If you take out your RV after an extended hiatus, you might have fridge problems. One common question we hear is “why is my RV fridge not working on electric?”

Camping in an RV is very convenient. However, it can be very frustrating when you find that one of your most useful appliances, the refrigerator, is not working as it should.

An RV fridge will not start on electric if its batteries are drained or if there is something wrong with its electrical circuit. The fridge may be working but not cooling if its refrigerant has leaked out or it has built up sediment. There can also be something wrong with the fridge burner.

But that’s not all you need to know about RV fridges. Here, we have listed down the common problems that plague RV fridges and how to prevent these issues. We have also explained how long an RV fridge is expected to last and when to buy a new RV fridge.

As an RV owner and an avid camper, I have learned that it is wise to know how to troubleshoot various appliances and components of your vehicle. With this, you can avoid nasty surprises miles away from your home and even if you do encounter a problem, will have an idea of what it is and how to damage control it.



Does Your Fridge Run on Both Electricity and Propane?

An RV refrigerator works differently from a fridge in a house. It comes in two categories: a two-way fridge and a three-way fridge. A two way fridge will run off propane or an 120-volt electric power system. A three-way fridge will run off propane, an electric power source, and a battery power.

Most modern RVs will have one of these types of fridges and hence the appliance will be able to run on both propane and electricity. However, the electric system is not as efficient as powerful when it comes to use of energy.

A 20-pound propane tank will provide enough energy to power your RV appliances for a month, under most circumstances, including not just the fridge but the water heater and cooking range as well. On the other hand, if you are using battery power alone, the RV fridge will deplete it to less than the recommended 50% limit in just a few hours.

An RV fridge will run on gas, unless you have set it to run on electricity or if you have set it to automatic. If you have set the RV fridge to automatic, the propane gas system will switch off and allow it to run on electricity, if it is available. Alternatively, if the fridge is disconnected from an electrical source, the gas will kick on in a few minutes automatically.

Why Isn’t My Fridge Running on Electric Power?

Your RV fridge may not be cooling on electric power for several reasons. Some causes can be fixed easily by anyone, though others may require professional maintenance work. Let’s take a look at some of the most common issues that I myself have faced.

Tripped Electric Breakers

If your fridge is running on electric power, you need to first find out whether it has blown a fuse. The 120-volt electric system of your RV fridge is wired through the circuit breaker, so you need to check the circuit panel as well.

If you see a tripped circuit breaker, you need to replace the fuse and reset the fridge and try running it on electric again. Evert RV fridge is different; however, most models have a reset button inside the refrigerator. All you need to do is press it to successfully reset your fridge.

 If you see that the circuit breaker trips again, there may be something wrong with the heating system.

If you check the control board and there are no tripped breakers, it may also be the result of a shorted heating element or a faulty control board.

Bad Heating Element

If your RV fridge is unable to work on electricity, it might be because of a bad control board or electrical heating element.

To check the element, use a multimeter to find out if the control board is providing enough power to the heating element. If there are no issues with the power but the fridge is still not getting cold, then the heating element will need to be replaced.

In addition, it could also be that the control board’s relay or fuse is not working right. This might mean that the entire control board may need to be replaced.

Keep in mind that replacing these components can be hazardous so if you are not comfortable doing this, you need to call in the professionals. You can either drive your RV to a repair shop or call a technician to check out your RV.

Also keep in mind that the fridge that has not been used in a while will take a longer time to cool. If that is so or if it is particularly hot outside, it might need some extra time to cool down.

To hasten the cooling process, you can place a couple of frozen water bottles inside the fridge. This will help it cool down faster.

Camper Is Not Level

If your refrigerator is not cooling and its electrical components are working fine, it may be that your camper is not standing on a flat space.

Unlike the fridge in your home, your RV fridge is not equipped with a compressor. Instead, it comes with a gas absorption cooling system. When the electric heating element heats the gas inside the cooling unit of the fridge, it makes it rise to the cooling unit tube which allows it to circulate throughout the system.

If the RV is not level, the gas will not rise into the tube and will not circulate around the system, which means your cooling unit will not be able to do its job properly.

To ensure this does not happen, make sure you park the RV in a flat space.

A Leaky Cooling Unit

The RV fridge is cooled through a chemical process involving ammonia, hydrogen gas, water, and heat. If any one of these substances are leaking, your fridge will not work properly. To check for signs of leak, open the access door at the back of the floor and sniff at it to check whether you can smell the ammonia. You may also see yellowish residue on the coils.

If you see these signs, turn off the fridge immediately and open the entry points of your vehicle to get rid of the fumes. You can try to seal up the cooling unit to fix the issue on a temporary basis, but if this keeps happening, it is a sign that your cooling unit needs to be fixed entirely.

Buildup of Ammonia Sediment

You might have a problem with ammonia sediments if your fridge is old or your RV has not been used in a long time. When the fridge is not used for a long while, the ammonia in it turns to liquid and may pool down the cooling unit. This creates sediment that blocks the system and will prevent your fridge from not cooling.

