RVs & Fridges: 12 Helpful Tips (For Beginners)

RV refrigerators are truly an underappreciated blessing for regular travelers.

They keep your perishables fresh even when you’re on the go, and stand all of those rough bumps and turns on the roads.

A major advantage that RV fridges have over regular household refrigerators is that they’re powered with either propane or electricity, so you don’t need to be worried about the goods in your fridge getting moldy when you don’t always have an outlet. 

In today’s article, we’ll tell you all that you need to know to keep your food fresh and share some handy tips you can use to maintain your fridge and help it function better:

Can RV Fridges Run Without Battery?

Most RV fridges can not run without a battery.

The only exception to this would be propane fridges. This type of fridge has a set of tubes filled with ammonia, water, and hydrogen gas.

These three mix together to form a mixture that gets boiled by a propane flame at the bottom. Once boiled, the ammonium gas rises up to a condenser that cools back down into liquid form.

Then the ammonium gas mixes once more with hydrogen to absorb more heat and allow another cycle that cools down the fridge.

As simple as it may seem, even this kind of fridge needs some electricity to run its thermostat and other sensors.

This is to control the coolness of the fridge and the heat of the flame.

Are Propane Fridges Safe?

If used and maintained properly, propane fridges are perfectly safe.

You just need to make sure that all the tubes are sealed tight and connected properly to prevent flammable gases from escaping.

The key to the safe use of propane fridges is with diligent maintenance. For one, you should always inspect the tubes if they have any leaks or are damaged or dented in any way.

You should also keep these in a well-ventilated place just in case carbon monoxide might build up.

The problem with carbon monoxide is that it is a silent killer – you won’t know if it is around because it has no smell. You will smell ammonia, though, and you should immediately alert yourself to others if you smell it.

That’s because the smell of ammonia is a good indicator that at least one of your tubes is leaking.

But with most newer models of RVs and RV fridges, the chance of a leak creating an explosion is slim to none.

Can RV Fridges Tun on Battery?

RV refrigerators can run on battery, but you can’t trust batteries long enough to keep your perishables from spoiling, especially if you’re traveling and will not have access to a different power source for a long period of time.

That’s because refrigerators consume a large amount of power and will drain out your battery very quickly.

How long it’ll take for your battery to run out, however, depends on the model of your fridge.

An exception to this, however, would be if you own a propane fridge. Propane fridges only use electricity for their sensors, and won’t drain out your batteries.

Since they use propane for keeping your food fresh, you can expect them to run on battery for even a week or two.

However, you shouldn’t use your propane fridge while driving, because the ammonia-based coolant in them is highly flammable.

Can RV Fridges be Recharged?

It is possible to recharge the cooling units of RV fridges, but you can’t do it on your own.

You’ll have to get in touch with the RV showroom or dealer from whom you bought the RV or the refrigerator and request your model to get checked and recharged, and they’ll get it done for you.

If you sniff ammonia around in your fridge, make sure that you get it repaired and recharged as soon as possible, and carry it to the showroom safely.

The reason why you can’t do this at home is that more often than not, recharges are required when the cooling fluid of the fridge, which is a mixture of ammonia, hydrogen gas, water, and rust inhibitor, gets leaked out.

Not only is it highly unlikely for the layman to gain access to this mixture, but you should also never attempt to do this on your own because the coolant mixture is highly flammable.

Can RV Fridges be Repaired?

In most cases, RV fridges are easily repairable.

They are designed to be fixable when needed, especially when you have the right parts and tools. But this largely depends on what has been damaged and how.

Most commonly, it is the cooling unit that needs to be repaired. This happens if your ammonia tank leaks or the cooling coils get rusted or jammed with debris.

However, in some cases, when the cooling unit reaches its limit or wears down completely, it is essential that you get it replaced as soon as you can.

Another common issue is mold growing inside the fridge, and this almost always happens when you forget to clear out your fridge for a long time.

How Can You Clean a Moldy Fridge?

Cleaning a moldy fridge is a relatively easy task, and all you need is some soap and bleach to do it.

