RV Refrigerator Repair: How to Troubleshoot and Fix an RV Camper Refrigerator

RV Refrigerator Repair

You might think that one refrigerator is the same as another refrigerator, but that’s not always the situation. Especially for recreational vehicles, the refrigerators and other equipment are also different. Also, RV refrigerator repair and maintenance work may be more complicated than you expect. When it comes to troubleshooting RV refrigerators, you need to understand how the fridge works, how to operate it correctly, and what needs to be repaired if something goes wrong.

How the RV Camper Refrigerator Works 

RV Camper refrigerators usually look like household refrigerators, but the appearance may be deceptive. The RV refrigerator has a function to ensure that it stays closed when traveling. They also have variable power compatibility, so whether you’ve got a travel trailer or Class A motor home, you can install a refrigerator. The RV Camper refrigerator uses a gas absorption cooling device. The heat boils the mixture of ammonia and water, and as the ammonia vapor rises, it moves along the coil system. The ammonia vapor condenses into a liquid and enters the evaporator. Hydrogen bypass reduces pressure and dissipates heat to provide a cooling effect.

The system continues to use a small amount of propane to cool the entire refrigerator and circulate ammonia and water. Whether through a generator or field-connected electricity, this is another way to heat the initial ammonia and water mixture. Regular refrigerators use compressors and Freon or HFC to circulate cold air, but the closed system is similar.

Why Need RV Camper Refrigerator 

RV manufacturers recommend a unique type of refrigerator to ensure you get the best performance while traveling. If your model is more extensive, a household refrigerator may be suitable for your RV. However, the cooling devices of RVs and travel trailers have special functions that you cannot find in household refrigerators. For example, the RV Camper refrigerator unit can automatically switch between power and propane. On the other hand, the residential option will require a stable power source to continue working. Without this automatic switching function, when you stop or even camp in a park without power, your food may deteriorate. If you don’t want you food to be deteriorate you can use this.

Camco 28" Double RV Refrigerator Bar, Holds Food and...
  • Keep order in the RV refrigerator and cupboards during travel
  • Spring loaded bars keep items in place
  • Refrigerator bars extend from 16" to 28"
  • Double bar for extra protection
  • White

RV special equipment is also equipped with adjustable fans. Because the RV is so close, the noise of the refrigerator may make you sleepless all night. Using an adjustable fan, you can lower the airflow to be quiet at night. Traditional refrigerators do not have this flexibility in contrast.

Cool Item you can get. Read the fridge troubleshooting section and have it nearby just in case there is a problem.

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Greenco GRC0250 Fridge Bins, Stackable Storage...
  • Made of durable high quality shatter proof BPA free chlorine free plastic. Easy to care! Wash with mild soapy water. Do not place in dishwasher!
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  • Set includes 6 storage bins; 2 wide bins 14. 8” L x 5. 5” W x 3. 75” H ideal to store meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, condiments etc. 2 narrow bins 14. 5” L x 3. 5” W x 3. 75” great for smaller condiments, cans, yogurts, snacks, box drinks etc. 1 egg holder with lid stores 14 eggs 14. 5” L x 4. 5” W x 3” H and 1 drink holder stores 9 Standard soda cans.
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  • Portable! Features build in easy grip side handles making it easy to carry and easy to access contents.
  • Included Components: 6 Refridgerator Organization Boxes

RV Camper Common Refrigerator Problems and Solutions 

No device tends to work permanently without problems, which means that you may need to troubleshoot or carry out RV refrigerator repair at some point in your usage. The following are some of the common challenges and their solutions. Sometimes, basic maintenance will get it back to work. In other cases, you need professional assistance to effect an RV refrigerator repair or replace it entirely. It goes thus. Do you how much it costs for repairing an RV refrigerator?

RV refrigerator repair
Image Source: https://santabarbaraappliance.repair/

The Refrigerator Cannot be Turned On

If propane is commonly used in your RV camper refrigerator, the first step is to check whether the propane tank is full. When the power is turned off, many Dometic refrigerators for RVs can automatically switch from power to propane, so this check is useful if the fridge is powered by electricity but cannot be powered by propane. Some devices do not have automatic switches and can only be converted from electric power to propane power manually. If your model does not work in automatic mode, you may always need to switch over manually. Insufficient power supply is also one of the most common problems for RV refrigerators. Fortunately, this is a quick and easy troubleshooting step.

