“Boondocking with Confidence” is boldly proclaimed by an advertisement in a popular RV trade magazine for a 12-volt compressor refrigerator, followed by the tagline, “Keep more food and drinks colder for longer, even off grid.” The ad fails to mention what it is comparing its product against when it states “colder for longer”.
Sponsored content on the adjoining page goes on to say, “More and more RV manufacturers are offering 12V reefers to consumers as both an optional upgrade or as standard equipment”. That is followed by: “According to *** (manufacture that I am not naming), every year it’s estimated that 20,000 RVs catch fire and one of the leading causes is gas-powered refrigerators.”
It goes on to say: “Absorption models primarily run on gas, but many still rely on batteries for added power. Add solar charging capacity to the boondocking mix and campers can stop worrying about food spoiling because of a dying gas supplied refrigerator.” It closes with: “The new Premier Series is targeted to the remote camping boondocking customer to keep cool well over 24 hours when paired with a single battery and no external charging. When combined with generator or solar solutions, *** (the manufacturer) states its 12V fridges can run indefinitely.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe a 12-volt compressor refrigerator has a place in the RV industry. But I think this ad and sponsored content require a bit of scrutinizing, especially when it comes to boondocking (aka dry camping).
While I don’t know if the same ad and sponsored content is being presented to retail buyers, my concern is that someone just looking to enter the RV lifestyle, with plans to dry camp for extended periods, might buy into the “Boondocking with Confidence” slogan, only find a 12-volt compressor refrigerator was not the right choice for them.
Let’s take a deeper look at the statements above.
“More and more RV manufacturers are offering 12V reefers to consumers as both an optional upgrade or as standard equipment.” A quick internet search reveals a 12-volt compressor refrigerator is considerably less expensive than the same size gas RV refrigerator. This begs the question, is it really an upgrade or something the RV manufacturer installs to save money. Or was it the only refrigerator available due to the supply chain issue?
“It’s estimated that 20,000 RVs catch fire and one of the leading causes is gas-powered refrigerators.” A quick online search for facts about RV fire statistics revealed the following: “One of the most comprehensive studies about RV fire was conducted by the U.S. Fire Administration. Their study involved looking at RV fires between the years of 2016 and 2018. During these two years, there were around 3,700 RV fires in the United States. The study put out by the USFA tells us about overall statistics relating to RV fires.”
Further research on RV fire causes shows that of the thousands of RV fires each year, RV refrigerators are the number two cause of fires. The study also lists the primary causes of RV refrigerator fires which are wiring problems, chewing critters, lack of maintenance, rodent and insect nests and off-level operation, which are all preventable. Note: Fires started by the propane system/leaks weren’t on the list of causes.
“Absorption models primarily run on gas, but many still rely on batteries for added power.” The added power is the minuscule amount of 12 volts required to operate the circuit board and gas valve. It is insignificant compared to what a 12-volt compressor refrigerator will draw. Note: Some absorption refrigerators have a small electric heating element designed to prevent condensation which can easily be disabled to save power while boondocking. Learn more here.
“Campers can stop worrying about food spoiling because of a dying gas supplied refrigerator.” I am not sure if the statement refers to running out of propane or the refrigerator itself dying? A gas-powered absorption refrigerator can run weeks on a single cylinder of propane, so running out of propane is much less of a concern than running out of 12-volt battery power. As far as the gas refrigerator dying, unlike a 12-volt compressor refrigerator, an absorption refrigerator has no moving parts and can run indefinitely if properly maintained and operated level, as recommended by the manufacturer.
“The new Premier Series is targeted to the remote camping boondocking customer to keep cool well over 24 hours when paired with a single battery and no external charging.” The phrase “when paired (aka: dedicated) with a single battery” should be of concern for anyone that plans to dry camp for extended periods of time. Planning on camping for a week? Just bring seven batteries with you! Oh, and that doesn’t include the battery power needed for lights, the water pump, RV furnace, etc.
Here is RVtravel.com’s Tony Barthel’s experience with a 12-volt compressor refrigerator: “My current personal experience is limited to the GE 12-volt fridge. They are much more power-hungry than I had anticipated, particularly in hot weather. On a very warm day, I can easily blow through all the reserves equivalent of a single 100 amp-hour lithium battery with this fridge. On cooler days, the fridge consumes less power. But this is more than I had assumed the fridge would take.”
“When combined with generator or solar solutions, *** (the manufacturer) states its 12V fridges can run indefinitely.” Well, just about anything can run indefinitely, even a 120 VAC electric heater, if you have enough electricity available! Enough power is the number one reason most RVers don’t boondock!
Which is right for you?
Is a 12-volt compressor RV refrigerator right for you? Only you can decide. I encourage you to employ due diligence when making your decision. Don’t immediately buy into advertising hype or what a salesperson tells you.
Below you will find some comments gleaned from social media to get an idea on the experiences of others.
Have a 12-volt compressor RV refrigerator in your RV? Please share your experiences in the comment section.