TheDometic CFX series of electric coolers are some of the most popular options for van dwellers, offering impressively low power consumption, freezing capabilities, and can function on both AC and DC power. After just under three years of nearly everyday use, Miles shares his thoughts on theDometic CFX 35, its performance running off his Ford Transit’s solar system, and how the cooler has held up. Check it all out here...
My partner Emily and I purchased our first van in February of 2018. It was a 2002 Ford Econoline that was dirt cheap, showed many scars from its previous life as a delivery van, and was the perfect introduction to spending lots of time in a van — our first van. The vast majority of the conversion was done affordably and quickly, and looking back I wouldn’t have changed a thing. However, we did splurge on a few big-ticket items, but thankfully, they’ve stayed with us and continue to play a big role in the Ford Transit we own today.
During the transition, the main conversion items that came along were our 250-watt solar panel andDometic CFX 35 electric cooler. A way to produce power and a reliable fridge are arguably the key aspects of a van conversion that set it apart from a weekend-warrior type setup. Having reliable electricity that is separate from the van’s battery, it opens up nearly endless possibilities for features that make a van feel more like a home and less like a retired delivery van. On the same note, having an electric cooler or fridge is lightyears ahead of a cooler with ice and will eventually save you money down the road. We considered buying a high-end cooler like the Yeti, and briefly tried a lower end non-compressor powered electric cooler from Costco, but eventually landed on a big name option from Dometic. Although I often entertain high-quality non-brand name knockoffs, and there are many of them out there, I found comfort and reassurance in purchasing such an integral part of our conversion from such a reputable brand.
In the summer of 2018, I purchased a Dometic CFX 35 and the optional insulated cover. We’re coming up on three years of constant use with around a month without it running. Besides the additional price and associated reassurance of the Dometic name, I chose a chest-style fridge over a more traditional front-loading one because of its increased efficiency and the layout I chose for our van. For our current setup, the box I made for the Dometic both protects the fridge and serves as a step onto our raised platform bed and a seat while the van is stationary. Although there are options for mounting the cooler on a slider, or into a heavy-duty drawer to hide it away, I’ve been very pleased with the simplicity of this setup.
Our electrical system consists of a fixed 250-watt solar panel on the roof wired into a 40-Amp MPPT controller, which charges two Polar 6V 275-amp-hour batteries. I also added in a 60-amp Sterling Battery-to-Battery charger, which pulls extra power from the van’s alternator to top up the house batteries while driving. The entire system wasn’t cheap by any means, but it’s worked flawlessly over the last few years without fault. Besides our Dometic cooler, the system powers four LED ceiling lights, our rooftop fan, which has also been running 24/7, a small additional 12v fan near the bed, and a few 12v ports for charging cell phones and laptops. We’ve been out down to -10C and up to +35C without issues, and the cooler has continued chugging away down bumpy logging roads, two 6-month long road trips, and with next to no maintenance at all. Even during some particularly warm nights in the Southern States, our battery bank would drop to 90% at most overnight but would top off quickly in the morning. Depending on the conditions, I’d estimate our cooler would consume between 0.3 and 1 amp hours, which is incredibly efficient. Although the CFX series coolers have the benefit of being able to run off both 110V or 12V power sources, we ran directly off our 12V system exclusively to avoid the use of our inverter—which is not nearly as efficient.
The times we saw our batteries drain to 90% was during hot nights and when total daylight was limited to around 6 hours. During these times the Dometic CFX 35 pulled around 1.5 amps per hour. Even during these less-than-ideal conditions, given a 275 amp hour battery bank with 135 amp hours of usable power, I should be getting around 90 hours of run time. This would be affected by other loads, but our cooler is our only component with a constant draw, and arguably the most important to keep running. It was more common to see the cooler pulling between 0.3 and 0.5 amps per hour, and between parking in unshaded areas and charging the batteries through the alternator, I’ve never been worried about running out of juice.
Although it’s hard to know if the insulated cover offered much boost in performance, it did a great job at keeping our cooler looking new. The construction of both the cover and cooler are pretty burly, but the cover has helped keep dust and other debris at bay and the cooler running normally. I also appreciate how easy it is to clean the inside of the cooler, and even after several years of use, there are no stains or irregularities to speak of.
Although we’ve been happy with the size of the CFX 35 for full-time van life, it does require a different approach to purchasing groceries. This means more trips to the grocery store and no bulky or frozen items. Even something as a dozen eggs doesn’t quite fit in the cooler, so we’d often opt to cut our egg cartons in half to pack more strategically. If I was to upgrade, I’d make the jump to the CFX3-75, which has the benefit of a cooler and separate freezer section.
You may have noticed that the latestDometic CFX fridges look a little different than the one I’ve been using, and that’s because they were updated at the start of 2020. Besides a few aesthetic changes and an updated compressor, not a whole lot has changed and everything I wrote about will remain true for the latest generation. The larger 55IM model has an integrated ice maker, they made the switch from WiFi to Bluetooth for their smartphone app, and all models feature the latest Varial Motor Speed Optimization compressor.
I’m a huge fan of the Dometic CFX electric coolers. Besides the high price tag, it’s been a game-changer while spending up to half the year on the road and it’s always one of my first recommendations for anyone building up a van of their own. Of course, we can’t expect as many cross country road trips in 2021 with Covid-19 restrictions still in place, but it’ll certainly make local weekend outings more enjoyable. After almost three years of use with no complaints, I think I’ve gotten my money's worth.