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Koolatron 12-Volt Cooler FAQ


Introduction to Coolers

What makes a Cooler different from a refrigerator?  Are there different types? Is one manufacturer any better than another? What is Thermoelectric Refrigeration? The purpose of this page is to answer your Cooler questions and hopefully give you a better understanding of what exactly makes a 12-Volt Cooler a Cooler and not a Refrigerator and most importantly, will a 12-Volt Cooler meet your needs, or should you consider a 12-Volt Refrigerator or a 12-Volt freezer?  Here is a little Technical Information on 12-Volt Coolers for those interested.

Here is a Koolatron 12-Volt Cooler Comparison Chart.

Here is are Photos of All Koolatron 12-Volt Coolers.

Koolatron 12 Volt Cooler Logo

Thermoelectric modules are ideally suited to recreational applications because they are lightweight, compact, insensitive to motion or tilting, have no moving parts, and can operate directly from 12-volt batteries.

A 12-Volt Cooler is much better than a regular Cooler full of Ice. Food and beverages are kept cold and dry. No space is wasted for ice (unless of course you want ice, in which case a 12-Volt Cooler can help to preserve it 3 or 4 times longer than a plain cooler.

Koolatron also designs and builds a special Precision Temperature Controlled Cooler for those medical and other applications where the temperature must remain constant. They also make a good poor man's refrigerator because as long as you maintain a reasonably decent ambient, they act just like a real refrigerator, except they do not cool as fast. They come in 3 flavors as follows:

The TC5 control is a non-adjustable heater unit. The control must be programmed at the factory to the customer requirement. It is strictly heating, there is no possibility of cooling. Temperature accuracy and precision is approximately 0.5°C.

The PC3 control is a user adjustable cooling and heating unit. The user must program the unit within certain guidelines. It will automatically switch from heating to cooling as necessary to maintain the upper and lower set-point temperatures. The range between the upper and lower set-point temperatures can be no less than 2° and defines the zone of temperature that will be maintained provided the range is within the capabilities of the system. The PC3 control has a display, and requires a coin cell battery to operate; the battery needs replacement annually. The control can be displayed and set in both °C or °F. Temperature accuracy is about +/-2°C and precision is 1°C.

The PC3 is the only user adjustable control we offer. None of the units have alarms. An alarm would have to have a sophisticated control so that the alarm does not get enabled until the set-point range is achieved after startup. The alarm range would have to be larger than the control range, thus requiring four set-points. Implementing the alarm would open a vast array of options, and this would be difficult to offer. 

What level of cooling performance can we expect from a Koolatron cooler?

A Koolatron cooler can maintain its contents at a temperature approximately 40 to 45 Fahrenheit (22 to 25 Celsius) degrees lower than the temperature of the surrounding air. It is best to load pre-cooled food or drinks into the cooler. As a rule of thumb, it takes about one hour per pound of material loaded into the cooler to bring it from room temperature down to maximum cold. At a temperature of 80 deg. F (27 deg. C.) the contents of the cooler can be maintained at approximately 38 deg. F (3 deg. C) (Normal household refrigerators are usually maintained at 45 to 48 deg. F. (7 to 9 deg. C). At a temperature of 90 deg. F (32 deg. C.) the contents of the cooler can be maintained at approximately 48 deg. F (9 deg. C).

So what level of cooling performance can you expect from a Koolatron cooler? 

A Koolatron cooler can maintain its contents at a temperature approximately 40 to 45 Fahrenheit (22 to 25 Celsius) degrees lower than the temperature of the surrounding air. The average Cooler is capable of about 38 to 40 degrees lower.  It is best to load pre-cooled food or drinks into the cooler. As a rule of thumb, it takes about one hour per pound of material loaded into the cooler to bring it from room temperature down to maximum cold.

So do you need a refrigerator? Or will a Koolatron Cooler do? 

At a Hot Ambient temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the Koolatron Cooler will keep your food at 45 to 50 degrees.  Is your Truck that HOT? Not likely.  At 80 degrees, the Koolatron will keep your food at a temperature of from 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  Normal household refrigerators are usually maintained at 45 to 48 deg. F. (7 to 9 deg. C). Most Koolatron 12-Volt coolers are not thermostatically controlled and run at maximum cold.

Most Koolatron 12-Volt Coolers consume 4.5 amps at 12-Volts. The conversion is: 4.5 amps (X) times 12-Volts (=) equals 54 watts. The P-9 consumes only 3 amps. = ( 36 watts).  On household current the power consumed by each cooler is less than 1 amp at 120 Volts.

In most cases, a Koolatron 12-Volt Cooler is all that you will ever need.  However, if you still feel you need a Real 12-Volt Refrigerator, or a Real 12-Volt Freezer, and your willing to spend the extra money needed to get it, then you want a ARB 12 Volt/120 Volt Fridge/Freezer or an Engle 12 Volt/120 Volt Fridge Freezer.

Benefits of Owning a Koolatron 12-Volt Cooler:

Drawbacks of the 12-Volt Cooler:

What temperatures can be expected from the Koolatron cooler in Heater mode?

