5th Gen 4Runner ARB Elements Fridge Freezer Review (For My DIY Overland Trailer)
As a side article to my DIY Overland Trailer Build Series (Part 1) and (Part 2), I wanted to focus on something important for overlanders, weekend warriors, soccer moms, and long haul commuters – keeping food and drinks cool.
Having properly cooled food and drinks is not only a very nice feature but in the case of some foods and beverages, it could mean not getting sick. So, how do you keep your food and drinks cold? The first option that comes to mind is of course a cooler.
There are tons of coolers on the market today, ranging in price from $19.99 to over $1,000. The big surge right now is rugged, “bear-proof” coolers that can hold ice for several days, get dropped off the back of a truck, fall out of a helicopter, etc. These coolers are great, and I have one of these coolers…but there is one major downside. No matter how good the cooler is you still need ice, and eventually, that ice will melt. Don’t get me wrong, a cooler definitely has its place and a good cooler can last for several days…but the ice will eventually melt.
Whether it takes 24 hours or 8 days to melt is dependent on a lot of conditions, but it will no doubt melt. Approximately ½ of your storage volume is taken up by ice too, you have to pack your food in such a way that water won’t make its way inside, and lastly, you have to be a little more cautious about opening and closing the lid to the cooler to conserve your ice.
So, what did I decide to use for my DIY overland trailer? The answer is a fridge! You might be wondering how I could use a fridge in an off-road overland trailer…but you can! You just have to use the right one. Meet the ARB Elements Fridge/Freezer!
Find It Online:
- ARB Elements 63-Quart Fridge/Freezer: Check Price
More Options from ARB:
- ARB Classic II 53-Quart Portable Fridge/Freezer: Check Price
The ARB Elements 63 QT Fridge / Freezer
There is a healthy competition of overland fridge/freezers, so I had to do a little work to figure out which would be best for me.
After researching various options, it became apparent that there are a few things to consider:
- Can it be a fridge and a freezer?
- Is it a dual-zone fridge/freezer?
- Can it withstand the elements, or does it need protection from rain, dust, etc?
- Can it run off DC and AC power?
These are just a few questions that I came across. The most important to me was the ruggedness of the fridge/freezer.
Since I was planning on putting this fridge/freezer on my DIY overland trailer (and the back of my 4Runner at times), I needed it to be able to take a beating – rain, dust, temperature changes, and rugged trails. There were very few options that could do this, but without any surprise, ARB had an excellent offering – the ARB Elements 63 QT Fridge / Freezer.
The Elements fridge/freezer from ARB is quite remarkable. The name implies that this fridge can be exposed to the “elements”, and this is exactly what it can do! I have had this fridge in the back of my overland trailer for miles and miles of gravel roads that kick up lots of dust and dirt, and I intentionally clean off my fridge with a water hose! This fridge can take it, believe me.
Off-Road- & Overland-Ready
Outside of dust, debris, and moisture, there is something else that this fridge has that not many do…resistance to vibration. Other fridges would fall apart on rough gravel roads, but the ARB Elements fridge can take a beating. I’ve had this fridge on some extremely rough, rocky roads for miles upon miles without any issues whatsoever.
So what makes this fridge from ARB capable of withstanding the elements? To start off with, the body and hinges of the fridge are constructed of stainless steel…that’s right, stainless steel. You will also find lightweight, yet durable and corrosion-resistant aluminum latches. The trim is UV resistant. Electrical connections are strategically placed to be protected. Quite frankly, this fridge is almost designed for you to neglect…it is just that good. The name of the fridge really stands for a lot, it isn’t just a gimmick.
While I am in the process of getting a custom tarp made for my DIY overland trailer so that my ARB fridge, water system, and gear can be covered, I don’t really need one for my fridge. It has strong materials and is designed to handle what you through at it.
The Gas / Spring Strut
Have you ever opened a cooler (or other overland fridges) and the lid falls down? Perhaps it even hits your head or hands hard? Well, you won’t have this problem with this fridge. The lid is designed to have struts that hold the lid open in any position! This is pretty awesome. Essentially any position from closed to fully open will be maintained by these struts designed by ARB. This might be a small feature for some eyes, but it really is a nifty feature and makes getting things out of the fridge very convenient.
LED Lighting (Ditch the Headlamp!)
In addition, the inside of the fridge has a small LED light that is activated when the fridge opens. This is a nice feature at night time so you can see what you have inside your fridge. While you could just use a headlamp (or the overhead LED lighting I installed on my overland trailer), it is very convenient to simply open the lid and have adequate lighting to grab your food or drink.
ARB incorporated a lot of neat and nifty ideas into the design of this fridge. A few of these features are found in the controls. For one, the control panel is weatherproof (just like the fridge), so exposure to dust, dirt, and moisture is not a problem.
While it might not be an issue in some areas, security is something to think about. For one, you don’t want someone opening the lid to your fridge and taking some ice-cold drinks. You also probably wouldn’t like it if someone were to adjust the settings on the fridge. ARB has addressed this issue with a magnetic, electronic lock and a control panel that is hidden when the lid is shut! This is awesome. So, how does it work?
There is a three-button keypad and lock/unlock button that is exposed whether the lid is open or closed. All of the temperature and adjustment controls are hidden underneath the lid when closed. This means you can lock the fridge so unwanted visitors cannot open your fridge, they can’t adjust settings, and they can’t turn the fridge off. The only way to adjust any settings is if you have the four-digit access code…of which you set up and personalize. This feature is really cool and ARB knocked it out of the park.
