What to do when your fridge goes caput mid-trip

Ian Bellert — 7 December 2023
As Ian Bellert recently discovered, having your fridge die while in the middle of a long-haul camping trip is less than ideal.

On a recent trip into western NSW, my trusty ol’ CF40 fridge decided it’s time was up. Not only was the prospect of warm beer a frightening thought but I was only two days into a 10-day trip. Fortunately, I would be going through some towns to stock up (and grab a cold beer at a pub) so it wasn’t life threatening. Still a cause for concern though.

Survival mode

I had checked the fridge at camp that morning, so it wasn’t until my mid-morning coffee break that the problem reared its head. The first thing I did was check my meat, which had been frozen and vacuum packed by my butcher. The red meat was still frozen, but the chicken had partially thawed. I went full carnivore mode and cooked it all, about three meals worth. What I couldn’t eat after cooking, I binned, as well as my dairy. Food poisoning on the road is not something to experience and I knew the red meat would last until dinner. 

The next step was to assess what other meal options I had, as town — and all options for restocking — was a few days away. Luckily, I had my emergency pack at the ready, so I wasn’t going to starve. I highly recommend that you have a few ‘dry’ meals in your tucker box. Basic ingredients like risotto, rice, pasta, packet sauces, dry stock and spices can go a long way. I supplemented these with some tinned veggies and pulses, as well as onions, garlic, pumpkin and potatoes, which are all good travellers. Sourdough and peanut butter became my breakfast and/or lunch alternative. And don't forget to pack plenty of tea and coffee if you can handle them without milk.

Diagnosing the problem

On the fateful morning the fridge stopped working (sorry, but warm beer is traumatic) I took the time to analyse what the problem was. First up I checked the fridges connections from the power supply. If your fridge runs off cigarette socket power plugs, it’s worth checking if the plug is secure or not as they can easily rattle out. My connections are the ARB screw in type, so I made sure the plug at the fridge was still connected. I checked the auxiliary battery’s output, and it was working as it should. I also tried the fridge in a couple of other power sources, namely a cig socket off the auxiliary battery and the vehicle's internal cig socket, which runs off the cranking battery. Still no joy and upon checking the fridge’s fuse, it was intact. 

Since arriving home, the fridge works connected to 240V but not 12V for any extended period. My local ARB store thought it may be an earthing issue, but the fix hasn’t changed the end result of the fridge not liking 12V power. Sourcing the actual problem is ongoing but getting a new fridge for camping and trips is definitely a priority. Despite its age, the CF40 served me well but I am keen to try a modern fridge to assess how effective they are. Like everything modern, tweaks have led to very efficient and low power draw fridges compared to 10-year-old fridges. 

Having emergency ‘dry’ food in the tucker box certainly saved me from a few hungry days on this trip. It's something that you should have for every trip. And a bottle of red wine in the kit is also very helpful, as warm beer is nobody’s friend!


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