You’ll have to clean out your fridge in two washes:

  • In the first wash, clean the moldy surface with soap and water to remove the mold and bacteria completely.
  • In the second wash, mix bleach and water to wipe the surface and disinfect it to ensure that the mold doesn’t grow back. 

After the fridge is completely dry and smells normal, you can then restock it again.

WARNING: Make sure that you’re not using the bleach with another cleaner that contains ammonia. Ammonia and bleach will react together and form chlorine gas, and inhaling it can be lethal.

Also, make sure that the refrigerator’s ammonia tank isn’t leaking, and there’s no ammonia spilled around while you’re doing this.

When working with fridges, you should always refer to the manual if it is available. Otherwise, you should check all the usual routes that they use.

Things like gas tubes and electric cables are good places to start with.

Can RV fridges Outlast the Vehicle?

A well-maintained RV should last you about 20 years, and if you take good care of your fridge too, it is expected to live just as long as, if not longer, than the actual RV itself.

Although it is rather rare that this may happen, your fridge may outlast the RV.

However, it is going to have a very short lifeline left within it, and thus, it is highly unlikely that you’ll be able to make much use of it or sell it to get a fair portion of the amount that you originally purchased it for.

How Can I Make my Refrigerator Last Long?

The key to a long-lasting refrigerator is its maintenance routine.

A high-quality refrigerator is also expected to last much longer than a low-quality one, which is oftentimes on the cheaper end too.

Regardless of what the brand of the refrigerator is that you’re using, following these few steps will certainly elongate its lifespan:

1. Proper Installation:

If you’ve got a new fridge, make sure that it has been installed correctly by referring to the refrigerator’s owner manual.

Many new RV owners or even experienced RVers with newer models tend to forget about this.

Incorrect installation will give you trouble and may also shorten the device’s lifespan.

When in doubt, have a professional do it.

2. Wire Connection & Driving:

Although RV refrigerators are hardy and built to last, particularly rough drives may have an impact on it.

To stay on the safe side, make sure that all its wires are connected, and the fridge is in good shape after every drive.

3. Cleanliness & Maintenence:

Check and clean the refrigerator’s exhaust routinely.

Don’t overcrowd your fridge.

Allowing airflow improves the fridge’s longevity. You could also invest in an inexpensive fan for the fridge to keep it cool and improve airflow.

Also, try to switch your fridge on at least six hours before you place anything in it.

4. Keep an Eye on Your Propane Tanks:

Overfilled tanks could damage the fridge’s diaphragm. 

Never, ever overfill your propane tanks.

Can You Run an RV Fridge While Driving?

As long as you have a good battery, you can use your fridge while on the road.

RV fridges are designed to be used while being frequently on and off from power and are durable enough to withstand bumping motions while the RV is running.

The only problem you might have here would be with the battery power since RV fridges are power hogs – they eat up a lot of electricity.

However, you should be careful not to use propane fridges while driving. These are fire hazards, especially when their pipes break while on the road.

Can You Install a Regular Fridge in an RV?

It is totally possible to install a regular household fridge in the RV, but you’ll have to make a number of adjustments within the RV to make sure that it serves its purpose well.

Household fridges run at 120 volts, while the voltage of an RV fridge is 110 volts. That would mean that your fridge will not be able to function well if you connect it to your RV’s refrigerator outlet, and in other cases, the plug wouldn’t fit the outlet itself.

It can also strain your RV’s electrical system and cause its battery to drain faster than it normally does. A one-time fix for this problem would be to call an electrician over and get a 120 volts outlet installed in your RV for the refrigerator.

RV fridges are placed inside cabinets built within the RV, but certain regular refrigerators might not be able to work inside a cabinet since they need a specific airflow path in order to function.

Check out your fridge’s manual to see if it can function within a cabinet. 

Another thing that you should keep in mind is that standard fridges need electricity to function, while RV fridges aren’t dependent on it. You’ll only be able to use your fridge if your RV is connected to an outlet, or if you have an inverter or generator running.

What makes this option considerable is the fact that household fridges are much cheaper than expensive RV fridges.

As long as you are able to make your fridge function in the way that normal RV fridges do, you’re good to go.

Do RV Fridges Make Noise?

