No Ice, No Problem: We Test Two of Dometic’s CFX-Powered CoolersPosted in Product Reviews on March 15, 2019
Many of us know this scenario. You flip open the lid of your cooler and plunge a hand in, only to find that the once expertly crafted pastrami on rye with ballpark mustard, garden-picked tomatoes, and crisp lettuce has since disintegrated into an amorphous blob of goo. What happened? Melted ice.
While ice chests can be simple and inexpensive, spend enough time off-roading with one ratcheted to the back of your rig, and there’s a good chance you’ll encounter a soggy lunch, or worse—a slushy mess leaking out from beneath the lid as the vehicle moves. Or, you may not be able to replenish the ice in your cooler as you explore the backcountry. Fortunately, Dometic has engineered several solutions, and the company offers powered coolers tailored for specific use. For example, there’s the CF series for RVs and camping; the CC series for what Dometic calls “urban adventures,” like day trips and picnics; and the TC series for truckers. For us wheelers there’s the CFX series, which has been specifically designed for off-road durability.
The CFX line of powered coolers includes nine different sizes of units and one special edition (as of press time). Each is simple to run, and they can be powered by AC, DC, or solar power. The included cords for AC and DC power are generous in length so there’s ample flexibility for cooler location in relation to the power source. The CFX line of coolers includes a number of impressive features, including the ability to cool down to -7 degrees F, a built-in USB port for charging small electronics, advanced compressor electronics to ensure ultra-low power consumption, heavy-duty yet lightweight construction, an LED interior light, and a three-stage Dynamic Battery Protection System to prevent a dead vehicle starter battery. Additionally, most CFX coolers can be controlled via a free Dometic Wi-Fi app.
Over the last few months we’ve had the opportunity to test a couple of CFX units. Four Wheeler Feature Editor Jered Korfhage has been testing the medium-size 35W and Editor Ken Brubaker has been testing the large-size 50W. Testing has included a wide variety of on- and off-road situations in several different vehicles and climates. Read on for our findings.
CFX 35WThough it is on the smaller end of the CFX lineup, the 35W is by no means small. The 32L capacity translates into a unit that has no problem holding 36 beverage cans, and then some. Need to keep the Klondike Bars frozen until the end of the trail day? No problem, since the 35W can cool contents to -7 degrees F.
After taking the CFX 35W out of its packaging, I had doubts whether it would live happily within my ’17 two-door JK Wrangler. My rear seat has long since been sold, and the cargo compartment is routinely stacked with camping gear. I was impressed, however, at how smoothly the unit fit lengthwise directly behind the passenger seat. The power cord plugged into my center console’s 12V socket, I could regulate the unit’s temperature from my smartphone, and (the best part) when the Jeep was stopped, I could fully open the lid and grab a frosty Dr. Pepper from its cavernous compartment.
During testing, I loaded the Jeep and the cooler for a topless and doorless trip across the U.S. over the course of two weeks; I subjected the 35W to outside temperatures upward of 100 degrees F and well below 0 degrees F. There were days I left my perishables inside the cooler, temp set to 39 degrees, and after a full day of hiking, my milk was not spoiled and my Jeep’s battery wasn’t the slightest bit strained.
The Dometic CFX 35W is certainly compact enough to live in a small Jeep, and it has enough space and cooling power to keep me happy over a two-week road trip. On an unconventional note, on nights where weather necessitated bunking up in the Jeep’s cargo area, not only was the 35W structurally sound enough to support me and my sleeping bag, but it ran quietly all night without as much as a whisper from the internals.
