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Celebrating the independent kiwi spirit of invention.


Brass Monkey 50 L dual zone 12 V fridge/freezer

By Ian Mander, 5 & 9-16 January 2020

Fridge available from: Jaycar, product number GH1642
Normal price: $499
Cover available from: Jaycar, product number GH1653
Normal price: $129, or $89 when bought with fridge

 

Cover

  • Comes in three colours:
    • Grey – a not very nice greenish grey. I generally like grey; this really isn't the best grey I've seen.
    • Green – an attractive reflective dark green which arguably blends in the best with NZ native bush, and is a good match for commonly available dark green folding chairs. It's a nice non-intrusive colour.
    • Camouflage – an attractive light tan "digital" camo, which will arguably reflect most heat because it's the lightest colour.
  • When I bought the 200 W solar panel I was offered a free insulated cover if I bought a fridge by the end of that week. I declined to buy it at that time, wanting to do some more research. (I was also offered a deal on a 100 Ah SLA and battery box. I declined that offer as well – more than 28 kg!) When I bought the fridge I asked if the offer was still open, and after some behind-the-scenes discussion Jaycar agreed to provide a cover at no charge.
  • I wanted a camo cover but got a green cover because it was available. The camo was sold out in the branch I went to and two other branches my salesman checked. (Those branches may have received 35 L camo covers instead of 50 L covers.)
  • I could have swapped it for camo at a later date but it looks very smart, and I'm happily using it.
  • Putting the cover on is a bit awkward (I've done it twice). This appears to be simply because it's quite a good fit.
  • Two pockets on the front are going to provide very handy storage for fridge and USB charging cables (the fridge has a USB socket for charging phones etc – see Features below).
  • I'm unlikely to use the tie-down points on the corners of the cover but they don't hurt just being there.

 

Features

  • See Leading option on the Camping Fridge Types page for many of the features common to the Brass Monkey fridges.
  • The 50 L box has a date sticker 24/06/2019. I bought it on 31/12/2019.
  • When power is interrupted, the fridge restarts automatically when power is reconnected.
    • This is very handy if using a battery disconnect rather than relying on the fridge battery saver mode.
    • This is incredibly useful if using in the back of a car on a long journey. Stop for petrol and don't flatten the battery while stopped, but the fridge restarts when the car is turned on again.
  • The LCD display is a little hard to see in the middle of the day.
  • Most of the time the display shows the present temperatures, not the set temperatures. This is probably the best way to do it, because when you look at it you probably want to know what temperature the fridge is, not what it's supposed to be (which you should know, because you set it, and it's not going to change, because you set it).
  • MAX and ECO modes are for fast cooling and "energy saving", respectively
    • Short press the Settings button (cog wheel) to enter mode change, press again to change.
    • I don't think it makes any significant difference to the total amount of energy used.
  • H, M, L set the voltage at which battery saving will operate.
    • Long press (3 seconds) the Settings button (cog wheel) to enter mode change. Short press to change.
    • H: cut out 11.6 V / cut in 12.4 V
    • M: cut out 10.8 V / cut in 11.4 V
    • L: cut out 9.6 V / cut in 10.9 V
  • The left zone can be turned off to save power.
    • Long press the left zone + and – at the same time. Repeat to turn on again.
  • The centre divider can be taken out to have one large zone.
    • If you take out the divider the left zone needs to be on!
  • A 3.4 m power cable is included.
    • That length can be very handy, but this is very long for a cable which will carry currents over 6 amps.
    • The cable is printed with "1.31mm²". The resistance of a conductor that large would give about 0.62 V drop at 6.41 A. That's more than half the amount of difference between the M and L voltage cut off points.
    • The power socket is the same as on Waeco fridges. Jaycar sells a replacement power cord for Waeco fridges which is shorter than the Brass Monkey cord – less voltage drop if the wire gauge is similar.
  • The fridge has a USB socket on the control panel.
    • This is an awkward position for the socket, making it hard to use with the cover on.
    • It would be much nicer on the side of the fridge, where a USB cable could head straight out a gap in the zip.

 

Initial impressions

  • I set up the solar panel, battery pack and fridge first thing in the morning the day after arriving.
  • The handle on the opposite end to the wheels is double folding, for pulling it around with the wheels. Don't try to pick the fridge up with that handle without making sure what you're really holding onto. If you're holding the wrong part of the handle, the fridge will suddenly drop a short distance as the handle unfolds. You don't need your new fridge causing your heart to skip a beat while on holiday.
  • Read the manual to figure out how the buttons work. It's easy enough to remember how to do stuff, but perhaps not so easy to figure out from scratch by pushing things randomly.
  • About an hour after turning it on I found there was frost on the inside of the both compartments, and I had refreshingly cool water – impressive.
  • The fridge had quite a strong rubber smell. I moved it outside my tent, leveled it with a branch, a rock and a bubble level app on my phone, and the fridge stayed there happily cooling for the next four nights (and days). Several days later it still smelled, but not quite as bad. It very gradually lost the smell.
  • It's quiet. Competing with the noise of wind in nearby trees, it was hard to tell the fridge was on at all.

