ARB Fridge Review
Anyone in the overland community knows that the ability to drop insane amounts of money on gear is very easy, which is why for the longest time we held back on the purchase of a fridge for use during our adventures. And after countless trips using cheap Igloo coolers that left our food a soggy mess, often having to be thrown out in waste, it was time to find a better solution. Our first attempt was to use a Cabela’s Polar Equalizer cooler, which while sitting stationary worked excellently, but found that the jostling of the ice while rolling down the trail often worked the ice out to the point where the performance was nearly the same as the cheaper models, and I will review that cooler shortly, but will start with this ARB Fridge Review.
So, after tons of research and scouring of the web, we landed on the ARB 50 Qt. fridge. My rationale on choosing this size was that a 45 qt. ice chest was large enough to keep all the food needed for two for 3 to 4 days, making an ice free solution of nearly the same size a no brainer. Additionally, the specs of the larger units made them unusable in the galley setup for our Land Cruiser.
My first impression of the ARB fridge was that the quality seemed great, the packaging the unit came in was outstanding, and there was no damage to the unit which was surprising due to the size of the box that it arrived in. I did receive two accessories for the fridge with purchase, the tie down kit, and wireless monitor which were bundled in fridge.
Initial inspection showed no missing parts or pieces, and I immediately used the 120V adapter to plug it into the wall for first use. The manual was a bit vague on some of the settings, and I found myself reaching out to forums for advice on whether to run the fridge on Hi, Med, or Lo settings. ARB has been known to be vague on instructions, as seen with some of their bumper installation instructions. I used the manual to continue to setup the unit, and adjusted the temp according to what my home fridge would be set at.
After some use…
First piece of advice, do NOT set this like your home fridge. It is not as efficient, and does not use the same form of cooling, which I found out the hard way. The fridge adjusts 2 degrees at a time. So, I set the fridge at 36 F, thinking that was not going to freeze, yet not going to allow my food to spoil. Half I got correct. After loading the fridge down with food and drink, we hit the road, only to find out a few hours later that it was not cooling the food sufficiently. Luckily, we caught the problem quickly, and adjusted the fridge down. I now have learned that a fully loaded ARB fridge will need to be set between 30 and 32 degrees to keep the food cold, but not frozen.
I understand temp control is going to be more difficult in a hot car with the sun baking down upon it, but the variances in temps drive me mad. One moment, you look at the gauge, internal time is at 36 degrees. All is good. 40 minutes later and your food is resting at 28 degrees destroying your lettuce, and this truly is the largest complaint I have to date with the unit. I have also learned that drinks take a bit more to chill and keep cool, so I often drop the temp down when the unit is full of cans or plastic bottles of water.
Also, the instructions do not make it clear that the plastic bin at the top of the unit does not keep food at the same temps as the food in the main bin. I learned that the hard way again, when some yogurt went bad due to this small flaw in the design. I believe ARB calls that the produce shelf, which I took for a place to put veggies that you don’t want crushed by larger items, and assumed that the space would be cooled as well as the food down below.
As for the positives, this thing is very efficient when it comes to power draw. I am truly impressed at the ability to run this fridge for long periods of time while using minimal power off the house battery. In fact, I had the unit hooked up with a 100 watt solar panel, and could run indefinitely if exposed to sunlight daily.
Another positive is that I am never searching for my next source of ice! I love that I can load it up, and not have to worry about straying too far from a general store or gas station, often overpaying for emergency bags of ice purchased at the campground. This was great while wandering the deserts of Utah!
Remote Temp Indicator
When I purchased my ARB Fridge, the vendor was offering a free Remote Temp Indicator, which was an 80 dollar value. Score! I quickly installed the remote monitor, running the power cord to my 12V outlet in my dash, and stuck it to a clear piece of real estate on my center console.
So how did it work?
Initially, I loved it. Thought it was brilliant. To be able to monitor my temps and voltages by glancing down to my center console. After time the novelty faded and I found myself never using it. In fact, I could glance in my rear view mirror and read the temp reflecting back in my rear window. I actually used that more often then the remote indicator. Now I understand that this is not going to be the case for everyone, and if your fridge is located within a trailer, you can really benefit from this device although I think its a little bulky for what it is, and adds a bit of clutter to your cockpit.
It didn’t work all the time. Sometimes it would connect, other times it wouldn’t. For no apparent reason, it would start transmitting, and then it would go blank and stop transmitting. This may have been due to interference from the multitude of wireless devices we carry, who knows? I no longer use it, and gave it to a fellow club member who purchased my rear shelf setup. I appreciate an uncluttered dash and console, and wasn’t for me.
Fridge Insulation Jacket
When we purchased Mambo, the fridge included the insulation jacket. I did not initially purchase the jacket, but now that I own one, I will review it. Fit is good on the base of the fridge, but the lid attachment design sometimes slips off and needs to be readjusted. Performance of the fridge seemed to improve slightly. I would not claim that it has improved enough to justify the purchase, but I did notice that the fridge was cycling on and off less but have not done a full on test, to pull real world numbers. Do I think it helps, yes. Would I purchase if it hadn’t come with the van? Maybe.
The unit works great once you dial in the settings and learn the quirks. I like having a unit that was designed for the harsh off-road environment, and efficient enough to operate in the extreme temps of an automobile interior in the heat of the summer. I recently added a fridge cover and
am curious how that will affect the efficiency of the unit. I also wish ARB would find a new source for their stickers, as mine began peeling immediately, and other people’s units all had peeling stickers. Not that this is a deal breaker, but when you are paying the asking price of these units, you expect them to look good for a while, without peeling and curling badges the first week of use.
If you are on the fence about purchasing a fridge, I would say to do it and never look back. We will never go back to ice after experiencing the convenience of having a fridge while on the trail.