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My RV Refrigerator Won't Cool

by Jodi Thornton O'Connell ; Updated October 06, 2017

Opening your RV refrigerator only to find that your cold goods are getting lukewarm can be dismaying, especially if you're camping somewhere far from a repair shop. Before heading to the nearest store to get ice and a cooler, spend about 15 minutes going through simple troubleshooting steps. You just might be able to get it up and running with little effort.

Does It Smell Funny?

Your RV fridge doesn't run using a compressor and Freon like your kitchen refrigerator. Instead, ammonia circulates through the cooling tubes. If ammonia is leaking, your refrigerator won't work properly, and the leak could spark a fire. Although you might smell ammonia inside or around the edges of your RV refrigerator, a better bet is to remove the access door located behind your refrigerator on the outside of the RV. If you detect even a faint ammonia smell, turn off the propane gas knob that runs to the refrigerator, unplug the appliance and take it to your RV dealer for repair.

Is It Switched On?

Most RV refrigerators work with both electricity and propane gas. Some can also operate using a 12-volt DC battery. Check to see which mode your refrigerator is set to. If you're boondocking without hookups, the fix might be as simple as switching your refrigerator to operate in propane or DC mode.

Is It Plugged In?

If you're hooked up to electricity and your refrigerator is switched to run in its electrical mode, you'll need to figure out why it's not getting electricity. Remove the access panel on the outside of the RV to make sure the refrigerator is plugged in securely. If it still doesn't start running, plug in a lamp or blow dryer at the outlet to see whether there is electricity to the outlet. If not, check your circuit box for a tripped breaker, then plug in the refrigerator to see whether it runs.

Is There Power to the Heating Element?

Yes, there's heat involved in keeping your food cold. Your heating element makes the ammonia circulate through the cooling tubes that provide the chill. Unplug your refrigerator before checking the state of your heating element to avoid getting a shock as you remove the shielding. When you're ready to use a multimeter to test the heating element, plug the refrigerator back in. If your element is burned out, the multimeter will usually indicate electricity in one wire but not the other. If neither wire shows voltage, it's more likely a circuit board, which will require repair or replacement at your RV dealership.

Is the Burner Clogged?

If your refrigerator isn't chilling properly in propane mode, chances are that your burner is dirty. Remove the access panel, unplug your refrigerator and turn off the propane valve. Remove the shielding around the burner assembly with a screwdriver and vacuum or spray compressed air to dislodge any rust or debris that can diminish or block the flame. A thin wire can also clear grime from the burner hole. After cleaning, replace the shielding, plug in the refrigerator and turn on the propane. Switch the refrigerator on and see whether the flame is burning before replacing your access panel door.

If your flame doesn't light or goes out quickly, shut off the propane and take your RV refrigerator to your dealer for repair. The thermocouple or another part may be faulty.

About the Author

Indulging her passion for wide open spaces and outdoor fitness through the written word on a full-time basis since 2010, author Jodi Thornton-O'Connell takes the mystery out of outdoor skills and guides readers to discover fun ways to physically connect to natural surroundings.