Temperatures in the range of 130 to 140 deg. F ( 54.4 to 60 deg. C). This is hot enough to bring hot food to a pot luck dinner or a picnic. Practice safe food handling wisdom and do not keep food in the Koolatron on Heater mode for longer than about 45 minutes. These temperatures are in the prime bacterial growth range so it is very dangerous to store foods at these temperatures for long periods of time. If you have a long way to go, bring the food refrigerated and cook it at the destination. If you need dedicated Heater Boxes, Koolatron can provide these (with no cooling capability) ranging in temperature up to 160 Degrees Fahrenheit ( 71 Degrees Celsius). At the upper temperatures these are used for "Seniors" meal delivery programs, or School meal programs. Mid range Heater Boxes are used as portable incubators for rare animals or for incubating medical swab cultures on the way to the lab. Lower heat settings are used to keep utility workers mitts warm or for storing construction adhesives in winter so they can be dispensed in cold weather. (Super precise temperature holding is available)

How much power is consumed by your Koolatron coolers?

Most of our current production coolers consume 4.5 amps at 12-Volts. The conversion is: 4.5 amps (X) times 12-Volts (=) equals 54 watts. The P-9 consumes only 3 amps. = ( 36 watts). On household current the power consumed by each cooler is less than 1 amp at 120 Volts.

If my vehicle's engine is turned off, how long can I safely leave the cooler plugged into my cigarette lighter socket before compromising the battery's ability to start the vehicle?

The safe answer here is approximately 3 hours in most situations. Actual conditions will vary depending upon the number of electrical devices that have been switched on during the last part of your drive (wipers, lights, blower, defogger, radio, cell phone, aux heater, cooler and or other accessories) and what driving conditions have just been experienced (high speed highway or stop and go traffic). Further limitations and factors are the relative condition of the battery and it's charging system as well as season, temperature, and weather conditions.
Under ideal conditions a cooler could be run for many hours on just battery power. Under the worst combination of conditions, accessories could potentially deplete the battery in 10 to 20 minutes. Some vans have 10 or 12 bulbs lighted when the interior lights are on. Just these lights can drain a battery below starting power in about 15 minutes, without any other electrical device being present. Good judgment is required when making the decision about whether or not to leave any device plugged in while away from the car.

Sometimes I don't know how long I will be away from the vehicle, how do I ensure that I have starting power when also running a cooler?

To completely eliminate the burden of energy management, use a Battery Saver. It allows you to leave the cooler plugged in PERMANENTLY. The Battery Saver will automatically switch off the cooler when it senses that the vehicle's battery has dropped below 11 volts. (That is about half discharge in most vehicles). This will leave plenty of power to start the engine. When the vehicle is started, the Battery Saver reconnects the cooler and active cooling begins automatically. In conditions where you expect the cooler will be switched off for extended periods of time, do not store any foodstuffs in the cooler that will go bad under these conditions. Stick to soft drinks and bottled water which can be consumed at temperatures above refrigeration range.

How long does the cooler stay cool when unplugged?

This is very dependent upon conditions. Koolatron coolers are extremely well insulated and will provide many hours of cool protection, even when switched off. Try to keep the cooler in the shade. Instead of leaving the cooler in a vehicle overnight, use an AC adapter which converts standard 110 Volt AC power to 12-Volts DC and plug the cooler into mains power when not driving.

Why do they call Coolers, Cooler Warmers?

Do to the simple nature of the way a cooler works, reversing the plug will cause it to warm. Reversing the plug basically changes the polarity on the 2 metals, so instead of cooling on the inside and expelling heat, the Cooler would heat on the inside and expel cool air.

Can I put ice in my Koolatron cooler?

Yes BUT not loose (any water inside the cooler will splash up under the cooling fins and short circuit the electronics). Put the ice in a sealed container, NOT a plastic bag. That way you can use the ice for drinks and it will help to rapidly cool the contents on really hot days. Keep the ice container at the opposite end from the cooling fins. This way your contents get the benefit of two cold sources and you are not blocking the interior air circulation.

Can I put the cooler in the trunk of my car?

NOT recommended. The coolers give off heat externally while cooling. If this heat is shed into a closed space like a trunk, it will eventually heat up that space. These coolers need good ventilation to cool properly.

How do I calculate the volume capacity of my cooler.

Put the cooler in the chest position. At the halfway point in depth measure the inside length, width and height in centimeters. Multiply these three dimensions by each other. This will yield so many cubic centimeters. One cubic centimeter is equivalent to 1 milliliter. Divide your cubic centimeters (milliliters) by 1000 and you now have the capacity in Liters. Multiply liters by 1.0567 and you will have the capacity in U.S. Quarts. OR multiply liters by 0.881 to get Imperial Quarts. Of course a much easier way is to pay attention to what you buy. :o)

If I need Warranty work performed or need spare parts, how do we arrange this?

