I’m looking to buy a small portable refrigerator to take with me on camping trips, and I’ve found one that is designed to plug into automotive power systems and can (presumably) handle the vibrations and such of road travel.

My question is, if the worst-case failure scenario happens and all the refrigerant vents out, will it pose a danger to anyone inside the vehicle? Note that I’m talking about a minivan here, not a large RV with a large volume of air inside.

  • Welcome to Motor Vehicle Maintenance & Repair! It really depends on the refrigeration type. I'd bet the refrigeration unit you're looking at doesn't use gas at all, but rather heat transfer via a Peltier Module of some type. This is the common way for coolers to work which plugs into the vehicles electrical system. No gas there to leak out, so no chance of toxicity. Sep 8, 2020 at 22:35
  • It says it uses a compressor and not a TEC. I specifically avoided Peltier coolers because they’re generally garbage in my experience.
    – Wes Sayeed
    Sep 8, 2020 at 22:45
  • 1
    Since it's a compressor, what type of refrigerant does it use? Sep 8, 2020 at 23:15
  • 134a is toxic to humans, Europe banned its use.
    – Moab
    Sep 8, 2020 at 23:47
  • @Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2; I don’t know. The product page doesn’t say.
    – Wes Sayeed
    Sep 8, 2020 at 23:48

1 Answer 1


Most refrigerants, especially (chloro)fluorocarbons, are not toxic per se. @Moab: R-134a also is not toxic, but it is banned since it's a strong greenhouse gas.

Propane makes a not so bad refrigerant and is not toxic. But it burns good.

CO2 is not a good refrigerant, but it does not burn and is not such a strong greenhouse gas. Since car ACs always leak a litte, and efficiency is not that important, CO2 is an alternative to other refrigerants in cars, only. CO2 is not a poison, but the human body needs almost CO2-free air to get rid of its own CO2, which is why a few percent CO2 in air are toxic.

In big, industrial freezing applicances, ammonia is sometimes used. This is toxic.

Finally, one hazard of any non-toxic gas is suffogation when it displaces most of the air in small rooms.
But a small refrigerator does not contain that much refrigerant. A deodorant spray contains more gas (btw. propane/butane).

  • Yes they are Toxic>>>>>ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK231519
    – Moab
    Sep 9, 2020 at 13:50
  • @Moab - You should probably go back and read your source. r134a is slightly toxic. It states, "HFC-134a has very low acute toxicity. Lethal concentrations of HFC-134a range from 567,000 to 750,000 ppm in rats." The stuff clears fast out of the system. Considering most cars are nothing but a sieve when it comes to being sealed, you'd have to sit in a car exposed to huge amounts of continuous feed of the stuff for hours on end for it to cause you any issue. Sep 9, 2020 at 14:23
  • Either its toxic or its not.
    – Moab
    Sep 9, 2020 at 14:27
  • 3
    @Moab Nothing in biology is that simple. Even water is toxic if you drink too much of it. Drinking too little is also fatal, of course.
    – alephzero
    Sep 9, 2020 at 14:55

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