compressor fridge or element fridge ?

Submitted: Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 17:05
ThreadID: 105774 Views:3856 Replies:11 FollowUps:10
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i am buying a new van and am not sure wether to go compressor fridge or 3way element.the van will have 2 100ah batterys, 120 watt sola panel, 35 amp charger .the fridge will be round 200ltr.i am only away from 240volt 3 to 4 days at the most.also carry a gene most times.the reason for thinking of a compresser fridge iam mostly in northern aussie. thankyou for any thoughs on this matter.
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Reply By: Member -Dodger - Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 17:13

Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 17:13
Get a compressor fridge they are much better than the absorbtion fridge any time.
I used to have a handle on life, but it broke.

Cheers Dodg.

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Reply By: pop2jocem - Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 17:49

Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 17:49
I am told a compressor type will out perform a 3 way when the ambients get into the high 30's and beyond. We have a 3 way in our van which seems to be able to handle the temps in the NW of WA without too much hassle. Well, having said that the beer could be a degree or two colder but our Engel takes care of that no worries (:-)).
Apparently the 3 way types come in various ratings with T being the rating for the north of our continent. T for tropical I guess, that may be a Dometic rating system only, not sure.
Not sure why but ours seems to perform best on gas with 240v not far behind. Doesn't use much gas either. Not sure how important that may be to you but it gives us 3 alternative power sources. If you have a genny I guess that pretty well covers that side though. I don't know how heavy on current a compressor full size is but I have been told you would need about 20 100AH batteries if you want to use 12v as a power source for the 3 way type for any length of time unless travelling or have your van charged from a running vehicle engine.
I guess if you don't mind using your genny that may be the best option for you.

AnswerID: 524286

Reply By: Road Warrior - Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 17:56

Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 17:56
The Dometic fitted as standard to my F400 camper gobbles (according to the plaque on it and the user manual) 12.5a on 12v. What's more it does a lousy job of doing it too.

I'd challenge anybody to find a 12v compressor fridge that used that much power!
AnswerID: 524288

Follow Up By: Road Warrior - Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 17:58

Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 17:58
In fact I think there is something wrong with mine as I've had el-cheapo Repco 3 way fridges that did a better job than this one in the camper.
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Follow Up By: MEMBER - Darian, SA - Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 19:07

Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 19:07
All 3 way fridges use a huge amount of energy when on 12V and they are not expected to perform in that mode - its only a maintenance mode at best (while your car's alternator is running) - gas is the mode that is expected to provide good cooling.
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Follow Up By: Member - iijmartin - Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 10:16

Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 10:16
My ute blew a 20A fuse in the van battery charging circuit whilst we were travelling. Got into the van 5 hrs later to see that the 184 L three way fridge had drained exactly 120A out of the batteries (on battery monitor). This was exactly as per the Dometic specs 5 x 24 A per hr). Another reason to change over to gas quickly when you are stopped.
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Reply By: Member - Bruce C (NSW) - Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 19:05

Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 19:05
Hi Broometime,

It really depends on where you intend to do most of your traveling.
If Broome and further north then possibly go the compressor fridge.

At a recent outing west of Bundaberg we were camped with the Niece and her husband. They with their Vitrifrigio full size fridge had trouble keeping the charge up to the batteries and several times the fridge thawed out.
Admittedly they had a borrowed solar setup and there was a problem with one of the connectors which was not discovered till after the outing
This was a disaster and had the Niece’s husband running around madly trying to rectify the situation with their generator.

Meantime, the other nephew, on a three way fridge on gas had no issues at all and we also had no issues on gas either. Drinks always cold.

Modern 3 way fridges are much better than the older ones were, especially on gas but are still not the best on 12 volts. They use way too much power on 12 volts for the job they do.

Re generators in a camp situation. There is nothing worse than the cicada like drone of the generators especially around Happy Hour, or after dark for that matter.
Consideration of others is needed when using generators.

