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How to Choose best Coolers


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I have been doing some research on car cooler solutions and these are my findings. Hope it is useful for some.

These are some of the questions you need to answer to decide on the right cooler for you:

  • Cooling technologies – what’s available?
  • Cooling and freezing in hot climates
  • What size should your cooler be?
  • Which energy sources do you want to use?
  • Avoid a flat vehicle battery
  • Are you concerned about noise from your cooler?
  • Will you travel for long or short periods of time?
  • Coolers for use away from the vehicle
  • Is it possible to cool “passively” without the need for power?
  • Do you want to pre-select a target temperature?
  • Cold drinks for the driver
  • Easy to clean features
  • Refrigerate and freeze simultaneously
  • Is there a cooler that can heat too?

There are essentially 4 ways one can keep their food or drinks cool or cold and I have listed them down from the cheapest to most expensive, and have tried to answer the above questions.

1. Isothermal: or Passive coolers are your normal cool boxes. These are least cost options and don’t have any maintenance as well as any power requirement. One needs to provide cold substance - generally water ice, dry ice or ice packs to keep the contents in the box cold, which results in loss of space inside the box. But in the desert driving situations they are best as they can take any tumble without any worry.  

One can buy normal plastic ones in any supermarket or hardware stores as well as on amazon – they are the cheapest ones one can buy. You can also buy just water Jugs. These plastic ones are generally good for an afternoon drive. Going up the price range – Decathlon have some flexible cool bags which are light and give longer cooling period.  Going further up on the value chain – you will find Dometic branded coolers that promise to keep the content ice-cold for days.

How to Keep Your Icebox Cold for Longer:

  • Pre-chill the food and drinks you plan on packing.
  • Fill the cooler to the top with food and drinks.
  • Freeze bottled water to store in empty spaces.
  • Store your cooler out of the sun.
  • Put the ice in last.
  • Don’t drain the water when the ice melts.
  • Pack all the essentials on top.
  • Keep the lid closed.

2. Thermoelectric: These are the cheapest powered car cooler you see on the market. They are light weight, and they cool as well as warm contents inside. One can get these in very small sizes – e.g. 6 liters and up. Some drawbacks include, they are noisy operators, use a lot of battery power and as one cannot set temperature, and they heavily depend on the ambient temperature. They generally keep the inside temperature anywhere between 10-20 degrees C cooler depending on the models.  

3. Compressor: They work like the normal household fridge i.e. they have a compressor built in them hence the name. The pros of these type of coolers, are that they use minimal power for operation. You may set the desired temperature anywhere between 10 degree C and -22 degree C depending on the model and the cooler will maintain that temperature – therefore it can be used as a freezer or fridge. From functionality point of view, it is considered the best of all, but one downside is that it can be a bit pricy. Some of the compressor refrigerator units work both on household power as well as car cigarette lighter port on the car while some models are designed to work with solar as well. You can get some of the models with dual zones and you can set individual temperatures such as one side as fridge and other freezer. Many users connect it to a standalone battery that is connected to the car cigarette lighter, so that the cooler continues to work while the car is not running and prevent drain on the main car battery, while keeping the cooler in operation. Some of the well-known coolers come with auto cut off function, whereby they switch off if the car battery comes down a pre specified level.  

Non-branded or Chinese (Crony) versions available for as lows as AED 440 for 15 liters ones on amazon. They will last well for a year or two but there after you might face some issues. Amazon and Dragon Mart are the best sources of these coolers.

Dometic is the most famous of the mainstream brands. CFX3 is the latest series of their coolers. You can buy in 25- (going to be available soon) 35-, 45-, 55- liter single zone coolers and 75-, 95- and 100-liter dual zone coolers. They come equipped with Bluetooth and WIFI as well as accompanying apps, using which one can set the desired temperatures as well as monitor it and also monitor the battery. status. I was looking for the CFX3 25 for my 2 door Jeep to keep at the back but it would still be a bit larger. These coolers can be installed on their own sliding racks and can be tied down. They have sturdy handles. 

Older generation models are also available in the market. I would not buy them unless I am getting it at a good discount, or they are of the desired size, since one can buy some smaller size coolers that server the intended purpose. While the compressor technology is mostly same the designs have been changed since previous generation models and some functionality has been improved e.g. color screen for monitoring etc.

ARB also have some decent coolers and my understanding is that ARB only designs the coolers and Dometic manufactures them for ARB.

Currently Ace is running good discounts on Domestic Coolers.