At this time, you need to start looking for a new fridge. However, if you are unable to at the moment, you can try a simple trick. Unplug the RV fridge and take it out of the RV. Turn it upside down and allow it to stay that way for a few hours so that the sediment may seep out of the cooling unit.

If this trick, however, does not work, you will need to buy a new fridge.

A Frozen Cooling Unit

This most probably will never happen to you unless you live in the states where temperatures go below -30 degree Fahrenheit. Your cooling unit should be fine if you keep the power on and the temperature above subzero level.

However, if you do not store your RV the right way and it is parked in subzero temperatures, then there is a chance that the cooling unit will freeze.

Once the unit is frozen, it will not cool the fridge since the frozen elements will block the system. To fix this, just use a space heater to warm the cooling unit up. Once it is thawed, it will be able to work like normal.

A Failing Fridge Burner

If you are camping at high altitudes, your fridge burner may burn out. That is because flames burn with fuel and oxygen. At heights above 5,500 feet, the oxygen level drops, which means your burner will struggle to stay on or go out completely.

The easiest way to manage this is to switch your RV fridge to AC power when you are climbing high mountains. If your burner has failed you, you can get it working once more by driving to a lower height or plugging the fridge to a power source.

Issues With Insulation

RV fridges do not have the same cooling efficiency as fridges in your home. If there is an insulation issue with a fridge, it might experience extreme heat loss.

Most RV fridges use vacuum panes in the walls that consist of foams seals that can prevent loss of heat. However, over the years, these vacuum seals can also fail, which means the insulating abilities of the fridge walls will be reduced.

Another common issue that leads to insulation failure is magnetic seals around the door. To find out whether a seal has gone bad is to place a piece of paper in the fridge door and then try to pull it out. If the seal is intact, it will be difficult to pull it out; however, if it comes out easily, the fridge door has probably lost its seal and is letting out the cold.

What If My Fridge On Electric Is Still Not Working?

If you have tried all the above tricks and your RV fridge is still not working, then it might be the time to get a new one.

All electrical equipment experiences wear and tear over the years. This will result in poor cooling symptoms, particularly in hot weather.

When getting a new RV fridge, getting a DC compressor model is a great idea. If you are plugged in almost all the time or have a fridge that is equipped with a solar system with lithium batteries, it can cool the fridge much better and is much more efficient than the electrical style.

How to Prevent RV Fridge Problems

When it comes to preventing problems with your RV fridge, regular maintenance is essential. To make sure your fridge keeps running smoothly, here are a few things you should do:

  • Schedule a check-up and maintenance routine of your fridge after each camping trip to ensure everything is in order.
  • Make sure the fridge vent located on top of the RV is free from dust and debris.
  • Park your RV in a sheltered area to protect it from the elements.
  • Make sure you cool your fridge before you go out on a trip or before putting food in it. Do not put hot or warm food or beverages in the fridge.
  • Do not stuff your fridge to the brim because it can prevent air circulation and reduce cooling of the fridge.
  • If you leave your fridge turned off for too long, it can result in buildup of ammonia sediments which prevents cooling.
  • Keep your fridge clean, both inside and outside.
  • Do a comprehensive maintenance of your RV fridge at least once a year. 

How Long Are RV Fridges Expected to Last?

An RV fridge is expected to last an average of 15 years. If you take very good care of your fridge it can last for up to 20 years or even more in some cases.

To ensure you get the most out of your RV fridge, here are some things you need to be careful of:

  • Make sure your RV is parked on level ground. Using your fridge on uneven or inclined ground can lead to malfunctions.
  • If you do not travel very frequently, it is a good idea to switch your RV fridge on now and then. This prevents ammonia from liquefying and settling into the cooling unit. It also ensures that no mold grows in the fridge and that it is working fine.
  • To ensure you p[reserve the cold temperature in your fridge, it is important that you do not forget to close the fridge door when it is not in use and not to keep opening the fridge door frequently. This will keep the content cooler and help your fridge avoid overworking which can result in wear and tear.
  • Make sure you defrost your fridge once every month or two. This will prevent the ice from building up in the unit and help the fridge last longer. Accumulation of ice in the fridge can make it more efficient.
  • When getting the fridge services, it is important to clear out the flue and check its airflow to ensure it runs perfectly. Preventative maintenance can do wonders when it comes to prolonging the life of your RV fridge.

As you can see, there are many fridge problems that you can fix yourself. However, there are some that require the help of a professional. If so, it is important that you don’t deal with them yourself or you may cause irreparable harm to the fridge. Instead, call a local RV technician to get it fixed.

Happy camping!


Anthony Day

Anthony Day

Hi, my name is Anthony, and RVs are what I'm passionate about. I bought my first RV when I was 21, and I've been hooked ever since. I'll guide you on how they work, how they can be used in different environments, and how they fit into our everyday lives.

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