7 Common RV Refrigerator Problems and Issues

7 Common RV Refrigerator Problems and Issues

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Refrigerator is one of the most useful amenities in your RV. Although it’s not a necessity for some, it will help keep your beverages, food, and drinks cold to prevent them from going bad. Therefore, if your fridge has a problem, then it will be inconvenience on your part, especially if you are a new RV owner.

Regardless of the cause of the problem, the perishable foods and drinks will get spoiled if not addressed on time.

Dometic and Narcold are one of the most popular companies that manufacture camper refrigerators. Though RV refrigerators can last over a decade, there is a tendency that your RV fridge will malfunction earlier than later.

Common RV Refrigerator Issues and how to fix them

RV refrigerators are specially made for RV’s and they work on absorption principle unlike compression mechanism used in home refrigerator.

In RV refrigerators, ammonia is heated to make it in liquid form which is then combined with hydrogen resulting in evaporation. This fast evaporation makes the refrigerator colder.

Modern refrigerators used in campers can be 2 way or even 3 way. This means they use multiple power options which can include propane, electricity and even DC battery.

A typical RV refrigerator uses around 600 watts for starting and consumes 180 watts for running. When on propane, a RV refrigerator will consume very little propane. A 12 cubic refrigerator will normally need less than 1.5 lbs of propane for an entire day. You can run it on 12V battery for 4-5 hours as well.

How much power, watts a refrigerator consumes depends on it size. Bigger the size, higher will be the consumption.

Fridges can fail to cool for different reasons but luckily, you can fix them. You won’t need to bring in a professional who can demand a lot of cash as you can try some DIY tips.

Besides, isn’t it incredible to learn how to fix a refrigerator on your own instead of hiring another person to try to fix it when it breaks down?

It is not a daunting task, and this guide will help you troubleshoot and fix common refrigerator issues on your RV.

1. Pilot Light Is Burning out

Camper refrigerators are unlike your typical home fridge; they depend on electricity, propane gas or both when running. Therefore, they have a pilot light or a burner jet, which triggers the device burners; these burners fail may fail to work. The pilot lights might be in good working condition in the morning only to find out later they’re not operational.

Reasons and How to Fix it

The thermocouple is failing- This is one of the major issues which causes the pilot lights to burn out. The thermocouple regulates the amount of gas entering into the fridge’s burners; if it’s damaged then you will need to replace it. But if the spare thermocouple doesn’t sort the problem, then it’s likely another issue.

Too Much Air in the Gas Line- If there is excess air in the gas line, then the pilot line will not turn on or remain on. To fix the problem, you need to power the gas valves of the refrigerator and reset them. Newer refrigerator models enable you to reset it by turning it off, but you might have to reset the old refrigerators manually for older models.

Electrical Issues

If your fridge runs well on propane but not on electricity, then it’s experiencing electrical issues. You can fix the issue using the manufacturer’s manual. Most products have this manual and if it does not come with the fridge, then head to the fridge’s official website. But if you’re not good with electronics, you can hire a professional.

While following the user manual, check the 120-volt AC and monitor the circuit breakers and fuses at the back of the fridge. Avoid touching naked wires and ensure all switches are turned on. Also, carry a multimeter for checking the voltage, current, and resistance. The problem might also be the socket and you should therefore, plug in another electronic device to ascertain it’s not cause of the underlying issue.

If you check the electric circuit and diagnose a problem, it might be the heating element. This element is heated by a 12-volt DC or 120-volt AC. Wear protective gloves before you touch the voltage as it’s quite risky: but it’s also wise to hire an electrician to handle this task.

2. Fridge cannot run on Propane

If your fridge runs well on electricity but cannot run using propane, then it’s a propane issue. To fix the issue, you need to check the device and ensure it has enough fuel.

Additionally, check that the valves are still on and operational. The LP alarms are also important components in the fridge, and some devices don’t work unless you connect them.

The thermocouple detects heat and controls the gas valve in the fridge. Check if it is operating well and if the pilot light doesn’t remain turned on, replace this thermocouple. You will find many tutorials online on replacing the thermocouple.

But if the burner doesn’t light entirely, then check if there are accumulated debris which are stopping or blocking it from turning on.