CFX 50WI didn’t think I needed a powered cooler, but that was before I used the CFX 50W. The benefits became clear during the first trip with the unit as I completed an on- and off-road test of a new 4x4. Deep in Windrock Park, the incredible 73,000-acre ORV park in Oliver Springs, Tennessee, I was able to simply reach into the cooler and latch onto a cold iced coffee to cut the summer heat. During the weeklong test I never once had to search for ice, the bottles and cans were always dry on the outside when I plucked ’em from the cooler, and I didn’t have to hear or worry about sloshing water and ice. During another trip I loaded the inside of the 50W with freezer bags full of fresh, frozen sweet corn; dialed the 50W’s temp down to 0 degrees F; and loaded the cooler into our ’05 Dodge Power Wagon for a three-day, nine-state trip from Illinois to Florida. At night I carted the cooler into the hotel room and used the hotel’s AC current to power the unit. The corn stayed rock-hard frozen the entire trip.
The 50W is very miserly with electrical current usage. The official Dometic specs say the unit uses 0.77Ah on DC current when the ambient temperature is 90 degrees F and the cooler is set to a compartment temperature of 41 degrees F, so I haven’t been worried about letting the cooler run for several hours when my truck is off. However, many of the 4x4s I drive have keyed power sockets, so when the vehicle is off there is no power available. I use the cooler at the beach and in the backcountry where the vehicle is off for long periods of time, so I wanted a stand-alone power source for the cooler. My solution was a small universal Harbor Freight 12V battery and a 12V adapter plug socket with battery clamps from Amazon. This very inexpensive system has reliably powered the cooler during daylong excursions with the compartment temp set to around 40 degrees F. This system has recently been replaced by Dometic’s incredible new PLB40 battery (see sidebar).
I love the 50W’s 46L capacity, which translates to being able to cool or freeze a bunch of stuff, and often it’s more room than I need. I like that it has a reversible lid and a removable basket. It retains the last temp setting even if power is disconnected, it’s quiet in operation, and it has some seriously beefy construction, including the handles. The CFX 50W has been a fantastic addition to my exploration gear.
A Look at Dometic’s New PLB40 Battery
Dometic’s powerful new battery is called the PLB40, and it’s specifically designed for CFX and other powered coolers. Dometic says it can provide a weekend of power or longer for a Dometic CFX on a single charge. The lightweight PLB40 can be easily transported to a campsite, picnic site, or anywhere you wish to use a Dometic-powered cooler.
The PLB40 has integrated lithium iron phosphate battery cells that provide an energy supply of 40Ah/512Wh. Located on the front of the unit is a pair of USB sockets, a 12V 2-pin connector, and a standard 12V power socket. The top of the PLB40 has an on/off switch and a digital display that not only shows current battery level but other battery-related information.
There are three ways to charge the PLB40: a vehicle’s 12V DC socket, a solar panel (8-25V DC output), or AC home power. The charging ports are located on the back of the unit. In regard to recharging via solar panel, it’s important to note that the PLB40 has a built-in charge controller, so all that is required is plugging in a panel that’s equipped with an Anderson SB50 connector. Pretty cool, huh? Other cool facts: The PLB40 can be charged while a Dometic-powered cooler is in use, Dometic says it’s rated at 2,000 charge cycles, and you can use up to a 150W inverter.
We’ve spent some time using the PLB40, and we’ve found that there are many things to like. The digital display is awesome, and among other things it allows us to easily monitor the battery’s level of charge. All of the sockets and charging ports are easy to access, the battery’s handle is beefy and adjustable, and overall the unit has a quality feel. We’re also impressed by the quick recharge times. Dometic says the battery can be fully charged from 0 to 100 percent using AC or DC power in approximately five hours, and that’s what we’ve found in our testing. Dometic says the PLB40 can power a CFX 40W powered cooler for up to 40 hours. We’ve been using the PLB40 with our CFX 50W and found it to be capable of powering the cooler for a daylong trip, even with the temp set to 0 degrees F. It’s important to note that there are a number of variables that determine the discharge rate of the battery during use of a powered cooler. These include the ambient outside temperature, whether or not the cooler is located in the hot sun, the number of times the lid is opened and closed during operation, and, of course, the selected temperature.
Overall, we’re impressed by the PLB40, and we use it quite often to power our CFX cooler. We’re hoping to acquire a solar panel soon to charge the PLB40, so stay tuned for more testing results.