It was time to bite the bullet, the fifty quid coolbox from Halfords was not longer going to cut it anymore, it was just too power hungry on the leisure battery - and it wasn't chilling my cider enough! So I summoned up the courage and parted with 400 quid for a 12 volt compressor fridge by Dometic!
Dometic make various sizes of their Coolfreeze fridges, but I went for one of the smaller sizes so I could fit it under my seat. I wanted a portable fridge so I can take it out the van if need be, and it can be run from any 12 volt source - so I can use it in a car if I wanted too.
So what's the difference between the Halfords coolbox and the Dometic fridge? Well the Dometic is a proper compressor fridge just like you have in your house. It has an inbuilt thermostat, and when the temperature inside is at the desired level, it switches off - thereby saving loads of power from the leisure battery. In addtion to this, the Dometic comes with a built in battery monitor, and if the voltage drops below a certain level, it will switch off to protect your battery.
According to the manual, the Dometic Coolfreeze fridge switches on for around 20 minutes every hour, and when running only draws 3.5amps - awesome! This means the solar can more than keep up with powering the fridge, and topping up the battery when its not running! Compare and contrast with the old coolbox which used to be on all the time, and would only chill down to around 20 degress below ambient. The Dometic will freeze down to minus 18 degrees!
When it arrived I was really pleased with the size, it slotted in under the bench seat with no problems, mainly because I had planned all along to get this particular model of fridge, so had built the seat to accommodate it underneath. So the next job was to wire it in.
The fridge came wired ready to plug into any cigarette lighter socket - so I decided to keep this instead of wiring it in permanently. I installed a cigarette light socket next to the bench seat, figuring that I can use it to power accessories as well as the fridge if need be.
I used 30 amp wire that I got from Halfords to run the connection back to the main fuse box behind the drivers seat (for both the positive and negative) In the Dometic manual it said to install an 8amp fuse (but i only had a 7.5amp to hand - so used that!). As the fuse is so low, its never going to allow the 30amp wire to become overloaded should there be a fault!
I also drilled a couple of holes at the rear of the seat to allow airflow to the back of the fridge. The fridge has vents on either side to allow the fan and compressor to have interupted airflow, so thought it would be a good measure to increase the airflow at the rear of the fridge.
I then modified the bench seat and added two T-hinges to allow the seat to lift up to give access to the lid of the fridge. Having used the fridge for many months now, this has worked perfectly, and and there's no problem accessing my cider (or butter, milk, bacon etc) from under the seat.
Within the first week of having the fridge working, I knew I had made the right choice. Food and drink was properly cold, and was just like taking it out of a larger fridge at home. The solar proved to be up for the job, and I didn't need to worry about how much time the fridge was on, as I knew it would take care of itself.
Over the winter, with the longer nights, I have taken to switching the fridge off at night, and found that it stayed cold till the morning when I could switch it back on again when the engine was running, or had some rare winter sunshine to help keep it powered.
Overall Im really pleased with this purchase. I was initially reluctant to buy a proper fridge due to the big cost, but it has become one of the most used items in the van (especially with cider!), and I couldn't be without it now! If you're thinking about getting one, I would definitely recommend it, as it has allowed more flexibility when it comes to storing food and drink!