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Assessment: Dometic CFX3 55IM 12-Volt Fridge

Whenever you’re planning a street journey, meals and drinks are a necessity. For journeys on main highways, it is simple to make a pit cease at a comfort retailer to purchase sodas and snacks, or hit a grocery retailer or restaurant for bigger meals. Nonetheless, once you’re venturing off the crushed path — particularly for multi-day off-road expeditions — you will have to carry all your meals and drinks with you. Whereas it is true that you may rely completely on shelf-stable MREs and freeze-dried tenting meals, this stuff are sometimes pricey, unappetizing, and/or unhealthy because of excessive ranges of sodium and preservatives. The power to carry actual meals — contemporary meat, eggs, cheese, fruits and veggies, and so forth — makes each journey extra pleasurable, whether or not it is a half-day solo outing or a cross-country household expedition. Recent meals is not simply tastier, it is more healthy and cheaper than vacuum-packed “tenting meals.” This realization led me to improve my 2022 4Runner overland automobile construct with a Dometic CFX3 fridge, which runs on AC energy from a wall outlet or 12V DC energy from a automobile or cellular battery pack.

First, let’s check out the professionals and cons of cellular 12-volt refrigeration.

Why Use a Fridge As a substitute of a Cooler?

Just about everybody already owns an everyday cooler or ice chest, whether or not it is an outdated Coleman or a flowery new Yeti. These insulated containers can maintain issues chilly for just a few days with the addition of a pair baggage of ice. That mentioned, there are quite a few causes most American houses switched from insulated iceboxes to electrical fridges almost 80 years in the past. Many of those causes additionally apply to storing meals at campsites and in autos. Listed here are among the issues related to ice-filled coolers:

  • Ice melts rapidly. In heat climates, or in case your cooler is not very well-insulated or sealed, your ice could soften in 48 hours or much less. You then’ll have to go purchase extra, which ends up in our subsequent level…
  • Ice have to be re-supplied steadily. Shopping for ice is just not costly, however the associated fee does add up, and it is definitely a problem. Extra importantly, there are various locations the place you merely will not have the ability to resupply — multi-day tenting or searching journeys in distant areas, for instance.
  • Meals security is a critical concern. Ice retains your cooler extraordinarily chilly (perhaps even too chilly) at first, however the temperature steadily rises over time because the ice melts. At first, you might freeze meals inadvertently; on the finish, perishable gadgets equivalent to meat and dairy could creep up into the >40°F “hazard zone” the place micro organism thrives. Nothing ruins a day quicker than puking your guts out because of spoiled meals.
  • Ice makes a multitude. As soon as it is melted, you are left with a cooler filled with tepid water that leaves remaining contents soggy. And in case your cooler’s drain would not seal completely, that water could leak and soak all of your different gear.
  • Coolers could be surprisingly costly. Excessive-end, American-made coolers can simply set you again $400 to $600, particularly if you need options like wheels and latches. You may all the time purchase the discount model for a fraction of the associated fee, but it surely may not be as sturdy or as well-insulated.

Above: All this meals match into our CFX3 55IM fridge, with room to spare and no considerations about melting ice. The detachable baskets make loading and cleansing straightforward.

If you happen to’re a critical camper, hunter, or overland fanatic, 12-volt fridges alleviate lots of the issues above, however they don’t seem to be with out drawbacks. Listed here are among the downsides to purchasing a cellular fridge:

  • Excessive up-front value. Fridges aren’t low-cost, particularly in the event you’re looking for one massive sufficient to feed a complete household for a number of days. Dometic’s present choices vary from $500 to $1,400. Nonetheless, we might argue the long-term advantages outweigh the associated fee.
  • They’re solely pretty much as good as your energy supply. In lots of instances, this is so simple as plugging your fridge into the 12-volt outlet in your automobile, however these shops sometimes solely present energy when the engine is operating. If you happen to’re parking longer than just a few hours, you must have a battery, energy financial institution, or photo voltaic panel that may maintain the fridge operating and the meals chilly till you begin driving once more. (I will clarify how I rectified this later.)

Dometic CFX3 55IM 12-Volt Fridge

As soon as I made a decision to choose up a 12-volt fridge for my 4Runner venture, I rapidly settled on Dometic, an organization that has been a pacesetter in cellular fridges since 1968. Dometic fridges are widespread within the RV and “van life” markets amongst of us who reside on the street for months at a time, so I figured they’d provide a reliable answer for the shorter tenting and overland journeys I’ve deliberate. Particularly, I selected the Dometic CFX3 55IM mannequin, which provides a 53-liter storage capability and built-in ice maker. That capability is equal to 83 soda cans, and shouldn’t have any bother holding sufficient meals for a small household for every week. MSRP for this mannequin is $1,080.

