July 4, 2023
Looking for a way to keep your food fresh when heading out for a long trip? Or are you looking to buy a new portable refrigerator suitable for your needs?
This article answers the most common questions about RV refrigerators, including how much they cost, where to buy them, and what to look for in an RV refrigerator.
This article also covers how to buy an RV refrigerator and what to consider before buying one. We’ve also included tips and a guide to troubleshooting a new refrigerator for common problems.
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How an RV Fridge Works
An RV refrigerator is different from a standard home refrigerator because it’s designed to be more energy efficient.
This refrigerator doesn’t use a compressor or moving parts to cool things down. Instead, an RV refrigerator uses an evaporator, which is an absorption-cycle refrigeration system.
This is how the refrigeration system works, the propane flame heats up the liquid mixture called the ammonia refrigerant until steam is created; this steam then cools down inside its own coil, causing the entire process to repeat.
You can choose between a 2-way and a 3-way model when choosing a camper refrigerator.
A 2-way model runs off AC (alternating current) power or LP gas (liquid petroleum gasoline). While a 3-way model runs off AC power, DC (direct current) power, like house batteries, and LP gas.
What Kind of Refrigerators Work in an RV?
It’s important to know the difference between all-electric residential refrigerators and absorption refrigerators.
Residential refrigerators are the most common type of fridge. They use an electric motor to compress a refrigerant like ammonia or freon to absorb heat from the interior of your RV.
Freon is a compound used in the cooling systems of refrigerators to lower the temperature inside the fridge and keep food fresh.
Absorption refrigerators work the same way, but instead of using a compressor to move heat around inside the unit, these refrigerators rely on chemicals found in water to absorb heat.
Things to Consider When Buying a New Fridge
When you’re looking for an RV refrigerator, consider the following factors:
You Can’t Just Buy Any RV Refrigerator
You can’t just buy any RV refrigerator and expect it to work perfectly on a moving vehicle. If you need a fridge that’ll keep food cold or frozen, you’ll need a refrigerator with at least one compartment specifically designed for storing perishable goods.
This means that you shouldn’t consider fridges without this capability unless they’re only used to keep non-perishable items like drinks and snacks.
Before you shop around for your new fridge, you should also think about how much space you have available in your motor home.
The size of each fridge varies widely, so make sure that whichever one you buy can fit in your vehicle.
The capacity of an RV refrigerator is measured in cu ft (cubic feet), which is the amount of space available for storing food.
The first step in knowing how much food you can store in a refrigerator is to determine how many people will use it.
Once you start estimating how much food each person eats on average per day, you’ll have a general idea of how much space each individual needs.
If you own an RV, you’ll want to invest in a refrigerator that suits your needs. Here are some popular options:
- Ice Maker: Many people like having an ice maker in their refrigerator because it makes it easier to keep drinks cold.
- Two Doors: This type of RV refrigerator has two doors, allowing you to access food from both sides of the unit without moving it out of the way.
- Energy-Efficient: Energy-efficient refrigerators use less electricity than older models, so you can save money on your utility bill.
When shopping for an RV refrigerator, remember that the average price for a new model is $1,100 to $3,000.
These appliances have a high price point because they’re made from stainless steel rather than plastic, so they can endure constant road vibrations without breaking apart.
If you’re looking to save money when purchasing an RV refrigerator, buy a refurbished one. Just make sure to test it first.
Silent RV Refrigerators
If you live in an RV, you don’t want to be bothered by unnecessary sounds. If you’re concerned about the noise of your refrigerator, look for a model with absorption technology.
Absorption technology is the process of using liquid ammonia to expand into gas, which is then absorbed by water and used again after the water is evaporated.
Or, if you prefer compressor technology, check out models with variable pull-down speeds. This feature lets you control the unit’s cooling power and its noise output.
Compressor technology works by pumping air into a tank and storing the compression energy for later use.
Best RV Refrigerators
Most RV refrigerators are available on Amazon. Your choice of an RV refrigerator depends on how you use your motor home and how much space you have to spare.
Look for a fridge that works best for your RVing lifestyle. If you’re going to use your RV full-time, you’ll want something that takes up less storage space and runs quietly and efficiently.
