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RV Fridge Not Getting Cold? Try These Troubleshooting Tricks

RV Fridge Not Getting Cold? Try These Troubleshooting Tricks

In some ways, an absorption RV fridge is an amazing appliance, but sometimes they can be a bit finicky and not operate properly. If your RV refrigerator is not getting cold, there can be many causes. And running into this problem, no matter the cause, can be frustrating. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the most common problems and how you can fix them.   

RV Refrigerator Not Getting Cold Troubleshooting

Today, we’re taking a look at the most common RV fridge type, the absorption fridge. This type of fridge has an amazing feature that allows it to burn propane to create cold.

RV fridges have a much harder job than your fridge at home. They still need to perform, even when getting shaken around and tilted. Not to mention, they must withstand changing elevations and extreme temperature swings.

RV fridge cold beer
Gotta keep that beer cold!

It would seem that a way to overcome these challenges would be to give the RV fridge more cooling capacity than your home refrigerator, but the opposite is true. An RV fridge’s absorption cycle operates slower and usually has just enough cooling capacity to run properly. This means that even if something is slightly not right, it can cause big problems in an RV fridge. Luckily, we can go through some general troubleshooting steps to figure out why your fridge isn’t getting cold. 

Before we get into troubleshooting, you will need to know how to access the back of the fridge. RVs have vent and access panels on the exterior wall of the unit that allow access to the back of the fridge. Remove the panel and you will see inside the back of the fridge. The below diagram indicates the parts you will be concerned with. Every fridge is a bit different. While the parts should look similar, they may be in different locations. 

RV fridge Diagram
Here are the main components you need to know about in the back of the fridge.

The Fridge Works on Gas but Not Electric 

In this case, there is something wrong with the electrical circuit, or the electrical heating element is bad. Use a multimeter to check the element itself to determine if the control board is providing power to the heating element. If it is, and the RV refrigerator is not getting cold, then the heating element needs to be replaced. If it is not providing power, you’ll first want to check the 120V power circuit to make sure there is power to the fridge. No power? Check the circuit and breaker.

On the other hand, if there is power, then the control board’s relay or fuse is probably not working. It is possible that the control board itself needs to be replaced, too. One thing you can do is take the cover off the control board and look to see if there are fuses that can be replaced. 

RV fridge circuit board
Check the circuit board, see the fuse on our board, the electric won’t work if the fuse is blown. Make sure the power is off before removing the cover.

The Fridge Works On Electric But Not Gas

If the fridge works on electric but not gas, then something is not working with the gas circuit. The first thing to check is if you have propane. If you are sure you have propane and the tanks are on, check the burner at the back of the fridge to see if you are getting any flame. No flame means you may need to restart the fridge to see if it kicks on. In the event the flame kicks on but then goes out, the flame sensor is probably bad. 

RV propane Bottle

If you hear the valve click on, and you can smell gas, but it does not light, then the igniter is bad or misaligned. RV fridges use electric igniters that will make a clicking sound and you should see a spark. If there is no clicking sound but gas is flowing, the control circuit board is probably not working. If you hear the ignitor but do not see any flame, the gas valve may not be working properly. Lastly, if you do not see anything or hear any clicking, then the control board may have failed.    

The RV Fridge Portion Is Working But The RV Freezer Is Not Cold Enough

Your RV freezer should be below freezing but still in the 20s. While this may seem warm for a freezer, it’s a pretty common temperature range for an RV freezer. RV absorption style fridges do not get the freezer as cold as residential fridges, so your ice cream might be soft.  

When your RV freezer won’t stay below freezing, this may indicate the beginning of a cooling or insulation problem. Try the following steps to figure out what might be going on. 

RV fridge not getting cold
An absorption RV refrigerator

Hot Weather RV Fridge Woes 

If you notice your RV refrigerator is not getting cold enough, first take note of the outside temperature. RV fridges reject their heat outside and are highly susceptible to ambient temperature.

The RV Fridge Is Working But Not Getting Cold In Hot Weather

If the RV fridge is running full-time and still not cooling, a few things could be going on.  First, make sure the fridge is properly ventilated by installing an RV fridge fan. These are important for ideal performance in hot weather as your fridge needs to be able to reject its heat. 

installing Fridge Fans
Installing Fridge Fans on internal fins

Pro Tip: In hot weather, park your RV with the fridge side in the shade. Otherwise, the sun will add extra heat and make it perform worse.

If you are sure the ventilation is adequate, then the cooling unit may be going bad. Typically, cooling units will last 15 to 20 years. But even if it is working properly, there are other reasons the fridge may not be cooling. 