Above: The ice tray comprises two detachable ice dice molds.

This fridge is a single-zone mannequin, so other than the small ice tray, it retains all its contents at one temperature. It may be set as little as -7°F to maintain meals frozen stable, at a extra typical 36°F for refrigeration, or as excessive as 50°F to preserve vitality and maintain non-perishable contents cool.

Above: The world above the ice tray is good for storing smaller gadgets like canned drinks.

Dometic’s VMSO3 compressor makes use of commonplace R134a refrigerant, and may run on both AC energy from a wall outlet or 12/24-volt DC energy (rated at 8.9 amps) from a cigarette-lighter-style automotive outlet. A pair of 6.6-foot cables are included for every energy supply. Because of a vibration- and noise-reducing housing, the compressor can also be surprisingly quiet; it is rated at 48 dB(A), and I had no bother sleeping within the 4Runner proper subsequent to it.

Above: A drain plug on the backside of the Dometic CFX3 permits customers to scrub out the fridge simply.

In contrast to residential fridges that get a continuing provide of “clear” electrical energy from the facility grid, cellular fridges are designed to run on automobile alternators, batteries, and solar-powered techniques which have a lot larger voltage fluctuations. The Dometic CFX3 has good voltage regulation to take care of inconsistent or “soiled” energy sources. Its three-stage dynamic battery safety system ensures the fridge will flip off earlier than it absolutely depletes your truck’s battery — in a worst-case state of affairs, your meals will get heat, however no less than you will not even be stranded. (For deep-draw dual-battery techniques, you possibly can restrict or disable this safeguard.)

Ice Maker
The “IM” on this fridge’s title signifies that it options an ice maker with two detachable silicone ice dice trays. When the ice maker is turned on through a menu setting, it’s going to produce 50 small cubes of ice in just a few hours. It is excellent for a pleasant cocktail on the finish of an extended day on the path.

Controls & Monitoring
By means of the CFX3 cellular app for iOS or Android, customers can connect with the fridge over Bluetooth (brief vary) or over a WiFi community (for distant entry). This provides the power to energy the fridge on or off, see present DC voltage, and examine temperature historical past within the final hour, day, or over the course of every week. On this similar graph, vitality consumption information (in amp hours per hour) is tracked that can assist you forecast how lengthy the fridge will run below present circumstances.

Above: The CFX3 cellular app provides management over all of the fridge’s settings, together with WiFi community entry and battery safety stage. If the fridge is related to an exterior battery, the Low setting can be utilized to maintain the fridge operating till the battery drops to 10.1V, extending run time; Medium shuts off at 11.2V and Excessive shuts off at 11.8V.

It is attainable to set an alarm at a temperature threshold, alerting anybody within the neighborhood if the fridge begins warming up because of low battery or ambient circumstances. The app can even ship a notification if the lid is left open for greater than 3 minutes.

With out the help of the app, the CFX3’s capabilities could be managed via the built-in weatherproof buttons and coloration show. The show prominently reveals enter voltage, WiFi and Bluetooth standing, present temperature, and any alerts or notifications the consumer has configured. A setup menu permits the consumer to show the ice maker on or off, change temperature items, modify battery safety stage, configure wi-fi community settings, and extra.

An Disagreeable Shock: Guarantee Alternate

Above: The three screws that had been imagined to retain the latch had been seemingly by no means put in on the manufacturing unit. This was solely the start of the problems with the primary CFX3 I acquired.

After I acquired the CFX3 fridge and excitedly eliminated it from its field, I observed the latch on the lid appeared crooked. After taking a better look, I noticed all three of the small screws that had been supposed to connect it to the lid had been lacking, and the latch fell out in my hand. I scoured the field, however the screws had been nowhere to be discovered. This was mildly annoying, however I figured I might all the time ask Dometic to mail me some alternative screws — not the top of the world. However that was solely the tip of this iceberg (no pun meant).

Above: Plugging within the fridge resulted in a vibrant crimson error message on the show in addition to the cellular app.

As I plugged within the CFX3 fridge for the primary time, the display screen greeted me with a vibrant crimson message: !WARNING 33. After checking the guide, this warning code signifies compressor failure. I adopted the directions and power-cycled the fridge, however this error continued and the compressor refused to begin on AC or DC energy. Considering that this fridge will need to have been constructed at 4:50pm on a Friday, I picked up my cellphone and referred to as Dometic customer support. A useful and sympathetic younger girl listened to my description of the difficulty and walked me via some troubleshooting steps, however finally decided that the unit was faulty and would should be exchanged below guarantee.

Above: Warning 33 corresponded to a compressor failure. This meant I had acquired a faulty fridge and would wish to trade it below guarantee.