If you plan to use your RV only for short outings, you may be satisfied with a smaller model that doesn’t take up much room in your camper.
Many different types of refrigerators are available on the market today, and each has its own benefits and drawbacks. Some brands for portable refrigerators are, Norcold, Dometic, and Everchill.
Absorption RV Refrigerators
The absorption refrigerator, or RV fridge, is the most common type of refrigerator for RVs. This fridge uses a chemical process to create cold air that will keep your food fresh and tasty.
In an absorption refrigerator, ammonia-based refrigerants are triggered to change phases from liquid to vapor and back again, when exposed to heat.
This is called the absorption cycle, which is what makes this refrigerator work. You can use propane or electricity (120V AC or 12V DC) to provide the heat needed for this process.
In either case, the circuitry that controls the operation of an RV refrigerator requires 12V DC power.
But propane refrigerators are especially desirable for off-grid use because their power requirements are minimal.
Pros and Cons of Absorption RV Refrigerators
- An absorption fridge that runs on liquid propane gas is an excellent option for off-grid campers. Propane tanks can be filled at many gas stations, and the fuel is inexpensive.
- A two-way RV refrigerator allows you to use 120V AC power to keep your food cool and store it in a temperature-controlled environment.
- A three-way fridge can run using 12V DC power, which can be generated by solar panels or an onboard generator.
- Absorption refrigerators have excellent insulation. Although the cycling time to cool contents is slow, you can turn off the fridge entirely and keep your food cold for hours if you don’t open the refrigerator doors.
- Absorption fridges are relatively small. RV refrigerators that run on this technology can only fit a few items, which can pose a problem for some travelers.
- This type of fridge also cools items less efficiently and consistently than compressor-based fridges.
- If you’re camping in the 90-degree summer heat or when your RV is parked in the sun, an absorption refrigerator may not refrigerate your food as well as a compressor-based fridge.
- Propane-powered absorption fridges may be highly efficient, but they need a constant supply of propane, which can be a fire hazard.
- RV absorption refrigerators need your RV to be level for the fridge to operate. Still, it shouldn’t be a problem if you’re comfortable inside your RV. it should be sufficiently level to run on propane.
120v AC Residential-Style Refrigerator
RVs equipped with residential refrigerators use 12V DC power from the vehicle’s house battery bank to run an inverter that converts 120V AC power.
Pros and Cons of 120v Residential Refrigerators in RVs
Here are the pros and cons of a residential refrigerator setup and how it works.
- A residential RV refrigerator is a great choice when you have a large family or enjoy entertaining guests.
- The fridge’s size lets you store all the food and beverages you need to feed a crowd, and its built-in freezer will keep an ample supply of ice on hand for any hot summer day.
- These refrigerators in travel trailers don’t require defrosting, making them the ideal fridge for people who camp frequently and want a hassle-free experience.
- Residential refrigerators were not designed to be in vehicles. The fridge’s door mechanism has to be modified to be used in an RV.
- Many RV owners forget to lock the refrigerator before they leave camp, which means the doors could swing open while driving down the road.
- Residential refrigerators are not the standard RV option. This means that many RVs would need to be retrofitted with these fridges, which can be costly.
- Another drawback of a residential refrigerator is its power draw. To run a large residential fridge when camping off the grid, you need to provide a constant source of 120V AC power.
12v Compressor Refrigerator
This fridge uses a low-amp compressor, which pumps the refrigerant through the cooling system. Compressor refrigerators are designed for vehicles or motor homes with a dedicated 12V power supply.
A 12-volt RV refrigerator runs on the 12-volt DC power provided by your RV’s house battery bank.
This is a great concept because it eliminates two sources of power—propane gas and 110-volt AC.
Pros and Cons of 12v Compressor RV Refrigerators
- A 12V compressor fridge has many advantages, including the fact that it doesn’t require propane. It also doesn’t need an inverter to convert electricity from 12V DC to 120V AC.
- Because these fridges are more efficient, 12V compressor refrigerators can run longer on the same wattage when using AC/DC power.
- A 12V compressor refrigerator is smaller than an absorption-style system; you can have a lot of interior storage space without performing a retrofit.
