RV Fridge Not Cooling Properly? Do This!

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If your RV fridge is receiving power and turns on, but it’s not cooling or staying cold, we can perform a few troubleshooting steps to get your refrigerator blowing cold air again.

Important: Always prioritize safety. Familiarize yourself with your fridge’s user manual to understand its components and how they work. Unplug the unit from the power source if you’re dealing with electrical components. If you’re uncomfortable performing any of these troubleshooting steps, consult a professional technician.

Know Your Fridge Type: Absorption vs. Compressor

The first step in effective troubleshooting is understanding the type of fridge you have, as the type dictates the fridge’s operation and potential issues.

There are two main types of RV fridges you’ll encounter: absorption and compressor fridges.

Absorption Fridges

An absorption fridge operates on a unique principle. It uses a gas flow heat exchange system to extract heat from the interior, cooling the fridge and freezer compartments. This type of fridge is known for its quiet operation and ability to run efficiently on propane, making it an excellent choice for off-grid use or boondocking.

Absorption fridges come in two main types: 2-way and 3-way. A 3-way absorption fridge can run on propane gas, 12V battery power (usually when the RV’s engine and alternator supply power), or 120V AC power (when connected to shore power or running off a generator). On the other hand, a 2-way absorption fridge typically runs on propane or 120V AC power.

Advantages of RV Absorption Fridges

  • Highly efficient in LP mode and can run for extended periods.
  • They are ideal for boondocking, as they don’t require a connection to shore power.
  • Require only minimal 12V DC power from your RV’s battery to operate the circuitry.
  • The heat exchange system operates silently, ensuring a peaceful environment in your RV.

Disadvantages of RV Absorption Fridges

  • For efficient operation and the appliance’s longevity, the fridge must be level, usually within a few degrees front-to-back and side-to-side.
  • Require good ventilation, especially when using propane gas mode, to ensure efficient operation.
  • While they can run on 12V power, they are inefficient in this mode and can quickly drain batteries.
  • The cooling ability of an absorption fridge is impacted by ambient temperatures, meaning they may struggle to maintain a cool temperature in hot weather.

Compressor Fridges

Compressor fridges, also known as two-way refrigerators, work more like your fridge at home. It uses a small compressor unit to cool the refrigerator. The compressor can be powered in two ways: through a 12-volt battery or 110-volt power.

Advantages of Compressor Fridges

  • Cool the fridge more consistently due to their design
  • The RV isn’t required to be level like absorption fridges
  • They offer superior cooling performance, even in high ambient temperatures

Disadvantages of Compressor Fridges

  • The operation of the compressor motor can produce noticeable noise
  • Not as ideal for long boondocking trips unless you have a powerful solar setup

Knowing whether you have an absorption or compressor fridge in your RV is crucial for effective troubleshooting. Each type has its own set of potential issues and considerations, and understanding these can help you maintain your fridge’s efficiency and longevity.

RV Fridge Not Cooling: Troubleshooting Guide

Here are some common problems and solutions to help you troubleshoot your RV fridge not cooling properly.

1. Check Temp Settings

Start with the most obvious – check your refrigerator’s temperature settings. Make sure they are set low enough for the unit to cool properly. The thermostat or control panel should provide the necessary information about the current settings.

Dometic fridge troubleshooting guide
Example troubleshooting guide from a Dometic absorption fridge. Checking the thermostat is the first recommendation if the fridge is not cold.

2. Ambient Temperature

The ambient temperature around your fridge can affect its cooling efficiency. If your RV is parked in full sun or the fridge is next to a hot stove, it can struggle to maintain a cool temperature. This is more common with gas absorption refrigerators than compressor fridges.

3. Blocked Ventilation

Absorption fridges need proper ventilation to reject their own heat. An external fan is often added to help with this.

Also, check the burner tube or flue for any sediment or debris that might need cleaning.

4. Frost-clogged Evaporator Coils

Over time, the evaporator coils in your fridge can become clogged with frost, reducing their efficiency. Regularly defrosting your freezer can prevent this issue.

