HOW TO TROUBLESHOOT AND REPAIR A RV REFRIGERATOR
You’re on the road, and your RV refrigerator suddenly stops working. This can be a nightmare, especially for new RV owners.
Whatever the specific cause might be, the result is the same. You risk losing your perishables without refrigeration. No one wants a refrigerator full of warm food and drinks. Fortunately, troubleshooting and repairing your RV refrigerator is less complicated than you think.
Before you rush to bring in an expert, try some simple RV refrigerator repairs yourself. I will cover a range of common problems with RV refrigerators and techniques to solve them. Some common malfunctions happen even in new RVs, so don’t despair.
I’ll ensure you know when it’s safer to let a professional handle it. You’ll also learn to tell if you need to replace your RV refrigerator.
Also, remember: if the refrigerator is still within warranty, and it malfunctions without any abuse, you can take it for repair with the seller or an authorized service center for repair. This might prove cheaper than trying to fix it yourself.
HOW DOES MY RV REFRIGERATOR WORK?
Understanding how your RV or motorhome refrigerator works can help you when it’s time to fix it.
If you’re in the dark about the inner workings of your refrigerator, don’t skip this section.
To begin with, an RV refrigerator is unlike the one you have at home.
Residential refrigerators are more prominent, but they aren’t built to withstand the rigors of the road. There are two categories of Gas absorption refrigerators used in RVs. First, the refrigerator inside is either a 2-way or 3-way.
These terms refer to the energy sources that run your refrigerator: Propane, AC power, and DC power.
Most RVs have two-way refrigerators, which use Propane and AC power 120v. Three-way refrigerators use propane, and AC power 120v, and also use 12v DC power this is an electric heating element used to run the refrigerator safely while traveling.
DC power means electricity runs in one direction rather than reversing the current. With AC power, the electricity constantly changes direction.
Now you know how your RV refrigerator stays on. But, do you know how it works to keep everything cool?
RV refrigerators don’t use freon and a compressor to stay Cool. Gas Absorption Refrigerators use a mixture of hydrogen gas, ammonia water, and sodium chromate. When these compounds heat up inside the evaporator, they go through a process of evaporation and condensation. It is this process that allows your refrigerator to stay cool.
BEFORE YOU START TROUBLESHOOTING AND REPAIRING
Before you start any repair work, there are a few things to check.
It would be best if you started with the simplest fixes before moving on to the trickier ones. Of course, you also want to see how bad the problem is.
It may seem like a waste of time, but make sure your RV is level. Running it off-level could be the reason why your refrigerator isn’t working…
In an RV, while stationary if the refrigerator is on it must be level front to back and side to side. If the vehicle is at a slight angle, your refrigerator will be off level running refrigerator off level will increase the chances of the refrigerator not working and also damaging the cooling unit. The only time the Refrigerator doesn’t need to be level is if it’s in motion as the liquids are sloshing and not pulling.
I recommend that you invest in a level in order to test this accurately and remember to place a small torpedo level and check the refrigerator front to back and side to side while the refrigerator is on and stationery.
Try Running your refrigerator on Gas and then Electric
Run your refrigerator in all available operating modes.
If your refrigerator works on one type of power but not another, your cooling unit is functional. This is good news, as a fried unit will need to be ordered and replaced with a remanufactured cooling unit from cool fun.
TROUBLESHOOTING A RV REFRIGERATOR: ELECTRICAL ISSUES
No Electricity In the RV Refrigerator
If your refrigerator runs fine on propane but not electricity, you have electrical issues.
NOTE: Call a professional if you are uncomfortable handling your RV’s electrical system.
Find the manufacturer’s manual for your refrigerator. If you don’t have it, you might be able to find one on the company’s website. This will be a big help to you during the repair.
Begin by checking the 120-volt AC. Then take a look at the fuses and circuit breakers at the back of your refrigerator.
It might be a question of just tripping a switch. If you notice any visibly damaged wires, do not touch them. Unless you’re an electrician,,, I advise you to call an expert.
Check your refrigerator’s outlet if the fuses and circuit breakers are all in order. Then, try plugging in another electronic device to see if it works.
You can also buy a multimeter; it will give you an accurate reading of resistance, voltage, and current.
If you have a three-way refrigerator, test the 12-volt DC too. Again, you can use either a multimeter or a 12-volt circuit tester.
If everything is working correctly, the heating element might be at fault. Depending on your refrigerator, this is powered by either 120-volt.
Note that this voltage is dangerous if touched without protective gloves and the proper training. Therefore, it’s better to call in an electrician to examine it for you.
TROUBLESHOOTING A RV REFRIGERATOR: PROPANE ISSUES
Checking RV LP Tank
If your refrigerator runs fine on electricity but not otherwise, it’s time to investigate all propane-related systems.
Start by checking the essentials. Then, make sure you’re not running low on fuel.
Test the valves to see if they haven’t accidentally been shut off.
Don’t forget your LP alarms if you have them. In some RVs, this kind of cooling won’t work if these devices aren’t connected.
Investigate if the refrigerator’s thermocouple is working. This device is responsible for detecting heat and controlling your gas valve.
If you see that the burner (also known as the pilot light) catches but doesn’t stay lit, replace the thermocouple.
If you prefer, you can always have a professional do this.
If your burner doesn’t light at all, try cleaning it out. Debris might be blocking and stopping it from catching.
Take out the metal shielding and get your vacuum out. Using a shop vacuum is preferable, but you can also use a regular one. As long as the attachment is slim, it should clear everything out.
Get a thin wire and gently clean the burner orifice to go the extra mile. Your flame should be back to burning steadily.
A LEAKING COOLING UNIT
If the cooling unit leaks, you’ll know quickly: you may smell the ammonia also it will stop cooling.
Turn off your refrigerator’s power. You won’t be creating any new problems—your leaky refrigerator won’t be able to keep cool anyway.
If you see yellow everywhere, your cooling unit might be done for. The yellow residue is the result of a breach in the tubing. Remember, this is a closed system, so any yellow and the cooling unit will needs to be replaced.
Replacing the cooling unit in your RV refrigerator is a big job but can be done with a person of average mechanical skills there’s a lot of do-it-yourself information online and on youtube. You can also look on the Cool-Fun RV website section under Unit Replacement Help.
Alternatively, you can call in the professionals. This might be expensive, however, the choice is yours.
MAINTAINING YOUR RV REFRIGERATOR
As with other RV appliances, you shouldn’t neglect regular refrigerator maintenance. Keeping a few good habits in mind will go a long way toward preventing breakdowns.
USE THE RIGHT POWER SOURCE
There are times when you should pick electricity over propane. For example, if you’re camping at high altitudes.
Using electricity rather than propane is generally better if you’re up high. There is less oxygen, so propane gas will not burn as it does at lower elevations. Coolfun recommends using ac power at elevations greater than 5000 ft.
KEEP IT CLEAN
Don’t forget the exterior when you’re cleaning out the access panel where the cooling unit coils are located. Dirt accumulating on the burners or in the drainage pipe can cause issues please look at your owner’s manual for maintenance.
Always clean your refrigerator thoroughly before your RV goes into storage.
Consider it an obligatory maintenance task.
A broken refrigerator can spoil your food and ruin an otherwise wonderful trip. But, as you can see, there are many fixes you can try safely by yourself.
In any case, don’t let potential issues with your RV refrigerator keep you from RVing. Gas Absorption RV refrigerators are very sturdy and explicitly designed to be used on the road. So the chances of them breaking down are low, indeed—and here you’ve got some DIY tricks up your sleeve when this does happen.