Compressor fridges such as the Vitrifrigio are very good but require a good solar setup for the best results, an adequate number of good sized AGM batteries and a generator for backup, in my opinion.

We also run a 12 volt Waeco for the drinks and as a back up should it be required and we have 280 watts of solar generation for everything 12 volts and 2 X 120 AH AGM batteries. More panels and another battery would be required if we had a compressor fridge I believe to cover most situations.

If you go for the three way fridge, mainly run it on gas and get a good sized (50 ltr.) Waeco or similar if you want the inexpensive option.

If you want to go with the Compressor fridge then consider a decent sized solar setup as well as a generator.

Cheers, Bruce.
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restless and lost on a track that I know. HL.

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Reply By: Brian 01 - Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 19:09

Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 19:09
The compressor fridge is far and away a better cooling device, however:-
A 200 ltr compressor fridge will consume between 60 to 110 Ah per day depending on ambient and other load conditions.
Up north in summer, expect the higher figure.
Your battery set and solar recharge will be too small for more than a day off grid.
Expect to use the gennie on a very regular basis.
AnswerID: 524296

Reply By: Member - Tony (ACT) - Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 19:18

Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 19:18
I have Eva-cool 205 ltr 12 volt only fridge and its been running for the past month in the van with no 240 volt imput at all.

I think its the best way to go with a fridge in the van. We have had quite a few cloudy days during that time and the batteries never got below 12.6v. The fridge draws 4 amps when running.

I have 3 x 105 batteries and 3 x 120 watt panels.
AnswerID: 524297

Reply By: sam h6 - Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 20:01

Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 20:01
Hi Broometime, 

We have recently completed a full lap of Australia, we had our family van custom built with everything we thought we could need to free camp, including the 240L vitrifrigo compressor fridge. We were advised that our solar at 240 watts would be more than enough and " these things draw stuff all power" is what one guru told us. Well the truth is that the fridge is awesome for where we live in Tassie , but, as soon as you get into the tropics they need at least very good insulation on all sides and a good fan to circulate are through the back of the fridge cavity. We found was drawing around 6 amps at all times when in the tropical areas, ie above Kalbarri in WA to around rockhampton Qld. This figure was tested regularly on my multi-meter and even at night when it's still close to 30 degrees it's still sucking the amps. We had three 100 amp hour batteries and 240 watts solar and found after around two to three days we were looking for 240 volts to get the charger going. The other thing is make sure the cooling elements don't ice up because that will thaw your fridge quicker than you realise what's happening, trust me it happened to us. If you see ice form on it just soak a cloth in hot water and wipe it over the ice a couple of times then give it a good tap with your hand and it generally falls off in one big sheet. 

The other thing to think about is that generators are really really really frowned upon in most places these days. Even a lot of so called generator friendly camps have strict hours of operation for them and it's usually when you want to be out exploring so you have no choice but to leave it out where thieves have a clear view of it. 

Having said all that I think I would sum it up by saying, if we didn't require the extra fridge capacity offered by the compressor fridge vs the 185L three way type we probably would have just got the cheaper three way version and saved a lot of money on extra batteries, solar and DC-DC chargers to keep the huge bank at full capacity at all times. Also keep in mind that solar does not work as effectively when shaded and shade is what you hunt for when it's hot, so we opted to go a couple of portable panels which we can move into the sun to help keep the charge up when needed, with our fridge it needs around 400 amps of solar to say we are self sufficient at all times. 
Good luck with your choice and I am sure which ever way you go it should be fine, each type has its pros and cons.!
AnswerID: 524300

Follow Up By: Member - iijmartin - Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 10:33

Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 10:33
Sam h6,
It amazes me why some van manufacturers don't pay attention to the correct installation of fridges re wiring size and insulation/clearances.
We all pay $50000 - $100000 for these vans with only 1 yr warranty (on most) and bugger all quality control.
I agree with you. Unless the compressor fridge has more than enough solar and battery back up, you will be always looking at your battery monitor. Everythings rosy whilst the sun is shining!!
FollowupID: 805938

Reply By: Member - Michael W14 - Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 23:18

Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 23:18
Mr Broomtime,

I think the standard set up in a Bushtracker is a compressor fridge - and they are the most serious off road vans on the market. They are built for the bush, not for caravan parks.