A vacuum will help you clean the device hassle-free after you remove the metal shielding. Use a wire and insert it into the burner’s orifices to clean it out for maximum efficiency.

3. Fridge not Cooling

This is one of the most common fridge issues, and if the fridge is not working, it could be the way you have parked your motorhome. The RV must be level since the refrigerators inside the RV are not similar to those in your home.

RV fridges use gas absorption instead of compressors for cooling; therefore, it does not create cold air, but rather it absorbs heat using special chemical solutions. For the chemical solutions to travel around the refrigerator, there must be enough gravity. If the fridge is not level, then the coolants won’t travel via the coils, leading to numerous fridge issues.

Though most fridges can work even when the RV is not level, it’s only for a short time of about 15 minutes. If it stays unleveled for over 30 minutes, it will get damaged and experience several issues that could necessitate repair or replacement of the unit. Buy a bubble level and place it in the freezer to help you stabilize the fridge.

4. Refrigerator not working

This problem occurs commonly in fridges which are rarely used, and especially the older fridges. If you fail to use the fridge regularly, then ammonia will leak in form of liquid and drop to the cooling unit.

Once you return the vehicle to normal use and put foods in the refrigerator, the cooling capabilities will be depleted.

Ammonia sediments prevent liquid ammonia from flowing in the unit, making the fridge cool for a little them and then warmer and warmer. It won’t help at all because the food and drinks will go bad.

The solution is to avoid leaving the device inactive for a long time. It’s also best to replace the refrigerator but if you don’t intend to do so, then try troubleshooting it. Unplug it and take it to a spacious place and flip it upside down. This will allow the sediments to travel away from the device.

5. Fridge taking longer to cool

A warm fridge is one of the worst problems in your RV since it makes your perishable food such as dairy products and meat to go stale. Some of the reasons which make the fridge take longer to cool are leaks in the exteriors and unclear gas supply.

Monitor the exterior seal for gaps and check the refrigerator’s airflow for any signs of blockage. Additionally, clean the jet to ensure a cleaner gas supply and replace the thermostat, thermistor, and resistor combination on your fridge.

After making the essential checks, remove the fridge’s contents and leave it cooling in your vehicle for 24 hours before adding other foods. Additionally, you may need a professional to check if there are ammonia leaks in the device. These leaks can occur in the cooling coil, and they lower the efficiency of the device.

6. Leaking of the Fridge Cooling Unit

The fridge has a cooling unit which keeps the foods and drinks cold. This unit uses a combination of water, ammonia, and hydrogen solution for its cooling needs. But at times, it leaks, and two things indicate the unit is leaking first if there is a heavy ammonia odor or a warm boiler but hot absorber.

Additionally, if you check the RV refrigerator’s cooling unit, it will have some yellow residue coatings. Leaking is not a major problem and occurs after the steel tubing deterioration when exposed to cooling solutions for a long.

To fix the issue, you need to find the white 110-volt vires of the heating element. Plug the wires to a 110 VAC element and be careful in these steps. Use a thermometer to check the fridge’s temperature after unplugging the electricity.

The normal temperature is about 43F after being in use for 12 hours. And after being used for a complete day, it should between 20 and 30 F. Though the test may seem a joke, it will help you check for any leaks in your cooling unit.

7. Fridge with Frozen Cooling Unit

Many RV owners will see the frozen cooling unit as a minor problem in the first place. Since the colder, the better. But remember that for the cooling solution to make your food and drinks cold, it should circulate within the device. Therefore, if the solution freezes, you will have a warmer fridge.

The issue normally happens in extreme conditions such as very cold temperatures. For instance, if you leave your motorhome fridge outside overnight, the cooling unit will freeze. To solve the issue, heat the device for some time to allow defrosting. In some hours, the refrigerator will be in working condition.

How to reset the RV refrigerator?

Most times, the problems in your RV fridge can be solved with a simple reset. But for starters, note that switching the fridge off and turning it back ON does not reset the device.

RV Refrigerator reset button is placed at different parts based on the type of fridge. However, they are majorly on the inside of the fridge, and on opening the door, you will spot them. The button helps you troubleshoot the fridge once you face any issues. When you press the button, the fridge will be reset.

