When is a Fridge not a Fridge???

Sounds like a trick question doesn’t it…

Thermo-Electric Fridge

Thermo-Electric Fridge

Actually it is not. There is a new “environmentally friendly” product on the market. I say “new” however that is a bit of a misnomer, as it has been out for several years in fact. The product is the Thermoelectric fridge, or cooler; sometimes sold under the name “Superconducting Refrigerator”. Several companies make them as coolers, such as Coleman and Igloo; Haier, as well as Black and Decker, make a version of them as well.

As far as this product goes, my opinion come down to a few short words. Buyer BEWARE!!!

I have owned several of these units made by various companies over the years; and they all work moderately well if you’re in a temperature stable environment. That is to say, they are designed to keep your food 30 – 40 degrees cooler than the surrounding environment. This would work great if you are in an apartment or office; however in a truck, where the temperatures can vary greatly, it just does not work out as well. When my AC is working properly, it does happen to keep food relatively cool, yet the temperature is still not stable and I have noticed the shelf life of my food decreasing dramatically over time. Even the owners manual warns of this possibility while using these “coolers”.

Recently I have heard complaints from quite a few other drivers who have been using this coolers of a newer and potentially dangerous problem that I feel you need to be aware of.  Some of the brands but most report this with Coleman coolers are having issues the with plug overheating and melting.  This seems to be cause by our use of the cooler for extended periods of time 24 hours a day. Which the current models do not seem to be handle as well. Some truck stops do carry replacement parts and I have heard of a variety of  “MacGuyvered” solutions. I can not vouch for their safety so I will not mention them. Keep in mind these reports of the plug issue are for the DC models that plug into a cigarette style power outlet in your vehicle.

Personally I have had a variety of issues with these types of refrigerators and have lost several hundreds of dollars of food in the process.

I will admit however, if you’re looking for a unit to keep food safe for a short period of time, such as over a single night. These units do seem to work well. However when you are stocking up for several days or longer, I can NOT recommend these types of refrigerators. I had a Coleman brand when I first started out, that worked well. It lasted for maybe a year before the motor failed. The replacement versions I tried lasted far less. Overall I was greatly disappointed in both Coleman’s and other companies versions of these products.


So far I have had the best of luck just looking for small dorm size refrigerators and using them. The wattage draw on the one I am currently using shows no more than 100 Watts. So it effectively could work with an inverter plugged directly into a cigarette outlet. And no I have not actually plugged mine into the cigarette outlet, I am merely going by the wattage ratings and my own experience with inverters.

Currently I am using a Haier Dorm Fridge, which I found on Craigslist. Best thing about this one, is that I got it for 30$ and it was delivered directly to the truck stop where I was stopped for the night. Craigslist can be a great tool for finding the things you need while trucking and typically at reasonable prices. I have also found that when I explain i am a truck driver, most people are willing to bring the items directly to me. My best guess is they don’t want a 75 foot long truck in their driveway…

I have heard some drivers complain that the dorm fridge does not hold up well due to the bouncing.  One thing I have noticed is there seems to be 2 basic designs.  One where the compressor is essentially floating in the unit, the other where it is bolted or secured to the bottom of the unit. I have had  both units the floating one you could hear the vibration and over a period of about 6 months it developed a freon leak and stopped cooling. The one I am using now has the compressor bolted to the bottom of the unit. I can not hear any vibration and has worked well for over a year. To help protect against the vibration that cause the damage try placing the fridge on carpet or rubber padding to help cushion the “road noise”

There are a variety of units designed for trucking and I am told work well. However their price range is is significantly more expensive than the dorm fridge route.  I have not had any personal experience with them yet. Though I plan on getting more information from the manufacturers at GATS in Dallas this year.  Once I have the information will be updating this blog with my impressions of those units.

In the meantime I have found the dorm fridge to be an effective and cost saving alternative for me.

One other important factor to consider between the Cooler’s and mini-fridges is the power draw. The Cooler is on 24/7 constantly drawing from your battery bank. If you do no idle or have an APU it can draw your batter down over a 10 plus hour period to the point where you may need to have your truck jump started. A mini-fridge as it only draws power when it is needed to cool things uses less total power in the same time frame. I have had issues when I used the cooler with it draining my battery in a 10-11 hour period. With the mini-fridge I have not noticed the same issue.

Coleman ThermoElectric Cooler

Coleman ThermoElectric Cooler

So when is a fridge not a fridge? When it is a Thermoelectric Cooler. They are great for temperature regulated environments such as an office or dorm room. However with the extreme’s we can face on the truck, I cannot recommend them.

My buying advice on this product is this. If you have the money to invest consider a unit made specifically for Semi-truck or RV applications. If your on a budget My personal number 1 choice is the dorm fridge route. A thermo-electric cooler if going to be used only on occasion or to help keep drinks cool can work. Just keep in mind it is not intended for 24-7 use and has limitations.

(If any manufacturers have either updated their products and would like me to review information or test the product in real world conditions I would be happy to do so. It is my goal to bring the most accurate and up to date information to this blog based on my PERSONAL experience.)

All information on the use-age of the products stated in this article is based on personal experience of myself or as reported to me by other drivers. The information shared is believed to be accurate as of when the article was written. Individuals may have different results based on their situations.

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