But if you go compressor, you need plenty of solar panels and a big bank of hvy duty batteries.

I have 16' Bushtracker with a 110 litre compressor. To keep this going, I have 4 x 135w solar panels with a 50 amp charger and 3 x 110 ah deep cycle batteries. In the north, I only need two rainy days and I am in battery trouble.

However, if I have sunny weather, I never have to use my generator.

This week, I got rid of the lead acid batteries and installed a 300AH lithium battery set-up. They are half the weight of the same ah lead acid battery.

I am an idiot with electronics, but I have been told that these new lithium batteries will use a lot higher percentage of their charge than lead acid and will maintain the 12v all the way down. And they recharge in half the time. Bloody expensive though.



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Follow Up By: Bonz (Vic) - Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 23:34

Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 at 23:34
What was the damage with the Lithiums mate? I have been thinking of doing the same.


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Follow Up By: Member - iijmartin - Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 10:19

Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 10:19
Please post a report/review of the new battery in next few months as I am sure there are plenty of people interested in new technology. Hopefully price will come down as well
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Follow Up By: Member - Frank P (NSW) - Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 13:28

Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 13:28
The technology is not lithium-ion, it is lithium-iron-phosphate - LiFePO4.

Many members of our Kimberley Karavan owners club have swapped out the 320 Ah AGM batteries for 260Ah or less of Lithium. When my AGMs die, I will too.

It is not a cheap exercise to do it properly, $2k to $2.5k depending on whether or not you need a new mains charger and a couple of other things. (In comparison a replacement set of AGMs for our vans is about $1300.)

But EVERYONE who's done it is ecstatic and say they would never go back. With 260Ah of lithium you get about 230Ah of usable power. With 320Ah of AGM, using the 50% rule, you get 160Ah.

There is a 70kg weight saving.

You don't need to faff about with multi stage chargers. Charge flat out until the battery is full and switch off or go to float. A solar charging system can deliver its full output until the battery is charged, whereas a system charging a lead-acid battery delivers full output in the boost phase, then spends a lot of time (ie, hours) throttled back for the absorption phase.

Our Karavans are power-hungry if you use all the facilities available. People with Lithiums typically recover to 100% after overnight use about 4 or 5 hours ahead of people with AGMs and similar useage patterns and charging equipment. So you are less reliant on a whole day of perfect sun.

You don't need temperature compensation, there are no corrosive fumes or chemicals, so no ventilation required. Batteries are robust, vibration and shock resistant.

A supplier here in Sydney runs his car on four cells the size of Red Bull drink cans. He says they will out-crank a standard battery for that car.

Their discharge curve is flat, meaning they hold their voltage at near full-charge levels until nearly flat (about 10%, I believe), so all your 12V stuff gets a full 12V all the time.

They don't sulphate. Unlike lead-acid batteries they can live for long periods at partial SOC and then recover fully when a full charge is available, with little or no affect on calendar life.

High quality industrial lithiums are reported to be still going strong after 7000 (yes, 7 and 3 zeros) cycles. Cheaper domestic ones over 3000.

A set of heavily cycled Lithiums will likely outlast 3 or 4 sets or more of similarly cycled lead-acid batteries, maybe more - the technology hasn't been around in the domestic market long enough for that to be properly established yet.

What they DON'T like is over voltage and under voltage. Over-charge and over-discharge will kill them. The conversion kit that fits our vans includes a VSR that will disconnect in either of those circumstances.

They also need occasional cell balancing which is akin to equalisation in a lead-acid battery. A mains charger with a lithium profile, or a lead-acid charger with suitable switched voltages will do that.

