Monday, 12 November 2018

Dometic CFX 50 Fridge a Worthy Overland Investment

Spring 2017 I made investment in our camping/overlanding experience with a 12v fridge. Everybody I talked to with them, or read about them, call them a game changer, and I really wanted to see for myself if this was true. 

I'll apologize in advance that this post is about a year and a half late so some details may be lacking, however I am happy to answer any questions as always. 



First step was deciding upon the fridge.  I happened to be at Peden 4 Wheel Drive the day of an openhouse and overheard the salesman talking to another customer about the Dometic fridge, while I don't remember all of what was said I was pretty much sold on this fridge.  I also did my own research as well and saw basically nothing but good reviews for this fridge.  A couple of the features I specifically like are the quality compressor that is used, the multiple voltage cutoff options, and the interior light. 


I also learned that the internals are the same as the ARB fridge which is actually manufactured by Dometic, this is visually apparent as the control panel is the same.  

Ordering the fridge from Peden was also awesome as it was on sale, and included the free transit cover. Shipping was quick and reasonably priced via Greyhound. 

It just so happened that pretty much when I got the fridge I also got an Overland Journal magazine with fridge reviews, the Dometic fridge place well, so I felt good about my decision.
I settled on the 50 quart size (CFX 50) which is great, it allows for ample room for food and drinks.  I'd say that if planned properly you could probably fit a weeks worth of refrigerated items for a couple people.  We probably could have gotten away with the 35 quart which I like because it opens from the end rather than side, not to mention a smaller profile. 

I used the fridge a view times without mounting it within the Jeep and it was awkward to say the least, especially since I have the cargo shelf that I built. I'd have to slide it out to the edge of the jeep while awkwardly supporting it on my knee as I accessed inside. I really lucked out when I started the slideout build as I had positioned the shelf just high enough that I had the perfect amount of space to clear. (I originally positioned this shelf with the horizontal line in the rear seat upholstery. 

 Slide Out Build

I got a sheet of aluminum cut to size, as well as a length of aluminum angle. I assembled the tray with some double sided tape as well stainless cap screws.  I also put 4 U-bolts near each corner to accommodate tie straps and keep the fridge that much more secure.


Now that the tray is made it was time to mount it. Looking at the back of the JK it is clear that the task was not going to be simple as the floor is so intricate.  I wanted a semi-permanent install which meant hard mounting each corner. 

While I don't have any pictures of the finished mounts here are the 4 tacked together. Going clockwise starting on the far left we have the rear most left (driver) mount that mounts up against the pinch seam.  Next is the left hand front most mount which secures into the floor in 2 spots.  The next is the right front mount which bolted to factory hardware. Finally the rearmost right mount, which is the most complex it actually bolts into the storage area more or less vertically. The combination of these mounts makes for an exceptionally secure rattle free install. 
The tray all setup, I used double locking, full extension, drawer slides from Lee Valley.  These slides are rated for 400pounds, so stout to say the least. 
Note the placement of the slides, while I wanted the fridge over to the left as far as possible there is a door latch and a body seam to contend with, at first this space really bothered me as under utilized, however I have found that a small folding table nests in there perfectly. This slight gap also helps allow for adequate cooling for the fridge. 

I'll say that the fabrication and cost of this tray was a lot more than I was expecting, I'd probably just buy the slide out next time as it is not as bad as I would have expected. (My dad, who bought a fridge after me got one with his purchase and made the install much easier as he could just tie it into the seat hardware.)

For power I repurposed some old subwoofer wiring that was running power to the previous owners aftermarket secondary subwoofer.  I then bolted a 12v power port to the shelf I had built. This works well and I use bungees to secure the excess power cord.  I also have a Hella style plug that I picked up at a sporting good store going out of business that I will likely use specifically for the fridge leaving the 12v accessory port for auxiliary charging. 

The fridge was also a gateway modification because as well as it worked there were times that it would run the battery down until it cutout.   I wanted to make sure I could run it as long as possible without starting the Jeep, without risking a no-start situation somewhere out in the backcountry.  As a temporary measure I bought a portable jump starter however had basically made up my mind that there would be dual batteries in my future (another blog post). 

A picture of the finished product




Improvement Wish List 

As good as this fridge is there are a few little things I wish I could change, none of these however would make me change my mind if I were to do it all over. 

 - Better insulation in the lid.  In the heat of the summer it is apparent that the lid is a week part of the fridges insulation, its easy to feel the coolness through it. 

- Cover that opens with the Fridge.  Getting into the fridge with the transit cover is a little little tougher than it should be since it opens in the center and a piece flips backward and another forward before the lid can be opened sideways. 

- Voltage display, the fridge already has the ability to monitor voltage for the cutoff, and an LCD to display temperature, surely it couldn't have been too hard to display the battery voltage on rotation, or at the push of a button.  I'll likely install something to monitor voltages myself. 

