Long Term Review: National Luna Weekender Fridge

Its interesting that how a bad news story carries further than the good news, or is it that we’re more likely to broadcast our whinging or drama then we are to tout our successes or good fortune? When it comes to making an informed decision about a purchase, it’s difficult to filter out the informative from the overload of information afforded to us in the online age.

We had a recent discussion about what fridge we would buy for the LandCruiser. As divisive as tyre brands or vehicle manufacturer, its guaranteed to create a debate. Full of anecdotal castings of both long lived relics and expensive failures.

Our first fridge was a Waeco 35litre. Once we worked out how it worked, it served us pretty well. Anything on the bottom, would be frosty or even nearly frozen. Anything on top; chilled but not cold. Its let down was its lid, unsealed with a loose latch. But we liked the simplicity of the slider for temperature regulation. We simply out grew it. We used it in conjunction with a 50Litre icebox but it was high maintenance for us to source ice, dealing with the ice melt and accompanying sogginess. A casual picnic or camping trip using it for drinks maybe, it functions really well.

We needed more capacity for fresh vegetables and meat and importantly cheese, not necessarily just drinks so we started researching. The challenge is sorting through the overwhelming good and bad you can read about the big players like Engel and Waeco. Its easy enough to go with the loudest and repeated opinions but there was some resounding aspects of the good and the bad news stories that weren’t convincing us either way. For every hero story of twenty year old Engels on the back of Utes, was a dozen happy new Waeco owners.

This isn’t about those however, and is about the fridge we actually chose. Made in South Africa, used for medicine transportation and built specifically for running efficiently in high temperatures, and corrugations. At what temperature you’ve set, with 12 degrees lower for the freezer. Opposite Lock sourced us with the aluminium version, a 50Litre twin compartment fridge and freezer. The aluminium was a bit lighter in weight at just over 20kg and around $100 cheaper.

Less bling without the stainless steel finish but gave us $100 to purchase the cover. Slotting into the DS40 MSA dropslide, the fridge / freezer struck a serious pose in the back of the LandCruiser. Less rounded corners, metal latches and a lid that could be changed to open at any orientation you preferred. Although a tall fridge it has a small footprint at 506 x 710 x 385mm (HxWxD). Straight away we had more fridge capacity AND around 10litres of rock solid freezer. We laughed about ice-creams in the Simpson desert.

In reality, our longer trips were remiss of any serious dessert collection but the 10litres does accommodate a cold pack for our first aid kit, frozen vacuum bags of pre cooked casseroles or raw meat and streaky bacon for professional camp breakfasts. Its not huge by any means, but packed well, we can fit a few supplies that last that bit longer than even the best vacuumed sealed meal in the fridge. The huge 40litre fridge compartment that is. It has a square off internal space, filled with two plastic baskets. One on top of the other.

Its tall rather than wide profile lost on standing anything taller than a standing carton of long-life milk given the stacked baskets. If 1.25L soft drink or milk bottles were a priority you can leave the top basket at home, or lay them down. The baskets, allow you to store twice as much without piling things on top of other things so much, like we had to do in the old Waeco.

That would be our first and last gripe about the Luna. The baskets can be difficult to take out. I don’t know how, but they randomly, more often than not – require brute strength to lift the ABS plastic baskets out the last few millimetres, past the lip at the top of the fridge compartment, they just catch like they’re a fraction too big. I have tried putting the baskets in various ways but I haven’t solved it yet. I may eventually massage them with the Dremel.

Nevertheless, its only really caused the most angst when I want to clean the bottom of the fridge because I’d let something leak or spill, creating a stinky puddle at the bottom. Took a few times of using all our paper towel supply mopping up at camp for me to learn that, if its not vacuum sealed or in a container, its no longer welcome in our Luna.

We run the fridge all the time, its only been turned off for a significant time once, recently. Used for drinks and festival excess, its been useful for us at home. Part of our research dictated that compressors prefer to run, so we’ve endeavoured to keep it running. It also makes it easier to load with food if its already chilled, no need to stress it out before a weekend away.

After three years of relentless service on the side of dunes or rattling along tracks and Christmas leftovers; we turned it off. We were getting the second fit out at Drifta HQ, which you can read about here. Being December, it was hot and given the plans for the fit out, it needed to be there, but not with the hassle and weight of contents.

