TESTED: Dometic CFX3 45

At the 2019 SEMA show, Dometic released their CFX3 line of electric coolers, which are the latest generation of the CFX series that I’ve reviewed in the past HERE.  Everything from the compressor to the control app was updated for this complete product line refresh, and after spending some time checking out the new coolers at the show, I left Dometic’s booth eager to put one to the test in the real world.  We all know that seeing something at an industry show is one thing, and spending months with that same product while traveling thousands of miles off-road in the real world is another – so rather than create just one more short term review of a product, I figured I would push this one out to over a year of use – to see just what living with the CFX3 is like well after the honeymoon phase of ownership.

At first glance, a CFX3 electric cooler may look similar to the old CFX series, but look closer and you’ll begin to see just how much has changed.  Construction wise, everything from the handles to the compressor unit to the controls have been revised.  The handles are now all aluminum, so there’s no need to worry about cracking a handle if something smashes into the cooler or if your buddy goes full hulk mode using a ratchet strap around a handle to secure the cooler in your vehicle.  We can’t see the compressor unit, but know that it’s an entirely new unit that is more efficient, consumes less power, and creates less noise than it’s predecessor.  This means that the CFX3 coolers are easier on your battery system when you’re parked, and they’re even easier to sleep near.  Dometic has also moved the compressor to the opposite end of the cooler from the lid opening, so now when you open the lid the deep end is closest to you.

On the control side of things, the CFX3 series steps into the modern age with a high resolution display that is a welcome change over the old LCD display on the older coolers.  No longer will you have to reference your manual to remember how to make a settings change, or figure out what the display is trying to tell you.  With the CFX3 display you can clearly read, adjust, and understand all of the settings with just a few button presses.  The whole process is very intuitive, and folks who have never seen the manual can make any adjustment needed without issue.  When the display isn’t in use, a little snowflake icon on the display lets you know the unit is powered up, so parasitic draw is less than the bright LEDs used by other brands of coolers.  Next to the display, you’ll also find a USB port that’s been upgraded to provide 2 Amps of power at 5V, which is a welcome upgrade over the 500 milli-amp outlet on the old CFX units.  This increase in current means that the CFX3 can actually charge modern power-hungry devices, and the port is in a great location to power a speaker or other device while you’re in camp.

Speaking of devices, Dometic has also improved the companion app for the CFX3 series. The app uses a Bluetooth connection that sips power, and now you can plot your cooler’s energy consumption in addition to fully controlling the cooler from your phone.  In use, I’ve noticed absolutely no hiccups using the app on Android devices, and being able to know how much power your cooler is currently consuming and how much power it has been consuming is powerful information when it coming to determining just how long you can go before needing to charge your battery system.  The CFX3 series coolers do come with a configurable low voltage cutoff, so you can protect your battery system from over discharging.  As they say knowledge is power, and it’s super easy to pop open the app and see where your battery system is at, rather than having to guess at your state of charge. 

Inside the CFX3 45, things will start to look like familiar Dometic territory, and it’s here where you’ll find the versatile system of baskets and dividers that allow you to organize your cooler loadout.  There is a basket for the shallow section of the cooler, and a basket for the deep section that be divided in half vertically with a removable insert.  Volume wise, the CFX3 45 measures in at 46 liters of storage, and this works out to a deep basket that can hold 16 sleeved standard size soda cans per layer with ease.  Drive off-road long enough and the simple action of cans rubbing against each other as you bounce down a trail can wear a hole in an aluminum can.  Pro tip: This is why you can never have too many foam beer koozies.  Should a can have a hole worn in it, or something else in your cooler decide to leak, there’s still a drain plug that’s easy to use at the bottom of the cooler.

