It often seems that we get jazzed over the simplest things. Getting the seat adjusted just right, having the exact amount of air in the tires, and recently, discovering a new ice box.
Go to nearly any general merchandise store and you'll be amazed by how many different types of coolers there are. Sizes range from ones that hold a six-pack up to those that can hold three square meals for six people. There are hard ones, soft ones, and convertible ones. Almost all of them, however, require you to fill them up with ice before the trip and hose out the nasty mixture of water, dirt, paint from aluminum cans, and paper pulp from box and bottle labels after your weekend of fun. We've tested a couple of electric coolers in the past, which avoid the ice-turning-into-grudge routine, but they had limitations, which is why we were skeptical when Buddy King from ARB told us that they had just started importing an electric cooler from Australia. He was so excited about this new product-he had just returned from a trail ride where he was serving Popsicles out of the icebox after being on the trail for eight hours. OK, Buddy, keep your shirt on. We'll try it.
After several outings with the ARB cooler, we have to admit that we share Buddy's enthusiasm. Our first concern was whether it would actually keep its contents cold. Most of our summer trail rides are in 100-plus temperatures and the electric coolers we've tested in the past only kept food and drinks 40 degrees cooler than ambient temperature. That takes the refreshment out a cold drink and the fresh out of any food you packed six hours earlier. But the ARB cooler works more like a refrigerator. You dial the thermostat to the setting you want, including freezing if you desire, and it keeps the goods at that temperature regardless of outside weather conditions.
We were happy with its performance, but then worried about how much draw it might have on the vehicle. If you're camping out of your 4x4, can you leave it plugged in overnight and still start the vehicle in the morning? The answer we found was yes. On one trip, we left it plugged in for almost three days straight with the typical stop and go on trails and sitting two nights without the vehicle running.
We were very impressed with how quickly the ARB cooler brought its contents down to the desired temperature and how little it cycled to keep things cool. Granted, the hotter it is outside, the more often the cooler kicks on and off. Starting with everything, including the ARB cooler at ambient temperatures on an 80 degree day, it took about 20 minutes to cool a half dozen drinks and lunchables to a typical household refrigerator temperature. After that, it would turn on about every 20 minutes and run for just a couple of minutes to keep things cool.
Our final concern was with bashability. A fragile cooler just wouldn't do, especially not for the price of these Australian-built units. The exterior is all metal and our test unit has held up well so far. Our paint is scratched and you can dent the cooler if you try hard enough, but we've been generally impressed with the strength. Overall, we think ARB has a cooler idea.