RV Refrigerator Troubleshooting: Common Issues and Fixes

A properly working refrigerator is critical when RVing, keeping food fresh and preventing disruptive, costly service calls in remote locales. Unlike household models, RV refrigeration must perform reliably across travel vibrations, extreme weather, and power fluctuations using 12V DC, 120V AC, or LP gas as energy sources.

With complexity comes potential issues. But armed with troubleshooting knowledge around common RV refrigerator failures, you can quickly diagnose problems by applying fixes to restore essential chilling.

RV Refrigerator Troubleshooting: Common Issues and Fixes

Common RV Refrigerator Issues

RV refrigerator technologies range from basic absorption units requiring 12V or LP gas for chilling, to compressor-driven models pulling AC shore power, plus the latest thermoelectric coolers powered solely by 12V DC.

Unique failure modes exist across refrigeration types, but shared issues occur too on gas and electric units. Let’s explore the most frequent RV refrigerator issues and pinpoint likely components causing trouble.

Source: rvsnappad

Insufficient Cooling

Warm interior temperatures signal cooling systems fail to transfer and dissipate heat from freezer/fridge compartments. Most failures stem from:

Symptoms –

Temperatures 10-20° warmer than setpoint

Freezer not freezing ice

Quicker food spoilage

Causes –

Low propane level

Disconnected/inaccessible AC power

Blocked ventilation

Refrigerant leaks

Control board, sensor malfunctions

Damaged lines needing service

Excessive Cooling

Contents freezing in the fridge section or thick frosty buildup point to overcooling:

Symptoms –

Fridge contents freezing

Thick frost buildup inside

Controls show accurate but too-cold readings

Causes –

Faulty thermostat calibration

Stuck damper on absorption units

Inaccurate sensor readings

Refrigerant overcharge

Noisy Operation

Foreign rattling, grinding, or loud noises from an otherwise well-cooling refrigerator should be promptly investigated.

Symptoms –

Rattling, vibrating, or pulsing noises

Grinding starting/stopping compressors

Noisy fans

Causes –

Loose compressor mounts shift during travel

Compressor failure with damaged internals

Obstructed/degraded fan with bearing wear

Loose wiring hitting components

Water Leaking

Finding significant water pools inside the RV from the refrigerator merits diagnosis:

Symptoms –

Water dripping down vents onto contents

Puddles collecting on the floor

Causes –

Clogged defrost drain tube/pan overflowing

Ice buildup rapidly melting

Disconnected/cracked drain hoses

Water filter housing leaks

Ammonia Leaking

Absorption refrigerators using ammonia refrigerant occasionally spring leak. Never ignore strong smells given toxicity concerns:

Symptoms –

Sharp propane/ammonia smells

Yellow residue around fittings

Reduced cooling performance

Causes –

Cracked tubing allows the refrigerant to escape

Leaking fittings/seals

Excess pressure-blowing seals

Constant Fan Operation

Fans should cycle on/off. Nonstop running points to:

Symptoms –

The fan never shuts off

Loss of cooling performance

Causes –

Defective control board

Sensor signaling constant maximum cooling

Electrical short circuit

Lacks Propane Cooling

If an absorption refrigerator cools properly on AC but not propane, inspect the combustion circuitry.

Symptoms –

Warm temperatures on LP mode only

Other sources cool efficiently

Causes –

Out of propane

Clogged burner jets

Faulty regulator stopping gas flow

Igniter/sensor, not lighting burner

Lacks 12V DC Cooling

Versatile RV refrigeration should activate from shore power, generator, propane, and 12V DC from coach batteries. If deficient on DC, assess:

Symptoms –

Warm cabinet off 12V source alone

Other power modes work normally

Causes –

Low voltage cutoff stopping operation

Malfunctioning DC converter

Faulty DC heating element

Bad control board

Frost Buildup in Freezer

Too much frost accumulating in the freezer compartment can indicate a problem:

Symptoms –

1/2″ or more of frost buildup

Having to manually defrost more frequently

Causes –

The door seal is damaged and allows air leaks

Automatic defrost system failure

Low refrigerant levels

Strange Sounds

Unfamiliar popping, cracking, or clicking sounds may signal an underlying issue:

Symptoms –

Unusual sounds not heard previously

Normal cooling function

Causes –

Refrigerant changes related to leaks/recharges

Expansion and contraction of cooling coils

Fan blade obstruction rubbing

Displaying Error Codes

Newer digital refrigerator models feature onboard electronics running diagnostics and showing numeric or flashing LED error codes in case of failure:

Symptoms –

Illuminated number codes on display

Flashing LED lights on the control panel

Causes –

Over/under voltage conditions

Faulty thermistor or sensor

Control board failure

Cooling system issue

General Troubleshooting

First of all, to ensure refrigerator failure, attempt common troubleshooting steps:

Verify Power Connections

Listen for propane flow upon ignition. Make sure AC power sustains uninterrupted energy to the refrigerator across all sources.

Coach Leveling

Precisely level absorption unit RVs prevent cooling fluid flow problems. Stabilize leaning coaches.

Clean Vents

Use compressed air to remove pet hair, dust, and debris clogging vents and causing overheating.

Double Check Thermostat

If recent temperature adjustments preceded issues, follow reset procedures calibrating unit ranges.

