When it comes to the travel refrigerator/freezer arena finding solutions on a tight budget can be tricky. Options on the low end are often hard to find, and those that are out there can have some glaring issues with construction or power consumption.
Review: Costway 54
If you’re looking for a portable powered cooling unit for either off-road or off-grid but don’t have a thousand dollars to blow, the Costway 54 might be what you want… but whether or not it’s what you need is a whole other story. Read on for our detailed review.
Energy Consumption & Temperature Control
Often one of the most important features in a powered travel freezer is its energy draw, and that is one of the areas where the Costway truly shines – Coming in at just shy of 50 watts running in normal conditions the Costway is one of the most energy efficient refrigeration units you can purchase, and definitely the most efficient in its price range. And if you still want more energy savings the Costway comes with a low-powered “Eco” mode, reducing the watt usage by over a full 10 watts down to 39 – Definitely a nice feature, and one that only the Whynter FM-45G shares in common.
Temperature control is pretty decent, with a rated temp of -4°F; fair compared to its competition. We did find variances of up to 4°F in the interior, though, both on the positive and negative side; this isn’t terrible, really, but a bit more precision would have been appreciated. Note that the unit does take an exceedingly long time to come to temp – We waited over nine hours to see the Costway reach its minimum rated temperature, and compared to other units on the market that feels very, very long.
Portability & Storage
We’re used to most “small sized” compressor models being hefty but were surprised by the Costway’s light profile – Not even 35 lbs in weight makes this one of the lightest travel freezer/refrigerators in its size range, and truly adds to the portability of the unit. The cords themselves are also on the longer side, particularly when using the DC cord connected to the AC cord & adaptor, meaning finding a new spot doesn’t always mean finding a new plug. That said we weren’t really big fans of the AC adapter overall, for reasons you can read about below.
Storage-wise the Costway has an interior of 54 quarts, and without the included removable baskets you can expect to fit about 12 six packs worth of cans on the inside. With the removable baskets, though, this number is reduced significantly – The baskets themselves are somewhat awkwardly shaped and constructed, leaving large gaps where the cans won’t fit snugly into the unit. You can always use the freezer without them but it does make things a little less convenient overall.
Construction & Features
Here’s where things really start to go downhill. Even with it’s lower price point the Costway just feels cheap – The plastics feel hollow and easy to crack, and after several days of testing we did some research to find numerous complaints from dissatisfied customers about the overall durability on the Costway 54. Broken plastic, hinges and handles were all very commonplace issues, and the unit’s incredibly short warranty of 90 days almost seems to say that the manufacturer knows just how shoddy the construction work on this freezer is. The lid is also awkwardly placed and somewhat tricky to lift up and down – Not something you want to waste time fiddling with on a box that’s primary function is to stay closed as much as possible.
All of these issues with the outside also lead to problems with insulation – Surprising, given the unit’s overall energy efficiency, but very noticeable in case of a power outage or unit failure. Expect your freezer to be well beyond the safe recommended temperature of 40°F if it suddenly dies; we found our unit went from the mid-30s to mid-60s in just over an hour of being unplugged. If this happens and you aren’t around to find out about it ASAP expect your food to be ruined.
We also weren’t really blown away by the plugs; as mentioned above the AC adapter felt flimsy and unreliable, and on more than one occasion we had to jiggle it until it worked – Not something any of us cared for doing when it came to a cheap power cable, and definitely not something anyone wants to repeat in damp conditions of any sort. The DC cord is serviceable, if nothing special, and plugs in well enough, but getting a complete replacement set for your cables might be an attractive option.
The control panel is functional if not basic, with buttons for power & temp and a simple LED display monitoring the internal temperature. Again, though, this feels somewhat cheap, with a give to the plastic around the buttons we didn’t care for. If you’re still considering picking the Costway 54 up at this point we highly recommend treating it with a gentle touch. At the very least the interior comes with a small light – A mercy some other larger options we’ve reviewed couldn’t even muster up.
Also, expect this unit to be loud – Louder than others we’ve tested around the same size and capacity. Compressor-based motors are always going to have a noisier profile than their thermoelectric cousins but for some reason the Costway just seems that extra bit louder than most. Given the various issues this model has we wouldn’t be surprised if it was as much the poor construction & housing responsible for the noise as was the engine itself.
Of course, here comes the great equalizer – The price point. Costway’s competition in this market really boils down to the Whynter FM-45G, and if price is the only comparison point then the Costway wins if just by a nose. Only around a few small bills separates the Costway’s price point from the Whynter’s recommended retail value. The question is, is saving that potential headaches down the line? Our answer is…
Other 12V Refrigerator Models we Recommend
Check out this guide to read our roundup on the best 12 volt refrigerators that money can buy. Costaway might not have topped our pack, but there were plenty of options that pulled out ahead.
No. Don’t buy this. Being so blunt may not always be polite but we see no need to beat around the bush here – There is literally no reason to purchase this portable freezer when other, much more reliable and durable products exist for a tiny pittance more money. Any savings you think you might get from the (admittedly impressive and rather surprising) energy usage will disappear as soon as this unit breaks, fails or otherwise falls apart. And if you think you don’t have the extra $30 to spend on a superior product like the Whynter? Put your purchase to the side and just wait until you do. It’s worth it, several times over.