THE Dometic CFX 50W fridge/freezer used on our most recent trips around Australia has really impressed – and that is saying something, as I’d learnt some years ago to leave anything a Waeco brand at home. In what is a smart move, Dometic, after taking over the Waeco brand a couple of years back, is dropping the Waeco name completely.
Dometic has eight fridges in its CFX range, varying in size from a 28-litre unit to a dual-zone 95-litre unit. Our test unit was the 50-litre version, which would suit many people’s fridge and/or freezer requirements. Dometic says it can hold 72 cans, but I’m guessing that is without the interior basket which, with its slightly uneven base, makes the cans fall over unless they’re packed tight.
The unit features a compact and robust design, good insulation qualities, and is fitted with reinforced corners, stainless steel hinges and a tough lid lining. The lid is designed so you can choose which way it opens, and this can be changed in just a few minutes with a screwdriver. The folding handles are beauties and I wish all fridges had something similar. Most controls and readouts are located on one side of the fridge, though – at the top edge of the unit – which can be a bit of a pain to read, depending on how you set it up in your vehicle. There’s also a USB output near the control panel which can be used for charging phones or anything else with a USB input.
When using this unit for the first time it’s best to set the battery voltage at what the unit will switch off at. Experience tells me the ‘High’ position of 11.8V would be the safest, while the ‘Low’ setting of 10.1V is way too low and could cause premature failure of some batteries. We had two units away with us, running at set temperatures of 2°C and 5°C respectively. Both units reached these temperatures with little effort and a minimum of noise, and they maintained those temperatures with a minimum of current draw. The temperature displayed is the actual temperature of the large interior compartment, meaning the smaller shelf area of the fridge is at a slightly warmer temperature; so you can put fruit or vegetables here and it’ll be cool not cold. This unit can cool down to -22°C, which is impressive; although, I’m not sure it could do that on a 40°C day.
The unit is controllable via Wi-Fi and a smartphone app that has control, display and alarm functions. We didn’t use this app to see how good it was, but from what we’ve heard it works fine. The fridge is also available with a number of accessories including a mounting kit and a protective cover, none of which we used. The mounting kit would be a good idea, while the covers have received criticism on review sites for their fiddly opening and closing. The unit is easy to clean and has a drain plug to make defrosting easy.
The final word: I’d take this unit away on a longer outback trip, and that’s a pretty big accolade in my world.
OF COURSE, a 12/240V fridge needs power to keep your food and drinks cold, and most of us will have some form of dual-battery or auxiliary power system in our 4x4s to keep the fridge running when the engine and alternator are off. This ensures you won’t drain your vehicle’s main battery and the vehicle will start when you turn the key.
Not everyone has or wants a dual-battery system, and the cramped engine bays in many modern vehicles make it difficult to fit a second battery in there. This leaves you looking for a reliable auxiliary source of power that won’t drain the car’s starting battery, and again Dometic has the answer.
New to the Dometic product range is the PLB40 power pack. PLB stands for Portable Lithium Battery and, as the name suggests, the pack contains a 40Ah/512Wh lithium-ion battery and DC-DC charger. Dometic claims the PLB will run a CFX 40W fridge for up to 40 hours on a single charge.
On this trip we were running one of the fridges in a standard Ford Ranger with no auxiliary battery system, so the PLB provided the backup required. The fridge was powered from the standard 12V power socket in the cargo tub during the days, while the car was running and able to power any accessories. But if we were to leave the fridge running overnight without the engine running, it would have drained the Ranger’s battery.
Also, while the car was running during the day, we had the PLB40 charging via a 12V plug in the Ranger’s console. It can be charged this way, via 240V AC power, using the included charger or using solar power, but with the Ranger running for most of the day the PLB was fully charged each afternoon. Then when we pulled up to camp for the evening, we simply plugged the fridge into the PLB for power throughout the night.
The PLB40 has a bright LED screen that displays the unit’s charging status and inputs and outputs. On the output side of the unit are a single two-pin twistlock socket, a 12V ciggie lighter socket and a pair of USB outlets. With the PLB tucked behind the passenger’s seat while charging throughout the day, we were also able to charge our phones. It also has a cutout that switches the PLB40 off if no load is detected on the unit for 24 hours.
The compact PLB40 was easily stashed behind the seat. It’s relatively light at 7.5kg and has a robust case. Dometic must have done something right when designing the PLB40, because in February this year the company received an iF Product Design Award from the world’s oldest independent design organisation, iF International Forum Design GmbH.
Also from Dometic is the PS120A folding solar panel, a monocrystalline panel with a 6.63amp output and an in-built 10amp regulator. When we were at a campsite for multiple nights we were able get the solar panel out during the day, charging the PLB40 from the sun while the PLB was powering the fridge.
Powered by the sun and PLB40, this trio of Dometic product provided us with a self-supporting system to keep our food and drinks cool. We had to adjust the solar panel a couple of times throughout the day to catch the most of the sun as it circled our camp, but other than that it was fuss-free. The PS120A solar panel comes in a robust carrying case, but at 754x534x70mm it’s quite large, so you need to think about where you carry it in your vehicle or trailer.