Battle of the Caravan Fridges: 2 Way or 3 Way Fridge?

Battle of the Caravan Fridges: 2 Way or 3 Way Fridge?
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How many times have you pulled into a campsite and immediately started comparing gear with your neighbours? When we’re talking about caravan appliances and equipment, everyone has an opinion – and fridges are no exception. After all, this is the one piece of kit that can keep your food fresh, your beer cold and your ice frozen. So is a 3 Way Fridge best, or a 2 Way Fridge?

3 Way Fridge for Caravan

Caravan Fridges come as either 2 Way Compressor models, or 3 Way Absorption style

But not all fridges are created equal. So of the two main types of fridge, which is best? A compressor fridge or an absorption fridge?

Here, we put the spotlight on the pros and cons of each type so you can make the best choice for your RV fridge. Let battle commence.

The Challengers

Compressor fridges are just like your fridge at home. Also often known as 2-way RV fridges, they run on 12/24-volt (usually from your vehicle or camping batteries) or the ability to run on 240-volt power (which is available through a powered site or your portable generator).

Absorption fridges are known as 3-way fridges because they can run on either 12/24-volt, 240-volt or LPG gas. Instead of a compressor, a 3 way fridge uses a gas flow heat exchange system in the back of the fridge. Essentially they remove the heat rather than create the cold.

Round 1: Cooling power

Thanks to the more powerful compressor motor, compressor fridges can provide more consistently cool temperatures even in very hot environments – which makes them the perfect choice if you are heading into warmer Australian climates. This means most compressor fridges can even double as freezers. Absorption fridges can’t get as cold in hot environments. So from our testing and feedback from many customers, the best option for campers spending time up north, a 2 way compressor fridge will perform better than a 3 way fridge using absorption technology.

Round 2: Life span

Absorption fridges have the edge here, as they will often only need replacing after about 20 years, compared to around 10 years for compressor fridges. Of course it depends on which model you choose and how well you look after your caravan fridge.

Round 3: Efficiency

Compressor fridges are built with 12-volt operation in mind, so they run far more efficiently on battery power than absorption fridges. That said, absorption fridges are extremely efficient on gas – this is where these types of caravan fridges are very popular; if you intend to free camp for longer periods then running your 3 way fridge on gas can last you around 2-3 weeks on a 9kg gas bottle (approx.).

3 Way Fridge

3 way Absorption fridge-freezer running on gas can last you around 2 weeks on a 9kg gas bottle (approx.)

Round 4: Terrain

Most compressor fridges work well even if the caravan is on uneven terrain. However, the gas flow cooling system means a 3 way fridge needs to stay level during operation.

Round 5: Noise

Because absorption fridges use a heat exchange system rather than a compressor, they don’t make a sound. The opposite is true of compressor fridges. Think about the noise that comes from your home refrigerator, and although your caravan fridge isn’t running all the time, it will still be audible when the compressor is running.  The good news is most quality caravan compressor fridges today are still quiet.

Round 6: Convenience

When not connected to mains power, compressor fridges require more equipment to run, such as a deep-cycle battery, generator or solar panels. But let’s face it – you’re probably carrying these items anyway so it’s not like to be an extra expense. It is worth thinking about how often you will need to recharge your battery to run your fridge.

3-way fridges, on the other hand, have three options of being powered, so you instantly enjoy more convenience. If you are on the road and away from mains power for long period of time, this is your best option. In fact, using gas means your absorption fridge can stay cold for up to two-three weeks at a time. The same cannot be said for a single-charge of most battery power sources.

Round 7: Installation

Compressor 2 way fridges are easy to install – step by step instructions provided in the product manual. Absorption 3 way fridge models need to be installed and certified by a qualified and licensed gas-fitter / caravan installer, as improperly or illegally installed products will void the manufacturer’s warranty, and could pose a safety risk.

What’s the winner?

There’s no outright winner here – it all depends on what’s important to you. If you want a fridge with the flexibility of three different power supplies, including gas, choose an absorption fridge. These 3-way models are often chosen by free campers who don’t want to have to worry about having enough battery power when away on extended trips.

If you’d prefer a fridge that gets consistently cooler, runs more efficiently on battery power and can handle the hotter environments, a 2-way compressor fridge is for you.

For more ideas, compare our wide range of caravan fridges.  

L Adams
Lachlan is part of the team at My Generator - Power Products Direct (
L Adams

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  • Steve Harris May 9, 2018, 8:05 pm

    But the other piece of kit to now take in to the equation now is people use solar panels to recharge the batteries free. So does this not make the compressor fridge the better way to go. As the one I had in my VW T5 conversion was left on for 6 plus months at a time and never ran the battery flat.

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