the camping season draws nearer, I feel compelled to write an article
about RV refrigerators. During
my time at Peterborough RV Centre, I have yet to find an appliance whose
failure so often coincided with our customers’ camping schedule.
Without fail, we receive phone calls the Friday afternoon of long
weekends from desperate customers inquiring about our service schedule
for that day. They inform
me that they are about to leave for the weekend and sadly their
refrigerator will not cool.
of this concern is just misplaced anxiety stemming from inexperienced
campers expecting their fridge to react in the same way as their
household refrigerator (see our What’s an RV Style Refrigerator
section below), but for others there are more serious problems at work.
An RV Style Refrigerator?
most common manufacturers of RV style refrigerators are Dometic
and Norcold, although some older style fridges go by names like
Instamatic, Tedco and Elixer.
Almost all refrigerators being installed in RVs today
were made by one of these two companies.
RV style refrigerator does not operate the same way as the fridge in
your home. To begin with
these appliances often operate on propane (LP gas) and some form of
electricity (either 120V or 12V or both depending on the model and size
your fridge). These fridges
contain ammonia based cooling units and are called “absorption
style” refrigerators. This
means that unlike your house refrigerator, they pull warm air out of the
fridge box, instead of pumping cold air in.
Because of their unique operating style there are special
concerns and maintenance requirements for these types of refrigerators.
your house fridge, you RV style refrigerator will not make any noise on
start-up. This is not a
cause for concern. RV style
fridges are virtually silent when operating correctly.
Also, your RV fridge will not begin to show signs of cooling
immediately, it may take your fridge up to 12 hours to fully cool (and
it is recommended that you wait the full 12 hours before adding any
food). The most common
mistake made by campers anxious that their fridge is not operating
correctly is to repeatedly check it.
Absorption style refrigerators are particularly sensitive to
temperature changes. By opening your refrigerator door you may
actually be slowing down the cooling process.
your fridge as close to level as possible
you want your fridge to cool quicker try running it on propane.
It has been our experience that RV fridges cool faster
on gas than they do on electric.
put food in your refrigerator while it’s still hot.
Let food cool to room temperature before putting it in the
use self liners, large plastic containers or pack food too tightly
your refrigerator door closed as much as possible to avoid
style refrigerators are not self defrosting, if you notice an
excessive amount of frost on the aluminum fins it is time to defrost
to Consider about Absorption Style Refrigerators…
the past RV refrigerators were very sensitive to being level, if they
weren’t level they would often not operate.
This is not the case today.
New RV fridges are less sensitive than their older counterparts
in terms of operating off level. For
instance, Norcold tells us that their fridges are made to “operate
within 3 degrees off level side-to-side and 6 degrees off level
this does not mean you can expect your fridge to operate while parked on
a hill. Level your RV
normally. If all looks level your fridge should be ok to operate.
If you want to be sure, or if you have an older fridge, you can
purchase a little fridge level specially designed for this task.
As I have already said, your RV fridge is extremely sensitive to
temperature changes. That
means KEEP THE DOOR CLOSED as much as possible.
Your fridge will be better able to maintain its temperature.
of your fridges sensitivity to temperature changes, you cannot expect
your fridge to operate as well when the outdoor temperature skyrockets.
During heat waves your fridge will not cool as well as it did in
the spring. Although we
have no real control over the outdoor temperature, you can help the air
circulation by adding a coil mounted refrigerator
fan. These fans can
be mounted at the top or bottom of your cooling unit (depending on the
style you have purchased) and pull the air in through your vent and
direct it up toward your roof vent, allowing the air to pass over your
cooling unit. The more
circulating air your fridge has the better it will operate.
Furthermore, we find that if your fridge is operating more
efficiently, it tends to last longer!
Similarly, an interior mounted refrigerator fan can also help
your fridge run more efficiently.
Interior Circulating Fan
the same lines, try to avoid parking your RV in places where your fridge
vents will be exposed to direct sunlight. And NEVER do anything to block
the empty space behind your refrigerator.
This space is required to give your fridge the adequate amount of
air flow needed to operate correctly.
Make sure both vents are clear of dirt and other obstructions.
Dometic recommends that you have your refrigerator serviced once
a year. In fact, the new
3-year Dometic warranty stipulates that you show proof of seasonal
maintenance to maintain your warranty.
Besides your warranty, this yearly check-up is particularly
important for the safe and efficient LP gas operation of your fridge.
Because your fridge is a gas-burning appliance, the burner
assembly tends to get dirty. It
is important to have the burner cleaned by a LP licensed RV technician.
if my fridge just won’t cool?
your fridge won’t cool at all make sure you have left it on long
enough to get down to temperature (approximately 8 – 12 hours).
Next try running your refrigerator on the alternative energy
source. For example, if
your fridge will not operate correctly on electricity (12V or 120V) try
running it on propane. This
process rules out some electrical malfunctions, for instance a blown
electrical element. If your
fridge will not cool on any source, it is time to have it examined by a
professional RV technician.
Because it takes so long to test your fridge make sure it is
working correctly at least one week before you wish to use it.
Often when a refrigerator will not cool on both LP gas and
electric, it means your cooling unit is no longer operating correctly.
If this is the problem, you have a few choices.
& Re-coring Your Old Cooling Unit:
This is usually the most economical of all the options.
With a recharge/re-core your local RV dealer sends your
fridge to a facility licensed to handle the dangerous chemicals
found in your cooling unit (there are only a couple facilities in
the province of Ontario that can do this kind of repair).
Here the repair facility cleans and reconditions your old
cooling unit and replaces the liquid found within.
This process usually comes with a one-year warranty, but it
must be claimed at the repair facility that did the work (this is
not a great option if you spend half the year in the south).
It is important if you chose this method to deal with a
company you know and trust. Usually
your RV dealer will ship your fridge for you and install it upon
return. But, not all
repair shops are created equal.
Different recharge shops have different track records.
In fact, based on our own experiences, we will only use one
of the facilities in Ontario.
the Cooling Unit:
You service centre may recommend replacing the cooling unit.
This means that the cooling unit, located on the back of your
refrigerator, will be removed and a new one will be installed in its
place. This should only
be an option for you if your refrigerator is in excellent condition
and does not have any discontinued parts.
Although your new cooling unit will come with a warranty it
is fairly labour intensive to do this.
Often the difference in total price between replacing the
cooling unit and replacing the whole fridge is negligible.
Of course replacing the fridge is always an option.
Both Norcold and Dometic manufacture replacement
refrigerators designed to fit in the hole left by your old
refrigerator. The new
refrigerator is just that new, and therefore, comes with all
the perks of a new refrigerator, including a 3-year warranty for
Dometic fridges. This
is unusually the best option for those customers who are travelling.
If you run into problems with your fridge down the road, any
factory authorized service centre can assist you (and there are
service centres all over North America).
This option is also the most costly.
However, if you examine the price difference between these
three choices our customers tend to find this option to have the
greatest long-term value.
Well I hope this has shed some
light on RV Refrigeration. As always, if you have any other
questions or concerns, I invite you to contact our service centre.