How to test an RV refrigerator?

If your refrigerator develops a problem in the middle of your journey. Then you will need to check it. Start with the simple issues and go to the trickier ones; additionally, you may want to analyze the device’s issue.

First, ensure the RV is level since a misaligned one could make the device stop working. It’s a common problem affecting the device, and you need to keep the fridge in a stable environment.

This way, the chances of your fridge getting aligned at an angle will be eliminated. If the vehicle is not even, then the ammonia can collect where it’s not supposed to.

Next, run the fridge through the different operating modes. Most refrigerators with three operating modes allow you to run on DC power. After testing the refrigerator with different power modes, you will easily pinpoint the issue with it.

How to check ammonia level in RV fridge?

Ammonia is an important liquid as it’s used as a coolant in the fridge. At times, the fridge experiences different issues, and you will have to check the coolant level as it might be its source.

The major problem affecting RV fridges is that they’re not level, and so the coolant has challenges spreading around the coils. You can stabilize the fridge, but the problem might be the leaking of the coolant. To check the levels of coolant, follow the steps below:

Check the Ammonia Leaks- The fridge coolant is made of sodium chromite and ammonia. The ammonia detector is commonly used when checking the levels of ammonia. If it’s leaking, the coolant level will be very low.

Check Heat- If the coils are heated in the fridge, the ammonia solution will easily flow through the tubes to cool off the fridge. But if the heat is unequally distributed in the refrigerator, the coolant is insufficient to run adequately through the device.

Repair or Replace?

While you are working on this DIY fixing make sure you know exactly what you are doing. If you feel something isn’t right and you do not know what to do, the best thing to do is to keep it as it is and go for a professional repair help.

That’s the best thing to do rather than making it worse. A repair professional will charge you $50 – $200 based on the kind of repair and will charge extra for all the replacements parts needed.

Its only wise to do such repairs if the cost stays below $200 or so. You can completely get that old one replaced with a new modern one that will cost you anything from $600 to $2000.

Many people replace their RV refrigerator with standard residential refrigerator. Its an easy task as long as you do all the work of getting the old one out, do the power requirements setup and make sure the new one exactly fits in the available space.

Check this complete guide on how to replace camper refrigerator with residential.

Having a refrigerator in an RV that moves, shakes and vibrates; always makes it tough for the refrigerator. Though the refrigerators are made to tolerate all these thigs there will be issues and efficiency will not be as great as you get in a residential refrigerator.

Mold on camper refrigerator

One thing that people also face is mold in their RV refrigerator. This ca happen when your RV is in storage for longer duration or you simply ignore the maintenance and cleaning of the refrigerator. We have faced it a lot of times and thankfully we were able to locate and deal with it on time.

Here is the complete guide on dealing with mold on your camper refrigerator, check it out.

A lot of times you will find that the refrigerator wont stay cold or will take a lot of time to get colder. Another thing is when you are traveling, the refrigerator will be off in case of travel trailers of fifth wheels. This is when you will find it hard to keep it cool.

Here are some easy ways to keep your RV refrigerator colder and make it more efficient in cooling.

  1. Do not open the door too often.
  2. Make sure you pack the refrigerator properly. Do not over pack or even keep big empty spaces.
  3. Use ice packs to keep it cools while traveling.
  4. Refrigerator fan inside the fridge will keep food fresh longer by circulant the air.
  5. Freeze food that can be. This will keep it colder while the refrigerator stays OFF.


The refrigerator is an important device in your motorhome. Food and water are essentials that will keep you running during your various adventures on the road. Today’s campers have incorporated fridges in their cars to enable them to keep foods and drinks fresh for longer. But the fridges don’t run using the same principles as the one you’re keeping at home. RV fridges use ammonia coolants to keep your perishable foods and drinks cold.

Like other devices, it can break from time due to wearing, tearing, misuse, or simply mishaps. It can be a simple breakdown or even leaking of the coolant that can make the device stop working. This guide will help you fix different issues in your fridge and get it to normal working conditions.

G. Yoganand

A RV enthusiast who spends countless hours researching and learning various things related to RV camping. He believes in spending time doing Outdoor activities.
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