Caravan Fridges: 12v or 3 Way Fridge?

When it comes to owning a caravan it’s all about having the comforts of home no matter where we are travelling. One of those comforts is fresh food and cold drinks (beer). It’s definitely an important piece of kit but also a relatively sizeable investment. Below we will get to the bottom of a question we receive often, is a 12v fridge or a 3 way fridge better?


Firstly, what are 12v and 3 way fridges?

12v fridge:

12v fridges, also known as compressor or 2 way fridges, run off a compressor. They use 12/24 volts from your vehicle or battery and can also run off 240-volt power from a powered campsite or your generator.

3 way fridge:

3 way fridges, also known as absorption fridges, use gas flow heat exchange to remove heat from the fridge rather than creating cold air. They also run of 12/24 volts and 240 volts but they have a third option as well, LPG gas.


Now let’s get into the meat and potatoes, how does the performance of each type of fridge compare.


Compressor fridges are the clear winner

12v fridges operate off a compressor which allows them to quickly drop down and maintain required temperatures. Even in the hottest of climates compressor fridges can maintain temperatures low enough to also double as freezers.

The absorption method that 3 ways fridges use requires significantly more time to reach desired temperatures and it can be a struggle for the fridge to maintain temperature levels in hotter climates. In addition, food is recommended to be cool before adding to the fridge and over packing can lead to performance issues.



Both fridge types have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to efficiency. 

3 way fridges run much more efficiently off of gas, lasting a couple of weeks on a single 9kg gas bottle. This is great if you are away from mains power consistently. However, they are very inefficient when running off 12v, meaning they will chew through your battery when you aren’t driving. Modern 3 way fridges do generally come with AES (Automatic Energy Selection) which as an example, will switch from 12v to gas when you stop driving to avoid battery drain.

Compressor fridges are designed for 12 volts to be their primary source of power and are significantly more efficient at running off of it. That being said, you will still need a battery/solar setup if you plan on being away from mains power for any significant amount of time.


Life Span:

Life span depends on the brand of fridge and how well you treat it.

As a general rule of thumb though, 3 way fridges have a longer average life span of 20 years compared to 10-15 years for compressor fridges. This is due to 3 way fridges having less moving parts.



3 ways fridges are the clear winner.

Absorption fridges use heat exchange, so in other words there is no motor to make a sound.

Compressor fridges don’t have the same claim to fame. However, the compressor fridges being produced from the leading brands are much quieter now than they were in the past. Keep in mind though; they are still audible when the compressor is running.



Compressor fridges are the clear winner.

Installation for compressor fridges is very easy; simply follow the step by step instructions in the product manual.

Absorption fridges need to be installed with proper venting to allow heat and gas emissions to escape. They also need to be sealed to the cabin to keep gasses out of the living space. This should be done by a qualified gas fitter, as improper installation can be unsafe and void the manufacturer’s warranty.

Side note: Because of the gas flow system in absorption fridges, they must be level during operation. The same is not true for compressor fridges, which can operate while parked or driving on uneven terrain.



Like a lot of things in life, there is no black and white answer to our initial question.

Absorption fridges are great if you want a quiet fridge to take off grid for long periods in a cooler climate. Due to the efficient gas option, they are great for free camp without the need for self sustaining batteries.

Compressor fridges are great if you want a fridge that can be as cold as you like no matter the outside temperatures. They have grown rapidly in popularity due to them becoming more efficient and the rise of self sustaining batteries through solar set ups.

We have been seeing a shift towards compressors. Most people have solar set ups these days and the ability for the compressor to run efficiently on 12 volt means reliably cold food and drinks, no matter the conditions.


If you have any questions feel free to comment below or contact us on 1300 873 588 or


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