Practical RV Refrigerator Repair & How To Troubleshoot Issues

Man bending over doing a RV refrigerator repair

Staving off an unwanted RV refrigerator repair is often just a few simple precautions. Believe it or not, keeping your RV level when it’s parked is key. But some simple maintenance and cleaning will also help keep your RV fridge running in tip-top shape. At the very least, it will give it the best chance to avoid unnecessary repairs.

Even if you keep your refrigerator spotless, age and happenstance can sometimes create the need for some RV refrigerator repairs. The good news is that there are a few repairs you might just be able to do yourself!

How Does My RV Refrigerator Work?

First off, however, let’s simply take a look at how your RV refrigerator works. It’s likely that your RV fridge is a bit different than the residential model you’re used to in your home.

Most RV or camper refrigerators are dual-fuel absorption refrigerators. An absorption refrigerator doesn’t use a compressor or freon as a residential refrigerator would. It uses propane or electricity to heat a combination of water, ammonia, and hydrogen inside the cooling unit. This produces an evaporative effect that pulls heat out of the refrigerator, causing it to cool.

Man bending over an open fridge, conducting some RV refrigerator repair

Tips to Keep Your RV Refrigerator Running

Keep Your RV Level

For your RV refrigerator to operate correctly, it needs to remain reasonably level. If it isn’t level, the ammonia liquid will not flow properly to the evaporator coils. Not only does an unlevel RV not keep your fridge cold, but it can also damage the components.

Keep Your House Batteries Charged

You’ll also want to be sure that you keep your house batteries charged. Most RV refrigerators have electronic controls that need to draw power from your house battery to operate. Even when your fridge is powered by propane, it will typically need 12V power to ignite the propane burner.

Troubleshooting your RV Refrigerator

I Smell Ammonia

If you open your RV refrigerator and smell ammonia, it is likely that the evaporator portion of your cooling unit is leaking. Immediately shut off your refrigerator and keep the door closed. Be sure to open doors, windows, and vents on your RV to increase ventilation and remove the odor.

This isn’t a DIY project. You’ll need someone who is an expert in RV refrigerator repair to fix a bad cooling unit. If you’re RV is under warranty, be sure to read How Long Does RV Warranty Work Take & How to Expedite the Process.

My RV Fridge Works on Propane, But Not on 110V Power

If your fridge works on propane but not on 110V power, there is an electrical problem. You should first check for a tripped circuit breaker. That is the most likely culprit and an easy DIY fix. Check for a tripped breaker in your RV’s electrical compartment. If a breaker is tripped, reset it, and you’ll hopefully be good to go.

If your fridge still doesn’t work off 110V power after resetting a tripped breaker, there is likely a bigger electrical problem causing the breaker to trip. You are now looking at a possible electrical heating element or RV control board gone bad. At this point, you’ll likely need a professional to perform this type of RV refrigerator repair.

Handing holding electrical wires and a fuse, trying to do some RV refrigerator repair

My RV Fridge Works on 110V Power, But Not on Propane

Suppose your fridge works while on 110V power, but not on propane. It’s typically an indication that some cleaning is in order. Most times, there is a blockage somewhere that is keeping the propane from reaching the burner.

First, be sure that you have propane in the tank and that the valve is open. While this is a simple check, this mistake catches us all from time to time.

A weak or non-existent flame at the burner is a good indicator that you will need to clear out a blockage in the line or perhaps even the burner itself. A shop vac is an excellent way to clean the burner unit, but be careful anytime you are working near the gas or electrical parts.

If this doesn’t fix the problem, it’s probably time to call in a professional. 

Electrical Issues

Once you get beyond the step of checking for tripped breakers or a blown fuse, for most of us, it’s time to call in a pro. If you are not well-versed in working with electricity, it can be somewhat hazardous. Don’t take the risk if you’re not sure what you’re working with!

RV Refrigerator Repairs

What To Do With a Frozen Cooling Unit

A frozen cooling unit should be a relatively rare occurrence. It will mostly occur if you keep your RV in a below-freezing space for long periods, like winter storage.

The best thing to do is to avoid the situation by not storing your RV at freezing temperatures. But if your RV ends up in such conditions and the cooling unit on the back of the refrigerator freezes, you can use a space heater or even a high wattage (think 60 watts or more) lamp to slowly warm the back of the fridge until the cooling unit thaws.

Just be careful not to get the heat source too close to any wires, and be sure the LP gas (propane) is turned off until you are done with the thawing process.