A blown fuse is another potential factor that prevents the refrigerator from turning on. To perform an RV refrigerator repair that includes this, find the black box of your RV, then open it to check the fuse. Most RVs have clear labels on the fuse box, which helps make this RV refrigerator repair step easier. Most fuses rarely need to be replaced, so if you need to replace them frequently, you may have more significant problems underneath.

The Refrigerator is Not Getting Cold 

When traveling in an RV, a warm fridge may be the most severe problem you encounter. However, there are many potential reasons why your RV Camper refrigerator is heating up. Some general tips for ensuring proper heat dissipation and RV refrigerator cooling unit troubleshooting include:

Do not overload the shelf 

One of the most common reasons for inadequate cooling is that the refrigerator has too much food to store. Stuffing the shelf to the rear of the refrigerator will prevent air from flowing from the cold air fins (top) to the rest of the fridge.

Get refrigerator fans 

You may find that the air circulation in the RV refrigerator is still not ideal. In this case, it is recommended that you use a small refrigerator fan. They are very cheap and can be used for about six weeks with a pair of batteries. Another location where you can insert the refrigerator fan is the rear vent of the refrigerator-usually accessible from outside the RV.

If you have enough space, you can aim the fan at the best spot to expel the hot air through the ventilation holes to further cool the system. In case your cooling unit is totally done for you can switch just that component of the fridge, but based on price it is often better to just get a new fridge. But if you love your old fridge Amazon has an option for a Norcold replacement cooling unit.

Norcold 632307 Cooling Unit
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  • Comes with manufacturer warranty
  • International shipping available
  • Fits various makes and models
  • Carefully check vehicle fitment before purchase

Minimize the number of door openings

 It is important to remember that RV refrigerators are not as efficient as household refrigerators. For example, if you open the refrigerator door for one minute, it will take about an hour for the fridge to return to its original temperature. This is why you should try to reduce the number of times you open the refrigerator door when traveling in a motorhome.

A great way to effect this is to use refrigerator magnets to take notes. Just write down all the food you may need to take out and stick it to the fridge’s body. With this, you don’t need to continue opening the refrigerator. Similarly, writing the quantity next to the food on the list will help you, although this might be stressful.

Monitor the temperature adequately

You can only solve a problem if you know it exists, right? Ideally, your refrigerator should be in the range of 37-40 degrees Fahrenheit. So if your refrigerator thermometer is available, it would be easier to know if your fridge is working optimally. This thermometer doesn’t take up much space to hang it on a shelf in the refrigerator.

Know that there is a thermostat/thermocouple

 Many RV owners are unaware of the thermocouples they can use to change the temperature. It is a small white gadget glued in a plastic clip, and you will see it stuck to the heat sink or the side of the heat sink. Moving it up or horizontally will increase the cooling temperature and vice versa. All brands have also been manufactured similarly. If in doubt, please read the product manual of your RV refrigerator. With it, you will get the exact instructions about changing the temperature there. If none of the above techniques work, it is likely that the thermocouple itself has packed up and needs to be replaced.

Propane is Connected but No Flame 

Sometimes debris can clog the refrigerator’s burner unit. If this happens, propane will not ignite the flame. Check for dirt near the burner (evacuate or remove dust), then try to ignite the flame again. A weak fire may mean that rust or other substances are still left in the burner. You can use the store’s vacuum cleaner to remove debris. Always act carefully near electrical and gas components.

The Inspection Light Keeps Flashing 

The inspection light is usually yellow with a green “ON” light next to it. It is basically to show that normal refrigerator functions are being interrupted. It may happen when you unplug the 120 V AC outlet. You will see the yellow inspection light flash briefly until the refrigerator automatically restarts under propane. Other reasons may cause your inspection light to turn on:

  • Because the RV is not at a level position 
  • The AC/DC power is off. Here, you need to configure it to propane or other ways manually 
  • Propane and electricity supply are closed

The RV Refrigerator Leaks Yellow Liquid / Makes a Gurgling Sound

If this occurs in your RV refrigerator, then all signs indicate ammonia leakage. Ammonia is used in the evaporator part of the propane refrigerator and is an integral part of the refrigeration process.

