Truckfridge 130 – cavernous and cool

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, (see it on the Truckfridge site, or Amazon) 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.

12v TruckFridge in cabinet

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.

Side fridge vent
Penn Elcom perforated metal dish vent.
Rear fridge vent
The rear vent is a piece of decorative punched aluminum from a local hardware store

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.

Assorted cold beverages in the TruckFridge

28 Replies to “Truckfridge 130 – cavernous and cool”

  1. Hi! Thanks for all the good info, it’s been a great resource for us! Can you tell me where you found the replacement door panels for the refrigerator? Thank you

    1. Hi Anne,

      We made the door panel ourselves. It’s really simple. The Truckfridge manual tells you how to unscrew the door handle and the base of the door surround, then you can just slide in a panel on top of what’s already there. We used a piece of Formica. You could use any thin material – wood, metal, or plastic. You could even remove the existing panel and glue fancy paper or fabric on to it if you wanted.

      There’s plenty of room for an extra panel. I know some people even add a layer of foil faced foam to improve the insulation.

      Hope that helps!

      1. Thanks so much. We haven’t received our fridge yet but that sounds pretty straight forward, thanks for the tips- fun to add some color!

  2. Great job on the website and the build. Thanks for all of the guidance.

    I picked up a TF130 from TruckFridge in Kentucky but I haven’t yet installed it. I’m currently trying to size my battery system and the fridge will be my main power draw. Do you know how much power this fridge draws in a typical day and the max draw you’ve seen it pull?

    1. Hi Paul,

      To be honest, we’ve not specifically measured the fridge’s draw with everything else turned off. The Truckfridge site claims 24 watts/hour and we have no reason to doubt that. We see higher power draw than that on occasion, but the fridge doesn’t have a 100% duty cycle (more like 33%) so it probably averages out to around 24 W/hr. That equates to 48Ah per day.

      There are times when the fridge works harder – hot weather, frequent use, and so on – and we may even modify our cabinet to give it more airflow and more insulation. Overall though, we’ve been really happy with its efficiency.

      I’m going to do some tests and get some real figures for you, but that should be a good starting point for you.

      Edit: Sitting in our driveway at this time of year (temps in the 40s and 50s) I was seeing 50W consumption for about a 25% duty cycle. So 12W/hour. 24Ah per day. Obviously different conditions will mean different loads on the fridge.

    1. Taylor, we’re glad you like the Formica we used for the fridge. It came from http://www.cabinetmakerwarehouse.com and it is vertical grade Tangelo Halftone color.

      Vertical grade is thinner, lighter and cheaper than standard/surface grade. Unfortunately the Halftone pattern was discontinued a while back. You may find somewhere with old stock still, but it’s unlikely.

      Cabinet Maker Warehouse had good prices on shipping, and they rolled the Formica up so it could be packaged into a UPS-able box. It doesn’t look like they have the exact pattern we used any more.

    1. We didn’t secure the fridge using 80/20. The cabinet it’s in is made of wood. Our technique would work for 80/20 too though.

      The fridge has three mounting points down each side. We made 4″ wide strips of 1/8″ aluminum that lie flat against each side of the fridge from top to bottom, extending almost as far forward as the front of the door. We screwed the aluminum into the three mounting points and then, with the door open, screwed into the wood at the sides of the cabinet.

  3. Do you think the Truckfridge 130 is still the best value? Come across anything slightly bigger?

    Our two-way fridge burnt out and there’s a same-dimensioned Norcold Danfoss compressor replacement, but it might cost as much as $1,100 more than the TF130. It’s 1 cu ft bigger, but that’d be an insane price to pay for a slightly bigger freezer!

    1. Aaron, sorry to hear your fridge burned out. I’ve not seen anything new on the market that beats the value of the Truckfridge range of fridges. Nothing bigger in that price range either. We’re still happy with the TF 130. I guess it comes down to how much you value the extra freezer space.

      Do you know why your fridge burnt out? Might be worth making sure the one you replace it with has sufficient ventilation to the coil so that it’s not working too hard.

      1. Could be the 30k miles and half a year of nearly continuous use. Or maybe the fact that we never leveled when stopping for the night. Or possibly the Camco 42149 Flying Insect Screens I installed last spring, although the fridge worked fine for two months with those screens. Also I’d still install them again to seal up a possible mouse entry point. Hard to say.

        Either way, I’m looking forward to a compressor fridge. No more frozen veggies. Plus the old one used 240 watts, so I was constantly manually switching between 110 during the day (inverter, alternator, solar) and over to propane while we sleep.

        1. If you’re moving from a propane stove to a 12v electric compressor one, you’ll notice a world of difference. And a massive reduction in power consumption, too! You could run two Truckfridge units for less power consumption.

  4. What did you make the internal dimension of that 8020 frame where the fridge sits? I’m allowing for 22 1/4″ but can’t check it until I order the fridge.

