Want cold food & drinks? Keep your RV refrigerator happy!


By Chris Dougherty
Chris Dougherty is a certified RV technician. Here is an article he wrote while serving as RVtravel.com’s technical editor.

RVers are fortunate to enjoy a wonderful lifestyle — and the equipment that makes it possible. One such piece of technology is the RV absorption refrigerator. While it is not my intention to give a detailed breakdown of these units, there are some things the RVer can do to help keep the refrigerator running at peak efficiency for many years.

RV refrigerators are completely different from the machines we have at “home.” The refrigerators in our RVs have no compressor, but rather a series of coils in the rear that, when heated properly, circulate gasses (most noticeable of which is ammonia when the cooling unit fails) that absorb heat from the interior of the refrigerator and expel it outside. The heating is accomplished by either an electric element(s) (110 volt and/or 12 volt) or propane flame.

It’s because of this circulation that it’s so important to keep the refrigerator “comfortably level” during operation. Also, it is important to occasionally inspect and clean the rear of the unit for optimum operation.

SAFETY NOTE: It is important for safety reasons to follow the manufacturer’s safety and maintenance instructions to the letter. Adjustments or repairs should be made by a QUALIFIED TECHNICIAN ONLY. Failure to do so can increase the risk of fire, personal injury, property loss, and even death.

Keep that refrigerator clean! Inside and out. The inside of the refrigerator, if closed up dirty, can grow all kinds of nasty things — so clean it well, using manufacturer recommended cleaners, and prop open for storage.

The rear of the unit should be inspected and occasionally vacuumed out to rid the space of debris and webs, etc. Often the metal parts, including the cooling unit and the burn chamber, will attract moisture and therefore rust. Cooling unit failure is often the result of rust. Severe rust should be examined by a qualified technician for repair. If, on a newer unit, you start to see rust forming, it might be worthwhile getting the paint on the cooling unit touched up, using a paint recommended by the refrigerator manufacturer.

Considering how much an RV refrigerator costs, a little extra time and money now to take care of the one you have will pay off in the long run!



4 Thoughts to “Want cold food & drinks? Keep your RV refrigerator happy!”

  1. Elaine M. Sweeney

    Why doesn’t my refridgerator work when I am out of propane? I have 2007 Terry 30′ pull travel trailer. I am parked at a trailer park.
    Elaine M. Sweeney

    1. Russ De Maris


      Depending on how the refrigerator manufacturer set it up, look for a control on the panel that allows you set set for “automatic” or “a/c” cooling, but definitely not set for “LP” or “gas.” If you’re already set in automatic mode, but cooling stops when you run out of gas, it’s possible you have a defect in the refrigerator.

  2. SharonM

    This makes sense obviously, but doesn’t explain HOW to ‘Inspect and vacuum the rear of the unit”. How do I access that?

    1. Russ De Maris


      Rear access to your refrigerator is from outside the rig. You’ll find an access door on the outside wall of your RV — opening it depends on the design. It could be something as simple as a twist knob, operable with your fingers, or it might require a screw driver. In any event, switch off the refrigerator, open the door, and use a shop vac to clean dust, dirt, bird feathers, etc. from anywhere you can see them. Replace cover. Turn refrigerator back on! Voila!

      Russ De Maris, Senior Editor, rvtravel.com

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