1. Home
  2. Tech
  3. DIY
  4. The Cold Facts: RV Refrigerator Service and Maintenance

The Cold Facts: RV Refrigerator Service and Maintenance

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

If you own an RV, chances are it’s equipped with a gas/electric refrigerator. With the summer travel season on the horizon, now is the time to give your refrigerator a little TLC.

Absorption refrigerators produce cold from heat, so it’s imperative that all systems work together and function properly in order to maintain a desired temperature to prevent food from spoiling prematurely.

RV refrigerators have different maintenance requirements than home refrigerators. House models simply sit, whereas motorhome refrigerators must endure a strenuous existence of regular jostling, periods without consistent cooling and out-of-level situations. In addition, environmental factors such as high ambient temperatures combined with dust, dirt and rust truly challenge the operation of any absorption-type refrigerator throughout its service life. These combined stress points and other mechanical considerations make it important to service RV refrigerators annually.

[satellite auto=off caption=on thumbs=on]


General Tips 

Whenever possible, pre-cool the refrigerator for 8 to 10 hours before loading it with food so you’re not trying to cool the food and the warm refrigerator at the same time. 

Cool and freeze food at home before loading it into the refrigerator/freezer so it doesn’t have to overcome room temperature.

Pack food loosely. Most RV refrigerators don’t have fans to circulate the cold air, although portable aftermarket fans can help. If you don’t have enough room, consider taking along an ice chest, which can be used for items such as cold drinks. This also reduces the number of times the refrigerator has to be opened to grab a drink.

Cover all liquids and food to help prevent condensation or frost buildup on the interior fins. Allow hot or warm liquids to cool prior to placing them in the refrigerator or freezer compartment.

Limit the number of times you open the doors whenever possible. Cold air escapes every time a door is opened. Plan on removing or restocking food as much as possible at one time. Also avoid covering the shelves with foil or large pans, as this will diminish the circulation of cold air.

Keep an eye on the cooling fins. When they ice up, cooling efficiency will be reduced. The temperature may be set too high or the door gaskets may not be sealing, thus allowing moisture to creep inside. Not sure whether your door gaskets seal properly? Close the doors on a dollar bill and pull the bill out slowly; you should feel a slight resistance.

Defrost the freezer from time to time to help boost freezer performance. Absorption-type refrigerators are auto defrost but they are not frost-free.

Check the interior temperature often as conditions change. When the refrigerator is at its coolest point, set a glass of water with a thermometer in it on the top shelf inside the refrigerator for the most accurate reading; 35 degrees Fahrenheit is a good temperature. A wireless digital thermometer is an easy way to keep tabs on interior temperatures.

If you notice the smell of ammonia, turn off the refrigerator immediately, open its doors and all the windows and roof vents in the motorhome. Ammonia is very caustic and can ruin the metal shelves in the lower compartment. Eventually, the ammonia will diminish. If this happens while on a trip, once the smell is gone, empty the refrigerator and close the doors until you get home and make a service appointment. At this point the refrigerator will cease to function and the cooling unit will need to be replaced.

For More Tips On Recalls, Interior And Exterior Inspections, Pick Up The May 2013 Issue Of MotorHome Magazine!

Motorhome How Tos

Subscribe to Wildsam Magazine today, Camping World and Good Sam’s magazine of the open road.

Just $19.97 for a year’s subscription.


Please login or register to view archived articles.

Sign In

Do not have an account? Create New Account