Our refrigerator is one of our most used items in our camper and is, arguably, one of the most important. We all have to eat right?! RV refrigerators can stop working for a large number of reasons. Some issues only require easy fixes such as not being plugged in or a power source incompatibility. Other problems take a bit more time to work out.
In this post we’re going to discuss why your RV fridge may not be working on electric power, how to troubleshoot this problem, and what needs to be done to fix it.
Table of Contents
- Common Types of RV Refrigerators
- Why Your RV Fridge Isn’t Working And How To Fix It
- How To Prevent RV Refrigerator Problems
Common Types of RV Refrigerators
Before we got our camper I had no idea there was more than one type of fridge. There are, in fact, generally three different types of fridges used in camping vehicles. Without getting into too much detail, these are the three types and how they’re powered:
- Compressor powered refrigerators run using electricity, either AC or DC power. In simple terms, this type of fridge is powered by being plugged into shore power (AC) or by a camping vehicle’s battery (DC) when it’s not plugged into an AC outlet. This type of RV refrigerator is both efficient and cools quickly.
A popular brand of compressor fridges for RVs is Dometic. We like this brand because they are reliable, however you can still run into issues and find that your Dometic fridge isn’t working on electric.
- Absorption refrigerators are the most common type of fridge used in RVs and other camping vehicles. While they are not as efficient as a compression fridge, an absorption fridge allows for more flexibility when not hooked up to shore power. That’s because it can be powered by propane.
There are two-way and three-way absorption fridges available. A two-way runs off AC power and propane. A three-way utilizes the former two power sources in addition to DC, or battery, power.
- Residential refrigerators are larger than the first two types and are used in larger RVs and motorhomes. These are a great option (if you have the space) because their capacity greatly exceeds the previous two and are generally cheaper. Residential refrigerators only run off of shore power but can be powered by batteries when an inverter is used.
Why Your RV Fridge Isn’t Working And How To Fix It
With all of the usage and jostling around that an RV fridge is subjected to, there is a small chance that you will get to your camping site and realize that it’s not working. To help you prepare for this possible predicament, we’ve created this resource so you can diagnose and tackle the issue a bit easier!
Before you dive into more complex diagnostics, check a few of the easy things first. Is it plugged in? If not, this is obviously the quickest fix! However, sometimes just plugging it back in won’t do the trick, so if your RV fridge still isn’t getting cold, unplug it again. Find and press the reset button for the instructed length of time (located in the manual and online) and then plug it back into the outlet.
Did this work? Is your RV fridge still not cooling on electrical power? Let’s keep going.
Another easy thing to look for is to determine what mode your RV refrigerator is on. Like I said above, depending on what brand and type of fridge you have, an RV fridge can run on different types of power. The refrigerators have different modes that can be changed using a manual switch. The mode has to match the power source. If your RV fridge isn’t working on electricity, make sure the mode is not on “LP Mode” (used when powering with propane). Switch the mode to “auto” or “AC mode”, depending on the model.
If any of the above suggestions work, then YAY! If not, we’ve got you covered so keep reading.
1. Blown Fuse
Just like any appliance, your refrigerator can blow a fuse. If this happens, then your RV refrigerator will not cool when it is hooked up to electric power. This almost always happens when the unit is drawing too much power. As a result, the fuse “blows” as a safety mechanism to prevent overheating, circuit damage, and/or a fire. If the fuse is blown, your RV fridge will not get cold!
If you suspect that a blown fuse is the culprit, first, unplug the refrigerator from the outlet. Locate the fuse box and take a look at the fuses. Some fuses are see-through. A blown fuse of this type will have a dark, burnt metal wire visible. The internal wire will usually be broken. In more modern RVs, there may be a light on next to the specific fuse to indicate that it has been blown. This makes it even easier.
Replace the broken fuse with a new fuse that has the same amperage rating. This can be found on the side of the fuse. Plug your fridge back in and voila!
Pro Tip: Make sure you always have a few spare fuses that can quickly replace any broken ones. We keep ours in a little baggy in our miscellaneous bin.
2. Tripped Breaker
A tripped circuit breaker is another reason why your RV refrigerator could stop working when it’s hooked up to electric power. A circuit board becomes overloaded when too many appliances are running at once
To fix this issue, unplug your fridge and open your RV’s circuit breaker. Just like in your house, your circuit board is made up of switches. Find the switch that corresponds with your refrigerator and make sure it is turned to the “ON” position; if the breaker has been tripped, you will find it in the “OFF” position.
Once the switch is positioned to “ON”, plug your fridge back into the outlet and ensure the fridge’s mode is set on electric power. Regardless of the reason as to why your fridge isn’t working on electricity, the appliance will likely have changed its power mode to propane automatically. Sometimes this fix does the trick.
If the breaker trips again, try plugging in another appliance into the same outlet. If this second appliance works, then the problem lies within the fridge itself. If the second appliance doesn’t work in the same outlet then the issue is either the outlet or the RVs breaker itself. Both will require professional assistance. In the meantime, you will have to power your RV refrigerator with propane.