Common RV Fridge Insulation Issues

Keep in mind, RV absorption fridges do not have the same cooling power that your fridge at home has. Meaning, if there is an issue with the insulation of the fridge, it may not be able to keep up with the heat loss. 

Many RV fridges use what is called vacuum panes in their walls. These panes use vacuum-sealed foam to add a lot of insulation. Sometimes, over years of use, these can fail and significantly reduce the insulation values of the fridge. 

Magnetic seals around the door are another common failure point. One quick way to check if the seal is bad is to put a piece of paper or dollar bill in the door. It should be hard to pull it out. If the piece of paper or dollar bill pulls out easily, the door seal is going bad. Do this test all the way around the fridge door to check for seal issues.

Fridge Is Running But Not Cooling Well, No Matter The Weather

First, you need to make sure your RV fridge is actually running properly. Check that the burner is clean and operating properly by removing the shield and looking at the flame. If it’s not running, it could be a thermostat issue where it thinks the fridge is cool but it’s not. Also, check to make sure the temp settings are low enough. If they are and the fridge won’t click on, the thermostat inside the fridge may need replacing. 

If the burner is running continuously and the RV fridge is still not getting cold, check the quality of the burner flame. It should be a continuous blue flame with minimal flickering or orange. If the flame looks wrong, try taking the burner apart and cleaning it. Debris sometimes gets in the burner and causes poor operation. 

RV fridge gas valve not getting cold
This is the gas valve that failed on our first fridge

Also, make sure the fridge is properly ventilated as mentioned in the hot weather section by adding fridge fans.  

Sometimes, It’s Just Time For A New Fridge

Over the years, our RV fridge started exhibiting the symptoms of poor cooling – first in hot weather, then in all temperatures. We finally replaced it with a modern DC compressor unit. When we removed the fridge, we could see that multiple vacuum panels had ruptured (they will bulge) and were not insulating the fridge properly. In our case, the fridge was 20 years old and at the end of its life, so it was time for a replacement.

Converting our RV Fridge to a High Efficiency DC Compressor- 8x More Efficient! and Better Cooling!

When considering a replacement, I highly suggest going with a 12V DC compressor unit. If you are plugged in most of the time or have a medium-sized solar system with lithium batteries, these fridges tend to cool much better and are much more efficient on electricity than the absorption style.  

While it won’t work in some cases and uses a lot more power, you can also consider switching to a standard residential fridge in your RV camper.

No appliance lasts forever, and RV fridges will eventually cause problems. Knowing these troubleshooting steps can help you get to the bottom of a problem quickly, so you can keep your food cold.    

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Tom Hank

Wednesday 25th of May 2022

A refrigerator in your RV can be really useful, especially when doing lengthy interstate journeys. However, having it repaired when it goes down might be costly. If you smell ammonia coming from the fridge and see yellow stains in and around it, it's likely that there's a leak in the refrigerator's main cooling unit.

Teri

Tuesday 12th of April 2022

We have a brand new 2022 FR3. If we're boondocking, do we need to switch something on or off to run the fridge on propane power? Thank you!

Mortons on the Move

Saturday 23rd of April 2022

Usually, there is a switch on the fridge itself, but most automatically switch to propane if the Shore power is removed.

Jodi

Sunday 31st of October 2021

Our RV is 4 yrs old, Norcold fridge in slide. Before traveling we cool fridge. Works great if a little cold. We put small amount of food in the fridge and cool it down again before leaving. Durning camping fridge warms up to 48. Freezer is very cold. Increased fans inside and behind fridge with little improvement. Doesn’t differ on gas or electric. Changed thermistor on fins and fans seem to run often. We spoke to an owner of the same model of trailer and they have the same problem. We spoke to a tech and got no help. Any ideas?

Mortons on the Move

Monday 7th of March 2022

weird that the thermistor wont change it. Ar your fins icing up?

Richard gillen

Tuesday 21st of September 2021

My refrigerator quit working for the pipe get hot so hot the heat button kept shutting it off both on gas and electric it a2006 Montana 5th wheel I replaced the button the circuit board the hole gas unit and the heat unit inside the pipe, it only takes about 20to25 min. then shut off it will not stay running.what can cause that.

Mortons on the Move

Thursday 23rd of September 2021

Are you referring to an overtemp on the flu? Does the flue still have good insulation around the exhaust? It should be an insulated pipe. Heat buildup at the back of the fridge could also be an issue, do you have any fans and make sure you have good airflow.

robert andrews

Monday 6th of September 2021

Hey Mortons, I have a norcold n306 itv works on ac and on lp gas the freezer got to 36deg but frig only 67deg , the camper was built in 2014, thanks for your time to answer us

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