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There is no appliance which contributes to the enjoyment of a trip more than the RV fridge. I had an opportunity to find this out on a recent trip when ours stopped working. Having done some research on maintenance and troubleshooting, I'd like to pass on the information I found to you.
Here's what you'll find in this concise guide -
- Routine RV Refrigerator Maintenance
- Simple Repairs
- Troubleshooting for common problems
- Handy Manuals to Check Out Online
Find below some routine maintenance you can do yourself without having to pay someone else and in our final section, you'll see common troubleshooting questions and answers.
Routine Maintenance of an RV Refrigerator
Taking good care of your RV fridge means you should keep things in order and clean. Life on the road isn't easy for a fridge, so you should also try to make it easier on the unit in the following ways -
- New RV or new fridge? Check to make sure your refrigerator is properly installed by referring to the owner's manual. If you don't have an owner's manual, check to see if a copy of the owner's manual has been uploaded online.
- Routinely inspect your fridge after each drive. Make sure everything is still properly connected as it should be. Check to make sure that wires and connections are tight.
- Keep the refrigerator's exhaust free of debris. That outlet is usually on the roof of your RV, so make sure it's free of leaves etc.
- Park your RV with the refrigerator side in the shade, if possible. This will promote efficiency in keeping the fridge cooler.
- Begin cooling your RV refrigerator prior to leaving for a trip or placing any food in it.
- Cool your food in the refrigerator in the house before placing it in the RV refrigerator. This will prevent your smaller RV fridge from working as hard and your food will be cooler.
- Spare your RV freezer from working as hard by purchasing ice rather than making the ice in the RV fridge.
- Resist the urge to overfill your propane tanks. This may cause damage to the diaphragm.
- Arrange food items in the RV refrigerator to allow for air circulation. Some folks purchase a small fan to place in the RV refrigerator to improve circulation. Read more: How to properly pack your RV fridge.
- Don't allow ice to build on the fins of the evaporator. If necessary, defrost with a warm pan of water. The sooner you address this issue, the better.
- Wipe moisture off of containers before placing them in the RV refrigerator to reduce the risk of frost buildup.
- Keep the door of the refrigerator shut as much as possible.
- Make sure the interior light is shutting off properly when the door is closed. Gently press back the edge of the gasket with a credit card when the door is closed to be sure that the inside of the fridge is dark.
- Remove any carbon build-up from the burner assembly. Also, check the thermocouple.
Checking and Cleaning the Gasket
Be sure that the gaskets are sealing well on the doors. One of the areas to prevent repairs in the future and lower electric bills is to keep the gaskets of the doors clean. If food spills onto the gasket, clean it with soap and water before it can become sticky.
Mold needs to be addressed by regular cleaning also. Due to the difference in temperature in and out of the refrigerator, mold or mildew is likely to grow in the gaskets. Use baking soda and water or undiluted hydrogen peroxide to clean the gasket. Bleach is effective but may also dry out the gaskets, causing damage.
Tip: To check that the gaskets seal well on your RV refrigerator, place a dollar bill between the gaskets and attempt to slide the bill. If the bill doesn't slide, you likely have a good seal. Some folks use a credit card instead of a dollar bill for this test.
If cold air is escaping from your refrigerator, order a new door gasket from the manufacturer. Remove the old gasket with a putty knife and apply the new one. You should see a difference in the internal temperature.
Cleaning the Burner Assembly
If you have an absorption refrigerator, as most RV refrigerators are, complete these next steps each year:
- Remove and clean the propane jet thoroughly as it takes only a speck of dirt to interfere with operation.
- Take off the burner tube for cleaning.
- Clean the ignitor.
- If the thermocouple is separate, remove and clean it also.
Not sure what type of fridge you have? Check out this post -
The RV Fridge Troubleshooting FAQ
We've put together this list of frequently asked questions regarding malfunctions in the RV's fridge.
Where can I find one-on-one help with my Dometic refrigerator?
If you're having problems troubleshooting your Dometic fridge, go to this site here for a live chat with a mechanic.
If you need assistance with a Norcold refrigerator, click here for a website with helpful information, including a phone number to call and an email to contact about your issue.
What Can I Do to Keep My RV Refrigerator Cool While Driving?
We have an article that addresses that issue exactly! Take a look here to find some solutions:
If these suggestions don't solve the problem, check for a good seal in the back. If you find condensation, the cooling unit may need to be replaced.
What does it mean when the red light comes on the backboard of my Norcold Refrigerator?
The high-temperature limit switch has been tripped. It is best to let a technician check things over to avoid a fire hazard.
