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Long-term Test: Waeco CFX-65

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The Waeco CFX-65 fridge-freezer we have been using since early 2013 has now been rebranded a Dometic, in line with the Swedish company’s brand-consolidation exercise. It was always built by them, so this is just a name-change for this fridge which needs no introduction as the unsung hero of all our local trips. Whether it’s working at max capacity in 40 degree heat or sitting turned on in an office for months at a time, the old beast has its work cut out. And it hasn’t missed a beat.

As Grant Spolander put it in his 2013 review of this very same fridge: “There’s more to a fridge than just degrees, amps and insulation”. He’s right. A fridge must also be well laid out, easy to operate, have a large interior, a small exterior, and be tough as hell.

In many respects, the Waeco (Dometic) has succeeded beyond expectation, most especially when it comes to toughness. Unlike many fridges with stylish and shiny metal exteriors, the CFX-65 features a tough, thick, textured plastic shell – negating the need for a cover. While this may not look wonderful in photographs, it has stood the test of time, even though it’s never been permanently mounted in the safety of a fridge slide. A few scuffs and scrapes are evident on the outside, but there are no dents or cracks, despite its being knocked around in the back of an uncovered bakkie on many occasions.

The compartments are split into three sections, with two baskets and a removable divider. The main compartment also has a drain plug and rounded edges for easy cleaning. Only the freezer compartment has visible cooling elements, but with the dividers in place, even when the freezer is below -10, your milk and beers shouldn’t go solid in the second compartment. The third, smallest compartment for butter, eggs or fruit is positioned above the compressor itself. The two wire baskets for the primary compartments have taken some strain from repeated use; they’re slightly bent, no more.

Fridge ergonomics are often overlooked, but are high on the list of important features. In this case, the CFX-65 shines − thanks to massive foldable grab handles (which make handy tie-down points), and controls that are mounted on the top leading edge, which means that you can change settings and check temperatures even when your stuff is packed up around the fridge. And the fridge’s lid is reversible, making it easy to pack the way you want to. Another simple but logical design-feature is that breathing vents for the compressor are located on the same side as the control panel − which makes sense, as you’re unlikely to pack around the control panel and limit access as well as air flow.

The performance of this fridge has been possibly its most impressive aspect. Although I’m no fan of the fact that only the freezer section of the inner case has cooling elements and that the removable two-part divider is just 4cm wide, in practice, its ability to freeze one section while the rest of the fridge stays slightly warmer, or to chill the entire interior to a set temperature by removing the dividing panel, gives one the best of both worlds. In a typical field test, we found the Waeco took just over an hour to get from 17 degrees ambient to zero – enough to keep frozen stuff frozen. It then took another two hours and 15 minutes to pull down to minus 17 degrees. Not bad at all.

The power draw of the CFX is rated at 1.9Ah/h on 12V at -15° at 32° ambient. An added feature is the battery-protection meter which can be set to three levels: high, medium or low − at 11.8, 11.2 or 10.1 volts respectively.

Our trusty Waeco has been great to us, and its retirement is nowhere in sight, yet the company that built the CFX has already developed a replacement. The Dometic CFX-65DZ offers a very similar design to our Waeco, but adds features such as Bluetooth connectivity to your smartphone for temperature control and battery monitoring, more soft-touch material in the shell, and stronger hinges and handles. The new model seems to represent an improvement in every way. It’s certainly on our test list.

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