5. Debris Buildup on Condenser Coils

The condenser coils are where the fridge releases the heat it has absorbed from inside. If these coils are covered in dust or debris, they won’t be able to release heat effectively, and the fridge’s cooling ability can be compromised. Regular cleaning can help maintain their efficiency.

6. Camper Not Level

This is particularly relevant for absorption fridges. If your RV isn’t level, the cooling efficiency of an absorption fridge can be significantly impacted.

7. Allow the Fridge to Cool for 24 Hours

Give your refrigerator time to reach the desired temperature before using it. It can take up to 24 hours for it to cool down fully, especially if it’s full of food.

Tip: This is also a good way to keep your RV fridge cold while driving for a while without having the fridge powered on. Throw in a couple of ice packs to keep it cool even longer!

8. Dirty or Bad Burner

Check the burner on your propane fridge. What you should see is a strong continuous blue flame. If the flame is weak or non-existent, remove and clean the burner or replace it if necessary.

9. Bad Seals

Check the exterior seal for gaps. Clean the gaskets and ensure the fridge is level so the door can shut tight. A faulty door seal can let warm air into the fridge, making it work harder to maintain a cool temperature.

10. Overpacked

An overpacked fridge can reduce air circulation, leading to cooling problems. Plus, a large amount of warm food just added to the refrigerator compartment can drop the internal temperature.

Properly packing your fridge is extremely important for cooling efficiency and to prevent food-borne illness. Check out our step-by-step guide to packing an RV refrigerator for more information.

Norcold compressor fridge troubleshooting guide
Example troubleshooting guide from a Norcold compressor fridge. Making sure that the air circulation in the fridge is not decreased is an important troubleshooting step.

Seek Professional Help

If none of the above fix the issue, it could be a bad thermostat, degraded insulation, or time to replace the fridge. Contact the manufacturer or repair tech for help.

Best Practices for Maintaining Your RV Fridge

Cleaning and maintaining your RV fridge is crucial for its longevity and efficiency. Here are some best practices to keep your refrigerator in top shape.

Warning: Always disconnect the fridge from power before cleaning or servicing.

Avoid Overloading

While it might be tempting to stock up on food for your trip, overloading your fridge can lead to cooling problems. An overpacked fridge can reduce air circulation, which is essential for maintaining a consistent temperature. Ensuring there’s enough space for air to move freely around the items will help make your RV refrigerator colder and reduce the chances of warm air pockets.

Regularly Check Door Seals

The door seals are crucial in keeping the cold air inside the fridge. Regularly inspect them for any signs of wear and tear. Clean the gaskets and ensure the fridge is level so the door can shut tight.

Allow Time for Cooling

It can take up to 24 hours for the fridge to reach the desired temperature. I recommend turning it on the day before you leave for your trip to allow it to cool down properly before using it.

Monitor Frost Levels

Excessive frost build-up can affect your fridge’s cooling efficiency. Defrost your freezer per the manufacturer’s recommendations to prevent frost from clogging the evaporator coils.

Pre-cool or Freeze Food

Before placing food in your RV fridge, consider pre-cooling or freezing it. This can help maintain the fridge’s internal temperature and reduce the work it must do.

Regular Cleaning

Clean the interior of your refrigerator regularly and as soon as it becomes dirty. Use a damp cloth to wipe down the shelves and compartments. This helps maintain the fridge’s efficiency and prevents the growth of bacteria and mold.

Maintain the Condenser Fan

The condenser fan plays a crucial role in dissipating heat from the fridge. Regularly clean dust and debris from the fan and ensure it moves freely without obstruction. A clean and well-functioning fan contributes to the overall efficiency of your refrigerator.

Regular Check-ups

Regular check-ups can help identify potential issues before they become major problems. Use a multimeter to check the voltage and ensure it’s within the proper range. If your fridge uses propane, regularly check the flame on the burner. A weak or inconsistent flame could indicate a problem with the gas supply or the burner itself.

By following these best practices, you can ensure that your RV fridge remains efficient and reliable throughout your travels. Remember, a bit of preventive maintenance can save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

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