- Better quality transit cover, mine started ripping within a few uses on the inside foil, I feel this was mostly my fault for not carefully releasing all the velcro before trying to pull the cover open. 

The Verdict

I can confidently say that I can agree with others when they talk about a fridge being a game changer.  I don't think I could ever go back to a cooler and ice.  If this fridge were to break I would absolutely order another in a heartbeat.  I also feel I have probably directly or indirectly sold at least 4 other people on a Dometic fridge as thats how many people I know have bought them after seeing mine and hearing me rave about it. Before this I didn't know anyone personally with one. 

Despite the improvements that I wish were made it is still a great device.  To help combat the lack of insulation in the lid (and around the fridge as per the Overland Journal review) I have added additional insulation (may post up about it later). I don't plan on doing a quantitative evaluation before an after, but I feel any additional insulation will be of benefit.  Even before the added insulation one time after a trip this fridge had lasted about 7-8 days on the low voltage cutoff setting while in the garage.  This was where I was not accessing the fridge or Jeep in this time however once the fridge did finally cutout (on the lowest setting) the Jeep would not start. 

I would recommend getting the transit cover as it will not only protect your investment but add additional insulation.  It also had 3 pockets in it (2 on the side and 1 in the front) that I've found had many uses from storing utensils, sticker and business cards, to my favourite use of storing wet naps so you can wash up prior to a roadside meal. The front pocket can also hold a small device while recharging it from the USB port. 



Sunday, 4 November 2018

REDARC BCDC Install

When using a fridge in your rig you start realizing just how valuable the 12v capacity of the truck is. Driven by this it has always been my desire to install dual batteries, not only does it it give you additional capacity while not on the move but it also gives that added security out on the trail or at a remote solo camp that you can jump start yourself.

There are a few kits out that there that supply all the parts needed to set up a dual battery system in your Jeep.  Some of these kits, like the Genesis Offroad one have rave reviews and provide all the components most people need to accomplish a clean install. I however decided to make my life difficult as I wanted to base my system around a REDARC BCDC rather than just a simple solenoid.

Why REDARC? 

I chose the REDARC BCDC for 3 main reasons, the first and most superficial is that I have always tried to have an Australian inspired build.  I like the 4 wheeling culture and components that exist Down Under, you'll see this in my ARB, OME (Old Man Emu), Maxtrax, and now REDARC components.  This seems to be a respected brand in that market and the standard that all high end builds are using.

Secondly, I wanted to treat my batteries with respect and I didn't want to be restricted to 2 of the same batteries if I didn't want to.  Basically whether you have an isolator, or just have both batteries wired in parallel, when the Jeep is running and both batteries are receiving power they are being treated as one bigger capacity battery.  I don't claim to be an expert on the ins and outs of the alternator charging theory of the JK but it seemed to me that unless both batteries were identical (including state of charge) one would either be stressed (overcharged), or under charged which could also risk premature failure.

Since this is a charger rather than a solenoid it is taking the power from the battery terminals while the alternator is producing a charge, and producing a controlled output of voltage an amperage depending on battery chemistry and state of charge. This allows the truck and alternator to almost be unaware there is even a second battery and no stock systems are disrupted.  Another good point on modern vehicles with computers controlling everything and susceptible to electronic fluctuations.

Thirdly, we use the Jeep for camping a lot and this charger (BCDC1225D) allows for solar input.  While its great to be out always exploring some days just end up being lazy days chilling around camp.  Being able to eventually setup a solar input to the Jeep will be amazing to keep the beers in the fridge chilled without relying on running it.  In fact this charger is smart enough to take what it can from solar before supplementing with alternator power if you have vehicle mounted panels.

Battery Tray

Ideally I would have liked to use the Genesis Battery tray as it seems to have great reviews for fit and finish.  I also like that it keeps the batteries away from the engine and will work for all years of JK whether you have the 3.8 engine like I do, or the 3.6 engine.  I had thought I had seen the tray only available from some American sites, however I couldn't find it from any of the Canadian sites and didn't want to risk duty and brokerage.  It was also at a premium price for just the tray.

This forced me to start looking at the usual suppliers and I eventually found this Rugged Ridge tray that had decent reviews, and was a good price. I had had good luck with the rugged ridge hood latches so figured I'd give it a shot.








Install 

So now the fun part.... I'm not documenting this as a whole step by step install, mainly because I did a fairly poor job of taking pictures but I will describe the high level detail of my install.


The first step is to start dismantling items attached to the plastic tray running along the passenger side of the jeep, this includes removing the battery, the airbox, the TIPM (Total Integrated Power Management), as well as moving the power steering reservoir out of the way. After all this is complete remove all the 10mm bolts holding the tray in.