Features Key-Lock Bolts For Extra Protection
In addition, if you are storing your fridge out in the open like I am on my overland trailer…you don’t need to worry about someone unbolting the fridge and taking it. After all, you do want to protect your investment. ARB utilized “key-lock” bolts that require a special bit (provided by ARB), so you cannot just use a socket wrench, Allen wrench, or star wrench. ARB really thought of so many things with this fridge, and it is very clear to see with the finished product.
This fridge can be adjusted to meet a temperature range of -8 to 50 degree F…this is just nuts! Temperature adjustment is made by opening the lid, touching the temperature adjustment button, and then pressing the + or – button to adjust the temperature. Once the temperature is set the fridge will begin cooling.
It will cool for a continuous period until reaching the set temperature. Once the temperature has been reached, it will turn off. I’ve found that the temperature varies about 6 degrees F. For example, if you set the fridge to 34F, it will more than likely cool to 32F, then turn off, then warm up to 38F and turn back on. This is to save energy and prevent the fridge from operating continuously (which would also wear down parts much quicker).
So far, the fridge has done an incredible job of keeping the set temperature! Not to mention my testing has been in over 100F weather.
This fridge was meant to be operated mostly under DC power; however, you can also use AC power if available. I think this is a great feature. For one, I use AC power to get my fridge to operating temperature until I leave to go on my trip so I’m not using the battery on my solar system.
Another huge benefit is sometimes you might not be completely off the grid. You might be at a park with AC power…so plugging in is a great feature. What really makes this ARB Elements Fridge a little different than some other fridges is that it automatically detects if AC power is available. If you are running off DC but then plug into AC, it will automatically switch to AC power in order to save battery. ARB includes both the cable for DC and AC operation, so you don’t need to purchase them. In addition, the fridge has a few different settings to preserve your battery. Essentially, you can set the fridge to turn off if your battery voltage drops below a certain voltage.
All of these features are amazing and well thought out!
How Much Power Does this Fridge Consume?
Unfortunately, there isn’t great data available for the power consumption on this fridge. I did some initial testing and research to try and get a rough idea though. My best bet is that this fridge draws just a little under 1A. I feel like this is a conservative number because these tests were in temperatures of over 100F.
If you are running this fridge off a battery like I am, you need to keep in mind that the startup amp draw is much larger (I’m guessing about 5 amps). This is why the capability to run off AC and use plug-in power to cool your fridge off is huge! I’d always recommend using AC power to cool your fridge to your desired temperature and then switching to DC power when you are ready to leave in order to save battery levels.
What I Would Want Different?
I think there is only one thing I can think of that I’d like to see in a future model…and this is absolutely the only thing. I truly think ARB knocked it out with this fridge; however, it would be awesome to have a dual-zone option. Since this fridge has one zone, it either has to be in “fridge” mode or “freezer” mode. I think the dual-zone would be a huge feature that would, hands down, make this fridge/freezer the best on the market.
I already think this fridge really is unbelievable and quite possibly the best you can get, but having dual-zone capability would set apart tremendously. To me, only having one zone isn’t that bad of a deal though. While it would be awesome to bring some ice cream or popsicles with me out in the desert, I certainly can bring all the food and ice-cold drinks I want…which is most important. I’m not really sure I’d use the freezer zone enough to justify it either. With all this said, I’d at least like to have the option to have a designated freezer zone and a designated fridge zone.
How Does it Work? Is it Rugged?
Let’s be completely honest. Some items that are tested for review don’t receive true testing, meaning the product isn’t tested as much on capability as far as it should be. I’ve read countless reviews where a journalist talks about how awesome a product is…but they’ve hardly even tested it. How do they know it’s rugged or take a beating if they haven’t given it a beating? I can say I’ve put this fridge through some brutal testing!
I took a trip to one of my favorite fishing spots recently and had my ARB Elements fridge in the back of my DIY overland trailer. On this particular trip, the ARB fridge experienced a ton of dust from miles upon miles of rough gravel roads. The ARB fridge was covered in dust, went through extremely jarring and rugged terrain, and on top of all this…was in Texas heat that exceed 100F every single day of the trip!
The fridge took the heat, the dust, and even some occasional water spray from cleaning the outside of the fridge off. I really cannot think of a better operating fridge…it is awesome!
Included Divider Basket & Drain Plug
Some other features worth mentioning are the divider basket and drain plug. The divider basket inside of the fridge really helps to keep things organized and at the end of your trip, you will definitely appreciate the drain plug inside of the fridge that allows you to wash out the inside and clean everything up. These are just two more features that ARB incorporated into the design that other companies have overlooked.
This fridge is simply remarkable. The ruggedness, design, capability…it does it all, and it does it at a very high level!
This is the fridge for you if you are looking for a fridge that can take a beating, stay outside, be in the back of a truck, or on your overland trailer. It is the most durable overland fridge on the market today in my opinion.
I’ve been testing mine for several months without any flaws whatsoever. If you are wanting a fridge to keep inside the cabin of your vehicle, the Elements is still a great option but you might consider one of ARB’s dual-zone fridge options. Either way, you can’t go wrong with this fridge or one of ARB’s other remarkable fridges.
I’m unbelievably impressed with this fridge from ARB. Being an engineer, I tend to overanalyze things. Quite frankly, I think ARB engineers overanalyzed everything on the Elements fridge because it just has so many features and can handle so many conditions. It truly is just that good!