A Comprehensive Guide to Troubleshooting a Faulty RV Refrigerator
Is your RV refrigerator not cooling?
A faulty fridge could ruin any road trip you’re planning. You could simply replace it for a ‘quick fix.’ However, doing so isn’t cheap and could cut a considerable amount from your budget.
You could try checking what the problem is and fixing it yourself. It’ll save your trip from being a complete disaster while saving you some cash, too. The problem is, do you know what to do?
So, to help save your trip (and money), we’ve created this comprehensive, easy-to-understand guide on how to troubleshoot a faulty RV fridge. But first, you need to have a basic understanding of how a refrigerator system works.
An Overview of an RV’s Refrigerator System
A home fridge and an RV fridge are similar in the sense that they both have the same purpose: to keep your food fresh and cool. However, they work in completely different ways.
While a home fridge uses a compressor to run its cooling cycle, an RV fridge uses a combination of heating and chemical reactions of gases (ammonia and hydrogen) and liquid (water) to keep the air inside the fridge compartment cool.
Sounds complicated? Let’s break it down even more:
When heat is supplied to the water, hydrogen, and ammonia in your RV fridge—either with an electric element or a propane flame—they all turn into gas. This combination of gases travels through a tube into a separation chamber.
From the separation chamber, it goes through more tubes and chambers: the absorption chamber, condenser coil, and evaporator coil to undergo heat extraction and condensation. All these processes allow the water, ammonia, and hydrogen to undergo chemical changes necessary to complete your RV refrigerator’s cooling cycle.
Understanding Common Issues That Can Occur
It’s an elegant process, but a long and complicated one. Problems can happen at any stage of the cooling cycle and in any of the tubes and chambers.
That means there could be many possible reasons why your RV refrigerator isn’t cooling. However, here are some of the most common ones:
- The heat coils have a leak;
- The vent is blocked with dust and other impurities;
- The gas nozzle is blocked with soot;
- The tank valve is off;
- The heating element isn’t hot enough;
- The control boards aren’t functioning properly;
- Your RV is not level;
- Your fridge is overloaded
What Should You Do? A Step-by-Step Troubleshooting Guide
So, what should you do to know if your RV refrigerator is suffering a common issue or something that requires replacement? You can follow this simple, but comprehensive step-by-step guide to know for sure:
1. Check the Power Supply
The first thing you should check when your RV refrigerator isn’t cooling is the power supply. Two-way RV refrigerator can run on both propane and electricity; three-way RV fridges have the additional option of running on 12-volt battery power.
Ensure your fridge is getting energy by:
- Checking for tripped circuit breakers and blown fuses;
- Plugging a lamp or another small device into the outlet your fridge is using to see if it supplying power or not;
- Making sure your propane tank is reasonably full;
- Switching the fridge’s power mode between power sources to see if cooling happens on other modes. If there’s cooling on the other power modes, then it’d be easier to identify which power supply isn’t working.
2. Test the Temperature Control
If there’s no problem with the power supply, the next thing you should test is the temperature control.
● Don’t Forget to Set the Temperature
Some RV refrigerators have a control panel out front where you can adjust the temperature. However, many use a thermistor.
A thermistor is an internal temperature control device that looks like a piece of plastic clipped to metal fins. It’s located at the back of your fridge’s interior. Often, there’s a sticker beside it that says “warmer” and “colder.”
If the thermistor clip isn’t screwed in place, simply move it to “colder.” If it’s screwed in place, don’t touch it! Instead, adjust the temperature using the control panel. Sometimes, the solution to an RV fridge that’s not cooling is as simple as a little temperature adjustment!
● Check for Internal Thermostat Problems
Sometimes, it’s the thermostat itself that’s causing the issue. If the control panel is blank or if it’s not responding to temperature adjustments, then your thermostat could’ve gone bad.
Another sign of a defective thermostat is if the temperature doesn’t match the setting. You can try changing the thermostat’s batteries to see if it will fix the problem. Otherwise, it may be time to replace your thermostat.
3. Inspect the Heat Source
If there’s no problem with the power supply and temperature control, it’s time to check the heat source. You can find the fridge’s heating element on a vertical tube located at the rear part of the unit.
Once you’ve found it, disconnect all the wires that lead to the heat source. Then, use a multimeter and set it to ohms reading to check if the heating element is working. If it shows an infinite or zero reading, the heating element needs a replacement.
4. Investigate the Motor Noise
But what if the power supply, thermostat, thermostat settings, and heat source are all working? Stop for a moment and listen to your fridge closely. Is it making a sound?
If your RV fridge isn’t cooling and there’s a clicking sound near the cooling system, there may be air bubbles trapped in the cooling line. You can try burping your fridge to release the bubbles and solve the issue.
However, excessive loud humming, fan noises, and other loud sounds indicate a more serious problem and must be checked by qualified service personnel.
5. Examine the Door Seals
If your RV fridge isn’t making abnormal noises and there are no issues with the power supply, thermostat, and heat source, check the door seals for problems.
Shut the refrigerator door with a dollar bill stuck between the door and the seal. Once closed, try to pull the bill out. Did you feel any resistance? If there’s little to no resistance, it’s likely the door doesn’t have a tight seal and hot air is getting into the fridge (and cold air can’t stay in).
You can lightly rub a layer of vaseline over the rubber seal and door gasket to help it form that suction seal. You can also adjust the upper door hinges of the fridge to keep it level and help it seal the door tightly.
6. Check the Condenser Coils
If there’s no problem with the door seals, check the condenser coils of your fridge. The condenser coil is where hot gas passes through before going to the evaporator coil. If it’s clogged, the refrigerant will have trouble circulating and keeping your fridge cold.
You can find the condenser coils behind your fridge. They look like small, black interwoven tubes. Make sure to turn off the power supply before attempting to touch it.
Use a vacuum brush to clean the coils of accumulated debris. Then, wipe the coil’s surface with a moist rag. Reassemble your fridge and test if this solved the cooling issue.
RV Refrigerator: Tips & Troubleshooting
3 Tips to Avoid Cooling Issues with Your RV Fridge
Drop the Temp Ahead of Time
Some RV fridges need a few hours (others even need an entire day!) before chilling out. So don’t forget to lower the temperature for at least several hours before hitting the road.
Park in the Shade or Create One
When parking, position your RV refrigerator so that it’s shaded, especially during the hottest part of the day. If you can’t find any shade, keep your awning down or rig tarps to create one.
Use Reflective Insulation
Help your fridge work less hard by using reflective insulation. It will help block the sun’s heat and prevent it from entering your RV through the windows.
They say prevention is the best cure and that is true even when it comes to RV refrigerator.
To keep your RV refrigerator in good working condition, make sure to have it regularly cleaned and serviced. It will save you a lot of money from repairs (or replacement) and make it ready and rearing to go when you need it to!
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