Dometic supplied an RMA transport label, and I boxed up the fridge and dropped it off at a neighborhood FedEx retailer. Twenty-seven (sure, 27) days later, I acquired a alternative CFX3 55IM. For sure, this was a irritating expertise and positively not what I anticipated from a $1,000 product from a well known model. Nonetheless, it is a pattern dimension of 1, and I could have merely been very unfortunate.

Fortunately, the alternative fridge had a properly-installed latch and a practical compressor, so I proceeded with testing.

Within the Area

I took my new Dometic CFX3 fridge out on a three-day tenting journey for some subject testing. Ambient temperatures ranged from about 30°F at evening to about 65°F in the course of the day. Earlier than the journey, I plugged the fridge into an AC energy outlet at my home to “pre-cool” to my desired setting of 36°F, after which packed it with meals. Subsequent, I loaded it into the again of my 4Runner and related it to the 12V DC plug on the entrance of my Aim Zero Yeti 1500X energy station (as reviewed in Challenge 52 of Offgrid). The Yeti was related through a Yeti 12V automotive charging cable to a DC plug behind the 4Runner. When the truck is operating, it fees the facility station which offers steady energy to the fridge; when the truck is not operating, the fridge runs solely off the facility station’s battery.

Above: The Yeti 1500X supplied greater than sufficient energy for the fridge, in addition to my different digital units.

Through the journey, the CFX3 cellular app confirmed a steady inside temperature that solely fluctuated up and down barely because the compressor cycled on and off. The insulation seems fairly good, and the latch clicks shut for an air-tight seal. If I am being choosy, it may be somewhat too tight, since I did should remind my associates to provide the lid an additional agency push to verify it closed.

Above: Screenshots exhibiting inside temperature and energy consumption in 50-degree ambient temperature (left) and 80-degree ambient temperature (proper). Observe that the Ah/h graph scale is just not constant between the 2 screenshots; do not take note of the peak of the bars, solely to the numbers they point out.

My Yeti 1500X battery has a rated capability of 1,516 watt hours, or 140.4 amp hours (Ah) at 10.8 volts. At a full 12V, that works out to 126Ah. Through the journey, energy draw hovered round 0.5Ah per hour on common, which equates to a complete of 36Ah over the course of the 72-hour check.

In less complicated phrases, the fridge used rather less than 30% of the facility station’s capability in three days (about 10% per day).

Above: In long-term off-grid settings, a photo voltaic panel can be utilized to recharge the Aim Zero Yeti in the course of the daytime.

Granted, the cool to chilly climate was supreme for this check. Later, I examined the CFX3 in 80-degree ambient temperatures, and it consumed about 1.4Ah per hour on common. Underneath these heat circumstances, it’s going to use roughly 72% of the Yeti 1500X’s battery in three days (about 24% per day). Needless to say opening the lid steadily will enhance vitality consumption. These run instances may additionally be prolonged by altering the fridge’s battery safety mode to permit decrease minimal voltage.

Whatever the climate, I shouldn’t have any bother in any respect operating the CFX3 fridge for a number of days on the Aim Zero battery without having to begin the truck’s engine or plug in a photo voltaic panel.

Closing Ideas

Regardless of my frustration in the direction of the faulty unit I initially acquired and the delay in receiving a alternative, my expertise with the CFX3 fridge improved dramatically as soon as I obtained one which wasn’t a dud. The fridge feels sturdy and sturdy, matches properly into the again of my 4Runner, and has tons of area for meals and drinks. I loaded it with bacon, eggs, hash browns, and salsa for breakfast burritos, plus cream for the espresso I made in my JetBoil every morning. It held chilly cuts, sliced cheese, and condiments for sandwiches at lunchtime. For dinner, we had extra steaks, burger patties, and brats than we might eat. All that hardly put a dent within the cavernous capability of the CFX3 55IM — it is superb how a lot room you may have for meals when your cooler is not half filled with ice.

I used to be pleasantly stunned by how quiet and energy-efficient the CFX3 was within the subject. My Yeti battery had no bother operating it for a number of days, and may have the ability to handle every week of typical use in cool climate. And the ice maker, whereas not needed, is an added luxurious that impresses everybody once you’re 50 miles from civilization.

Any time it isn’t sitting in my automobile, I maintain this fridge plugged in to the wall in my “man cave” as a mini-fridge for drinks. There’s additionally an emergency preparedness worth to think about — if the facility goes out because of a storm, I can load perishable gadgets from my house fridge into the Dometic and run it off battery energy. The meals would not spoil and the day is saved. Maintain that one in thoughts in case it’s worthwhile to persuade your partner that your $1,000 fridge is not only for retaining beer chilly.

For extra data on the Dometic CFX3, go to

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