After 5+ years of service and while still working perfectly I decided that our ARB Refrigerator was not completely meeting our needs. Not because of anything it was doing wrong but mostly because I wanted to carry more food with us and have a separate freezer section for longer-term storage…especially after stocking up at a Costco with their Costco-sized packaging.
I started my research by going through a dated list of options on the Expedition Portal website. Since then they have done a couple more in-depth field tests such as this one. In 2015 when I originally bought the ARB I chose it both for it’s reviews, price point and that it came from a trusted brand. Once an upgrade was wanted I did a deeper dive and seriously considered such well regarded high-end options such as Engel or National Luna but the $1200+ dollar prices were too much for me to handle. When I mentioned this conundrum to a friend in Portland (OR) she mentioned the brand Iceco (their website is crap and seemingly hosted somewhere they have a pronounced shortage of bandwidth a.k.a. it rarely loads) and that she had a friend who worked there and that they had a “friends & family” discount which peaked my curiosity.
I looked through their online catalog of 12 volt options and saw that they used the same brand of compressors (Danfoss – now know as Secop) as the ARB and many other higher-end offerings. I knew I was going to mount the new refrigerator in the same spot as my ARB (behind the passenger seat on the platform where the back row of jumpseats once was) and that I had limited space and so carefully looked at the outside dimensions of several Iceco options. I wanted to maximize the space I had available in the Tacoma’s “Extra Cab” area between the passenger side wall and the 22 gallon water tank I have behind the driver’s seat and the back wall of the cab and the rear of the passenger/dog seat. Iceco’s offerings have changed since I bought my mine but, if I remember correctly, their VL60 didn’t use as much of the space as I had available and the largest dual-zone offering was plainly too big to fit.
I chose the VL65. Its outside measurements looked like it would snugly fit the side-to-side space available but might possibly be just a bit too large front-to-back and encroach on the rear of the passenger seat. I had already been thinking about removing that seat and building a platform for Willow so she could have a dog bed’s worth of space and padding to enjoy as opposed to merely the size of the stock Tacoma’s passenger seat cushion and this seemed like a good excuse to finally make that change. Plus, with more space beneath the platform than the seat with its base and frame I could store more dog supplies out of the way.
When the refrigerator arrived I unboxed it next to the Tacoma just to see how big it actually was and if I would even be able to get it into the Tacoma’s cab.
I found out that even with the passenger seat slid all the way up and the back tilted all the way forward I could not maneuver the Iceco into the Tacoma. That made the decision to perform the passenger seat delete an easy one. Once it was out of the way I could fit the Iceco in its allocated spot with ease and my measurements had been accurate (it had barely a couple of inches of space between its side and the water tank) so my goal of using that space for this purpose as efficiently as possible was met. With the seat gone I also gained ~6 inches of front-to-back space which made all the difference when “crafting” (a.k.a. slapping together with materials on hand) a platform for the dog bed. Measurements were taken and cuts to plywood and 2x4s were made. Hinges were screwed into place. Padding from an old yoga mat was cut to fit the platform as well as a couple of pieces for the tops of the Iceco’s individual doors so that any gear I put there wouldn’t easily slide off and onto Willow’s head and for those occasions when Willow or another dog might need to be up there and have something for their claws to grab onto and hold tight. It is not pretty or elegant but it works well and the change from curled up on a seat to sprawled out far more comfortably on her dog bed made Willow a happy girl. Gia has never known anything other than this setup so she’s just plain spoiled.
When I originally removed the rear seat and its back padding at the time I installed the old ARB back there I kept the bolts in their designated holes, both so I wouldn’t misplace them and so there were no openings into the cab from below the truck for water, dirt, critters and other undesirables to have easy access. Like its predecessor, the Iceco is strapped into place with two ratchet straps per handle and is solidly mounted. I eventually added a Marine Storage Net across the rear of the cab to completely solve the issue of any gear sliding off the top of the Iceco and onto the dog.
The net is attached on the driver’s side to the rear seat belt and on the passenger side to the front seat belt. You can see the net and the clips I zip-tied to the passenger seat belt that the corner loops on the netting attach to. Since the netting has elastic properties it spans the width of the cabin right at the level of the top of the Iceco and holds any gear up there snugly in place.
The VL65 itself totally meets my needs. I set the left zone at 3C/37F as my refrigerator and the right to -18C/0F as my freezer. It is a great convenience to divide those Costco 2-packs of ravioli, flautas, or any other multi-pack of perishables and put one in the fridge side and one in the freezer side for later use. The right compartment does have a smaller area due to where the compressor and control panel are placed but that works out fine for the amount and types of food and beverages I bring with us.
I do notice that the freezer’s electrical draw is the main user of my Battleborn 12V LiFePO4 100Ah auxiliary battery’s power. On longer adventures when the freezer contents have eventually been transferred over I can turn it off completely or set it to the same temperature as the left side and essentially double my refrigerator size. Occasionally, in an environment without great solar power input I will turn the freezer temp up a few degrees (-13C or so) which makes a noticeable improvement in the secondary battery’s usable charge life as well.
While I never had any problems with my ARB refrigerator this new environment with more space and the option of two, separate temperature zones lets us stay out on longer adventures without coming back into a concrete jungle for supplies. Its power draw when used solely as a refrigerator is on par with the ARB. When the freezer functionality is used, which frankly is most of the time, it does draw more power but that is to be expected and the increased versatility is worth it. It starts to need the freezer side defrosted about once a month but I can let that slide up to two months and that generally coincides with when it gets emptied anyway. All a defrost takes then is to turn off that side, prop open its door and leave a small towel on its floor to absorb the melt water. Even when a compartment is turned off the LED light still comes on when the top is open so that is a minor annoyance. When defrosting I hold the door open with one of those Chuckit! Ultra Balls we always have on hand which does a great job of keeping the little plunger for the LED light pushed down and the door propped up.
The VL65 starts up and runs quietly and doesn’t vibrate enough to bother me, even when sleeping, and it is mounted all of three feet from my head. I have it hard-wired into my auxiliary battery but when I am someplace with “shore power” I use its AC cord and it automatically switches over and runs fine and saves the battery from that extra drain. In 3 years of diverse types of offroad and overlanding I have not once had either door latch pop open or had any problems with the dual hinges on the rear of each door. I didn’t get the optional insulated cover for it so it has a few marks and smudges on its front face near the logo but that doesn’t effect its function and, of course, the Tacoma and everything in it is used, a lot, and not a mere “mall crawler.”
When writing this review in December 2023 I see that the listed price is about the same as what I paid for my ARB back in 2015. When I bought the Iceco in December 2020 and used the Friends & Family discount it was about the same price as I saw during their Black Friday sale (~$150 less) so if you are in the market and can wait until next year I expect you would get a better price than what is showing up on Amazon right now.
To lessen the sting of this ~$650 purchase I easily sold my ARB to a guy on the TacomaWorld forums for $400. I am still in contact with him and the ARB is still working fine. So for essentially a $250 outlay I got dual temperature zones and 20 additional liters of combined capacity over the ARB. The VL65 has a 5 year warranty (whose terms I know no details about except “5 year warranty on the compressor and 1 year warranty on all other parts“) so I have about 2 more years remaining. From what I have read and experienced so far with my Iceco I expect it to continue working well and meeting my needs for years to come. It is an essentially piece of equipment that makes our adventures far more comfortable and “glamping-like” than old-school camping.