How important is leveling for an RV absorption fridge?

gary-736Dear Gary,
We recently purchased a used 2007 motorhome and haven’t actually camped in it yet but have done some local driving to get used to it. We’ve been reading about the leveling for the refrigerator and understand the necessity. We have a two-door unit (top freezer and bottom refrigerator). My husband is concerned about leveling while driving such as on hills and mountains. Should we be? —Rosemary P.

Dear Rosemary,
Leveling is important during any operational mode (12-volts DC, 120-volts AC or propane), but only while the coach is stationary. When physically moving down the road, there is enough jostling and movement to keep the liquids and vapors safely flowing through the sealed system of the absorption refrigerator. It is only crucial when the vehicle is not in motion. And with today’s cooling core design, it’s not as crucial as it used to be. Today, as long as the motorhome is “relatively” level, the cooling unit will be safe. 

I once asked a refrigerator manufacturer what “relatively” level really meant and the bottom line is this: If the eggs don’t roll off the countertop or if the blood doesn’t rush to your head while sleeping, the refrigerator will be fine. Still, while standing still, try to get it as level as possible. It’s just not worth the risk, in my opinion. 

Operating the refrigerator off level creates an inordinate amount of heat at the rear of the unit, especially in the boiler area. Coupled with improper ventilation, this extra heat can escalate very quickly into potential costly troubles. When overheating occurs over a period of time, the sodium chromate inside the pipes begins to crystallize (sodium chromate is used to protect the insides of the tubing from the corrosiveness of the ammonia). Typically the blockage will occur in the percolator tube, one of the smallest of the internal tubes inside the cooling core. The percolator tube inside the boiler section can become impassable because of the blockage (see photo). When this happens, the cooling unit is blocked and cannot be repaired. It must be replaced with a new or reconditioned unit. 

Leveling is one of the two most important factors to consider when using the RV absorption refrigerator. As mentioned, the other is ventilation. There must be a continuous, chimney-like ventilation space behind the refrigerator all the way up and through the roof. But tell your hubby, as long as he keeps moving he need not be concerned.

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5 Thoughts to “How important is leveling for an RV absorption fridge?”

  1. Terry

    When getting ready to take off on a trip, I park my 5th wheel in front of my house to load up. But my street is at a fairly steep grade. The refrigerator is, of course the last thing to load but I would like to get it cooled down a bit before loading. How long could I run the fridge while setting on the grade before causing problems with the fridge?

  2. Rob

    While we are on the subject I have a ref problem
    A few nights ago we heard loud a creaking or groaning sound come from the top of the Norcold ref. Now we have no cooling. The unit gets hot in the back and heats up with gas or electric. The lower pipe close to the heat stack gets hot but the canister and pipes above do not even get warm.
    I suspect the pipes are clogged. What’s your opinion of the Burping method, where we turn the Ref upside down? even if it only last a year it would be worth it. If not I’m going to a Residential refrigerator . Thanks

  3. Kevin Wilmouth

    I would like know how long a fridge can be noticeably off level? Can a person spend a few hours shopping or eating in a restaurant with the RV parked on an incline without having a problem? KW

    1. Chuck Woodbury

      Kevin, just turn it off if you are worried. I bet if you are gone from the RV for two hours the fridge won’t drop by a degree, maybe two on a hot summer day. I travel for a day with my fridge off, and the frozen food is still frozen and the fridge still cold (enough). — Chuck/editor

  4. Buzzelectric

    I’ve heard that front to rear leveling is more important than side to side. Is this true?

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