- These refrigerators are specifically designed for recreational vehicles, so they don’t require ventilation and are less likely to catch fire.
- A 12V RV fridge uses less power than a residential refrigerator. But you’ll still need a large battery and solar power system if you want to be off-grid for more than a day or two.
- For many families who travel in RVs and spend time in remote locations, the 10 cubic feet of freezer space in the fridge 12V compressor refrigerator isn’t enough.
What Kind of RV Refrigerator Should You Choose?
Absorption-style refrigerators are good if you plan to be off the grid, but 120V AC compressor-style refrigerators are better if you’re always connected to shore power.
A shore power is a term that describes an external power source like those found in many campsites and RV parks.
When choosing an RV refrigerator, it’s important to understand how the cooling system works and whether you want one powered by electricity or solar power.
How to Install Your New RV Fridge
- If you’re not a handy person, it’s better to have a professional install your fridge. A professional will provide all the materials needed to hook up your fridge correctly and get it working immediately.
- RV refrigerators can be installed into a pre-sized cabinet using flanges to hold it in place. You may need to modify the cabinet and build a bracket to secure the new fridge.
- Another challenge is the power source. Residential fridges need 120V, but most RV fridges have a 12V circuit.
- It’s important to have a power source for your refrigerator, so you may want to invest in extra batteries and an inverter.
If you stay off the road long enough, you can unplug your refrigerator and shut it off, but remember that unexpected delays can cause your food to thaw.
How to Troubleshoot Your RV Refrigerator
- Check the thermistor and thermostat: The thermistor regulates the temperature inside your RV. A faulty thermistor can cause a refrigerator’s temperature either be too cold or not cold enough.
- Check the control board: The control board regulates many things in an RV refrigerator, like its defrosting and temperature settings, and the fridge’s on or off switch.
If the control board fails, all other parts of your cooling unit will fail too, because they depend on this component to operate correctly.
- Check for a heating element problem: The heating element circulates air throughout the refrigerator so everything stays fresh longer than if the food were sitting around exposed.
What to Do When Your RV Fridge Has a Meltdown
- Request a towing service and go to a repair shop: Your first step is to take your RV fridge to a repair shop.
A technician can check your fridge and determine what needs fixing before giving you a quote on their services.
- Purchase a 12-volt test lamp: A 12-volt test lamp is another tool technicians use to detect electrical problems in RVs and other vehicles like cars, trucks, boats, and motorcycles.
If the lamp doesn’t light up when plugged into the outlet, there’s probably a problem with the wiring that needs to be repaired before you can use it again.
- If you’re unsure about a power source, unplug the power cord.
- Always carry the tools you need for repair while traveling.
RV Refrigerators Tips
Below are a few tips to keep your new refrigerator running efficiently and make sure it’ll last a long time:
Turn Your Refrigerator on the Day Before
This lets the refrigerator reach its optimal temperature before you put food inside.
Do Not Overload Your Refrigerator
A crammed fridge restricts airflow, which causes food to cool unevenly.
Close the RV Refrigerator Properly
You can help keep your food safe by maintaining your refrigerator temperature between 34 and 36 degrees. Leaving the freezer door open on a warm day can quickly spoil your food.
RV Fridges and Freezers Keep Things Fresh
When traveling by RV, you’ll have access to appliances and resources you wouldn’t usually have when tent camping.
One of those resources is a decked-out kitchen with a fridge. Use it to keep food, drinks, and other perishables fresh for your trip.
Here are some frequently asked questions that might help you:
- What type of fridge is best for an RV?
Absorption RV refrigerators are the most common type of refrigerators used in RVs. This is because they’re very efficient and durable.
- Can you put any refrigerator in an RV?
You can keep a residential refrigerator in your RV. But you should consider the size of the refrigerator and its power requirements.
- What’s the difference between an RV refrigerator and a regular refrigerator?
The difference between the two types of refrigerators is that an RV refrigerator has no moving parts, so it’s less likely to be damaged while you’re driving.
Plus, RV refrigerators are smaller than standard ones, so they can fit into many different places.
- What size is a standard RV refrigerator?
Most portable refrigerators are between 4 and 12 cubic feet.