 

Size

  • Tall enough for a 1.25 L soft drink bottle (the 35 L model is not tall enough). The floor in the left zone (the rectangular compartment) slopes up at the end, possibly something to do with the wheels, but there's still enough height.
  • The left zone can take six 1.25 L soft drink bottles. The right zone (L-shaped compartment) can take three. Without the divider the whole fridge can take 11.
  • Wide enough for two 3 L juice bottles side by side. The left zone can take four 3 L juice bottles. The right zone can fit a couple of 3 L juice bottles plus shorter items on the shallower section, or one 3 L bottle and two 2.4 L bottles, plus shorter items. This is squeezing them in; do not freeze them like this in case they expand sideways.

 

Specifications

Sadly, quality control in the specs on the Jaycar website product page and in the downloadable manual is so pathetic it's probably illegal – it might even amount to a "bait and switch" practice. The printed manual that comes with the 50 L has significantly different specs from what is stated online.

A staff member said he would trust the manual over the website. But which manual? I take a (much) closer look at the specs, along with some testing I did at Jaycar before I bought one.

 

Performance

Cools extremely well.

  • Condensation is visible in just a few minutes.
  • Frost forms within about ten minutes.
  • Water is refreshingly cool after an hour, while ice takes somewhat longer. Set at -2 °C I had ice in my milk after one night. (I turned it up a bit after that.)
  • I was able to refreeze partly melted ice bottles when the fridge was able to run uninterrupted. Obviously, the colder the compartment is running at, the bigger the difference any interruption is going to make.

Freezes water, but takes some time.

  • With the left zone turned off I froze a 2.4 L bottle of water. I had it sitting against the cold wall in the right zone and turned it every so often, which may have contributed it the outsides of the water freezing first. This resulted in the water expanding toward the bottom of the bottle, pushing the bottom of the bottle out. In a normal freezer the sides of the bottle bulge out. When enough ice had melted I was able (with difficulty) to push the bottom of the bottle back in again.
  • The right zone got to -20 °C while the left zone was -3 °C when I turned it on again. The values varied a bit with the smallest difference in temperature 15 °C.

Zone temperature difference.

  • Running with the central divider removed the temperature stabilised at -8 °C (it was set to -20 °C, so that was presumably flat out), but when I put the divider back in, the left zone was -9 °C and the right zone was an impressive -24 °C.
  • The claimed 15 °C difference mentioned in various places may be because of the effectiveness of the centre divider.

For more test results see the Testing page.

 

Summary

A very good fridge with terrible proof-checking of online specs. The specs confusion doesn't change how the fridge performs, but it may mean that buyers do not get the most out of their fridge because they have an incorrect idea of what it can do. It also made me much more reluctant to buy. I want to be sure of what the things actually are that I'm interested in buying, and not be undermined by contradictory specs. Jaycar needs to address this issue. Potential buyers need to be able to trust the stated specs.

"Every sale has five basic obstacles: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, no trust" – Zig Ziglar.

Using the fridge there were a few hiccups along the way involving the solar panel connection and a tired battery (I dealt with both those problems before my next trip), but I still had basically full ice at the end of my camping trip instead of no ice at all.

With several ice bottles in my chilly bin I can do five nights in cooler months, but even four nights in summer is pushing it – all the ice is gone and all the milk has to be consumed on the last morning. To stay for five nights in summer and still have two (more or less) completely frozen ice bottles is outstanding.

A power draw of 60 W implies a solar panel rated at 200 W is probably needed to power the fridge and recharge a battery. I've seen a maximum of about 135 W from my "200 W" panel, which allows 60 W for powering the fridge (not actually continuous) and the rest for charging the battery.

It does need a good battery and solar panel to back it up. My solar panel did not have a reliable way of connecting it to my battery pack (now fixed), and the battery in my power pack (jump starter, compressor, etc) was rather tired (now fixed).

I'd like to give this fridge 5 stars, but for two three serious matters.

  • The specs are seriously screwy, and are going to affect how people use the fridge.

  • The specs are wrong, which is going to lead to people using the fridge inappropriately for the amount of battery power they have.

  • Specifically, the fridge uses more power (sometimes significantly more power) than anything the specs indicate. This could lead to flat car batteries.

Jaycar needs to address these three issues.

 

Postscript

Update 8 August 2020:

Some models have had price jumps. I bought the 50 L model for $499, but it is now priced at "$529, was $599, save $70". I guess a $100 price rise didn't help sell them for autumn food hoarding. And yes, it was quite useful at times during the lockdown.

The 36 L and 60 L fridges also have similar "discounted" price changes: 36 L is "$469, was $549, save $80 "; 60 L is "$589, was $659, save $70". None of the three models have any discount for bulk buying.

 



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