About 2 months ago we came to the conclusion that we needed to replace our fridge in our RV and bought an Alpicool CX50. Incase you’re new around here, we’re currently about 3 months into a 1 year overland trip from Nova Scotia, Canada to Panama and back. We’ve decided to do this trip in our trusty stead, a 30 year old motor home we affectionately refer to as “Old Buckie”. Now when we bought Old Buckie, the previous owners had removed the propane system. This meant the onboard 3 way fridge could only be used in 12V or 110V mode. Considering how often we’re plugged into shore power (almost never), we only really have 12V available. Trying to power an RV fridge with 12V only is not the greatest idea.
Our Existing 3 Way Fridge – The Dometic RM2401 Gas Electric
Prior to this trip, we did a 3 week overland trek through Southern Africa in a Rental Hilux. Our rental came with a decent sized Engel 12V fridge that ran off a second deep cycle battery on the truck. No additional solar was needed to run that fridge, the second battery only charged off the alternator. As we began planning this trip, we knew our onboard fridge wouldn’t be as efficient as that little Engel fridge, but hadn’t realized just how inefficient it would be.
In preparation for being “off grid”, we installed 2 x 217 Amp Hour 6V batteries and a 250 watt solar panel. It didn’t take long to realize just how much power this fridge was pulling when in 12V mode. With our batteries fully charged and in direct sun we could barely keep up with how much this fridge was drawing. Off grid and in ideal situations (good sun and lots of driving) we could keep that fridge going for 3 days before our batteries starting getting dangerously low.
Why power draw is so important
At this point I did what I should have done a couple months ago. I looked into how much power this fridge actually pulls compared to a dedicated 12V fridge. Our Dometic 3 way pulls up to 18 amps when it’s running. Not only that, its duty cycle (time it spends running compared to idle) is well over 50% when in 12V mode.
So how does that work with our battery bank? With a full charge in our batteries we have 217 amp hours available. That means we can take a continuous 1 Amp discharge for 217 hours. Or we could take a 5 amp continuous discharge 43.4 hours. At 18 amps continuous discharge our batteries would be at 0% in just over 18 hours. If you have sealed lead acid batteries like us, you never want you batteries to go below 40%.
Why is this fridge so inefficient? The 3 way fridges like what you have in an RV use heat to make things cool. They do this so that they can make use of the onboard propane to operate the fridge. The propane boils an ammonia water mixture and those gases move under their own pressure into the condenser. There the Hydrogen gasses from the water and the ammonia gasses mix and cause a chemical reaction that pulls heat from the fridge. This method is terribly inefficient compared to a compressor style fridge. Compressor fridges can only run on electric, either 110V like the fridge in your house or 12V like the Engel fridge we had in Africa or the Alpicool we have now. These 12V fridge usually only pull 2-3 amps to run and have a much lower duty cycle.
Why we chose the Alpicool CX50
Budget, we were already on the road when we realized we needed to change our fridge situation. We also didn’t budget for replacing such a large item this early into the trip and really didn’t want to spend too much money. The fridge also needed to be able to carry enough food for around two weeks for the two us. We loved our little Engel we had in Africa, and it did great in the heat. We also know that Dometics 12V fridges are very popular in the overlanding community. Unfortunately both of these options in a size that worked for us were out of our budget.
We knew we needed at least a 40 quart fridge for the type of extended travelling we were doing. As we scoured Amazon we came across two well reviewed off brands. Alpicool and Costway. (Ausranvik also had a couple models but not many reviews at time of purchase). Both Costway and Alpicool had models that were big enough for us. What won us over though was the fact the Alpicool model was on wheels. We thought it would be nice to also use this as a wheeled cooler. In the end we ended up with their largest CX50 Model.
Thoughts on our Alpicool CX50
This unit only seems to display the temperature in Fahrenheit. It also doesn’t display the right temperature. The temperature it displays on our unit is about 6-8 degrees Fahrenheit lower than what the fridge is actually at. Second thing we noticed is the molding where the power cord plugs into the unit is poorly moulded. When trying to remove the cable it feels like you’re going to pull the entire side of the case apart its that tight.
For us, these have been our only issues. We use a small fridge thermometer to see what the actual temp in the unit is and set the unit a bit colder than what we want to achieve the desired temp. As for the molding, we only run this on 12V so we’re not swapping back and forth to the 110V cable. If we were I’m sure I could sand down the casing a bit to make removal easier. The one thing I really wish it had was a way to switch this from Fahrenheit to Celsius, but considering how much money we saved, I’ll live with it.
After 2 months of full time use
We both love it. Size wise, we were originally thinking of the 40 quart unit but we’re glad we got the 50. We could have made the CX40 work easily enough but we’re sauce people and the extra space has come in handy. As for sound, if you’re putting this in a van or small RV like us its great, duty cycle is very low, and when it come you can hear it but it’s by no means loud. Dayna is a very light sleeper and it has never bothered her.
Lastly its very easy to clean. Where its a chest style fridge once a month or so we’ll have to empty it out just to give it a quick wipe down. The sides and bottom clean easily, seem fairly stain resistant and has a plug at the bottom to drain any fluids. Considering the price I’d easily call it 4.5 stars out of 5. A more accurate temperature gauge and ability to change the read out to Celsius and I’d happily call it 5/5.
Power use and longevity
What I love most about this unit is how little power it draws. It’ll pull 2-3 amps max when the compressor kicks in. It also only runs for about 2-3 minutes every 15 minutes or so. Overnight, when our batteries aren’t being charged by our solar this fridge doesn’t even put a dent in their charge. We’ve been using this fridge full time since mid December 2018 and have had zero issues. As for longevity, if you’re a weekend warrior looking for a 12V fridge for your rig, this is by far the best bang for your dollar. For full time, long term travel? So far, it’s been amazing and is working just as good as day one. If that changes I’ll update this post, but so far so good.
Do you have an experience with running 12v fridges long term? If so share your experiences in our comment section below.