Getting in and out of the CFX3 45 is where I noticed about the only issue that I’ve been able to find in my extended time with the cooler.  That issue is that the lid doesn’t always latch unless you give it a firm press to close it.  I would like the lid to work like a car door, in the respect that it’s easy to close and that it seals well, yet with the CFX3 lid, even dropping it closed isn’t enough to do the trick.  The best practice is to gently close the lid and then give it a press to engage the latch.  This is by no means a deal breaker, but I’ve seen other CFX3 coolers suffer the same ailment, and there may have been one case where a cooler in the back of a truck was closed but not latched, and spirited driving resulted in lunch being put out early – but the point is, just check that the lid is latched and you’re good to go.  Other than the lid, every CFX3 cooler I’ve encountered in the wild has worked flawlessly.

The 100 year old hotel and the 100 day old CFX3 45.

If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself that yeah, an electric cooler would be rad, but that’s a lot of money to spend on a camping gadget – remember this:  Dometic also provides an AC power adapter so that you can run your cooler when you’re at home or anywhere else you have access to AC power.  This means that your electric cooler can pull double duty and be of value at home and on the road.  Need a drink cooler in the shop?  Need a place to store additional food so that you don’t have to go to the grocery store as often?  Staying in a hotel for long term work? Don’t think of an electric cooler as a camping only tool – they are devices which can provide value every day of the year, or whenever you need them. 

In a nod to Dometic’s longevity, one of our American Adventurist staff has been running the same Dometic electric cooler for more than seven years now, and thanks to the solar panel on his roof, it’s been on 24/7.

The CFX3 45 Cooler that I’ve been testing for the last year hasn’t been phased by anything that I’ve thrown at it.  To give you a quick idea of what It’s been through, the cooler has:  Frozen in the winter in Idaho, baked in a hot car in the middle of summer in Phoenix, and logged nearly 35,000 miles of travel.  Several thousand of these miles were off-road, doing everything from Go-Fast Dirt to rock-donkey rock crawling.  The cooler may or may not have logged a little bit of flight time, and it’s spent plenty of time packed next to everything from other pelican boxes to recovery gear while bouncing around all over the Western US.  It may have a few scuffs and scrapes and dust that will never come out, but the unit works just as well as it did on day one.

The Dometic CFX3 45 has been an awesome electric cooler.  I have to give Dometic props for looking at their old CFX series of coolers (which are solid units) and figuring out how to make them better.  With the CFX3, the compressor is more efficient and quiet.  The user interface is so much easier to use.  And other little details like the revised USB port all add up to make a cooler that has been a joy to use.  The bottom line is this:  If you want an electric cooler that you just plug in and know that it’s going to work, you can’t go wrong with a CFX3.  No matter where your adventure is going to take you, know that the CFX3 will stand up to what you throw at it, and keep everything you throw in it cool.  When the road finally sees you back home, know that an electric cooler can be utilized around the house – so don’t think that an electric cooler is a travel-only toy.  Electric coolers have never been easier to use, or more useful – so if you’ve been on the fence about ditching ice, know that with a CFX3 cooler you’ll never look back.

Full Disclosure: Dometic provided a sample CFX3 45 electric cooler free of charge to the author for the purposes of this review.

Dometic CFX 75 DZ W

I need to start off this review of an electric cooler by saying that I’ve been happy with the ice-powered “super coolers” that I have for keeping things cold.  With a super cooler, as long as you take good care of your ice, it will last for an impressively long time.  Super coolers are leaps and bounds ahead of your run of the mill plastic ice chest, but no matter how good your ice-powered cooler is, there is no beating the laws of thermodynamics and the fact that ice will eventually turn into water inside your cooler.  Water in the liquid state means wet food if you don’t pack your cooler well, and accelerated melting of your remaining ice, which only accelerates the need to procure more ice.  Meanwhile, with a 12V electric cooler, you don’t need to futz with ice, and Dometic has made the process of keeping an electric cooler powered up, and ice cold, so easy that switching to an electric cooler becomes one of easiest, most game-changing things you can do to support your off-grid adventures .

