2 Way Fridge vs 3-Way Fridge: The Difference + Pros and Cons

When you change the definition unofficially, you will confuse the very people you are asking a question. A 2-way fridge definition for RVs is not the traditional 2-way as most RVers know it to be. You have to be careful as you may

The biggest advantage that the 3-way fridge has over the 2-way option is that you can run your fridge while driving. Other than that there is no real advantage to switching from one to the other or back again. Both will keep your food cold all the time.

To learn more about this topic, just continue to read our article. It has the information you want to know about so you know which fridge is the better of the two or if they are equal. Take a few minutes to find out.

What is a 2-Way Fridge in a Camper?


This is where it can get confusing. The traditional definition of a 2-way fridge is that it runs on either 120 AC power or propane. That is what almost every RV owner knows about this fridge.

However, due to technological advances, at least one company has put out a 120-volt AC/12-volt DC fridge and some RV owners are calling that a two-way fridge. Officially it is not a true two-way fridge but an alternative fridge option for those who do not want to use propane.

The 12-volt DC option is part of the 3-way fridge option but at no time is it considered a part of the true 2-way options. The true 2-way fridge is an absorption-style model that tries its best to keep your food cold. It will work as long as the unit is on level ground.

That is one of the drawbacks to RV fridges. They have to be very level for them to work. Also, while you can get a 2-way fridge in large sizes, an RV fridge is usually smaller and has no compressor inside.

This is the standard across the RV & trailer industry with some exceptions for larger models of RVs, etc.

How Does a 2-Way RV Fridge Work?

We will try to keep this simple. The 2-way and the 3-way fridge operate on the same principle. They are both absorbent fridges that use their system to remove heat from the ammonia used as a refrigerant.

The 2-way uses water instead of hydrogen gas to help the ammonia boil faster. Then the two elements are sent to the separator as a vapor where as the name implies, they are separated.

From there, the water is sent to the absorber while the ammonia vapor is sent to the condenser which cools it down into a liquid form. From that point the now cooler ammonia is sent to the evaporator where it is mixed with hydrogen gas and the ammonia is evaporated.

This cools the contents of in the fridge. At that point, any water and ammonia that is left are sent back to the generator to do it all over again. The fridge is called a two-way fridge because it uses one of two heating sources-- propane or electricity

Usually, to use the electrical side of the appliance, you just have to set the device to auto and the fridge will take care of the rest, as long as you plug it in first.

What's The Difference Between a 2-Way Fridge And a 3-Way Fridge?


The only real difference between these two appliance models is the fact that the latter fridge has an extra power source. It can use 12-volt DC power as well as propane and 120-volt AC power.

What this additional feature does is allow you to keep your food cold while you are moving from one location to your next destination. The three-way fridge should also work off any solar power you stored in your solar batteries.

That option is a 12-volt DC current as well and it works through the regular 12-volt option. But that is about the only difference as the 3-way is an absorption-style fridge.

It operates in the exact same way that the 2-way fridge operates and uses the same 3 elements to cool your food. The best part of the 3-way is that you actually have 4 heat sources to choose from when you want to turn your fridge on.

The 4th is the solar power and it is a great back up when all other options fail. It is possible to run out of propane, have your batteries drain and you are incapable of plugging the fridge into a 120-volt socket to get power.

Having that 4th option can help out in many difficult situations

2-way Fridge vs 3-Way Fridge Pros And Cons

1. 3-way fridge


  • can work for up to 20 days on a 20-pound propane tank
  • the fridge is very quiet due to the fact that there is no compressor making noise
  • this is a low-maintenance unity. Usually, if the fridge has a compressor this is the part that fails most. Without it, you do not have to worry about this part
  • can last up to 20 years under the right maintenance and normal treatment
  • if you need repairs, there are thousands of technicians that should be able to fix the device across the country


  • needs to be installed by a licensed technician trained to handle gas. It may be illegal in some states for you to install your own
  • may not be efficient when working in hot climates
  • you can drain the house battery quicker when using this device
  • the power only keeps things cool at a minimum level. It does not produce enough power for excess cooling
  • can be more expensive than the 2-way fridge

