Having used a simple cooler for a number of years and realizing that while it does work, and is relatively simple, it does have its downfalls and lends much room for improvement. In comes a 12V refrigeration option to completely eliminate all considerations that refrigerators aren't worth the investment and are too “mechanical” to be reliable. The ENGEL MT45 is a tried and true legend in the world of overland travel and has ridden down many a thousand mile of beaten dirt track and mud to carry food and beverage reliably and safely to the next destination.
Why ENGEL over other options on the market? We tossed this around quite a bit and it basically came back to one reason…proven reliability. It is hard to argue against a product that has been around so long with such little modification. At the heart of this reliability is the Sawafuji Swing Motor which by design is simple, utilizing only one moving part which equates to less worry about failing parts. It requires low start up draw compared to others meaning it can work in many vehicles utilizing stock 12V DC outlets (works in my wife’s CRV i know for a fact). The design and construction of the ENGEL is built around a metal shell and rugged and reliable hardware which we desired over plastic shell varieties. It is hefty to pick up so don't think you will be carrying this thing around a lot.
Living with a refrigerator in the cab of the 4Runner requires a motor that operates quietly which was obvious right out of the box. We are running the ENGEL on our Tembo Tusk fridge slide which is really a match made in heaven.
A refrigerator system is generally best set up with a dual battery system to allow the refrigerator to run off of a “house” battery vs a starting battery so as to not put excess wear and tear on the starting battery so you can get home. If you are running a bull bar with a winch you likely already have a dual battery set up making the decision even easier. In the 4Runner we are running dual Optima batteries with a blue top in the rear of the vehicle acting as a “house” battery system. It is being charged by a 200 amp separator and a yellow top Optima up front for starter duty.
This set up has performed perfectly with no issues with over a year of hard use. The ENGEL is pretty much being utilized all the time and is perfect off the overland trail for grocery getting or the occasional beer run. I installed a cheap wireless thermometer to the outside with velcro to monitor temperature which turned out to be a good addition, although the fridge pretty much is alway set at 1.5 on the twist dial power/setting knob which in general keeps the contents of the fridge at 33-35 degrees, unless it is very hot in the cabin.
Another excellent modification to this system was the addition of a 60 watt PV panel to use when we are stationary for a few days. I have tested this set up several times and on sunny days the 60 watt panel easily keeps up with the demands the Engel throws at it even in very hot conditions. In the 4Runner we are monitoring battery health with a digital battery gauge designed originally for trolling motor batteries, which also gives an indicator of whether the battery is charging or discharging. When the panel is plugged into the system (with charge controller to protect the battery) the battery percentage simply doesn't budge from its original point. Based on this it is felt that this system could run independent of starting the vehicle for a number of days depending on weather and load requirements, and could likely be improved with a newer more efficient panel of similar wattage. Quite simply put…this is an incredibly efficient refrigerator.
FRIDGE OR NO FRIDGE
While the investment (btw…I’m cheap) and set up time to properly install an onboard 12V refrigeration system may seem daunting we have found it to be an incredibly worthwhile addition. When you are traveling through unknown territory for extended periods you cant always count on being able to find ice to keep your food and beverage properly cooled and protected. This system since install has had zero issues and with the quality of the ENGEL MT 45 there is no doubt it will continue to ride in this vehicle and subsequent vehicles for a very long time to come. You simply cannot go wrong with this set up and it is a true game changer in the luxury department for any member of the overloading community. Trust me!
Quick Tip: The refrigerator likes to be full and runs at peak efficiency when loaded down.