Last Updated on

The ability to refrigerate items is one of the best inventions of all time!

Where would we be without a cool beer, ice for a drink or food which can be kept for days?

God forbid, but if ever you find yourself stuck in the situation where your RV refrigerator is no longer able to cool its contents.  But, for some reason the freezer is working at full capacity, you might find yourself baffled.  How can the fridge not be working yet you’re still able to freeze items?

So, what can cause an RV fridge to not cool but the freezer to work? First & foremost, make sure the fridge is level. Next, make sure you’ve given the fridge enough time to cool down, it takes longer than the freezer.  Both parts work on the same principle, so if one works the other should as well.

For additional troubleshooting help, read on 🙂

How Does An RV Refrigerator Work?

However, before you go at it with a wrench and screwdriver, you should first of all be aware of how exactly an RV refrigerator works.

If you are thinking that the RV behind the refrigerator is of no or negligible significance, then my are you mistaken!

The traditional and the general purpose refrigerator that you have been using since forever for all kinds of domestic purposes works on an entirely different concept, as well as in function as compared to an RV refrigerator.

Where a standard refrigerator makes use of a compressor to cool the air and supply it through the vents while working according to the laws of thermodynamics.  An RV refrigerator is devoid of any such compressor, or any sort of dynamic components for that matter.

Instead, it makes use of a mechanism which involves a mixture of ammonia (NH3), hydrogen (H2) and water (H2O) which.

These elements are brought into contact with heat and are passed through tubular channels, leading to evaporation and condensing. It’s this process of condensing that allows an RV refrigerator to cool your food items.

What makes the modus operandi of an RV refrigerator unique and interesting is its ability to keep the cooling effect functionality active and working even in the absence of electricity.  Pretty cool, right?

This is made possible by an open flame that is triggered as soon as electricity from the mains is cut-off.

This flame in turn now keeps heating the above-said mixture until the power is back on.

Owing to this fantastic feature, refrigerator contents can stay cool and thus preserving food for a long time even in the absence of any sort of power (AC or DC). 

Many modern and advanced refrigerators available for the home now also have started to come equipped with this exact feature to prevent food from going bad in a power cut.

How Does An RV Refrigerator Differ From A Normal Refrigerator

Furthermore, if you think that it is only the working style and the concept behind the refrigerator that separates it from a household refrigerator, then you are wrong again!

The building style and material also vary a great deal.

Where a standard refrigerator is generally built out of elements such as copper, brass, aluminum etc. An RV refrigerator cannot be made out of such metals owing to the rough treatment that the refrigerator has to go through.  They must be able to withstand the variable conditions of life on the road.

Because brass, aluminum etc. are soft and metals, they do not have the potential or the capability to survive the bumps and potholes that it is going to encounter during its lifecycle.

As such, the primary component in its construction is steel: a considerably heavier and more durable compound.

RV Refrigerator Troubleshooting Tips

For all of its wonderful features and prowess, an RV refrigerator is highly susceptible to faults and errors.

One of the most common issues is the experience wherein the freezer is working flawlessly and doing its thing perfectly.  However, the refrigerator at the same time is not able to cool the inside environment of the same.

More often than not, the source of this problem is either the thermistor, the control board (also referred to as the master board or the motherboard), or the heating element.

But first and foremost, make sure the RV refrigerator is level and you’ve given it enough time to cool, 24 hours at least.  It’s also worthwhile adding a jug of water to the refrigerator and seeing if it feels cooler after a few hours.  Rather than relying on the air feel!

However, other plausible reasons include-

Temperature Sensor

The temperature sensor located inside the refrigerator could have moved, slipped, or fallen off from its natural position. 

Make sure it’s firmly attached and in proper contact with the fin.

Once this has been done and taken care of, just move the sensor to and fro to adjust the refrigerator temperature.

Not Enough Air Circulation

A common occurrence in regions with hot and torrid temperatures.

If the rate at which the ammonia-hydrogen mixture is burned and heated is significantly slower than the rate at which the surrounding air is getting heated naturally, it is only natural and all physics that the refrigerator is not working the way it should.

