RV Refrigerator Q&A

Question: I have a small refrigerator in my RV that only runs on electricity with a regular plug. So it only runs when the RV is plugged in at a campsite. How can I get the proper inverter to run it while we are on the road?

Answer: To begin we suggest you look at the power requirements for your specific refrigerator to determine the size inverter you will need. Additionally, you need to consider your battery power.

Start by reading the label on the refrigerator and find out how many watts it draws. This will give you the basis for sizing the proper inverter.

Note that the inverter is only part of the equation. You also need to consider how much battery power you will need and for how long. If you need to significantly upgrade your batteries, you may also need to upgrade your charging system. Batteries are heavy and bulky, so consider where will they fit and the impact to your weight distribution.

You may find that it will not be practical to run your refrigerator off an inverter. On my coach my inverter does not provide power to the refrigerator and I have to run it on propane when not connected to power.

Here is a list of approximate wattage draws for common appliances (be careful this is only an illustration and may not be applicable to your specific application)

A/C 1600 – 2500 Watts
Microwave 1200-2000 Watts
PC Desk top 400 Watts
TV 30-300 Watts (depends on size, B&W or Color)
VCR 40-60 Watts
Refrigerator/Freezer 400-1200 Watts
Toaster/Toaster Oven 800-1500 Watts
Hair Dryer 900-1500 Watts

Here are some other posts related to refrigerators:

Question: Is is better to run the RV refrigerator during non-camping time if possible or just leave it off?

Answer: Not knowing the specifics of your situation, we would say just turn it off, clean it and leave the door open. Otherwise you will spend money on the electricity or propane to keep the refrigerator running. Also, make sure the RV is level just to be safe – refrigerators am have problems if not kept level.

Answer (Reader A): Turn fridge off

I have three RV’s with original fridges dating from 1962 to 1974. All work fine. When fridge is run keep it absolutely level, and when not in use dry out all moisture from the fridge and freezer with paper towels, and prop door the open.

One unit was not used for 17 years, the other for 10 years. The third is used at least 10 times per year, and has for its entire life.

Answer (Reader B): Over the years (15) I have always left my RV refrigerator ON. The reason being that being on keeps the liquid circulating, thus preventing it from destroying the coils.

Refrigerator is freezing

Question: I have a 1996 Fleetwood Jamboree and puzzled at why everything I put in the refrigerator is freezing. Is there a temp adjustment?

Answer: We suspect that there is a temperature adjustment. It depends on the brand/model/type refrigerator you have. You might want to call the manufacturer of the fridge to ask them about settings.

We have a Dometic refrigerator and we can adjust temperature in a few ways. There is a push button setting in a panel above the fridge that lets us select cooling temperature in a range from cold to coldest (about 5 different positions on this panel).

There is also a sensor that attaches to the fins along the back of the inside of the fridge. This can be moved up and down. We have found the position that seems to work best for us to minimize icing on the fins. Not sure if this directly affects temperature regulation, but it seems to help regulate icing.

We also have a couple toggle switches inside the fridge: one labeled “climate control” and one labeled “low ambient”. These can be turned on when in extremely hot or extremely cold weather, respectively.

So look around your fridge for something similar, and/or contact the refrigerator manufacturer. And perhaps someone with a similar model year RV will have additional comments.

Electric Refrigerator vs. Propane

Question: I unplugged the camper from electric source and defrosted the refrigerator/freezer. After a day or so I went to camper and realized I didn’t turn refrigerator off.. I turned the propane tank on instead. Will there be anything wrong with the refrigerator when plugged back in again?

Answer: From what you have described, there shouldn’t be a problem. Most RV refrigerators are designed to work on electric or propane.

We live fulltime in our RV and our fridge is set to automatically select the available power source, with electric the primary default. We are usually hooked up to an electric connection in a campground. But when boondocking or otherwise parked for an overnight without electricity, we run our fridge on propane and then switch back to electric automatically when we hook up again.

Extra Refrigerator in RV Basement

Question: What is better to put in the RV basement – a fridge that plugs into a lighter outlet or one that plugs into the regular outlet? Someone told me a regular fridge is hard on your inverter while you are driving.

Answer: You should figure out which option is best for you based on how you will be using the refrigerator. The inverter shouldn’ be overly strained by a small refrigerator.

If you think about it, you control which appliances will be drawing power from the inverter. If the only thing that will be on is the refrigerator then it should not be a problem for the inverter.

As for using a 12-volt refrigerator, that is another option that could work for you. The obvious advantage is that the inverter does not need to be on to power the 12-volt refrigerator.

If anyone has any personal experience in using an electric vs. 12-volt fridge, please chime in with comments.

Refrigerator Gas Setting

Question: I just bought an RV. When I left the dealer the refrigerator was set to Gas. I thought it should be off so turned it off. But now I think I should have left it on. Can I just turn it back to gas, or what?