In North America call 1-800-265-8456 or e-mail to service <at> (use the @ instead of <at>). Mention your location, model of cooler and problem and/or parts required. If you don't know the model number, measure length width and height so Koolatron can identify the cooler. Koolatron has factory service centers at the following addresses:

Canada Koolatron
27 Catharine Ave.
Brantford, Ont. Canada N3T 1X5 1-800-265-8456

U.S.A. Koolatron
4331 Commerce Ct.
Batavia N.Y. 14021 U.S.A. 1-800-265-8456

U.K. Koolatron Europe
Unit C3, Knights Park,
Knight Road, Strood,
Rochester, Kent ME2 2LS. U.K.
Phone 44-1634-297383 Fax 44-1634-297374

Is there any time limitation on running the cooler on the AC adapter while in the house, office or dormitory?

These units are designed to run 24/7. Make sure that there is good air circulation to the cooler vents and for the adapter. This will assure long life for both.

Can we use a battery charger to operate a Koolatron cooler?

No, not directly. When plugged into a vehicle's cigarette lighter receptacle, a battery charger can be connected to the vehicles battery to keep it "topped up" while the Koolatron is running.

Are there any concerns with long term full time operation?

Do not place the adapter on carpeting since this tends to block the airflow up through the bottom of the case. Instead, put it on a brick or tile or other smooth surface. Every few months the external fins may accumulate dust to the point of blocking the airflow. Take off the end panel and vacuum and brush away any dust on these fins and fan. The internal fins may accumulate frost and ice occasionally during operation (frequently during humid weather). To defrost, simply reverse the current by unplugging the power cord from the small pigtail cord near the base of the cooler and re-plug putting the red mark to the arrow putting the unit into heater mode. The ice should melt off in 2 to 3 minutes. Remove any ice that falls off and wipe up any melt water. MAKE SURE TO RE-PLUG INTO COOLER MODE OTHERWISE YOU WILL COOK THE ENTIRE CONTENTS OF THE UNIT.

Why does my cooler work on the AC adapter but not in the vehicle?

Some vehicles do not have power to their cigarette lighter sockets when the ignition is off. If the vehicle is running and the relevant fuse is good but the cooler still will not run then get the cigarette lighter socket tested.

Why does my cooler work in the vehicle but not on the AC adapter?

Make sure the AC adapter is plugged in. Check with a multi-meter to determine if there is at least a 12-Volt DC output voltage from the Adapter.

Can we use an AC Adapter other than the one supplied by Koolatron?

Not recommended and may void warranty.

What should I check for if the cooler is not running at all?

  1. Are both ends of the power cord plugged in?
  2. Is there power coming from the socket or adapter being used.
  3. Check for kinks, knots or other damage to the power cord.

Is it allowable to use a 12-Volt extension cord to run the cooler further away than the 10 foot factory cord will reach?

This is NOT recommended. There is a voltage drop in long cords so cooling performance will be degraded.

Is a Koolatron cooler strong enough to sit on?

In most cases yes, but it's not a good practice as a heavy person could warp the lid thus affecting the seal and the cooling performance of the unit.

What are some common complaints and how do we deal with these?

The Coolers are too cold and tend to freeze things inside:

  1. Move the cooler to a slightly warmer area of the home, office or dormitory room.
  2. Leave the lid open slightly (say by putting a pencil between the body and lid) ((this may necessitate more frequent defrosting))
  3. Unplug the cooler for a period of time each day.
  4. Stand the cooler up into the fridge position. Cold air will leak out the bottom of the door and cooling performance will be less.

The cooler is not cold enough:

  1. Place the cooler in chest position so the cold air stays inside.
  2. Make sure it has an ample power source. A weak power adapter or low voltage in the vehicle can cause decreased cooling performance.
  3. The fan must be running and all air vents internally and externally must have free access to air. Do not park the air vents up against curtains, walls or other obstructions.
  4. Make sure the fins inside and outside are free of ice and dust.

If you have an questions not answered here, drop an e-mail to service <at> or call Koolatron's toll free number 1-800-265-8456. Operators are very knowledgeable, very friendly and will be happy to assist you.

See All Koolatron 12-Volt Cooler (Pictures of All Koolatron 12-Volt Coolers)

Cooler FAQ (Frequently asked Questions)

Compare All Koolatron 12-Volt Coolers (Technical Info on Koolatron 12-Volt Coolers)

Koolatron 12-Volt Accessories 120 Volt AC to 12-Volt DC Adaptor - Battery Saver (No Dead battery)

Engel 12-Volt Freezers Engel 12-Volt Refrigerators

Budget Refrigerator & Heater Boxes: Looking for a nice balance between the 12-Volt Cooler and the 12-Volt Freezer? See Koolatron's 12-Volt Temperature Controlled Digital Precision Coolers.

Have you checked out our 12-Volt Cooking Items?

Small 12-Volt Coolers (7.5 to 18 Quarts)

Midsize 12-Volt Coolers (21 to 36 Quarts)

Large 12-Volt Coolers (45 to 52 Quarts)