Simple actions fix most RV refrigerator operation problems without jumping to component failures. But persistent issues despite troubleshooting signify repairs are needed.

Specific Repair Solutions

After all the diagnoses, it’s time for a few common DIY repairs to target underlying problems:

Drainage Line Clearing

Compressed air, brushes, and cleaning agents remove gunk inside clogged tubes causing defrost water backup. Route tubing from internal pans outside.

Seal/Gasket Replacement

Pry out aged, warped seals around doors allowing cooled interior air leaks. Precisely match dimensions when replacing.

Burner Jet or Orifice Cleaning

Mineral deposits obstruct tiny propane jet holes reducing burner output. Scrub then rinse components restoring flow.

Wiring & Terminal Repairs

Corrosion and vibration strain refrigerator electrical connections interrupting energy transfer. Crimp or solder replacement connectors.

Control Board Replacement

Malfunctioning thermostats, sensors, and control boards govern cooling. On newer units, swap boards after identifying root failure codes.

Igniter & Thermocouple Maintenance

Clean debris/rust from propane igniters and thermocouples ensuring burner lighting for absorption refrigerators.

Certified refrigeration specialists can also replace damaged valves, chronically leaking seals, and failing heat exchangers if DIY repairs prove overwhelming.

Preventative Maintenance

When everything is completely fine, it’s a must to exercise preventative RV refrigerator maintenance to minimize mid-trip failures.

Vent and Coil Inspection: Monthly, thoroughly clean accumulated debris clogging outside condenser coils and inside vents hampering airflow using compressed air, vacuums, and pulling refrigerators outwards.

Door Seal and Gasket Checks: Quarterly, inspect seal condition around fridge/freezer doors on absorption units replacing any exhibiting gaps or leaks enabling cooled interior air leakage.

Leveling Refrigerators: Each time parking precisely levels the RV refrigerator to prevent cooling fluid flow problems and unevenness within absorption cooling coils.

Annual Tune-Ups: Have certified RV refrigerator technicians perform comprehensive annual checkups assessing wear on components and refrigerant charge needs heading off bigger issues.

Dometic & Norcold Model Maintenance: On Dometic units, annually inspect door latch adjustment to prevent looseness enabling leaks. Norcold models require checking burner tube fastener torque keeping connections constant.

Defrost Freezers: Manually defrost RV absorption unit freezers every 2-3 months preventing significant ice buildup and maintaining ideal temperatures and energy consumption.

Like household models, proactive cleaning, debris removal, and scheduled maintenance sustain optimal refrigerator operation, avoiding disruptions.

Identifying Faulty Refrigeration

If adjustable thermostat controls display appropriate ranges but poor chilling continues, suspect underlying issues if –

  • Setup supports selected power source
  • Intact connections/pressures confirm active supply
  • Clean vents/coils rule out debris reducing efficiency
  • No visible obstructions explaining fan failures

Qualified RV refrigerator technicians should analyze heat exchangers, seals, valves, and refrigerant charges needing lab tools and expertise.

Resetting Tripped Compressor Systems

Protective thermal or current cutoffs prevent permanent compressor damage from electrical issues or overheating. Units stop cooling until resets are performed –

a) Fully disconnect refrigerator power for 30+ minutes allowing overload relays to cool and reset.

b) Use the panel keypad interface to select control board reset modes per model specifications.

c) If cutoffs trip repeatedly, hire an authorized repair center to identify root causes and fully test fixes.

Optimizing RV Refrigeration Habits

Mind Interior Airflow: Avoid blocking shelves or tightly packing items reducing circulation efficiency. Leave reasonable clearance around stored foods enabling airflow.

Regularly Defrost Freezer: Manual defrost freezers every 2-3 months removing ice buildup and optimizing temperatures and energy consumption.

Food Storage Best Practices: Store milk and eggs on interior shelves, not door racks, to avoid temperature fluctuations from opening/closing.

Have Annual Inspections: Qualified refrigerator technicians identify wearing parts needing proactive replacement or chronically low refrigerant charges – preventing premature failures.

Avoid Overpacking Absorption Unit Freezers: Adding too many unfrozen items to an absorption freezer prevents completing initial freezing delaying chilled storage. Freeze first, then transfer.

Following optimal usage and storage practices paired with preventative maintenance helps RV refrigeration function reliably for years facilitating carefree mobile adventures.


RV refrigeration enables essential food safety needed for remote trips. But transport strains subject mechanisms to unique failures unknown in household models. Learning to quickly troubleshoot and rectify common issues grants confidence in keeping perishables properly chilled, preventing disruptive mid-trip service calls. Schedule preventative maintenance to optimize performance-sustaining refrigeration for years of travels ahead.

Common Related Questions

How long should an RV refrigerator last?

With maintenance, absorption, and compressor refrigerators typically operate reliably for 8-10 years before repairs become necessary. New thermoelectric coolers can function for 15-20 years.

Can you run an RV refrigerator while driving?

Yes, 12V DC compressor refrigerators are designed to operate both stationary and while driving using coach battery power. Absorption refrigerators require precise leveling to prevent damage.

Why do RV fridges suddenly get cold and then warm?

Loose wiring connections affected by travel vibrations intermittently disrupt energy flow to refrigerators. Crimping replacement connectors stop temperature fluctuations.

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