3. Insulation Failure
Because RV refrigerators don’t cool as efficiently as a home refrigerator, extra insulation is added during the manufacturing process. A large number of RV refrigerators utilize foam vacuum panes for insulation. This foam can degrade over time leading to a decrease in insulation ability. If this seems to be the case, it’s probably time for a new fridge unless you want to pursue a lot of DIY projects.
The magnetic seals around the door add insulation as well and can be another point of failure. To test if the magnetic seals are the weak point, put a piece of paper in the closed door. If the seals are working properly, the paper should be hard to pull out. The seal is failing if the paper is easy to pull out.
You can get replacement door seals from manufacturers to extend the life of your fridge.
4. Power Source Incompatibility
This is an easy-to-fix issue. All you need to do is know by what means your refrigerator can be powered. If you have confirmed that the power source you are utilizing is compatible with your fridge and it still is not cooling, check that the fridge’s mode matches the power source being used.
If you have an RV fridge that is only powered by AC power, you will need an inverter for it to run on DC, or battery, power.
5. Bad Heating Element
An improperly working heating element is another reason why your RV fridge isn’t getting cool on electric. First, ensure there is an adequate amount of power being provided to the fridge by the control board. Use a multimeter to measure this. Refer to your RVs manual to determine what level is sufficient.
If enough power is being provided but your RV refrigerator still isn’t working properly, the heating element could be the issue. Unless you are comfortable working with electrical components, we suggest getting this officially diagnosed and replaced by a professional.
6. Improper Connection To Shore Power
If you connect to shore power but note your fridge isn’t getting cold, first check that the RV plug is properly connected to the hookup site. Make sure the plug is fitted snugly into the outlet. Also check the breaker on the hookup site and flip it to “ON”.
The RV’s cord itself could be damaged so take a close look at its integrity.
7. Propane Not Working Correctly
If you have an absorption fridge in your RV that can be powered by propane, check the following if it isn’t working. First, make sure your fridge system is set to propane and not electricity. Next, ensure a secure connection between the LP tubing and the refrigerator.
Lastly, if your fridge still isn’t working properly, check to ensure you have sufficient battery power. While battery power isn’t needed to keep a fridge running on propane, it is needed to spark the ignitor.
8. Leaking Cooling Unit
Numerous chemicals and substances are needed to cool an RV fridge. Any leakage of these materials can lead to your RV fridge not working properly on electric, DC power, or propane. If you notice water or smell ammonia in the back of your fridge or around the access door, you have a leak that may be causing malfunction.
You can temporarily seal the cooling unit by covering and blocking the leak. Again, this is really just a temporary fix. Leakage is a sign that the cooling unit needs to be fixed or replaced by a professional.
9. Frozen Cooling Unit
A frozen cooling unit rarely happens unless you haven’t stored your RV properly in subzero temperatures. If this is the case and you go to use your RV refrigerator, it will likely not work. This is because the various elements the cooling unit needs to operate are frozen, causing a blockage in the system.
To fix this, use a space heater to thaw the elements in the cooling system. Once thawed, the fridge should resume normal function.
10. The RV Isn’t Level
If you have ensured that all of the electrical components and hookups are working properly, check that your RV is level. An unleveled system can mess with the way the fridge works and lead to a malfunction.
To fix and/or avoid this problem, make sure you park on the most level ground possible so the RV isn’t tilted more to one side. Use wheel blocks if you cannot find level ground. Some RV refrigerators have a leveling ability at the base so you can adjust this rather than worry about leveling the entire camper.
11. Ammonia Build Up
Ammonia sediment can build up around the cooling unit if you haven’t used your RV refrigerator for an extended amount of time. This can also happen to old refrigerators. At this point, you will likely just need a new fridge.
However, if you’re in a pinch and want to try to get a few more days out of the fridge, unplug it and let it sit outside on the ground upside down for a couple hours. This doesn’t always work but is worth a try to encourage movement of the hardened sediment.
How To Prevent RV Refrigerator Problems
Prevention and regular inspection and maintenance are the best medicine when it comes to keeping your RV fridge functioning properly.
- Keep the fridge clean, both inside and out. Keep all vents clear of dust and debris.
- Schedule yearly check-ups to ensure proper function.
- Before stocking up, cool your fridge while it is empty to the desired temperature.
Pro Tip: To prepare for a trip, provide power to your RV refrigerator to give it time to cool. No matter how good your RV fridge is, it still isn’t as efficient or as quick at cooling as your home refrigerator, so give it at least 12 hours to cool before adding food.
- When you do start adding food and drinks, don’t pack too much in.
- Always ensure that the doors are closed completely.
- Don’t let ice build up in the freezer.
It’s never fun to get to your destination and find that your RV fridge isn’t working on electric power. No one wants to have to do full diagnostics when you could be enjoying your vacation. But if a problem does occur, go through the steps listed above and you may be able to pinpoint and fix your problem.
We would love to hear if you have any additional tips to add! How have you diagnosed and fixed an issue leading to your RV fridge not working?