How to know if an ammonia leak is occurring: 

  • When you open the refrigerator door, you will smell a chemical odor, causing eye water and chest burns. This may mean a leak in the evaporator 
  • There are light yellow or gray-green residues around the burner. This is a sign of a partial leak in the boiler pipeline.
  • If the leak has continued for a long time, the ammonia smell may not be distinguishable. When opening the refrigerator, listen for a bubbling sound at the rear of the refrigerator.

When the RV fridge ammonia leak highlighted above do not help, please check the ammonia content in the RV refrigerator as follows: 

Get some RV refrigerator repair parts, such as the combustible gas detector. This usually runs on batteries and can detect ammonia levels and other flammable gasses, such as propane, which comes in handy when you live in a propane-fueled machine.

The RV Refrigerator Does Not Cool in Hot Weather 

Again, this is one of the typical RV refrigerator issues you cannot do much about. The cooling of the propane RV refrigerator depends to some extent on the external temperature. Meaning, when the environment gets hot, its cooling effect would not be so pleasant; and when it gets cold outside, it becomes a little too cold inside as well.

If your external temperature is higher than 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the propane refrigerator will not function properly. Here, you would need assistance with the cooling process. One technique you can harness is to put some ice cubes in the refrigerator when extremely hot. However, don’t forget to put a small pot underneath to collect the melted water.

The RV Refrigerator Igniter Does Not Work or Makes a Continuous Click 

The igniter is a small part of the control panel. When you switch the refrigerator to propane, it provides a spark to ignite the burner. It usually appears in the rear vent (outside the RV), and you will hear a click from the igniter until the burner lights up. Today, most RV propane refrigerators have an igniter, while other types entail systems where you manually ignite the burner with a match.

In any case, below are some reasons why the igniter may not work: 

  • The burner is dirty, so it becomes troublesome to ignite. Here, you only need to vacuum a little to clean it.
  • Ignition needs to be replaced 
  • Control board problem. Here, the entire control board may need to be replaced

The RV Refrigerator Electric Power Fails to Work

The usual check is whether the fridge has a 120 V AC switch inserted. Usually, in the rear vent, you will see a PowerPoint that needs to be plugged into the refrigerator. Another thing that may happen is that the GFCI circuit breaker may trip. If so, you only need to reset them to make the refrigerator rerun manually.

If neither of the above two tips will help, it may mean that the electric heating element has been damaged. In all two way of refrigerators, two circuits are usually present—one for the electrical components to provide heat, and the other for the burner to produce heat. If your refrigerator does not work in both modes, it may be because you need to check the heating element or burner. If there is no problem even with the heating element, the best RV refrigerator repair option would be to replace the control board. A burnt-out heating element will need replacing. Check this out

Dometic 3850644422 120V/325W Heating Element
  • Dometic Heating element
  • 325W 120Vac
  • Model#: 3850644422

The RV Refrigerator Develops Problems at High Altitude 

Usually, the RV refrigerator does not work well on propane at an altitude of more than 5500 feet. This is not due to defects in the refrigerator, but because the low pressure cannot effectively light the propane burner. There is not enough oxygen in the atmosphere to provide a sturdy flame. RV refrigerator manufacturers also sell high-altitude refrigeration kits. Otherwise, if you are camping at high altitude for a long time, it is best to run the refrigerator with electricity.

The RV Refrigerator Keeps Tripping 

This may happen when the heating element is short-circuited by contacting a “grounded” metal plate in the flue, which will trip the GFCI circuit breaker. To perform an RV refrigerator repair involving this, try to connect to another GFCI circuit for verification.