Some mains and dc-dc chargers have settings that are suitable for lithiums, but they are a compromise. In many cases replacement will be required. Some manufacturers offer re-programming of their lead-acid equipment, and switch-selectable lithium profiles are beginning to appear on new recreational 12V products.

Those are about the only caveats I can think of.


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Follow Up By: Member - Michael W14 - Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 17:52

Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 17:52

Details of the 320ah Lithium battery pack purchased from "Drive by Nature" in Qld :
8 x 160ah WBLYP cells $1,629
11 x Copper connectors $ 40
Strapping for the 8 cells $ 90
Packing and freight to Sydney $ 100
GST $ 186
Total $2,046

BMV battery monitor gauge $ 212
Eniquest P/L

Pro Mariner PNP 1250- 50amp charger $ 699
RV Powerstream P/L

All up for parts $2957. The installation has not been finished yet, so I have not included that cost.
FollowupID: 805978

Reply By: Neil & Pauline - Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 04:56

Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 04:56
Add another solar panel and go with compressor. You will not regret. Do a deal with the caravan supplier to fit compressor fridge and the extra panel because the saving on the compressor fridge will pay for panel.

AnswerID: 524321

Follow Up By: Racey - Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 10:43

Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 10:43
agree 100%
FollowupID: 805939

Reply By: The Bantam - Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 11:13

Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 11:13
The only advantage a 3 way fridge has, is that it will run on gas for an extended period.

The only reason for that is if you want energy there is no substitute for burning something.

3 way fridges are universally inefficient..even on gas.....on 240Volts, most people dont care, on gas you get to burn something, on 12 volts....HELL keep that engine running and the cable feeding it better be heavy.

One of the big issues with fridges all round....3 way or compressor (or at home for that matter) is all to often they are not installed well.
Clearance and ventilation are almost universally neglected.

As for the amount of electricity needed to supply a compressor fridge.....I've said it before & I'll say it again....people just do not want to know what it takes to stand up a fridge off batteries.

The maths has been shown step by step a number of times.
A 40 litre fridge run as a fridge with good fridge habits needs an absolute minimum of 100Ah of battery and 120-180 watts of solar pannel to be at all relaible...200AH of battery and more solar panel is advisable.
Say the word freezer and multiply the needs by 4 to 6.

To stand up a 200litre fridge relaibly even for a couple of days, I'd be looking for 400AH of batteries and 200 or 300 watts of solar panels...that is without doing the maths.

AnswerID: 524342

Follow Up By: Member - Frank P (NSW) - Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 18:49

Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 18:49
Agreed, Bantam. Clearance, ventilation and insulation are almost always considerably compromised.

Given that most compressor fridges use an air cooled condenser there is another improvement you can do if you have the skills or contacts to help and that is to water-cool the condenser. The condenser transfers the heat from the compressed refrigerant to the environment, usually by air. A small volume of water can carry away vastly more heat than a large volume of air.

My hybrid camper/van's 130 litre fridge has a remote compressor located in a confined space. In warm conditions it had about a 60% duty cycle and pulled 5 amps when running.

With some design and installation assistance from two very helpful businesses, my fridge now has a duty cycle of about 40% in the same conditions and I have been able to wind the Danfoss compressor speed down so that it pulls only 3 amps when running, to which must be added the draw by the water circulation pump of 1 amp, total 4 amps when running. When you do the maths, that's nearly 50% reduction in amp-hour consumption.

Water is circulated from one of the on-board drinking water tanks.

An engineer friend of mine has done similar with his 3 way fridge with remarkable performance improvement in hot weather.


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Reply By: broometime - Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 11:57

Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 at 11:57
just thanking everyone for their opinions and advice on compressor or 3way fridge.i decided in the new van to go the 3way as the van i have at the moment has 3way and with adding vent fans its coping.
AnswerID: 524346

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