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As in any kitchen, the refrigerator in a recreational vehicle is not only useful but essential. When the refrigerator fails to cool, most commonly because of a leak of the ammonia-based coolant mixture, it must be repaired or replaced. The problem likely occurs when the refrigerator has not been used for a period of time and rust has formed in the cooling coils. Owners are encouraged never to attempt to recharge the unit because the coolant mixture is highly flammable and possibly explosive.
Allow the refrigerator to operate for 12 to 24 hours before deciding that it requires repair. It should attain a good operating temperature near freezing in that length of time. These units are always slow to cool even in good working condition.
Sniff the interior of the refrigerator for the odor of ammonia. The most common problem causing poor performance is leakage of the liquid coolant from one or more corroded or rusted spots in the coils. The coolant consists of a precise mixture of ammonia gas, hydrogen gas, water and rust inhibitor.
Drive the recreational vehicle to the showroom of the dealer who sells the same or similar models. Inquire about repair and rebuilding service — who will perform the service, what it consists of and how much it will cost. Because RV dealers generally do not perform repair or rebuilding, inquire about how long the refrigerator will be out of service.
Choose to have the cooling unit rebuilt. The process will include sandblasting the coils, replacing corroded lines, repairing leaks and weak spots, addition of rust inhibitors, recharging, testing and re-insulating. Most rebuilt units will be accompanied with a warranty from the service provider. Rebuilding is more expensive than repair but will last longer.
Choose to have the unit repaired instead of rebuilt. The service will involve repairing the leak and recharging the unit with liquid coolants. Generally this service is not guaranteed, and the unit may fail again at any time.
Karen W. Waggoner is a retired teacher and lifetime scribbler. She has published short stories, essays in anthologies and periodicals. Waggoner is the author of the memoir, "On My Honor, A Navy Wife’s Vietnam War." She is a graduate of Stetson University, the University of Connecticut and Christian College for Women.