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Old 07-26-2015, 10:30 AM   #1
2 Rivet Member
Geismar , Louisiana
Join Date: Jan 2013
Posts: 46
Question about using household mini-fridge?

I have a 1966 Caravel that we are trying to get road worthy again and it had a normal looking mini fridge in it that i had thrown away. At the time I didn't realize it could have been a 12v fridge as I am completely new to motorhomes/campers. All I know for sure is the Carabel had a normal electrical plug installed for the unit and the fridge itself had the typical electrical plug you find in your house hold.

We are looking at a regular minifridge you can find at Sears/lowes/ect. since they are pretty affordable and we aren't too worried about running the fridge off the battery alone. My main concern is, is there anything I can damage by doing this? Is there something I should look into or read about before attempting to plug a regular mini fridge in? I am assuming I would have to unplug it while traveling so it doesn't drain the battery or damage the fridge though.

Some other question is if I go with one of these 12v fridges that others have talked about, will I need to run some DC Wiring to the batter or do they work off the normal electrical receptical as well? And could this be left plugged in all the time? Is there normally a switch somewhere in the circuit board area that I would have to flip to toggle between DC and AC Power or is it automatic?

Sorry for being so ignorant about this stuff, I am trying to read the forums to learn some more but it is taking some time learning everything.


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Old 07-26-2015, 10:46 AM   #2
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2001 30' Excella
Somerset , New Jersey
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Well Dane, if it's a household 120v unit there is no need to unplug it while traveling because there will be no power to the plug. When you get to a campsite and plug in it will then have power. That is unless you install an inverter unit then you will be converting 12v power to 120v and it will run while traveling AND it will probably rapidly use your available battery power. SO, without an inverter installed by you there is no power to that outlet without a shore power hookup.

Yes, you will need to run a 12v line if you install an RV bi-power unit. In that case you will have 12v power when traveling. Most RV refrigerators run off propane but need a
12v line to operate the control board. There are units out there that run on 120v/ 12v/ propane & 12v. I've never seen one of those.

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Old 07-26-2015, 11:23 AM   #3
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Geismar , Louisiana
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Posts: 46
That makes sense, I appreciate the response! So basically I need to test the plug for Power with a voltage meter to make sure it isn't a converter that was installed.
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Old 07-26-2015, 01:03 PM   #4
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I use a 10 cuft residential fridge switchable from inverter power or land line power.

Using 2 100 amp hour batteries I can run the fridge about 20 hours on my now apparently crappy Wall Mart batteries, earlier on my Interstate batteries I could run nearly two days.

I can travel with the refrigerator on inverter without interruption as my vehicles alternator runs the fridge while still fully recharging the house batteries. ,
The fact that I am opinionated does not presuppose that I am wrong......

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Old 07-26-2015, 01:37 PM   #5
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2014 30' Flying Cloud
Ponce Inlet , Florida
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I have owned several 12VDC 120vac refrigerators . Yes you need 12V DC power. Unless you use an inverter than you could just run on 120VAC but as others have said its ineffective to run that way using your battery.

All units I have owned switch automatically. They default to AC if available.

The Danfoss Compressor units are very efficient. The unit I have uses appox. 36 amps per day @ 70 F. Actual # of amps per day is refrigerator size, compressor size, and temperature dependent.

Most are made for marine or portable use and are very durable. The down side us they are 2-3 times the cost of an el cheapo residential unit.

We boodock a lot so we choose the 12VDC/120VAC unit for its efficiency and not have to pre cool the fridge or food.
Bottom line is choose the one that matches your needs and $$ you are willing to spend.

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Old 07-26-2015, 02:24 PM   #6
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Mission , Texas
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I like my 12vdc, 110vac, gas fridge that lets you decide which energy source cools it.

12vdc on the road, gas for boondocking and primitive camp sites, 110vac with shore power.
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Old 07-26-2015, 02:45 PM   #7
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Virginia Beach , Virginia
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Others have answered the 12 volt question very well.

Don't hesitate to ask questions - it will save you money, time and a lot of banging your head against the wall. Everyone here who knows so much learned a lot of it here. Propane lines and electrical systems are the two systems you need to really understand (how to books, youtube, classes) BEFORE you start messing with them. Plumbing mistakes can ruin stuff - propane and electric mistakes...erk.

