrigerators. The chest style ones are marginally more efficient, but need access across their whole top face to open the hinged lid. People also complain that it’s harder to find food items in the chest style fridge because some packages will be stuck under others.
We chose to use an upright style fridge from Truckfridge. It’s the TF130 model, which has a 130 liter capacity (4-1/2 cubic feet). It fits well in our cabinet space, with room for a drawer above it at a 36″ counter height.
All of the compressor style fridges need ventilation so that their fans can pull warm air away from the fridge elements. We built in a rear and side vent, as well as ensuring that the space under the fridge is free to suck air up and back.
The fridge door comes with a black plastic panel, but it’s easy to add a trim panel in any color and material you want. You can buy trim kits to secure these fridges in place, but we just used two 1/8″ thick aluminum plates screwed to the sides of the fridge and then to the inside edges of the cabinet. It’s a cleaner, narrower fit than the trim flanges.
In retrospect, there was no need for us to choose a 12/120v unit. The 120v input is just a power adaptor brick wired into the circuit. If we spent a lot of time on shore power it may be marginally more efficient to use that adaptor than to draw directly from our battery, but I doubt it. The 120v cable is sticking out of the back of our fridge cabinet, but it’s never been plugged in.
The best thing about this fridge is its low power draw. Although it’s possible to run a dorm-style fridge in a van, it works on 120v and pulls a lot of power. Instead, our solar panels can keep up with the Truckfridge on even the greyest Pacific North West days.
Actually, that’s the second best thing. The real best thing about this fridge is getting back from a mountain bike ride and knowing that there is a cool beverage waiting for us.