What if Your Refrigerator is Leaking Water?

If you have water pooling in the bottom of your RV refrigerator, the culprit is probably one of three things: a cracked drip pan, a missing or loose drain fitting or hose, or a clogged drain.

Your RV refrigerator builds up condensation on the fins inside of it when cooling. The drip pan below the fins catches the condensation and directs it into a drain to the outside of your rig. It’s possible the drain pan could be cracked; if so, simply either replace or repair it.

If the drain pan seems fine, the fitting or hose that the pan directs the water to could either be loose or missing. Be sure to tighten any loose parts. If it appears that you are missing a part, you’re merely in need of a replacement.

If all the above appear to be as they should, the drain line itself may be at least partially blocked. Typically, there is an access panel on the outside of your RV where the refrigerator is located inside. Oftentimes, the blockage is at the plug at the end of the drain line. Just remove the plug and clean it out so that water can flow out of it. If cleaning the plug doesn’t work, you may have to use a pipe cleaner to clean out the drain line itself.

How to Fix a Leaking Cooling Unit

If you have a leaking cooling unit, your best bet is to replace the cooling unit. As mentioned earlier, if you notice a strong smell of ammonia or notice yellow stains stemming from your RV refrigerator, it is likely a leaking cooling unit.

This RV refrigerator repair may be doable by the more capable DIYers out there, but just be sure that you are careful. You’re dealing with the cooling unit, which contains the cooling solution: a mix of water, ammonia, and hydrogen. If you aren’t comfortable with that, again, call in a professional.

Man standing in front of an open fridge, looking in the freezer trying to troubleshoot RV refrigerator repair

What To Do If I Suspect Ammonia Sediment Build-Up?

Okay, we’ll be honest; this situation just plain sucks. If you’ve let your RV refrigerator sit unused, it can form ammonia sediment build-up. Unfortunately, this is nearly a death sentence for your fridge. There might not be much you can do in regards to RV refrigerator repair if this is your problem.

You can do one thing to try and prolong your refrigerator’s life if you suspect ammonia sediment build-up. Unplug it. Remove it from the camper. Flip it upside down. Let it sit that way for a good 24 to 48 hours and hope that the sediment travels away from the cooling unit.

You may avoid the inevitable for a while, but a replacement is likely going to be on the agenda somewhere down the line. Of course, the best thing to do is not to let your RV refrigerator go unused so long that this happens.

Cleaning and Maintaining an RV Refrigerator

Basic RV Refrigerator Cleaning

Cleaning your RV refrigerator isn’t much different than cleaning the fridge in a sticks and bricks home, but there are a few differences. Properly cleaning this appliance frequently can prevent future RV refrigerator repair by catching issues early.

Cleaning the inside is just a little soapy water and elbow grease. You may want to do it a little more frequently, as items in your RV fridge get jostled around a lot more than in a stationary home.

You’ll also want to clean out any vents, the cavity behind the refrigerator, and probably the burner and flue if you’ve got a dual fuel RV fridge that can run on LP gas (propane) or 110V electricity. You can use a shop vac for most of this.

How to Remove Mold

The easiest way to remove mold from your RV refrigerator is to use a solution of 1 cup of bleach mixed into 1 gallon of water. Put that into a spray bottle and spray it on the mold, but don’t wipe it off right away. Let the bleach water sit for at least a good 10-15 minutes, so it can do its thing and kill the mold.

If you don’t want to use bleach, you can spray vinegar on the mold. However, it may take a bit more scrubbing than with bleach water to get all the mold off. You can spray vinegar on the mold with little to no watering down.

You can also use a paste made out of baking soda and water. Smear that on the mold and let it dry. You’ll then need to scrape it off and do a little follow-up cleaning.

Regardless of which solution you use, it’s a good idea to wipe down the fridge with basic warm, soapy water and give it a good rinse after clearing out any mold.

How to Prevent Mold

Doing your best to keep your RV’s refrigerator clean in the first place will go a long way toward avoiding any unwanted fungus in your fridge! If you want to take it that extra step, just use the bleach-water solution or vinegar every other time before your regular cleaning to ward off any unseen contaminants that might be lurking.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, merely keeping up with keeping your fridge clean and doing your best to keep your RV level will go a long way toward maximizing its life and minimizing the need for costly RV refrigerator repairs.

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  1. Good info, I wish you had included a few pictures of the burner, flue, electrical heaters at the back of a dual fuel fridge. It would make it easier to know what to look for.
    Thanks,
    Eric

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