The refrigerator in your RV works on LP gas or electricity.
It’s not like the refrigerator in your house unless it is an all-electric RV in which case it is equipped with a residential type refrigerator.
An RV refrigerator doesn’t have a compressor, or any moving parts for that matter. It works on the principle of absorption. Instead of applying cold directly, the heat is drawn out, or absorbed. The theory is, when there is an absence of heat there is cold. Basically, your RV refrigerator uses heat, either from an electric heating element or LP gas flame. The heat starts a chemical reaction and then through evaporation and condensation causes it to cool. It also works off of gravity, freezing the freezer compartment first and then dropping down to the refrigerator compartment.
The initial cool down process can take four to six hours. You should turn the refrigerator on the day before you plan to leave on a trip, and before you put any food in it. When you do load the refrigerator, the food should already be cold, and the food put in the freezer should already be frozen. Putting cold food in the refrigerator, rather than adding warm food, lets the refrigerator work more efficiently. One common mistake made is to over pack the refrigerator. There has to be space between the foods to allow for air to circulate throughout the compartment. In most situations you will have access to a store where you can buy food, so a two to three-day supply should be enough.
Turn the refrigerator on and if you are plugged into electricity it will go into the auto mode on electric. If you have a battery on the RV and you unplug the power cord it would automatically switch over to LP gas, as long as the LP gas cylinders are turned on. You also have the option to manually put the refrigerator in the LP gas mode.
Most RV refrigerators have an automatic igniter, so as soon as you switch it to the gas mode it will light the burner. If it fails to light, a check light will come on letting you know it didn’t light. You can turn the refrigerator off, wait a minute, turn it back on and it will reset and light. If the check light comes on, whether the refrigerator is on gas or electric there is something wrong. It might be that there is no LP gas in the cylinders, the RV is not plugged in or the battery is weak. Try to identify the problem and take care of it.
To keep the refrigerator operating efficiently in the LP gas mode there is some routine maintenance you can perform. Remove the outside lower vent cover to access the back of the refrigerator. With the refrigerator turned off ensure all connections are clean and tight. Turn the refrigerator on in the LP gas mode and look at the flame. If the flame is burning poorly, a yellow colored flame, or if the refrigerator isn’t operating properly in the LP gas mode it’s possible that the baffle inside the flue is covered with soot. Soot, rust and other debris can fall down and obstruct the burner assembly. When this happens, it will be necessary to clean the flue and the burner assembly. You can do this yourself or take it to and RV service to have it done. Turn the refrigerator off again and locate the burner. Directly above the burner is the flue. The baffle is inside the flue. Wear a pair of safety glasses and use an air compressor to blow air up into the flue. After the flue is clean use the compressed air to remove any debris from the outside refrigerator compartment. Now, turn the refrigerator on in the LP gas mode to make sure it is working properly. Look for the bright blue flame.
Note: For a thorough cleaning of the flue and baffle it will be necessary to have an authorized RV service center do it for you. While it’s there have them to do an LP gas pressure test and leak test too. This should be done annually.
Some RV refrigerators have a manual temperature control and some have a built-in temperature control. Normally a temperature setting of four or five will work fine. If it is extremely hot or cold outside it might be necessary to raise or lower the setting. The outside temperature directly affects the operation of the refrigerator. Extremely hot weather will directly affect the refrigerators efficiency. When it’s really hot outside try parking your RV with the side the refrigerator is on in the shade. Periodically inspect and clean the refrigerator door gaskets. Check them for a good seal. Place a dollar bill behind the seal and close the door.
It should stay there and not drop. When you try to pull it out there should be some resistance felt. Do this in several different places and have any damaged seals replaced.
Try to limit the number of times you open the refrigerator or freezer doors and the length of time you leave the doors open. Every time the door is opened it can lose a few degrees of cooling capacity. On a hot summer day, it won’t take long to lose all of its cooling capacity. Last but not least you should always have a thermometer in the food compartment. Food can begin to spoil at temperatures above 40 degrees.
Pop-up Tip: Most refrigerators on pop-ups operate on three different power sources, LP gas, 120-volt AC, and 12-volt DC. In the LP gas mode, you will need to follow the instructions and light the burner. Once it is lit it will do the rest.
Note: All RVs need to be fairly level for the RV refrigerator to operate properly.
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