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Just to clarify a little. The 12 volt heater boxes do NOT cool. They are not designed to cool. They are only designed to heat and are used to keep cooked food warm while you bring it from one place to another.
 
Personally I do NOT recommend that you use a cooler/warmer for heating, especially on the road. First it takes forever to heat it up and second it tends to be a breeding ground for bacteria and being on the road, it is not quit as easy to make sure it gets cleaned properly right away. There are several products that do well for heating food. I like the Power Hunt appliances, especially the microwave, but not everyone can hook up their needed power port. A real popular item with truckers is the 300 degree stove. It is a small lunchbox type appliance that you can use aluminum insert trays to help you control any potential bacterial, in the stove itself.
 
As for cooling food, you basically have 3 type of products.
 
1. The cooler or cooler/warmer. Most coolers will do both simply by reversing the plug. We at RoadTrucker tend not to advertise the warming part for the above reasons. The cooler is NOT a refrigerator and does not work like a refrigerator., It does not have a compressor. The 12 volt coolers have 2 dissimilar plates in them. When you apply a DC voltage one plate draws heat from the other. Hence switching polarity will cause the cooler to heat instead of cool. As far as cooling, a cooler will cool based on the ambient temperature and usually can cool somewhere between 35 and 45 degrees below that ambient. So if a cooler is left in a hot vehicle with the sun beating down, and the temperature can get to 120 or 130 degrees, the cooler will only be able to maintain an approximate temperature of 80 to 90 degrees F. Coolers are fairly inefficient and will operate 100% of the time drawing between 3 and 4 amps (36 to 48 watts). They also tend to frost up if the ambient is about 70 degrees or lower. They use to last for 5 or even 10 years, but the newer models tend to only last 2 or 3 years. Most have a 90 day warranty, but Koolatron, Igloo, Coleman and others have a 1 year warranty on some of their models.
 
A cooler works fairly well if you can keep it within it's ambient operating range. They work very well for bringing cold food to a family outing, etc. Coolers were not designed to cool food from room temperature, although they can do it, it generally takes at least 3 hours and probably more like 4 or 5.
 
The cost is about $40 to $200 for the Koolatron KCR40B "Super Kool ACDC Refrigerator", which is a little bit misleading, as it is still uses thermoelectric technology, although it may very well be the best. It is a bit of a hybrid, as it does have a little refrigerant in it.
 
The KCR40B uses a higher capacity heat pump unit in conjunction with what they call heat pipe technology to provide higher performance. A heatpipe is a tube containing a small quantity of refrigerant under low pressure. At one end of the tube heat produced by the heat pump boils the refrigerant into vapor. This vapor moves rapidly to the other end of the tube where the vapor is condensed back into liquid form, from where the refrigerant drains back to the boiler. Due to the low pressure, the temperature of the heat pipe is only a little above ambient temperature. Still a cooler? A real refrigerator? You tell me.. )
 
2. The 2nd type is the temperature controlled cooler. These have the added advantage of being able to shut off once they reach a set temperature, so they do not tend to frost up, even if the ambient is fairly cool. Since they do not operate all the time, they are also a little more efficient then a standard 12 volt cooler. However, keep in mind that they are still coolers and even if you set the temperature for 40 degrees, they will not be able to reach it, if the ambient is 100% F or hotter. The also tend to cool about 45 to even 50 degree below the ambient, so there is better performance. You can buy these with a factory set temperature or with a temperature you can set. I refer to these as a poor man's refrigerator. They are generally used by labs and for carrying medications, but they will work a lot better as a cooler for keeping your food cool. Price ranges from $300 to $400. They all have a 1 year warranty.
 
3. The 3d type is a real 12 volt refrigerator, which is obvious the best choice for cooling food. Unlike the cooler, these tend to be very efficient and they will not only cool your room temperature food, fairly quickly, they will also make ice, about as fast as your home refrigerator will. These have compressors in them with refrigerant. Most use a Danfoss compressor, which is a rotary compressor, but the best of the best, which is the Engel uses a piston like compressor known as a Swing compressor. These can get a bit pricy, but they also hold up for decades and are very efficient, so they make a very good choice for the long hauler or anyone else that wants reliability. Prices are from about $550 to $1600 for a larger unit. Warranty is 2 years.
 
RoadTrucker has an excellent selection on all 3 types, as well as more information, videos, manuals and a FAQ and technical page for all 3 types. If interested click on the "Truck Products" link at the top of the forum. All of our product pages have a 12 Volt Cooler and Engel Fridge/Freezer button at the top.

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12 Volt Coolers for Truckers