Note that there is a fastener in the wheel well that needs to be removed as well.  While the bold from the top seems to secure the tray and thread into an attached mount in the body this faster on the bottom will need to be removed to allow the bolt come out.  I'd recommend removing the wheel well side first as I ended up breaking this bolt the second time I tried to remove it.

*Note in the picture on the right, just how much aftermarket wiring has been run on the passenger side of the jeep.





With all these items removed or loosened you can carefully fish out this big plastic tray.  This will be cut later to preserve parts of it while adapting to the Rugged Ridge tray.


Once the tray is removed mark out the line as described in the instructions to cut on, you can see here I marked along a structural rib, that I preserved to act as a natural transition. I made the cut with a hacksaw as this tray is incredibly easy to cut. I did have to remove the blade to complete one small section.  After cutting I used a small die grinder to just clean up the edge.














At this point the re-assembly can begin! First install the battery tray, and the plastic piece that was removed, then add the second piece of the battery tray layering it over the plastic and starting the 3 bolts from within the battery tray.  Then place the TIPM mount back in place and secure all the bolts.  I carefully lightly tightened the bolts to make sure everything fit nicely without stress before doing a final torque.





Here is a picture of the tray installed and a single battery test fit.  I did have to omit the use of the washers on the 3 bolts attaching the 2 part of the tray together as there otherwise was not enough clearance for the battery to sit fully in the tray.















Next up was dealing with wiring, notice in my starting pictures just how many wires were running up the passenger side of the Jeep, these were from the winch, the LED lights, and rock lights, as well as the wiring harness for the ARB bumper.  The LEDs and the rock lights had relays at the firewall by the battery.  Also connected to the battery was the wiring harness from the ARB compressor. Finally there was the old subwoofer wiring that I have been re-using for my power to the rear of the Jeep.

While I would argue the wiring was all done fairly well in terms of reliability and quality, it wasn't very pretty.  Earlier in the spring I had bought a fuse/relay block and had my dad fabricate an aluminum mount for it. I'll take the opportunity to clean up some of this wiring over to that however the writeup will be separate from this.

 What I did do right now however was to shorten the stock ARB harness as I think I was running it stock length with a couple feet of excess wire tucked away.  I also replaced the ends on some power, and ground terminals to uninsulated connectors with shrink tube, rather then the red/blue/yellow ends that are typical with hardware store wiring supplies.  I think that the heat shrink tubing looks a lot more professional, as well as I used the double walled adhesive lined stuff too so should be more corrosion resistant.  I opted for this project too to replace my cheap pair of crimpers with some better ratcheting ones.

Next up it was time to mount the BCDC charger. I was originally going to build a mount on, or around, the batteries however the area is too cluttered with wiring.  I instead went with the easiest solution which was to mount it to the flattest part of the airbox.  For this I marked out the 4 holes of the charger and drilled the airbox, I then ran some stainless bolts up from inside the airbox, and threaded on some nuts with red Loctite from the top.  I did this as it would make it easy to remove the charger if needed, as well as I didn't want anything that could fall into the clean side of the airbox and risk it going into the engine. I then used some fuel line to space the charger off the airbox.  I did this since the surface isn't flat and also to provide airflow underneath.

The charger has a few small gauge wires that won't be needed for my application, at least right away so I capped them off.

I don't have any pictures of it, but the next step was to extend the 8 gauge wiring of the charger to the batteries and to the ground.  Speaking of the ground there is a conveniently located ground on the firewall where the ground strap is placed with a long stud.  I used this to ground the secondary battery as well as the charger. REDARC also recommends the use of MIDI style fuses, I ordered a few 40amp ones as they seemed hard to come by in town.  The holders in town are also quite expensive, so I ordered a few online.  Since I was anxious to have this setup I just bolted the terminals direct to the fuses and shrink wrapped the whole thing.

After the initial install of the tray I was worried that the heat from the manifold could end up being a problem, or at least wouldn't be ideal for the battery.  I ended up ordering some aluminized adhesive heat shield.  I pulled the tray back out and I stuck some on the tray where it sits over the exhaust manifold and cut out the slots in the bottom of the tray.  Also not pictured but I took and added some foam tape to the bottom of the trays so the batteries didn't scratch through the finish.  Finally I also took some fuel line an placed it down the centre rib of the tray to protect it from being damaged when installing the batteries.  These measures were made to try help prevent rust.
Lastly its just a matter of getting both batteries in position bolting them in as well as reconnecting the wires as cleanly as possible (I probably still have some room for improvement for another day).

Here is a picture of the charger powered on the first time running the Jeep after the install. Note the LED on the far right is a representation of the status of the charge, one of the small gauge wires can be used to bring this into the cab to keep tabs on how things are charging.









 Before and After