Saying goodbye to ice, and hello to perfectly-cooled food and beverages is a plug and play experience with Dometic’s CFX 75 DZW.  And no, you don’t have to have a dual battery setup to run this electric cooler safely.  Thanks to some modern technology and features, you can enjoy all of the benefits of a highly efficient dual compartment fridge and freezer without ever having to worry about killing your vehicle’s battery.  When on DC power, the unit will monitor the voltage of the power source it’s plugged into, and should the voltage drop below one of three user-selectable thresholds, the unit will automatically power off to save the vehicle’s battery.  The CFX 75 DZW also happens to be very efficient, so you can leave the unit plugged into your vehicle without tripping the low voltage cutoff for some time.

Dometic is well respected in the RV appliance industry, so as you would expect the unit is very thermal and power efficient.  When the compressor isn’t running, the unit will sip power and the unit is so thermally efficient that you’ll wonder if you accidentally turned it off when the compressor doesn’t come back on for such a long time.  Power consumption is modest – at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, Dometic states that the unit will pull 1.30 Amp Hours per hour, or 15.6 Watt Hours per hour at 12 V DC.  Speaking of the compressor, it’s also very quiet, making all of 37 dB(A) when running.  For comparison’s sake the CFX 75 DZW makes less noise than my modern refrigerator at home, and is so quiet that it has made no impact on my quality of sleep when I’m sleeping next to the unit in my truck bed.

The DZ in CFX 75 DZW stands for dual zone, and that makes this electric cooler a very dynamic unit whose storage volume is 70.001 L.  You can set the temperature of each compartment individually, (from -7 to +50 F) so you can have two freezer compartments, two refrigerated compartments, or one of each, or only one compartment on, depending on what your needs are.  Each compartment can be divided further with the included baskets, allowing you to protect your crushable items or make it easy to pull out your most-used items in one go.  (Or to hide the ice cream or your favorite beverages.)  Each compartment has its own user-reversable and independently openable lid.  When it comes to finding items in the dark, each compartment also has a LED light that provides plenty of illumination and will start flashing should the lid get left open for too long.

Further utilizing modern technology and the computers that we all carry in our pockets, the CFX 75 DZW also has Wi Fi capability, allowing you to perform a number of functions remotely.  With the CFX app, you can set the temperatures in each compartment, set battery protection levels, set temperature alarms, and see your supply voltage when on DC power, among other features.  Having the CFX app is handy when you’re going to be parked for some time in camp, as you’ll know if and when you need to haul out your solar setup or provide some power to your battery system.  More on power in a minute.

Dometic also makes an insulated cover for the CFX 75 DZW, which is a well-made jacket that fits over the unit to provide additional insulation, and therefore reduce energy consumption.  To see just how much of a difference the insulated cover made, I performed the following test once with the insulated cover and once without:  In a temperature-controlled environment, I started with a room temperature unit, and cooled one compartment to 38 degrees and the other to 20 degrees.  I then loaded the unit with the same amount of food, and let the unit sit for a week – opening the lid of each compartment six times each day for 15 seconds each time I opened a lid.  I had the unit powered through a power meter, and at the end of my test the insulated cover caused the unit to use 19.5% less energy.

Yet, the insulated cover highlights one CFX 75 DZW’s two shortcomings, one of which is that the latch side of the unit’s lid isn’t the most obvious.  I watched folks who had never seen the unit open the insulated cover (opening a few Velcro flaps) to access the lid and several folks reached for hinge side of the lid by mistake.  Obviously, if you know your gear this won’t be an issue, but don’t be surprised if it throws your buddy for a loop the first few times they try and get in your fridge or freezer. Maybe that’s a blessing in disguise as your IPA’s remain elusive.

The other issue is the USB port that Dometic had the forethought to put on the cooler.  While it might seem like a great idea as the USB port is in a prime location, (you always make it easy to get to your fridge / freezer) it’s only able to output 500-milliamps.  This low output current makes the USB port all but useless, as many devices won’t work, or will take forever and a day to charge as a result of the low current output.  I hope that the next revision of CFX electric coolers will get a more powerful USB port or two, as it’s a great idea for a world that can never have enough USB power.