4. Absorption: These coolers work using either AC, DC or Gas. It is most efficient while working on propane or gas and are used for off grid locations where electric power is scares but will use ten times more power using AC or DC sources of power. They need to be on level, else they won’t work. One cannot set temperature and can only reduce the internal temperature by 10-20 degrees compared to outside. They are basically gas based coolers that can also somewhat work on AC or DC power.

My recommendation is to get an Isothermal/Passive cooler as the least cost option for desert driving and put some iced water bottles along with chilled water bottles in it. For camping or day trips I would prefer Compressor based coolers. For Small Cars (like in the back of my Jeep 2 Door with rear seat up) I will go for Dometic CF-11, CF-16 or CF-26 (while they are old generation, they work nice & Ace has a good discount on CF-26s for Eid). For larger cars I would recommend CX3 series coolers (latest generation, again Ace has some cool discounts running currently on the CX3-45s, I will skip the CFF series unless desperately going for that discount).

Edited by Looper
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Great article !

For my offroad driving, i have a handy cooler bag in which i put some cooling elements from the freezer. It's big enough, yet not too big, because in my little Pajero there is little room left.

For camping, we use the passive coolers and get some ice bags from the nearest petrol station. Works great.

I have not tried any electric models yet, as my 12V power socket is already full with GPS phone, Bluetooth module, and other stuff :) 

 

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"Go as far as you can see; once you get there, you'll be able to see further."

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@Looper @Fredericour cooler gurus … this is a great write up and opinion piece!  
 

I like the product below and know it’s easy enough to build one at home also :) … my use case would be (once they allow it again) to have this for the kids sports events… having to stand watching 25 matches of netball/rugby in September/October could be made bareable with this 

https://www.icybreeze.com

 

Edited by Niki
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Very well explained article  

thank you @Looper 👍

For half day trip I use the passive cooler option as it’s more practical and with the best brand of the box and cooling elements can even stand for all day.

for staying far from the civilisation access  the different other options to be considered for sure . 

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Very good one @Looper, looks I went through what you have mentioned. Usually i dont work hard on searching about something I want to buy, but when it came to the cooler, I spent some time. And since I dont do camping, the best option (and after friends suggestions) I bought the Dometic basic one and working very well. With the ice packs it is working very well, handy, and easy to move and put wherever needed.

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Very nice efforts Goutam @Looper truly helpful bits and pieces to save time for everyone in market for cooler for off-road drives.

With the title line, I thought its about Tranny or Engine Oil cooler as I hold special PhD on car engine cooling failures and thought I might learn something more, lololol.

For drinks cooler, I used Waeco Fridge in the past and due to noise, wiring, constant bumps while off-roading I gave up. Anyone thinking of buying these fridge, make sure warranty does cover off-road bumps, it wasn't in my Waeco fridge case.

Tried few local brands cool box and was totally disappointed that water was at room temperature after an hour.

My father-in-law gifted me his Coleman old cool box and I was surprised that it can hold refrigerated cold drinks (not freezed) chilled up to 12 hours and reasonably cold until 24 hours. I only add ice or ice pack for overnight drives, and not for day drives.

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Let's root for each other & watch each other grow.

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59 minutes ago, Gaurav said:

Coleman old cool box and I was surprised that it can hold refrigerated cold drinks (not freezed) chilled up to 12 hours and reasonably cold until 24 hours.

Totally agree , Coleman one of best quality isothermal ice box . And indeed can keep the stuff cold up to 24 hours 

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I don't do extensive camping , mostly one night. So I went with a "passive" cooler, not electrified, easy to move around.

I splurged in Yeti Hopper 12 cooler. Way overpriced but I bought it on sale so not too bad. It holds the equivalent of dozen cans. I tend to use it with reusable icepacks

I had before some cheaper soft coolers but the Yeti is indeed superior when it comes to holding the temperature for a much longer time. 

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14 hours ago, PaoloMaraziti said:

I don't do extensive camping , mostly one night. So I went with a "passive" cooler, not electrified, easy to move around.

I splurged in Yeti Hopper 12 cooler. Way overpriced but I bought it on sale so not too bad. It holds the equivalent of dozen cans. I tend to use it with reusable icepacks

I had before some cheaper soft coolers but the Yeti is indeed superior when it comes to holding the temperature for a much longer time. 

Yetis and Dometic passive coolers will keep the cold for much much longer than the supermarket white top ones for sure. 

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