If you’re looking for an efficient, well-insulated, robust 12-volt compressor refrigerator for van life, I highly recommend the ARB fridge.
I’ve owned my 37-quart ARB refrigerator for over a year now, and it’s totally changed my life.
No more trips to get ice every couple days. No more rescuing drowning food from pools of melting ice. No more emptying out a cooler.
In this post, I’m going to tell you why I love this ARB fridge, plus the pros and cons of using the ARB refrigerator for van life.
What exactly is an ARB refrigerator?
(DISCLAIMER: ARB sent me a 37-quart portable refrigerator to review. All opinions are my own)
Portable 12-volt refrigerators work off the same technology as your fridge at home, using a compressor. This compressor is powerful enough to keep food very cold, and even freeze food.
Portable refrigerators are energy efficient and run off your vehicle’s cigarette lighter (but only when you’re driving!)
They can also be connected to a regular 120-volt wall outlet.
Many campervans like mine have a solar setup to keep their fridge powered up when the van isn’t running. We have our fridge connected to two solar panels and two deep cycle batteries.
What’s amazing about a 12v fridge is that it sips power.
The ARB 37-quart fridge draws 5 amps when it’s cooling down to the desired temperature, and then averages out at 0.85 amps per hour.
It turns on just for about 10 minutes per hour to keep it at the target temperature, then shuts down.
A 12-volt ARB refrigerator means you’ll never have to search for ice again.
Nor will you have to deal with soggy cheese, fruit or meat when that ice melts. I can’t tell you how many times gross cooler water has gotten into my Tupperware containers.
I am so glad that with my new ARB refrigerator, I’ll never have to deal with melted cooler water again.
Why I love my ARB fridge
The origins of ARB can be traced to the Australian outback, circa 1975.
Founder Tony Brown loved taking his 4×4 Land Rover out into the countryside and soon realized the rough roads wreaked havoc on his rig.
So, he decided to invent a line of rugged accessories meant to withstand the beating of overland driving.
ARB stands for Tony’s full name, Anthony Ronald Brown. Now, the company is known for its hardy accessories, including its line of portable refrigerators.
Here are a few reasons why I love my ARB fridge 37 quart.
It has an easy-to-read digital display
Nestled under the ARB refrigerator’s latch is a handy digital display. I have to admit I’m addicted to checking the fridge’s temperature.
This digital display is where you adjust how cold the fridge gets.
You can also use this display to set up battery monitoring.
If you set the battery monitor to “high”, that means the ARB fridge will stop drawing power when it senses a lower voltage. I can’t imagine having a fridge without a digital display!
The ARB refrigerator is rugged and hardy
The ARB fridge freezers are designed to withstand a lot of jostling. They can even operate at a 30-angle, like when a sailboat is heeling.
These portable refrigerators are a tough and durable powder-coated zinc steel cabinet, injection-molded base and removable lid and strong steel handles.
My 37 quart ARB refrigerator weighs 45 pounds when it’s empty.
The battery monitor ensures the fridge won’t drain your battery
Each ARB 37-quart fridge comes with a battery monitor. You can change the sensitivity of the monitor between High, Medium and Low.
A high sensitivity means that the ARB refrigerator will automatically power down when it senses even the slightest change in voltage. This is very good when your fridge is connected to the cigarette lighter. This ensures the 12-volt fridge won’t drain your car battery.
I’ve tested this feature myself, and am pleased by how fast the ARB fridge shuts down after I turn off my van.
The ARB 37-quart fridge is well-insulated
I’ve noticed the ARB refrigerator is incredibly well-insulated. Even on 65-70 degree days, the fridge only warms up a few degrees.
I’ve been astonished to see the fridge reading 42 degrees when it hasn’t been plugged in all day! I just love that it doesn’t need to be on to stay cold.
It comes with a removable wire basket and divider
I love that the wire basket that comes with the 37-quart ARB refrigerator freezer can be removed.
And so can the divider!
This means you can configure the fridge any way you want to best fit your needs.
Plus, the ARB portable fridge has a “dairy shelf” above, where you can keep fruits and dairy. This shelf is 5 to 6 degrees warmer than the main compartment.
You can remove the lid
Another cool feature about the ARB fridge is that the lid is completely removable.
This makes it easy to load and unload the fridge if you’re storing it in a compact space.
It fits in my small campervan
It fits perfectly behind the rear seat when it’s folded down. I can access it either by reaching over my back seat or by opening my back hatch.
The ARB 12-volt refrigerator cools down really fast
I’ve noticed when I turn on my ARB fridge it cools down really fast. One day, the fridge was 53 degrees, and after just 20-minutes it was already at 35.
I love how quickly this fridge cools down without drawing too much from the battery.
One day, before I had deep cycle batteries, I accidentally left it plugged into my van’s inverter, which draws from the start battery, for four hours and my van still started.
The ARB fridge has an amazing warranty
ARB believes in its products so much that it offers a very long warranty: 3 years! This is the longest warranty I’ve found when it comes to portable refrigerators.
What I don’t love about the ARB fridge
Everything amazing comes with drawbacks, right? Here are a few things to keep in mind when considering purchasing an ARB fridge.
It can’t refrigerate and freeze at the same time
The ARB refrigerator is basically one large compartment. You can set this compartment to either refrigerate your food or freeze your food. There’s no way to do both at the same time.
Luckily, the ARB 37-quart fridge does come with a dairy shelf to keep foods 5-6 degrees warmer than the main compartment.
So even if you do want to freeze meat, you can keep your fruits and dairy warmer.
It’s really expensive
The ARB fridge won’t be in everyone’s budget. It’s very high quality and the quality is reflected in the price. I have the smallest fridge, the ARB 37 quart fridge freezer, which starts at $950.
The fridges go up in price according to what size you get. However, you get what you pay for.
This incredible portable refrigerator will last you years of overlanding.
Conclusion on the ARB fridge for van life
So far, I am elated with my ARB 37-quart fridge. This rugged, durable fridge is perfect for a campervan, sailboat, RV, or any vehicle heading for outdoor adventures.
ARB fridges come in several sizes: 37 quarts, 50 quarts, 63 quarts and 80 quarts. You’ll be able to find just the right fridge for your vehicle or boat.
These portable refrigerators can cool anywhere between 50 and 0 degrees even if its scorching hot outside.
The downside to an ARB fridge is that it can’t refrigerate and freeze at the same time. It’s also the most expensive portable refrigerator on the market, but that’s due to its exceptionally high quality.
If you’re in the market for a portable 12-volt refrigerator, I’d highly recommend going with ARB.
Be sure to watch our review of the portable fridge:
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Kristin Hanes is a journalist who founded The Wayward Home as a place to learn about alternative living. She currently lives on a sailboat and in a Chevy Astro van, and has written articles about alternative living published in Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, Marie Claire and SF Gate. Read more about Kristin here.