While hearing funny noises coming from the fridge is quite a common phenomenon in most domestic fridges, RV fridges don’t typically make a noise because they don’t run on compressors, but rather chemicals.

However, they are not immune to making noises from time to time; these noises are caused by the refrigerator’s auxiliary fans. Other times, it’s just the liquid in the fridge moving around, and that’s perfectly normal.

Most RV fridges are rather expensive, durable, and high-quality, and thus, they hardly make any strange sounds. But if they do, you should definitely check them out for air trapped within the fridge’s pipes, which might be causing the noises.

In this case, replacing the fridge’s cooling unit is the standard approach, but this move would be rather heavy in your pocket.

An alternative ( and free) method to allow this trapped air to escape would be to disconnect the fridge and its gas line, removing the screws within it and around its sides, and then placing the fridge on its top, left, and right sides ( 8 hours per side) to allow the trapped air to escape.

Once that’s done, put the screws back in and restart your fridge, and it should be working fine again.

Alternatively, if your fan is the culprit, it might be because the fan installed in the refrigerator isn’t the ideal one for it.

If the noise is highly disturbing, you could always change the fan and get one that’s a better fit for your fridge.

How Long do RV Fridges Last?

When maintained properly, RV fridges can last for as long as your RV is usable.

However, unlike standard home fridges, RV fridges also tend to get into a lot of power problems.

These include power surges, especially when the RV is plugged into a 240-volt shore power source.

These would decrease their lifetime or break them outright.

What Does a Thermistor Do in an RV Fridge?

In general, a thermistor is a kind of a resistor that changes its electrical resistance based on the temperature.

In RV fridges, their purpose is to help control the coolness of the fridge by changing the electrical output between the power source and the cooling system.

You can find them on the cooling fins inside the fridge so they can detect the level of temperature present in the fridge itself.

What is the Thermistor Shuffle?

The thermistor shuffle is a simple trick that you can do when the fridge’s control board does not cool the fridge down enough to desirable levels.

This is done by moving the thermistor around so you could trick the sensor into thinking that the fridge is not cool enough. You just need to move it near areas that are not cooled enough.

What’s amazing here is that moving the thermistor around does not break your fridge as long as you are careful enough not to pull hard on it or bend the cooling fins.

Sometimes, a fridge that does not cool down enough might be having internal problems.

This just solves the surface problem and not the root of it.

Can RV Fridge Work When Not Level?

Most RV fridges will not work when they are not in level.

This is because the cooling agent inside of them needs to be at level ground, or it will not be able to circulate properly.

Propane refrigerators are most susceptible to this because they use gravity to move gases around and barely use any motors.

But these don’t need to be completely at the level. You can use RV fridges with no problem if you are at 1 or 2 degrees away from the proper level.

Any more than 2 degrees and your fridge might not become as cool as it should be.

Also, the higher the tilt, the higher the chance that your fridge might break.

How Do You Level an RV?

There are two ways to level an RV. One is through an automatic leveler.

This one uses hydraulic pumps to push the sides of the RV to make all of the physical efforts for you. These things also come with a level sensor to know if it is at the correct angle or not.

The second one is through manual leveling.

You use jacks to push up the RV at the sides. For this, it would help a lot to have someone from the inside to check if the level is still off.

Meanwhile, you can use an electric drill to help you out with the jack outside.

Just attach the drill to the turning thing that changes the height, and you’re good to go.

Why Does my RV Fridge Keep Shutting Off?

For most electric RV fridges, the problem here is with the fridge’s connection to the power supply.

You might want to turn it off first then check if the other appliances that run on the same system as the fridge would turn on.

Another problem here might be with the fridge’s AC/DC inverter. Most fridges run on AC power. That is why they use inverters when they are connected to batteries that output DC current for all other appliances to use.

However, three-way fridges can also use DC current, so you might want to check all connections just in case.

Other times, it is because the fridge is not level. Besides the coolant, the fridge can have internal moving parts that could be affected when the RV is tilted at a high angle.

Leveling it correctly might solve the problem. Otherwise, it could have been because it is too old, or it might not have been used too much.

If so, then ammonia might have formed sediments at the bottom.

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