What camper van fridge do we have?
We decided to go with a Dometic RM5310. We found it a good size as it was not too big or too small, however, after doing our conversion we could have went for a slightly taller model.
We can get everything we need into it though and it did us well through our two week roadtrip through Europe last summer, fitting everything we needed, but sometimes you need to remove the excess packaging you find on most items theses days to get it in – if only companies would get with the times, but that arguments for another time!
Why did we go for a 3 way gas fridge?
Our main goal was to be self-sufficient for periods of time, and we wanted a fridge which would allow this. We use the van for our trips away over a weekend, and also longer 1-2 week trips, but Shane also uses it for his hobbies. The van could be parked up at events for 2 or 3 days without being moved and we didn’t want to have to keep running the engine to re-charge the batteries.
We opted for a 3 way campervan fridge as it allows us to power it via 12v while driving (and for smaller periods of time whilst stationary), gas while we’re parked up without any mains power and mains power if we have a supply, like at home or on a campsite.
Would you change it?
Nope we are perfectly happy with it so it will be staying. If we did another van conversion, it would depend on the budget we have as we found the three way fridges a lot more expensive than their 12v counterparts.
So the answer is only if we got another van to convert and was doing it on a very tight budget.
Any positives / negatives?
You really need to look at your own requirements as everyone is different and everyone’s van setup is different, but here is our thoughts.
- Can run on three different sources
- Has mains hookup for when its available (no using your gas)
- Can run for long periods of time without worrying about battery levels
- Gets cold quickly
- The ability to switch to 12v whilst driving means we safe on gass, but have the flexibility of running on gas to save on 12v when stationary.
- Does not work correctly if your on sharp angle
- Does consume more power than a standard 12v fridge when using 12v power source
- It is far more expensive and tad more complicated to install than a 12v cooler box or 12v fridge.
How does it work?
I’m no expert but I understand the basic concept. We have an absorption refrigerator which works by passing a gas (which is sealed inside the fridge pipes) through these pipes at the back of the fridge, which goes from a liquid to a gas and keeps repeating this process to provide cooling. Whilst the gas is passing through the pipes in the back of the fridge, the cool air from your ventilation is cooling the gas which turns it back into a liquid state, then your heating method (12v, mains or flame (gas)) reheats the liquid converting it back into gas and the process repeats.
This is why the van needs to be level for the fridge to operate correctly of the gas may struggle to flow through the pipes correctly affecting the cooling process.
Does it cool with gas?
Not directly – the fridge has its own gas sealed inside a network of pipes at the back of the fridge unit. The gas you provide is used to light a small flame which heats up the gas liquid inside the fridge, essentially you create a fire to make things cold!
Does it work well?
We haven’t had a single problem with ours so far. We have run it on all three modes – 12v, mains and gas since it’s been installed multiple times. When we were in Europe last summer, we drove around with it on 12v mode all the time and the fridge was always cold even when it was hitting 40c outside!
When we stayed at a campsite and had electric hook-up, we used that instead to save on battery and gas. Most of the times we wild camp or go to events/festivals, the fridge is used on gas if we need to use it while we’re parked up and it’s kept nice and cold as usual. We haven’t noticed that it works better on a specific setting, as they all seem to work just as well as each other!
Why not a 12v fridge?
We did take a look at them as it’s the option most people take as they are much simplier to install as the fitting requriements are much less. They do also have the benefit of a much lower power draw on 12v than compared to our 3 way fridge on 12v. When I was speaking to a friend who has a 12v fridge our amperage draw on the 12v was about x2.5 of theirs.
Yes, this means we cannot run on 12v for as long as they can, however we knew this. We can however run on mains or gas, but they obviously can’t! The fridge is much more efficent on gas and we find the consumption to be quite low which is fine for us.
It’s worth noting though, even if you get a standard 12v frige, I think you still need to run your engine every 24 hours for a period to charge back up your supply or you will eventually run out.
We ran our fridge once (unplanned) for 9 hours on 12v on a sunny day and I think that got us down to about 60% power levels, which is quite low.
If you go back to our requirements we wanted to be able to run for the fridge for up to 3 days minimum and not have to worry about power, this was the main decision for going for a gas fridge.
Installing a 3 way gas campervan fridge?
I’m not going to lie, this was a bit more complicated than I had planned but I managed to do it with a lot of patience. It probably took me double the time than a professional would take, but I took my time and double checked everything to make sure we got it right.
Obviously you should consult your manual for your fridge as they are all different, but the main concept is you have 2 vents – one at the top and one at the bottom of the fridge. There is also the gas flue which needs to vent to the outside. Airflow is what you are looking for, it is very important due to how the cooling mechanics work on the fridges that you have airflow across the pipes at the back of the fridge.
It’s also important you meet the minimum distances at the back so that there is enough airflow achieveable, however you do not want too much of a gap. I have spoken to professionall installers who have stated that a massive caviety behind the fridge can have an adverse effect as the hot air cools as it gets to the top and it does not quite make it out of the top vent before it begins to fall back down and you then end up with trapped luke warm air whcih hinders the cooling process.
I did install 3 drop out vents through the floor, but this isn’t required in most setups but due to not being able to get the bottom vent level with the bottom of the fridge (as per the instructions) due to the side bumpers on our van being located in that position, I had to improvise and added 3 gas drop out events, this allows any leaked gasses to drop out of the holes, as well as allow additional air in.
This is the part which hurt us the most! I think we paid all in around £600 for our fridge and the vents. This was brand new. I was toying with the idea of buying one used but was worried it would fail, after reading up on horror stories of people who managed to get a unit for around £100 for it to fail a couple months later, so that put me off. I wanted something I could install and it would work for years to come.
For the price, you really need to weigh up your needs, as most 12v fridges are half the price of our unit, with cooler boxes going for even less. As we really wanted the gas, it was the only option as we didn’t want to have to keep running our engine to ensure power levels are maintained.
We love our fridge and although we could have gone with a taller model, it does us perfectly fine for our weekend trips and honestly, we probably wouldn’t change it. We love having the three different modes for different situations. If we ever do another conversion, we’ll install another 3-way fridge for sure!