Answer: There is no technical reason why you cannot switch it back to propane. RV refrigerators are designed to switch between electric and gas. Some will switch automatically; some switch manually.

We keep our refrigerator on electric whenever a campground includes electricity in the site rental. We use propane when we boondock/dry camp or whenever we want to quickly cool down the refrigerator when it has been off over 10 hours.

Another instance when we might keep the refrigerator on propane is whenever we have limited electric power like while plugged into a 20 amp outlet at a friend’s driveway.

Refrigerator Seals

Question: How do I remove my refrigerator door seals on my 2006 Keystone Springdale trailer?

Answer: You should contact the manufacturer of the refrigerator to get their instruction on how to remove and replace refrigerator door seals. They may also offer suggestions to resolve whatever problem you are having with the fridge.

For instance, we were able to refresh our refrigerator seals by inserting cotton balls all around the seals and using a hair dryer to soften the seals. This was a procedure we obtained directly from the fridge manufacturer and we do not recommend it for other refrigerators – we suggest that you talk to the manufacturer about your specific model. In any case, this was really only a temporary fix and our seals will soon need to be replaced – it just bought us a little more time.

When you contact the manufacturer, be sure to have the specific model number of your refrigerator to obtain the relevant information. It should be on the refrigerator somewhere (door, door frame, etc.), and/or with any documentation you may have about the refrigerator.

Refrigerator Not Cooling Properly

by Mike D. (Chandler, OK)

Question: I have a 1983 Ford Jamboree RV. The refrigerator does not freeze cold at all and the bottom of the icebox does not get cold at all. Can you help at all? It’s as if it is low on ammonia – can it be refilled?

Answer: There are many factors that can contribute to the problem you are experiencing; too many for us to attempt to diagnose. We can offer a few thoughts.

Here is a link to a Dometic and here is a link to a Norcold. You can find links to service manuals and/or contact information on their websites.

So contact the manufacturer for service manuals or telephone support to help diagnose the problem. Most RV refrigerator service manuals include some troubleshooting tips. You need a basic understanding of refrigerator troubleshooting and a few simple tools. However, please be advised that any damage you do trying to save money may actually cost you far more than taking the RV to a service center. Remember that if you troubleshoot, you will be working on live electrical circuits and LP that can cause electrical shocks or death and or a fire that can total your RV.

Since you mentioned ammonia, we assume you suspect that the ammonia is low and that at some point you smelled ammonia. If you smelled ammonia then it is because of a leak. Once that happens, your only recourse is to replace the core (cooling unit) or replace the entire refrigerator.

RV refrigerators have sealed cooling units and you will find it difficult to find someone who will want to attempt to fix an ammonia leak and try to refill the coolant. If you unit is as old as your RV then it may be better to replace the refrigerator rather than spending a lot of money to replace the core.

Refrigerator Repair

by Liz (Kansas)

Question: Can I replace the cooling system on my 1993 Sandpiper or do I have to purchase a whole new refrigerator as my RV dealer suggested?

Answer: We are not refrigerator experts, so all we can suggest is that you try to source a replacement cooling unit to see if one is available or what it costs. You can contact the manufacturer of your refrigerator, and can also search online for a compatible replacement part.

Once you know the cost and what it would take to get it installed, then it is a judgement call on your part. If the fridge is 20 years old, there might be other components that are on their way out, so keep that in mind.

We don’t know if this RV is one you bought used, but if you don’t already know, we also suggest you check for refrigerator recalls to determine if your specific model refrigerator has had a recall, and if so, has it been fixed.

Class C Refrigerator Troubleshooting

Question: My Class C refrigerator will work on shore power at the house, but when I hook up to power in the campground my refrigerator will not work on A/C. Only gas. I have a new circuit board and new fuses, and they have been checked.

My refrigerator just acts like no power is getting to it…I have checked the breakers. Everything else seems to have power.

Any help on this matter would help.

Answer: This has us puzzled as we can’t think of any reason. So we are posting it for input from others.

Here are a couple wild guesses, but we don’t think they are likely. Is it possible that the amperage at your campsite is so low that the fridge won’t run on shore power? Or that maybe the auto-select switch has been turned off and instead the fridge is set to run only on propane.

We hope others can offer more likely explanations.

Question: Help fridge issues 91 Fleetwood bounder

We just purchased a 91 Fleetwood bounder, unfortunately after purchase we were told that the fridge had been replaced, which we knew. What we didn’t know is that they could only get it to work off shore power. However neither the couple we bought it from or ourselves have ever owned a motor home until now. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks Bri

Question from Colleen: We are having sort of the same issue. Our fridge will work on gas but not on electric and all the fuses are new. Any suggestions on what it is?