The best course of action to rectify this problem is to have a fan with a high RPM (rotations per minute) installed just behind the opening space behind the fridge in order to increase the air flow in the chamber of the refrigerator.

This will help with managing its temperature in accordance with the surrounding temperature, leading to the RV refrigerator cooling more efficiently.

Thermistor Issues

The thermistor in an RV refrigerator is probably one of its most essential components.

Comprising of an NTC (Negative Temperature Coefficient) thermistor, the cooling cycle of a refrigerator depends entirely on this component.

As temperatures start to rise, the resistance of these thermistors starts falling.  This reduction in resistance allows for an increased and faster flow of the heated mixture, which in turn allows for more rapid cooling of the refrigerator.

However, a broken thermistor keeps the refrigerator from doing its job.

A temporary solution to this problem is to remove or unplug the thermistor altogether whilst you get it replaced by a new one.

What this will do is allow the refrigerator to run continuously without the involvement and hindrance of a middle element responsible for temperature regulation.

Be cautious though that operating the refrigerator for long durations without a thermistor runs a risk in burning out or sustaining permanent damages to the refrigerator.  So, you should only use it in case of emergency.

RV Refrigerator Exhaust Blocked

There is also a fair chance that the hot air generated as a waste and side product of the cooling process is not able to find a path and a way out from the exhaust vent.

The vent is located on the back side of the refrigerator and it ultimately finds its way out of the recreational vehicle through the vent cover on the roof of the vehicle.

This could be possible due to some obstruction or some blockage in the vent which is prohibiting the air to flow out and ultimately causing the temperature of the refrigerator to stay out of equilibrium as that of the freezer.

Try removing the vent cover on the roof and inspect it for any possible blockages that may be the source of the temperature discrepancy and you may just come across critters, dust or some sort of plausible explanation for the same.

RV Refrigerator Coolant

Just like a standard refrigerator requires coolant to function, so does an RV refrigerator.

It is the same ammonia mixture that acts as the coolant supplied first to the freezer and then to the refrigerator. Which is why, if cooling is compromised at any stage, it is the refrigerator that is affected first rather than the freezer.

This cooling can be compromised in the event that this mixture runs dry and the tank gets empty. Just like without any coolant, there can’t be any cooling, similarly without the ammonia-hydrogen mixture, the same gets hampered.

The very simple solution to this is to get the tank refilled with the mixture ASAP and possibly refrain yourself from using the refrigerator in the meantime.

Also, before you fill the tank with the mixture, make sure that you defrost the refrigerator before in order to get rid of any pungent smells that might have developed in the chamber.

Bumps On The Road

Considering the fact that the density of ammonia is less than water, it is understood here that its flow is relatively slower than water and hence its supply to the cooling unit should be uniform and fast. However, while on the road, the ride can get extremely bumpy due to which the supply of the burned and heated mixture is not in the proper ratios and consequently the refrigeration is not as needed and expected.

The solution to this is gravity. The angle at which the supply vent and cooling unit are inclined plays a major role in deciding the amount of flow of ammonia mixture. Keeping the structure level or at a maximum inclination of 6 degrees is the best possible combination to make sure that the refrigerator and freezer are always in equilibrium.

No Issues

It is also possible that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the refrigerator.

Many times it may happen that due to the RV lights and the fans being on, the load on the electrical system becomes too much that leads to a reduced flow of current to the fridge.

Furthermore, as the freezer gets the supply of heat and electricity before the refrigerator, the final supply of current to the refrigerator becomes even smaller in magnitude leading to the freezer being comparatively colder than the refrigerator chamber.

You may also like RV Air Conditioning Troubleshooting.

In such an event, the refrigerator is bound to and shall definitely become cold. But, it shall take longer to cool down compared to the freezer.

Apart from the current supply, it is also possible that the supply voltage is also too low to cater to the needs of not just the refrigerator but for the entire RV. Make sure that the input supply voltage is no lower than 110V for the refrigerator to function normally.