What is the difference between a 12V Fridge and 12V Cooler?

What is the difference between a 12V Fridge and 12V Cooler?

Justin Gray9/29/21

by Justin Gray

Want to know the differences between an electric fridge and an electric cooler (you know, the ones that plug into your car)? Read on!

First let's look at what they are. Our cooler/warmers operate on solid-state Peltier plates based on thermo-electric theory. Don't worry, I'll break it down into more easily understood parts below.

Wagan Tech - Peltier Plate (TEWC)

A Peltier plate (aka "Thermo-electric cooler" or "TEC") is simply made up of two ceramic plates with semi-conductors (+ & - or P & N) sandwiched in-between (as pictured above).

The way a Peltier plate operates is quite simple: power is applied to the unit - one side becomes cold, while the other side becomes hot. By adding heat-sinks and fans, you can cool one area while evacuating heat into another. By simply reversing the polarity of the power input, the Peltier plate will then warm the opposing side and cool on the other.

Peltier plates have more applications than you may realize. They are commonly found in devices such as: Our Cooler/Warmers, Wine Chillers, ATMs, Communication Cabinets, Space Shuttle components, Computers, Medical Equipment, Satellite Installations, Cigar Humidors, and much more.

Benefits of Peltier plates over a standard refrigerant filled compressor are: green electronics - no refrigerants or CFCs, no moving parts - more durable and less-likely to fail, low power consumption, no liquids or gasses are used, very low weight, way more robust and shock/damage resistant, and they are really small in size.

Drawbacks include: limited heating/cooling capability and their performance is limited as the excess energy (waste/byproduct) needs to be dissipated.

Peltier Module - Wagan Tech Blogs

What is a "TEC Module"?
When a Peltier plate is a stand-alone unit, it's considered a "TEC" or a single "plate". When combined with a heat-sink and a fan (or any combination thereof), it is then considered a TEC Module (pictured above).

Which side is hot and which side is cold?
This isn't always an easy answer as there are many manufactures of TEC plates. If there is only one heat-sink attached to the module, then the heat-sink side is usually the hot side. For our devices, this is true. Additionally, there is usually an identification number printed on the module, if present, this is often the cold side.

refrigerant style compressor cooler

What is the difference between a Wagan Tech cooler/warmer style fridge and a $1000 "camping fridge"?
The biggest difference between the two is how they operate: the $1000 camping fridge has a refrigeration compressor inside of it (pictured above) that can only cool, our units utilize the TEC module which can cool and heat.

The benefit of the compressor style refrigerator is that they can cool to a lower temperature than the TEC style coolers can. This is good if you're wanting to keep ice cream frozen or milk ice cold. Unfortunately, these compressor fridges cost over 10 times more than their TEC counterparts and draw more power too.

Another huge drawback to the compressor style fridge is the compressor itself. The compressor has hoses filled with refrigerant that can crack, leak, or otherwise become damaged over time. The compressor unit is susceptible to damage from jolting, bumps, and other ups and downs often associated with both off-roading and on-road driving. The TEC module has no moving parts or refrigerant to worry about and can handle rougher use.

Why should I buy a TEC Cooler/Warmer, and how do I use it?
TEC coolers are great for everyday use, road trips, camping, and other activities that you'd use a normal style ice cooler for... except you don't have to deal with the melted ice mess normally associated with ice filled coolers! We have RV'ers and Big-rig Truckers that use them daily to fulfill their needs.

To get the best performance from your TEC cooler, turn it on an hour or two before you need it to ensure it is cool inside. Another pro-tip is to pre-chill your items prior to inserting them into the cooler. The same applies if you plan on using the warming function of the cooler/warmer.

6224 switch assembly

To use, simply plug it in to your vehicle's 12V Accessory socket and turn the power switch on to cooling or warming - that's it!

Still can't decide?
If space is at a premium, compressor fridges take up a lot of space! All but one of our coolers (the 46 quart) are made to fit in the small spaces afforded by today's passenger cars, trucks, and SUVs. Our 6 quart and 14 liter models can be placed on a seat and used as a armrest/divider too! Both 24 liter models will sit behind the driver or passenger seats while still being accessible to those passengers. For more info, click on the links below!

 wagan tech cooler thumb
6 Quart
 wagan tech cooler thumb
14 Liter
 wagan tech cooler thumb
24 Liter
 wagan tech cooler thumb
24 Liter
 wagan tech cooler thumb
46 Quart

If this still doesn't clear up your questions, feel free to call us at 1.800.231.5806 or email our Customer Service Team!



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