Camper refrigerators are an integral part of your motorhome because they allow you to keep your food fresh and ready on the road.
Encountering problems with your camper refrigerator is hardly rare. Though a broken refrigerator can be an inconvenience at times, that doesn’t mean your trip also has to be ruined.
Instead of having to call a professional each time your fridge faces issues, you can learn to troubleshoot and fix it yourself.
While not all refrigerator troubles can be fixed without the help of a professional, there are some key issues that you can troubleshoot and repair on your own.
This way, you may be able to find the solution yourself before you make that call and drop more money on a professional.
1. Your Fridge Won’t Turn On
If you have trouble powering on your fridge, first be aware of whether your fridge runs on propane, electricity, or both.
Next, follow these steps to troubleshoot why your fridge is having trouble turning on:
- With a propane-controlled fridge, check your propane tank to see if it is full.
- Replacing an empty propane tank is a quick and simple fix.
- Your power source may also just not be strong enough to power your fridge.
- This is a common problem that is easy to spot.
- Make sure you have significant wattage to power your camper refrigerator.
- Check to see if there is a blown fuse in your RV’s black box.
- Sometimes, you may need to replace a fuse though this issue is not common.
- If you find yourself dealing with blown fuses frequently, there may be a serious underlying issue.
If you are still unable to power on your fridge, this can be indicative of a bigger problem at play.
In this case, a professional may be required to help mend your camper refrigerator.
2. Your Fridge has a Leaking Cooling Unit
A cooling unit consists of metal coils that are attached to the back of your refrigerator.
These metal coils are cooled by a solution made from ammonia, water, and hydrogen that works to keep your food cold and refrigerator chilly.
Occasionally, this unit can leak and cause problems.
To figure out if your fridge has a leaking cooling unit, here are a few telltale signs:
- There may be a strong ammonia scent coming from the cooling unit.
- Ammonia has a pungent odor that can range from smelling fishy or like rotten eggs.
- A strong sniff may also irritate your nose.
- Your cooling unit is coated in a mysterious, yellow substance.
- This is residue from the deteriorated steel tubing.
- You may also notice that your absorber is hot, but your boiler is just warm.
To troubleshoot this issue, you may try this test:
- First, Plug the heating element’s 110-volt wires into a 110 VAC element.
- Next, fill a glass of water and add a thermometer into the glass.
- This is for reading the temperature.
- After 12 hours, the thermometer should be around 43 degrees Fahrenheit.
- After 24 hours, between 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
If your fridge is unable to reach these temperatures, it may be time to get a whole new cooling unit.
If not, you either patch the leak up yourself or ask a professional for assistance.
Do not use your fridge until you can contain the leak because ammonia is a toxic substance.
3. Your Fridge has a Frozen Cooling Unit
A frozen cooling unit doesn’t necessarily mean your fridge is working perfectly at keeping your food cold.
When your cooling unit freezes completely, the cooling solution is unable to circulate properly. As a result, your fridge is left warm for your food to spoil.
While this issue is not common, it is certainly possible when outside weather drops to subzero temperatures. It can also occur if you have left your camper outside in the cold overnight.
The best way to troubleshoot this issue is to keep an eye on the temperatures. To fix your frozen cooling unit, use a source of heat such as a space heater to thaw the ice.
Defrost your unit as much as possible so the solution in the cooling unit can start circulating properly again.
Then, after the icy unit is fully thawed, check to see if your fridge is working again.
If your fridge is still not working, this may be a sign of a more serious issue that would be difficult to fix yourself. In this case, a professional may be needed.
4. Your Fridge’s Pilot Light Won’t Stay On
Camper refrigerators can run on propane, electricity, or both.
There is AC and DC power, which refers to the flow of electric current. Most likely, your fridge will include a burner jet, also known as a pilot light.
If you have a propane-powered refrigerator and are having issues with your pilot light turning off, check your thermocouple.
Ensure that the thermocouple is working smoothly; if not, it may be time to replace it with a new thermocouple.
Additionally, it may be time to clean your orifice and burner. The residue that builds up on these components could also be a cause for your pilot light problems.
Make sure your fridge is turned off before you clean these units.
If you are still having problems, there may be problems with having too much air in the pilot’s gas line. At this point, you must reset your fridge’s gas valves.
The method of resetting gas valves is dependent on your fridge model, so check your owner’s manual for specific instructions beforehand.
After following these steps, your fridge’s pilot light should be staying on just fine.
5. Your Fridge’s Burner is Failing
As stated before, your fridge can run on propane, electricity, or both.
Though camper refrigerators generally switch power sources on their own, there may be a problem as you reach altitudes higher than 5,550 feet.
Air gets thinner as height increases, so your propane gas becomes affected at higher altitudes.
If you continue to use propane to power your fridge at high altitudes, your fridge burner can start failing due to excess air in gas lines.
To avoid this issue, make sure to switch to electricity at high altitudes.
If your burners have already burned out, you may have to reset your fridge settings and purge the propane cylinders.
At worst, you may have to replace your fridge’s burner or possibly even your entire fridge.
6. Your Fridge Has Ammonia Sediment Build Up
If your fridge is older and has been dealing with leaking ammonia, ammonia sediment may be the culprit to why your fridge is not staying cold.
Once ammonia builds up, it clogs your cooling unit and prevents your fridge from getting colder.
Keep your fridge from being inactive for long periods of time. Don’t allow your fridge to rot away in storage. You don’t need to constantly power your entire RV, but let your fridge run occasionally to avoid ammonia sediment build-up.
If you are having problems with significant ammonia build-up, you can try the trick of flipping your fridge upside down.
Remove your refrigerator and let it sit in an upside-down position for a while.
This can help move the ammonia sediment away from the cooling unit.
This trick is worth a shot, but it is also not always effective. Sometimes, the damage may be beyond repair, and you may need to get a completely new fridge to replace the old one.
Otherwise, your fridge will only deteriorate in quality and become more ineffective over time.
General Pros and Cons of Camper Refrigerators:
Camper refrigerators are important for travel as it keeps your food from spoiling.
Home-cooked food is an essential part of saving money and feeling at home. In the long run, RV refrigerators are considered a good investment.
Additionally, they are surprisingly compact compared to normal fridges. This can emulate the feeling of being at home without having to take up too much space in your RV.
The refrigerator can also run on propane or electricity based on your preference. Overall, camper fridges are a flexible and valuable asset to have in your motorhome.
Despite these benefits, you may also be faced with the burden of having to maintain your fridge.
If you are uninformed on how your refrigerator works and treat it without care, you may face issues with:
- Powering your fridge
- Leaking/Frozen Cooling Unit
- Faulty Pilot Light
- Failing Burner
- Ammonia Sediment Build up
While many may consider this appliance necessary, each case differs, and you may not need a fridge depending on your circumstances.
Morten is the founder of GoDownsize. He has filmed and interviewed people living in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. He grew up on the coast where his dad took him boating from a young age. He has completely rebuilt two RVs in which he travels with his family for months at the time. Read more about Morten here.