    1. Hi Taco,

      We have a 21″ gap for the Truckfridge TF130 to slide into. That’s just the right space for the width of the fridge plus two 1/8″ aluminum plates that are bolted on to the sides of the fridge. The plates extend forward from the fridge body by the depth of the door. We then have holes in those plates that let us attach the plates to the edges of the cabinet.

      Just so you know, our cabinet isn’t actually 8020. It’s a wood frame with aluminum flight case corners. The same mounting technique should work with 8020 though.

      Because your measurement is so different to ours, it might be wise to wait until you have the fridge in hand before you go much further!

      1. Fair enough. How do you feel about the one you made out of 1″ 8020? I’m planning on making my whole galley out of that instead of 1.5″ like I see most others using.

        1. Taco, the 1″ 8020 is plenty strong enough for van cabinets in our opinion. Especially if you’re bolting the fridge to it in a similar way to how we attached ours, because that will add rigidity.

          We have a plan to replace some of our cabinets with 8020 versions, and we’ll be using 1″ extrusions.

    1. The L-track protrudes a little above the floor, but we just used strips of rubber matting on the base of the fridge cabinet to raise it up to the same level as the L-track. I seem to recall it was 1/16″ thick matting but you should probably check for yourself how much the L-track sits proud of your floor.

  5. Hey, great site! I’m thinking of buying this fridge now that I’ve got my solar installed.

    I see you’re running a pretty beefy solar setup. I’ve only got 200W on my roof, think it can run the fridge 24/7?

    Where does the hot air come out of the fridge? I have a vent hole (the size of a dryer tube) cut in the wheelwell of the van, I’m wondering how feasible/difficult it’d be to capture the hot air and pipe it out thru a dryer tube, maybe with a computer fan or similar attached if necessary.

    Thanks!

    1. Richard,

      It’s the size of your battery pack rather than the size of your solar setup that determines whether you can run the fridge. As you’ll see in the other comments, the Truckfridge site suggests about 48Ah per day. We’ve seen figures more like 24Ah in moderate temperatures. So, your solar panels (and any other charging system you have installed) will need to replace at least this much power during the day. If your 200W panels are in full sun, and if you have no other loads on your batteries, that should not be an issue.

      The compressor is mounted at the top rear right corner of the fridge. That’s where the hot air is generated. There’s a computer-style fan installed to push that air to the right hand side. Depending on how you build your cabinet it might be possible to vent the air outside. Other people use a vent to draw colder air *in* to the van, helping to keep the coils cooler so that the fridge doesn’t run so much. During the winter you might want that free heat inside the van.

      1. Thanks for your thoughts! I just installed my solar yesterday so I’m still figuring out how it will really work. Right now the sun is hitting them nicely and they’re making ~6.0A. Does that mean they are replacing 6 amp hours per hour? Sorry for the noob questions.

        Thanks for the detailed reply. I have cabinets already in the van (bought it “mostly” converted) and I’m trying to utilize a section of it which previously housed a standup airconditioner (I don’t anticipate being plugged into shore power often enough to justify keeping that in the van) – thus the vent hole in the wheelwell. I’m not totally sure if I can fit the TF130, but after seeing a pic of it with a pizza box inside I want it lol. Since the wheelwell vent is on the bottom left of where I want to put the fridge, I don’t think there’s going to be room for a hose to connect to the top right, at least not the full diameter, not sure how well it would work to try to funnel the hot air down thru a skinny hose, or if it’s even worth trying.

        Definitely want the free heat in the winter, assuming I can keep the fridge running off solar!

        1. Richard, that’s right. If you’re seeing 6A from the panels, then over one hour they are putting 6Ah into the battery. There are losses along the way (charging isn’t 100% efficient) but that’s a good starting point for the calculation.

          You are probably only seeing that low figure because your batteries are already charged up, so your solar controller isn’t passing much current through to the battery. If you run something from the battery for a while, the solar controller should respond and start sending more current to recharge it.

          If you use the vent as an “in” rather than an “out” then bottom left is actually ideal. It’ll draw cold air up over the rear of the fridge. You only need ducting as far as the inside of the fridge cabinet, then the air can just flow freely around the unit.

          If that hole in the wheel well was there when you bought the van, I’d suggest checking how well the hole was painted to prevent rust. Also, see how much water comes in through the hole when you drive in wet weather. The wheel well isn’t an ideal location for a large-ish hole because the tires throw water up into that area.

          Have fun with your new solar panel!

          1. Well, that was earlier in the day. Just checked the controller again (the sun is beaming pretty good now closer to noon) and it’s more like 8.5 amps (fluctuating between 8.1 and 9), and reporting 13V from the batteries.

            I may try using the vent as an “innie” if possible. It’s going to be a tight fit (if it does even fit) for the TF130. And unfortunately it seems like the next size down (at least from Truckfridge) s the TF65, surprising that there’s a 49, 65, then a big leap up to the 130.

            Actually it’s painted and sealed pretty well. You have to open the cap from the outside when you want to use it, so as long as one remembers to close it up, there’s no intrusion of water. Previous owner also had a screen on there to keep bugs out.

            Thanks again for taking the time to share ideas!

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