2. 2-way fridge


  • comes in a variety of sizes unlike the 3-way option which is compact in size
  • can work when tilted up to 30 degrees
  • it is also a quiet fridge for the same reason given for the 3-way option
  • keeps food nice and cool or cold on either power source
  • you can save money using this unit instead of the 3-way fridge


  • cannot use the fridge while driving. The risk of fire is there while it is rare to have a fire.
  • needs proper ventilation to work and do not use it in an enclosed situation
  • ambient temperature influences the cooling operation greatly 
  • not the best option for long camping trips
  • if you run out of propane, you need a generator to produce the power to keep the fridge running and to keep your food from spoiling

Are 3-Way Fridges Any Good?


Yes, you can say that they are. When operating on 120-volt power or propane they are supposed to be a very good fridge to have on a camping trip. If you use your battery while camping, then it is not so good and drains the batteries fast.

The purpose of the 3rd way in a 3-way fridge is so that you can run your fridge while driving and not have any food spoil. Other than that, you should avoid this mode of operation at all costs.

Keep in mind that the fridge manufacturers stopped making the original 3-way fridges and redesigned them. Once that new design was ready, they started making them again. The newer ones are better but there are still some problems with the 12-volt DC option.

It is said that even the newer versions require a lot of DC power to work. Sometimes that figure is 400 watts of power and that really drains your batteries if you are using this option for long periods of time.

What the word is that the 12-volt option is not that great in most camping situations. That is the reason more modern RVs, etc., have a 2-way fridge in them over the 3-way. It is just more practical unless you can tap into some solar power for an extra power boost on the 12-volt DC option.

How Long Will The 3-Way Fridge Run On Gas?

One estimate was 20 days on a 20-pound propane tank. But that may be under ideal circumstances and no other appliance in your RV or trailer requires propane to operate it.

Other people say it will last 22 days on a 20-pound propane tank. The amount of time you get with that size of the tank will depend on how much you cook, for how long, and if you stay on the gas setting all the time.

While cooking doesn’t affect fridge operation it does draw a lot of gas as well and that depletes your gas supply. Plus, your temperature settings will affect how much gas the appliance uses.

Then it takes up to 24 hours for the 3-way fridge to get cool. If you do not cool it down on the 120-volt option, then you are looking at either using a lot of gas or draining your house battery.

You can extend those estimates by switching from 120 to gas from time to time. This can be done when you are boondocking and have a good generator on hand. The generator will power the 120-volt side with ease.

Finding a 2-Way Fridge Freezer For Motorhome


Your problem when you begin this search will be narrowing down your options to the best 5 or 6 retailers. We are not sure if Dometic or other 2-way RV fridge makers sell direct to the public but you can ask.

The same goes for your RV’s brand. They may or may not have a license to sell directly to the public. Asking them is usually the best way to get an answer. If not, you have a myriad of other options to look through.

The list is so long that Amazon is down about halfway on the results page if not further. Their selections were not available but their 3-way model was priced over $1200.

Even if you need a new fridge while you are on the road, you will have an easy time of locating one near you. There are many, many results and all you have to do is pick the one you like to deal with or do some comparison shopping to get the best deal possible.

Getting back to the original confusion we talked about at the beginning of this article, NorCold makes and sells a 2-way fridge. However, its definition of 2-way is that their fridge models use AC/DC power only.

These models are not that large for the most part with one reaching 7 cubic feet. Most are under 3 cubic feet in size. To buy one of these newer 2-way designs, you have to go to their website and use their dealer locator.

That is the only way you can purchase them and you may be lucky enough to find a dealer near your camping spot. But whether or not these are a good replacement for you is a topic for another article.

Without the propane option, you may have trouble finding places to camp especially if you like to boondock a lot.

Some Final Words

A 3-way fridge provides you with an extra power source. But its use is fairly limited and can drain the battery too quickly for your own good. This fridge works the same as a 2-way and is only better than that model in one way- the extra power source.

That advantage may not be a good trade-off as the 3-way unit is usually smaller than the 2-way fridge. It is also more expensive because of that additional power source.

Compare them yourself to see which will work best for your RV situation. The newer 3-way fridges may be better than the older models but still not as good as a 2-way fridge

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