You’re no doubt familiar with the household refrigerator, and possibly with how it works. What about travel refrigerators? These are a much different technology to the fridge in your kitchen – because they necessarily have to be to be up to the task of going on tour. Instead of the compressor-style system your household fridge runs on, travel refrigerators employ a very different technology to reach the same outcome. Being absorption fridges, they actually use a heat source to produce a convection effect, be it a 12V or 240V heating element, or a naked flame which is driven by gas (hence the name, “Three-way Fridge”). This heat is applied to move Ammonia through a series of cooling tubes, which in turn creates a cooling effect. In a similiar mechanism to Cholesterol acting on your own body’s arteries, this Ammonia can gum the cooling tubes and reduce flow – which in turn also critically reduces performance. This has given rise to the old tale that turning a fridge upside down will bring it back to life once it has gone past a critical point, and it may actually be somewhat true. However, once you experience a drop in function, the only real way to fix the problem is totally replace the cooling unit.

The truly great thing about these is, they have such flexibility with what power source you can use them with. This ensures that almost no matter where you are, you can in all likelihood still have a cold fridge. They work brilliantly in almost every climate that we ourselves can, and they’ve also got a desirably long good service life. However, as with any other technology in the caravanning world, there is a few things about them which can help you get the absolute best out of your gear.

Some things to watch out for which can greatly impede the service life of your fridge:

  • Overheating of the cooling unit can severely impact the fridge’s performance.
  • Because of the way the cooling unit actually works (via convection), the unit must remain level or else it will not function properly. In fact, it is quite damaging to put it off level.
  • In hot climates, the chilled air inside of your fridge should be treated as being incredibly valuable. Every time you open the fridge and release this chilled air the fridge needs to work harder to rechill it. We recommend taking an esky for anything you will need to open the door frequently for.
  • The ambient air being as cool as possible is one of the biggest assets to you. Use common sense and park with the fridge in the shade et cetera to maximise the environmental cooling.
  • To use 12V to drive your fridge, you will need a heavy duty auxillary provision. Come in store and ask us about installing one.
  • The fridge will not be cool right away – this can take several hours to reach an effective operating temperature. Pre-chill your fridge before setting off while still at home.
  • Always remove any condensation from containers before they go back into the fridge.
  • A worn doorseal rubber can let cool air escape and force the fridge to work harder than it needs to. If the seals are seeming worn or “slack”, we can replace them for you. Sometimes the life of a seal can be extended by the use of a hairdryer and your fingers to reshape it.

How does your fridge installation rate?

The cooling unit will generate quite considerable heat, and this will need to be vented to the outside of the van somehow. This checklist will help you rate your installation. Score 1 point for each individual “yes” response.

  1. Is there at least 4″ between the top of the fridge and the bench top above it?
  2. Is there an effective heat deflector plate between the fridge and the top vent?
  3. Is the side of the fridge packed with insulation to eliminate any gaps into the cabinet?
  4. Is the bottom of the upper vent higher than the top of the fridge?
  5. Are the vents on openable doors?
  6. Is there an Electrolux flu kit installed?
  7. Is there a cooling fan installed?
  8. Do you use a spirit level to ensure your refrigerator is dead level?
  9. Do you have a fridge awning?

If you scored 0-3, probably don’t leave town just yet – there’s a few things AllBrand can definitely help improve for you. From 4-7, your rig is getting close to being fully ready to take whatever the great open road throws at it, but there are still some things which should be addressed to help you get the most of your rig. If you scored 8 or 9, congratulations! Your rig is ready to get out there and do some serious vanning.