Let’s answer this question right up front: Yes, propane fridges in RVs CAN operate while driving. The real question is whether you should operate your RV fridge while driving. Running on propane while driving may be illegal in some situations as well as dangerous. Let’s take a look at why this is and what your options are with propane fridges.
Do All RV Fridges Run on Propane?
There are several different types of RV fridges; each gets power a bit differently. Fridges that can operate on propane are called absorption fridges and use a different cooling cycle than your fridge at home A two-way fridge runs on propane and electricity.
If you’re boondocking, you run the fridge on propane to conserve power. If you have shore power, you run the fridge on electricity and save propane. A three-way fridge can run on DC power as well, which takes power from the house batteries and propane and shore power.
Residential fridges are also sometimes used in RVs and are the same type of fridge as you have at home. They require more power because they operate on 120 volts. When connected to shore power, this isn’t a problem. But when boondocking, your batteries will drain very quickly. These don’t use propane at all.
There’s a fourth option, a low voltage 12-volt fridge, that operates like a residential fridge but requires much less electricity because they operate directly on battery power. Many newer models are coming out with this option to help boondockers.
Is Running RV Fridge on Propane While Driving Dangerous?
This answer depends. Running on propane while driving increases the likelihood that the propane flame will blow out due to the wind of the drive. When it attempts to re-ignite propane may spill out and could cause a small flash fire if the conditions are right.
Normally even if this happens, it won’t start a fire, but if the back of the fridge is dirty, there is more likelihood of something catching fire. Much of the risk depends on the design of the RV and if the fridge is kept clean.
Depending on how far you’re traveling, you may choose to leave your propane on and lots of people do. However, fire is the biggest danger of running your RV fridge on propane while driving. The back of the fridge needs to be kept clean with no debris. You also must stay on top of fridge maintenance and clean out the burners and combustion tubes about twice a year.
Keep in mind that keeping the back of the fridge clean is not just for driving but stationary applications as well. If leaves, bugs, or other debris lean up against the hot combustion chamber, a fire can result. In our travels, we have seen more than one propane fridge fire, and in almost all of them, the back of the fridge had not been cleaned.
Pro Tip: RV fridge not working as well as it used to? Use these fridge maintenance tips and tricks to make repairs easier.
What Are the Dangers of Driving With Your Propane On?
It’s unlikely that you’ll have an accident while driving. This is why so many RVers decide the risk is worth it. But if you blow a tire or get into an accident, there could be serious consequences. The smallest spark could ignite an explosion or fire. A blown tire could sever the propane lines and cause a leak.
In addition to fire risk on the road, there is a risk of fire at fueling stations. Propane fridges have open flames in the back of them and when you are at a fuel station it’s possible that a spill of gasoline could ignite from your fridge. Again the likelihood is small, but the risk increases.
Are There Any Reasons to Keep Your Propane Tanks Open?
There aren’t any good reasons to keep your propane tanks open. If you’re driving just a few minutes from your house to a local campground, you may think the risk of getting into an accident is low. So you decide that running your RV fridge on propane while driving isn’t a big deal. However, the risk is still present.
If you’re traveling several hours and hundreds of miles, it’s best to turn off the propane. You may travel through a tunnel and probably have to stop for fuel. Then you’ll have to stop and shut off the propane. Instead of running your RV fridge on propane while driving, consider the tips below to help keep your food cold.
If you choose to leave your propane on we recommend using a safety device inline that will shut off the line automatically in the event of a line rupture. In an accident, this could prevent a massive fire! We recommend the Gas Stop screw-on device. It’s easy to use and adds a great layer of safety.
How Long Will an RV Fridge Stay Cool While Driving?
As long as you don’t open your RV fridge, it should stay cold on travel days. However, there are a few tips to help keep the cold air inside and the warm air out. First, turn the fridge to its coldest setting 24 hours before traveling. Plug in your camper at home, turn on the fridge and let it run overnight. It should be nice and cold the following morning or at least by the afternoon.
Keep the fridge closed as much as possible in the morning and during your travel day. This keeps the cold air from escaping. Pack a cooler and keep it in the tow vehicle with you. When you stop for lunch, eat from a cooler instead of opening the fridge. Finally, pack the fridge tightly with food. This helps keep everything nice and cold even when it isn’t running. You should be able to travel from one campsite to the next without having to run your RV fridge on propane while driving.
Pro Tip: Unsure if a propane fridge is the right choice for your RV? These are 7 Reasons to Avoid Propane Refrigerators.
When Must Propane Tanks Be Closed?
It’s always a good idea to look at your route the night before you travel, especially if you’re going to an unfamiliar area. Pay attention to any bridges or tunnels. Using an RV-safe GPS or app should alert you to locations where your onboard propane needs to be off. Some bridges and tunnels have too low of clearance, so you might be rerouted anyway. But plan your route to know what’s coming up the following day.
If you’re traveling via a ferry, you’ll need to make sure your propane tanks are closed. If you plan on stopping for fuel, ensure your propane tanks are closed. Most of the time, there are signs posted before you reach tunnels, bridges, and ferries. However, you might not see signs before fuel stations, so don’t forget that!
Many times tunnels and ferries that require a toll will make you put a tag on your closed propane tanks so that they can be inspected if needed. We have had to do this many times in our travels.
Is Running RV Fridge On Propane While Driving Worth the Risk?
If you’re only traveling a few miles or less than an hour, you might think running your RV fridge on propane while driving is worth it. On the other hand, you’re only going a short distance, so why risk it? Just close the tanks and make your drive. When you arrive at your destination, turn on the propane or plug into shore power. If you’re only traveling a short distance, your fridge will stay cold.
For extended travel days, you may feel like you have to run your RV fridge on propane while driving. Again, the risk of fire is serious. An accident might be unlikely, but are you willing to deal with the consequences? Is it worth making the nightly news to keep your vegetables cold?
Do you run your RV fridge on propane while driving? Tell us in the comments!
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