RV Refrigerator Troubleshooting; How to Diagnose and Fix?

Refrigerators are prone to problems. The typical RV refrigerator is no exception to this. In fact, the standard RV refrigerator has more that can go wrong with it due to the fact it is in an RV.

We’ll discuss "RV refrigerator troubleshooting methods" for diagnosing and fixing many issues that arise in RV refrigerators. 

Issue 01: Why Is My Refrigerator Warm?

Culprit 01: It Isn’t On or Set to be Cold

RV refrigerators are energy hogs. They can become warm because you didn’t turn on the refrigerator or because the fuse in the electrical system burned out. These are problems unique to RVs. The simplest step is checking to make sure the refrigerator is switched on for the power source you have available.

For example, if the fridge can use both propane and electricity and it is set to draw propane, it won’t work if you’re out of propane. 

If it is set to electricity, the fridge won’t work if you aren’t hooked up to shore power or the generator isn’t running. Sniff around the refrigerator.

Consider switching the fridge between operating modes. If it works in one mode but not another, the cooling unit is intact and the problem is tied to the other system.

Culprit 02: A Refrigerator without Refrigerant Can’t Get Cold

Then they can become warm for the same reasons your kitchen refrigerator is warm: the compressor died, the fridge has run out of refrigerant, or it has a major air leak. Sniff around the refrigerator. If you smell ammonia, there is a refrigerant leak. This needs to be fixed by a professional. 

If the cooling unit has enough ammonia but isn’t working, you could try taking the fridge out, flipping it upside down, leaving it for a while, then restoring it. This can unclog the unit. This will partially clear up ammonia sediment buildup, though the real solution is replacing the fridge as soon as possible.

The long-term solution to this problem is not letting the fridge be inactive too long so the ammonia sediment cannot form.

Culprit 03: The Compressor Can’t Cool Down the Fridge

You can tell if the compressor has died if the fridge has power and is set to a cold temperature but there’s no sound. You can tell it has run out of refrigerant if the compressor runs but the air it puts out is warm.

If the compressor is making a clicking sound but doesn’t seem to cycle, the starting capacitor that drives the compressor needs to be replaced. 

Culprit 04: The Compressor Is Cold But the Air Isn’t 

If the compressor is running but you don’t feel any moving cold air, check the fan. A burned out fan motor or a loose wire to the fan can be fixed.

Check the air vents, too. If they are blocked by frozen food or a layer of ice, clear the vents and see if cold air starts to move through them. If so, the problem is fixed.

Culprit 05: Your Liquid Propane Supply Is the Problem 

What if the refrigerator relies on liquid propane gas? We already mentioned verifying that there is gas. You should make sure the valve is on, since the fridge won’t cool if it lacks fuel.

Verify that safety devices like an LP alarm haven’t disconnected it. If safety devices have engaged, the issue should be checked out by a professional. 

If there are no safety concerns, switch the controls for gas burner use. Then try to light the gas burner. If the gas burner lights up but goes out quickly, the thermocouple is the problem. If the burner doesn’t light, you can try to vacuum the burner area around the burner port or jet.

Rust and other debris may be blocking it. After you clean it up, reset the fridge and its gas valves. This may be done automatically by hitting the power button on a modern fridge. 

If you have a flame but it isn’t the strong blue flame you expect, then there may be too much air in the line. This should be investigated by a professional. 

Issue 02: The Fridge Is Cool but Not Cold Enough 

Culprit 01: It Can’t Keep in the Cold Air 

Sometimes the refrigerator is cool but not as cold as you expect. First, make sure the door is securely closed. If the fridge seal is damaged or the door isn’t closing all the way, it will let cold air out. If the fridge door is banging while you’re driving, that could be why it is losing the cold air.

The solution here is finding a way to securely hold the door closed. 

Culprit 02: It Isn’t Set Low Enough 

The next thing to check is the thermostat. Don’t be upset that a fridge isn’t freezing if the thermostat is set above freezing. If the thermostat is set cold but the unit isn’t cold, try setting the thermostat lower.

If the refrigerator gets much colder, then the problem may be due to the thermostat being incorrectly calibrated. 

Culprit 03: It Is Really a Mechanical Problem 

What if you set the thermostat as low as it can go and the fridge is cool instead of cold? If the refrigerator’s compressor is working hard and long to cool the fridge down further, you have a problem with the compressor or another key system.

This is a warning to you that it needs to be serviced, because it soon won’t be able to keep things cold. 

Issue 03: Error Messages on the Refrigerator Display 

Culprit 01: You Need to Clear a New Error Message 

The simplest solution for all of them is turning off the refrigerator, waiting a minute, and then turning it back on. This will clear the memory of the refrigerator’s control board, and this may clear the error messages.

If the control board glitched because of a power surge or malfunctioning sensor, the issue is resolved until the root cause occurs again. 

Culprit 02: You Just Plugged It Into Shore Power and Get an Error Message

A common cause of this problem is incoming voltage that is too high or too low. If you continue to see the error messages, check the voltage of your power system. If you’re connected to shore power, voltage above 130 or below 105 can damage electronics and cause errors on the refrigerator control board.

Also, If you do not have a multimeter to check the voltage, plug in a hair dryer. If that won’t work or the motor in it is cycling too fast and too slow, the incoming power is unreliable. 

The solution in this case can be choosing a different campsite that has a better power pedestal or relying on LP gas to power the refrigerator.

Warning: make sure you’re wearing protective gloves and properly grounded while checking the voltage so you aren’t shocked. And if you’re unsure of your ability to do this safety, have the issue troubleshot by a professional.

Culprit 03: There Are Electrical Issues with the Fridge 

If there is incoming power, check the voltage to the fans or other electrical components in the fridge. If they don’t have power, something is shorted out or disconnected.

You can look for a loose wire and often fix that, but if something is burned out, you’ll have to replace parts and may have other undiscovered shorts that need to be addressed. 

Culprit 04: The Fridge Is Displaying Error Messages You Cannot Clear 

Break out the manual and determining what the error message means. The error messages could mean the compressor is close to failing, the unit detects a refrigerant leak, the control board is malfunctioning or something else.

The manual will give you advice on how to fix it and when you have to call for service. 

Issue 04: The Fridge Is Frozen Solid 

Culprit 01: Your Fridge Got Too Cold. 

When the liquid cooling solution freezes, your fridge won’t work. The solution here is to thaw out your fridge. Use a gentle method like a space heater.

And take steps to prevent it from freezing again, mainly by ensuring the cab of the RV doesn’t get below freezing. 

Culprit 02: There Is a Leak in the Refrigerator 

If there is a refrigerant leak, whether it is on a fridge or air conditioner compressor, you may find ice on the compressor coils. The escaping refrigerant causes moisture in the air to condense to water and then freeze. If you find frozen patches on the outside of the fridge, this suggests a refrigerant leak.

Turn everything off, let it thaw out, and plan on having the refrigerator leak repaired by a professional. If you smell ammonia, open up the windows and let in fresh air, too. 

Final Words

We’ve addressed some of the most common RV refrigerator problems and their solutions. This will allow many RVers to fix their fridge or get by until they’re able to get the fridge serviced. 

John S.

Hello guys! I'm a 37-years-old author, traveler, writer, blogger, and a camper. I enjoy life as much as I can and love to visit beautiful places in my RV. That's why while traveling I have decided to dedicate some time to share my experiences with everyone that might be interested in traveling, camping, and RVs.