How Can I Avoid Mildew in My Refrigerator When the RV Is Not in Use?
Whenever the RV is not in use, leave it hooked up to electric. Keeping the refrigerator running during these periods of non-use should prevent mildew. Otherwise, keep the door open and the RV's interior well-aired and dry. If needs be, use a dehumidifier to keep mildew at bay. Here are some recommendations regarding RV dehumidifiers.
What Could Cause My Dometic Refrigerator to be Less Cool Than It Should be?
If your refrigerator/freezer is not cooling as it should check the setting of the thermostat. It may simply need to be adjusted. Any problems with leveling, heat, or ventilation could cause your refrigerator to be less cool. Check these three issues before looking into repairs.
How Should I Check the Switch for the Electrical System?
By checking for continuity. If there is a lack of continuity, this would indicate a problem. To see how to check for continuity, click here. Scroll down to section 66 to address this issue.
What if there is ammonia leaking?
Chances are that your RV fridge uses absorption refrigeration, which uses hydrogen gas, liquefied ammonia, sodium chromate, and water to remove heat. Ammonia has a strong characteristic odor that you can start smelling if the refrigerator starts leaking out. When this happens, you will need a replacement or a professional replacement. Contact your RV dealer to determine the most viable option.
It's possible you'll need a new refrigerator. If you're more comfortable with having a mechanic look at it before making that decision, by all means, do so.
Other weird smells? Maybe your food is going off?
If you suspect that, you may need to try a different operating mode. If the problem isn’t with the ammonia leaking out (meaning there is no odor), chances are that you can troubleshoot other problems. Use a different operating mode to see if the cooling unit is in working order. For example, if the fridge works on electric but not on LP gas, or vice versa, it proves that the cooling unit is working.
Using a Multimeter
This one requires you to get up close and personal with your refrigerator. Use a multimeter to verify the refrigerator’s full operational capacity. The RV absorption refrigerator will need 12 volts DC, 120 Volts AC to work. It will also need a source of LP gas, which is the default choice of heating for the cooling coils. The 120 volts is an alternate source typically used for shore power in a campground.
What if My Refrigerator Is Not Cool Enough, Even Though It Cycles On and Off?
If the temperature is not cool enough while it is cycling on/off, you may have a problem with the thermostat/thermistor
If your refrigerator is working on electric but not on propane, make sure your flame is high enough before investing in costly repairs.
How Do I Know if the Problem Is the Propane or the Electric System?
Try the refrigerator on both systems, checking the temperatures of both the freezer and refrigerator. If they operate the same on both systems, your problem lies elsewhere. For an accurate reading, get a proper thermometer like this one -
If there is a marked difference in temperature between the two, that's the first place to look for the problem.
If the Fridge Works on LP Gas, but Not Electric
First, inspect the fuses at the panel and the circuit breakers, and then check the voltage at back outlet. If you don’t have a multimeter, you can make do with a blow-dryer by directly plugging it in to see if voltage is present. Next, you have to check 12 volts DC at the back of the refrigerator. This will require you to consult the manufacturer’s instruction manual, but if the information isn’t there, check with the manufacturer’s website.
How to Check the Circuit Breaker
To check the circuit breaker, you will need a multimeter. Make sure to perform this operation in dry conditions, using rubber gloves and soled shoes. 120 Volt AC can harm. If you’re not confident with this skill, have this part done by a professional instead.
The heating element is powered by wires originating from the metal enclosure below the fridge, you can access this easily. While the heating element is powered up and connected, test the voltage. If you detect voltage in one wire but not the other, the heating element may have burned out. If there is no voltage at all, the problem could be with the circuit board in the refrigerator.
Many times it is better to consult a professional if you can’t detect anything minor. Going through a little troubleshooting will help you make a more informed decision about future repairs.
Read more: Your RV's circuit breaker panel
If you're in need of the Dometic Refrigerator Manual, click here.
The Dometic Manual Refrigerator Diagnostic Service Manual is helpful with easy to follow flow charts. Be sure to leave the electrical jobs to the professionals, however.
We hope you found this guide helpful. If you have more tips and tricks on dealing with RV fridges, we'd love to hear them! Just leave a comment below to share them with us and our readers.
Trying to decide on which fridge to get for your RV? Read our post here about residential refrigerators vs. RV refrigerators. It will help you with the basics of operation and cost of either type of refrigerator. And if you need an auxiliary unit as well, we've got you covered with this guide: 12 Best Mini Camper Fridges For Your RV. And finally, if want to learn even more about caring for your rig, check out these 49 RV maintenance tips too.