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How to power a portable fridge in your 4WD

Are you sick of eating the same old sandwiches and drinking warm beer when you and your family get the chance to hit the open road? Having to constantly buy ice for your cooler can be a hassle and limit your ability to truly get off grid. Imagine being able to take away fresh cuts of meat, vegetables, milk and even frozen foods or pre-made meals on those extra long overlanding trips.

There’s a simple solution to this problem, and it wont cost you the earth or require complex installation to get it up and running. 12v fridges are quickly putting the cooler to shame and becoming an essential part of many overlanding setups. REDARC are here to help shed some light on how you can power a 12v fridge in your truck and take your overlanding setup to the next level.


For the weekend trip…

There are a few different options when it comes to powering your fridge on the road, because unlike a cooler, to keep your fridge cold it will need power. The first, and easiest, is simply plugging it straight into your vehicle via the 12v cigarette lighter socket. This solution will work well if you’re going on a shorter trip, will be spending most of the time driving or will have access to a powered campsite at your destination.

By connecting to the 12v cigarette lighter socket, the fridge will take power from the car when it is running but as soon as the car is turned off it will continue drawing from, and therefore draining, the starter battery. The great thing about 12v fridges though is that they do not have to be running all the time and tend to hold their temperature better than a cooler. This means that if you’re only going away for a night or two you can run the fridge in the car on the way to your campsite, disconnect it overnight and run it with the car the next day and it should stay relatively cold. 

As more and more 12v fridges have a freezer compartment, there is more a need for adjustable temperature settings. This can work in your favor if you set your fridge to a little colder than it needs to be to with withstand not being powered overnight. Many 12v fridges also have a power chord that can be plugged into mains power, so if you are camping at a powered campsite it can be plugged into the mains power outlet when you arrive at your destination.


For a longer trip…

If you’re looking to go on a longer trip, further off grid or just want to have your 12v fridge powered constantly you’re going to need a more consistent power source. Having to constantly buy ice or make trips to the supermarket on an overlanding trip can be frustrating, often expensive, and really take away from the experience of overlanding. A dual battery setup is the perfect solution to keep your fridge - and more importantly, beers - cold.

For the perfect 12v fridge setup, you’ll need at least one auxiliary battery. The auxiliary battery is used to run the fridge and any other 12v accessories. By running your fridge from an auxiliary battery, you avoid draining the starter battery. For more information on the different types of auxiliary batteries available see our post on which auxiliary battery is best for you.

To keep the batteries charged up, the fridge running, and your food cold, you’re going to need a battery charger. REDARC has a few different options to suit different budgets when it comes to charging auxiliary batteries.


Smart Battery Isolators

For a more budget friendly option or if you have a car with a fixed voltage alternator, Dual or Smart Battery Isolators are the way to go. REDARC’s Smart Battery Isolators protect the start battery from going flat by isolating it from the second battery when the engine is turned off. They can recognise when the engine is running, connect and start charging the second battery which is powering your fridge. This means that while running your 12v fridge might deplete your auxiliary battery you will never have to worry about your start battery going flat and leaving you stranded in the middle of nowhere.


DC-DC Battery Chargers

If you’re looking for more flexibility in your dual battery setup, in terms of both charging and suitability for different alternator types, installation location, and amp size, in-vehicle DC-DC battery charging is the way to go. The REDARC BCDC range is often recommended as they are designed to effectively charge a second battery to 100%*. This means the life of your auxiliary battery is prolonged, keeping your fridge cold for longer.

BCDC chargers can be installed in your canopy right next to your fridge as they are able to overcome current drop from the longer cable. If you’re not sure what battery charger will best suit your car and power requirements the REDARC vehicle selector is a useful tool. It takes into consideration your vehicle and fridge power consumption need and suggests the best dual battery charging solution.


What about solar?

To keep your batteries charging and fridge running when the car is not on, a solar panel might be the way to go. Solar panels keep your battery topped up so that you can keep using your fridge for longer without having to worry about running the car to charge the battery. Solar panels enable you to go fully off grid or be parked up camping and having your fridge running for long stretches of time. To learn a bit more about calculating power consumption needs to figure out what solar panel wattage you’d need see our how-to calculate power requirements for overlanding blog.

12v fridges are one of the simple and often inexpensive ways to upgrade your overlanding setup. They enable you to stay off grid for longer and can take your overlanding eats to the next level. 

Learn how REDARC power a 12v fridge on our travels in our epic Toyota Tacoma build

*Large capacity battery banks may require a few cycles to fully charge.