As it happened, the weather and a weeks vacation identified its first fault. During subsequent camping trips, it failed to chill much below 5degrees Celsius. And consequently, never cycled off. Something we failed to notice at home, despite my Mum mentioning it. Sorry Mum! When we looked back we could see a subtle downward trend in performance, rather than a dramatic fail like it felt like. Humid at Deua National Park and a lack of decent sun in our shady camp, the fridge ran our battery down rather well. Usually, its very good on power draw. Rated at 31.13 amp/hour 24hr total.

But even a few weeks later, with the sun charging via our solar panels effortlessly, closer now too, as we were up at the Blue Mountains – it couldn’t get below 6 degrees celcius and we were forced to share as much ice-cream and eat as much cheese as we could before it was ruined. Tough weekend.

After that we called National Luna’s distributor Dolium in WA. They referred us to their two Authorised service agents closest to us. One, was away on holidays despite answering our call and sharing his opinion of a potential gas leak. We then called Alternative Refrigeration near Blacktown. He concurred with this and we shortly took the fridge over for a proper examination.

He used a gas detector to give a rudimentary test inside the fridge compartment, pinging away – it didn’t look good. We had read online, the night before, that there was trend of similar aged 90litre Luna’s succumbing to internal gas leaks in Conqueror trailers.

Cue the melancholy.

Depending on where the leak was, would determine the prognosis, repairable or replaceable. Warranty, which had literally expired a month earlier might be honoured on a case-by-case basis. Internal leak in the walls can not be repaired so this was the worst case scenario. However, National Luna are incredibly thorough in their investigations so we would all learn its fate soon enough.

What disappointed us the most was; If we have to replace our fridge now, we cant option the aluminium version and would be potentially up for the cost (around $1800) given the warranty was past its 3years. In typical worst-case-scenario drama, the discussion about fridge choices commenced.

At the end of an almost two week wait, we had two lots of fantastic news. Firstly, the leak was both repairable and ridiculously small, located at the dryer filter, repaired and the filter replaced, as it was also blocked. The heat of summer and being shutdown the gas pressure had increased and so had the leak, enough to make a dint in our ice-cream. Essentially being turned off had fast tracked its decline in performance for us to really notice, perhaps a bonus as, being so close to its warranty – National Luna were happy to cover the costs. If ours was part of the faulty production era of 2014, they didn’t disclose, but it proved not to be internal, so maybe not.

We now have our Luna, chilling our drinks at home, not that you would know it. It’s cycling off as it should now. Set to +1 but allowed to run to +4degrees celcius before cycling on. The freezer, freezing at consistently 12 degrees less than the fridge. You can actually run this as a 40litre freezer, creating a deep freeze in the 10L compartment, for serious ice-cream transport.

Also, ours won’t be wearing its travel patched cover any longer, our friendly fridge mechanic said they cause condensation build up (we can confirm, we’ve noticed condensation on the lid sometimes) and this moisture can make its way into the motor, causing corrosion. I will happily tolerate some bumps or transit scratches if it adds to the longevity of the fridge.

We asked about running the fridge constantly and the mechanic did confirm; constant is the best, but if you have to shut it down, know that at three months of not running, all of the oil will have drained and once started you will induce significant amount of compressor wear and tear.

Interestingly, his workshop was full of all fridge brands, and lots of them. His only real point of difference on that, was the cost of parts and how that differed between brands.  It seemed that they’re all just as likely to need his expertise.

We are very happy to have our fridge back, we have loved its performance and consistency over the last few years and the places that its capacity has allowed us to get to.

Its actually a bit difficult to say much more about its brilliance over the last few years. It’s minute power draw, happily churning efficiently away while we rock and roll over bush tracks, guaranteeing cold, fresh vegetables at camp, wherever that has been. A small issue that National Luna repaired and covered outside of its Warranty, needless to say we’re happy with our Weekender and the after purchase support.

Huge thanks to Alternative Gas Refrigeration for both their very informative service and advice, on top of servicing our beloved Luna.

If you’re after your own National Luna, both Dolium and RooSystems are the Australian sources nowadays.

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