IMHO what you need to worry about is whether the old refrigerator also ran off of propane. If so, you SHOULD have noticed the propane line connected to it when you removed it. Just in case you didn't check... go back and look! It's a copper line, and should have a shutoff valve.

It's OK to replace with a 120 volt refrigerator - just make sure that there's no gas line someone cut and "sealed" by folding it over and pinching it off - or failed to seal at all. "PO" is an abbreviation for "prior owner" and old airstreams that have changed hands several times have often been hacked up. A propane leak is about the most dangerous thing you can have inside any RV. Carbon monoxide poisoning can take months to recover from IF you live, and of course lighting the stove and blowing up the Airstream wouldn't be fun either.

I don't know what year refrigerators became standard in Airstreams, though I am pretty certain that most of the 1950's units had an ICEBOX instead of a refrigerator. Depending on your budget - and if you plan to boondock a lot - you can choose between getting a propane/electric, or just getting a really good really good cooler instead of putting in a refrigerator at all. "Yeti" is a really good brand, pricey but not as much as a propane/electric unit.

The tunnel guards around here always make you turn off your propane before entering the tubes, and it's nearly impossible to leave this area without going through a tunnel. Of course I remember to turn the propane back on and make sure the fridge lights back up when I'm about 200 miles down the road. Sigh. If you use an electric refrigerator or worry about the propane blowing out (it can happen) Pack it full, make sure everything in the freezer is rock hard, OR add a bag of ICE just before you depart. As long as you don't open the door the ice will hardly melt for about 12 hours. You'll stop by then, and go for a cold one so you can check it then.
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Old 07-26-2015, 02:58 PM   #8
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brooksville , Florida
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We have a GE 120v mini fringe, it works well. We could not afford a 3 way RV refrigerator at the time. Before we go camping I fill and freeze two 2lt soda bottles of water. So I have two big bottle size blocks of ice. I put them in the fridge as we travel. That keeps the food cold for a at least a day, if not longer. Once we get to the camp ground I plug in and we are good to go.

When we have some spare cash, I'll upgrade to a 3 way RV/ marine fridge.
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Old 07-26-2015, 03:20 PM   #9
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Mission , Texas
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There is an ongoing related fridge thread elsewhere on the forum.

I love the internet and my smartphone ...

Overview of ammonia refrigeration:

RV fridge in application:

RV fridge more detail:

The stationary engineer in me loves this stuff.
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Old 07-26-2015, 04:21 PM   #10
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Yreka , California
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We have a 1963 Bambi and have the original refrigerator that came with it! Works like a charm! My only wish is that it was a little bigger.... but on the upside, it works with convection, so absolutely no battery drain, works on propane so we don't have to play switch and bait each time we hook up to power, etc.

However, if your electrical system is "original".... I would be sure and test it out to be sure your electrical system would be able to handle whatever size and usage the 'fridge requires. Otherwise, you might consider biting the bullet and purchasing a replacement from Vintage Trailer Supply or some other dealer so you can be more flexible. All will depend on your needs and wants.

Good luck!
Mrs. NorCal Bambi traveling in S Tardis ~ from the Great State of Jefferson!

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Old 07-27-2015, 03:47 PM   #11
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2004 28' International CCD
Cocoa , Florida
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We just replaced our perfectly good (still in the garage) gas/electric fridge for a regular fridge from lowes. Couldn't be happier as we will never boondock. It was smaller so we took great care not to damage the enclosure trimming it in, in case we put the old one back.
I think you'll be happy
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Old 07-27-2015, 05:54 PM   #12
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1967 26' Overlander
Spartanburg , South Carolina
Join Date: Jan 2011
Posts: 270
My 67 has the original gas/electric fridge as installed by A/S factory. Since it is an absorbtion type fridge, it uses propane to operate when not plugged in and 110v electricity when shore power is available. It does not switch back and forth automatically nor does it have 12v capability. The 110v heater inside the fridge is powered through a standard 110v plug and receptacle. I hope you didn't throw away a similar unit. As to replacement, others have commented that the unit you need is determined by how you plan to use it.

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