Even when you’re not out adventuring, the CFX 75 DZW is a great tool to have on hand.  Heading out for errands on a hot day?  No need to worry about food spoiling in your car with an electric cooler in the back to keep things cold.  Hosting a social event where you need some extra fridge or freezer space?  Simply setup your electric cooler wherever it’s most convenient.  Having a highly-efficient fridge and / or freezer that can go just about anywhere is game changing for so many more activities than vehicle-based adventure travel.

Dometic has made the CFX 75 DZW so easy and idiot-proof to use that you’ll wonder why you didn’t get on the electric cooler train sooner.  Ice-powered super coolers are definitely head and shoulders over el cheapo coolers that fall apart after a few trips, but super coolers still consume ice, and ice at the store costs money and still melts, and that water can still get in or on things you want to stay dry in your cooler.  Not having to care for ice (unless you need it for putting in your adult beverages, and it turns out its really easy to keep ice with a freezer) is a profound upgrade to your adventuring experience:  You can keep frozen stuff frozen for days on end, or keep your favorite items at just the right temperature.  With a 12V fridge/freezer, you can break out the ice cream on day 10, and never have to worry if all that bouncing around off-road caused your cheese or other sensitive provision to go swimming in the bottom of your ice powered cooler.

The CFX 75 DZW is a great option for anyone looking to graduate from ice-powered coolers with a unit that is very dynamic and can work in almost any vehicle or off-grid abode. Having a low voltage cutoff and remote monitoring with the WiFi-enabled CFX app allows you to use this electric cooler literally anywhere that’s within reach of an AC or a cigarette-style power outlet.  The unit can safely draw from a single battery vehicle and will take it’s self out of the game before it takes your starting battery out.  The WiFi App provides a great way to make sure your fridge / freezer is doing what it needs to be, and you’ll never wonder if the lid was left open – as long as you’re able to see the flashing light, or in WiFi range.  All of this is packed into a sturdy, well-made unit that has so far held up great to thousands of miles of remote travel over the last few months.  If you’re ready to give your adventuring food supply a serious upgrade, take a look at a Dometic CFX series electric coolers.

A word on Power and Dual Batteries

Let’s talk power for a minute.  Running a Dometic CFX series electric cooler in your vehicle can be done with no modification to your vehicle, assuming that you have a 12-volt cigarette-style outlet that is always energized, (not switched with your key) and is rated for handling the current of your particular fridge / freezer. If you’re like me, and only own Toyotas – adding a not-switched circuit isn’t hard, just do it correctly with properly rated wire and fusing.  (or get such a circuit installed professionally).

Your stock battery (assuming that it is in good health) can power your fridge / freezer for a day or two without tripping the low voltage cutoff, but a good upgrade is a quality AGM battery to replace your vehicle’s stock battery.  See what options are out there and if you can safely fit a larger battery in your vehicle’s stock battery location.  Again, if you’re not comfortable working on your vehicle’s electrical system, please get professional help – electrical fires are no joke.

If you’re going to be parked for more than a couple of days, bring a solar charging system or a portable battery that has the capacity to go the duration of your stay, like a Goal Zero Yeti.  Dometic is also going to be releasing a portable battery tailored to powering their electric coolers in early 2019.  Regardless of what power setup you use, you should always take good care of your vehicles’ battery by keeping it charged (you do plug your vehicles into the grid when they’re going to be sitting for a while, right?), and you should always carry a way to jump start your vehicle like a jump battery.

For the record, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a properly configured, isolated, dual battery setup in your vehicle.  Yet, don’t feel like you have to have one to be able to use an electric cooler.  The name of the game here is to go prepared, and that means having the power generating and / or power storage capacity to see you through your trip with plenty of power to spare – because sometimes you will have to wait out that storm for a couple of days.  Or better yet, you’ll just want to stay out longer.


Electric Cooler to Ice-Powered Super Cooler Size Comparison Photos:

CFX 75 DZW and Canyon Coolers Outfitter 75

Full Disclosure:  This equipment was provided to the author at no cost for the purpose of this review on American Adventurist.