It Keeps Tripping Off 

Probably the most common reason is that the refrigerator is not at a level position. RV refrigerators (because they are fed by gravity and not compressor-based), need to be kept level to function correctly. If you stop the RV on the slope for more than 20 minutes, it may cause permanent damage. This is because the coolant liquid will accumulate in two points in the pipe, thereby making the coolant flow’s circulation efficiency. In the end, the cooling capacity would also be reduced.

If the refrigerator is not level, you may also see the yellow inspection light illuminate, and it will disappear when you place it horizontally. Remember, this is not a problem when driving-of course, as you cannot have a completely stable and flat ground all through the journey. However, when parked for a long time, the RV refrigerator needs to be kept level. 

Several other things that may cause the refrigerator to keep shutting down also need to be checked. It includes:

  • Has the 120 V AC plug been inserted?
  • If operating with electricity, does the heating element work? 
  • If running on propane, is the burner working correctly?

The Refrigerator Fan Always Keeps Running 

Refrigerator fans should not be running all the time, but even if it runs, it is not a big problem functionally. This may simply mean that there is an online fuse in front of the exhaust fan. You can replace your standard fan with many quiet fans, but you may need professional help.

The Refrigerator Warms up in Cold Weather 

It usually occurs below sub-zero temperatures. The reason is that the coolant becomes sluggish in cold weather and does not circulate well, reducing the overall refrigeration level. You can perform the following operations: 

Get a winter kit for your RV refrigerator. It will provide more heat to the system to maintain the excellent circulation of the coolant.

If there is an extra power socket in the vent at the rear of the refrigerator, you should put a small light bulb. When the bulb is lit, it will heat up, and the surrounding air will also heat up. The idea is that hot air will enter the refrigerator through the drain. During the day, make sure that your RV is parked so that the side where the refrigerator is located faces the sun. Finally, in the winter, many RV owners just prefer to give up the trouble and use portable coolers. You may also need to consider this.

The RV Refrigerator Experiences Leaks

A common cause of this situation is that the condensate drain pipes may leak water to the outside. Ideally, it should be placed between the grills in the rear vents (outside the RV, behind the refrigerator), and the condensate should be led out. If you are searching for a Thermocouple to replace the defect on in the fridge there is no need to struggle to find one Amazon has a great option for you.

Norcold Inc. Refrigerators 619154 Thermocouple
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The Top of the RV Refrigerator Vent Leaks 

Isn’t it bad when it rains, and your RV is leaking somewhere? If the top vent of the refrigerator leaks, electrical damage may also occur. This is what to do with regards to your RV refrigerator repair: Determine where the leak is occurring. Is it around the edge of the vent? If so, you can simply stick some weatherproof tape and seal it. However, if you need to make a patch on the ventilation hole and it seems quite big, you can use weatherproof tape to seal it (temporarily). But it is also recommended that you go ahead to purchase new ones as they are quite cheap.

The Inside of the RV Refrigerator is Damp 

The most tangible reason for this is that there is a leak (usually a gasket) in the refrigerator, from which warm air leaks. To fix this, look out for any lousy gasket and effect an adequate replacement.

The RV Refrigerator Consumes Excessive Battery Power 

If you have a household refrigerator, to be honest, there is nothing to do. Their size is much larger, which is the biggest reason for their excellent power consumption. You need to install custom batteries or install solar panels to run the RV with a standard refrigerator. Otherwise, even if you turn off all other devices, it can completely drain the battery in 6-7 hours. Also, even if you have a standard 2-way RV refrigerator (AC/propane), you may want to close the propane connection during the trip (it is believed that you should do this!)

In this case, you will use the inverter to run the refrigerator on battery power. Although the load is much smaller than that of a household refrigerator, if you use it for 8 hours, you will still consume half of the battery. If none of the above is the reason, you should seek professional advice.

Formation of mold 

Mold will usually form in a humid environment. If you do not use the RV for a long time, unless you take precautions, you may find mold in the refrigerator when you return. The reason for this is that the refrigerator door has been closed for a long time. A simple solution is to obtain a mold less door holder to keep the refrigerator door half-open when the RV is not in use.

In conclusion, like any other appliance, RV Camper Refrigerators require adequate troubleshooting and fixing when necessary. As a result, the RV refrigerator repair tips highlighted above would work great in aiding you.

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