How many times have you pulled into a campsite and immediately started comparing gear with your neighbours? When we're talking about caravan appliances and equipment, everyone has an opinion - and fridges are no exception. After all, this is the one piece of kit that can keep your food fresh, your beer cold and your ice frozen. So is a 3 Way Fridge best, or a 2 Way Fridge?
But not all fridges are created equal. So of the two main types of fridge, which is best? A compressor fridge or an absorption fridge?
Here, we put the spotlight on the pros and cons of each type so you can make the best choice for your caravan fridge. Let the battle commence!
Compressor fridges are just like your fridge at home. Also often known as 2-way RV fridges, they run on 12/24-volt (usually from your vehicle or camping batteries) or the ability to run on 240-volt power (which is available through a powered site or your portable generator).
Absorption fridges are known as 3-way fridges because they can run on either 12/24-volt, 240-volt or LPG gas. Instead of a compressor, a 3 way fridge uses a gas flow heat exchange system in the back of the fridge. Essentially they remove the heat rather than create the cold.
Round 1: Cooling power
Thanks to the more powerful compressor motor, compressor fridges can provide more consistently cool temperatures even in very hot environments - which makes them the perfect choice if you are heading into warmer Australian climates. This means most compressor fridges can even double as freezers. Absorption fridges can't get as cold in hot environments (at least in most cases not as quickly). So from our testing and feedback from many customers, the best option for campers spending time up north; a 2 way compressor fridge will perform better than a 3 way fridge using absorption technology.
Round 2: Life span
Absorption fridges have the edge here, as they will often only need replacing after 20+ years, compared to around 10-15 years for compressor fridges. Of course it depends on which model you choose and how well you look after your caravan fridge.
Round 3: Efficiency
Compressor fridges are built with 12-volt operation in mind, so they run far more efficiently on DC battery power than absorption fridges. That said, absorption fridges are extremely efficient on gas - this is where these types of caravan fridges are very popular; if you intend to free camp for longer periods then running your 3 way fridge on gas can last you around 2-3 weeks on a 9kg gas bottle (approx.).
Round 4: Terrain
Most compressor fridges work well even if the caravan is on uneven terrain. For example, the Dometic NRX compressor fridge range are capable of operating at angles of up to 30°. However, the gas flow cooling system means a 3 way fridge needs to stay level during operation.
Round 5: Noise
Because absorption fridges use a heat exchange system rather than a compressor, they don't make a sound. The opposite is true of compressor fridges. Think about the noise that comes from your home refrigerator, and although your caravan fridge isn't running all the time, it will still be audible when the compressor is running. The good news is most quality caravan compressor fridges today are still quiet.
Round 6: Convenience
When not connected to mains power, compressor fridges require more equipment to run, such as a deep-cycle battery, generator or solar panels. But let's face it - you're probably carrying these items anyway so it's not like to be an extra expense. It is worth thinking about how often you will need to recharge your battery to run your fridge. Today's quality RV Compressor Fridges are very efficient with their power draw on 12/24 volt, meaning if you have a good solar and battery set up, you can keep your RV fridge running nicely without access to mains power.
3-way fridges, on the other hand, have three options of being powered, so you instantly enjoy more convenience. If you are on the road and away from mains power for long period of time and don't want to worry about solar, this is your best option. In fact, using gas means your absorption fridge can stay cold for up to two-three weeks at a time just from a single 9kg gas bottle. The same cannot be said for a single-charge of most battery power sources. Just be conscious of the requirement to switch between power sources - you should really only use the 12V power source on an absorption fridge when your vehicle is running, otherwise it will drain your battery source very quickly. In short; 3 Way Absorption fridges are the choice if you are keen on using gas.
Round 7: Installation
Compressor 2 way fridges are easy to install - step by step instructions provided in the product manual and you can do it yourself. Absorption 3 way fridge models need to be installed and certified by a qualified and licensed gas-fitter / caravan installer, as improperly or illegally installed products will void the manufacturer's warranty, and could pose a safety risk.
So Who's The Winner?
There's no outright winner here - it all depends on what's important to you. If you are free camping for prolonged periods and want a fridge to run from your gas bottle, choose an absorption fridge. These 3-way models are often chosen by free campers who don't want to have to worry about having enough battery power when away on extended trips. Just remember that absorption fridges are not designed to run on a 12V power source for long - really only for when the vehicle is running.
If you'd prefer a fridge that gets consistently cooler, runs more efficiently on battery power and can handle the hotter environments, a 2-way compressor fridge is for you. Today's 2-way compressor RV fridges from leading brands like Dometic Waeco, Thetford, Bushman, Engel and Evakool work very well in getting to your desired temperature (fridge and freezing) very quickly.
As a general trend, we are finding many of our customers are removing their old 3 Way Absorption Fridges and upgrading to a new 12V Compressor Fridge - with today's improvements in solar and battery performance, you can run your 12V compressor fridge very efficiently and will keep your food & drinks very cool.
For more ideas, compare our wide range of caravan fridges.
DISCLAIMER* Please note, this advice is general in nature and we strongly recommend consulting the product manual and where relevant, a professional installer.