There are two main fridges that most RV manufactures install in their coaches. They are Dometic and Norcold and they both make absorption refrigerators.
RV absorption refrigerators depend on three main things in order to keep them running efficiently and if these three things are not correct, the cooling unit may fail. Like anything else, usually more than one of these three things are wrong when a cooling unit fails. They are as follows:
Level of unit
Most RV’ers prefer to camp on level ground; however it doesn’t take long with a fridge off-level to overheat a cooling unit. Even driving up a long steep hill can cause the liquid in the fridge’s boiler to shift and the boiler to sustain damage. We suggest making the levelness of the camping spot a priority when parking so that the fridge does not have much time off-level or shutting off the fridge until parked level.
Ventilation is fairly easy maintenance for an experienced RV’er. If you are unsure of how to check for ventilation behind the fridge ask your RV technician what he/she is looking for at your next service appointment. The vent can be removed from behind the fridge. Basically you want to make sure there are no blockages when looking from the exterior vent and checking that the gap is between 0-1” clearances (depending on fridge manufacturer). Blocked airflow of any kind can make the fridge’s boiler to overheat causing heat damage to the metal which will eventually cause the unit to fail.
The hardest to control when it comes to your cooling unit is exterior temperature. If the temperature outside is too hot or too cold a cooling unit can easily fail. Also, mixed with a unit that is partially un-level or a fridge with ventilation issues, it is very hard on the fridge. Therefore, with these factors in mind, it is very hard to say what temperatures will be too much for a cooling unit to work properly. Generally most failures or issues can start at -7 degrees Celsius and <+30 degrees Celsius, and it is recommended that if you aren’t using the fridge…to just plain shut it off and wait until temperatures drop/raise to run it again or to minimize the amount of times that the fridge is opened and closed during the day as loss of heat inside the fridge will cause the fridge to work harder. When the fridge has to work harder the boiler portion of it is actually what is working harder causing it to overheat which we covered before, will cause heat damage to the metal which will eventually cause the unit to fail.
Unfortunately, even the most experienced RV’er can get caught with one of the three things above wrong and end up with a costly bill for either a replacement cooling unit or even a new fridge. Therefore, there must be some sort of solution to preventing cooling unit failure in the first place. And luckily there is! Our solution is an add-on device that is installed behind the fridge and protects the main cause of cooling unit failure- the fridge’s boiler overheating. It is called ARP or Absorption Refrigeration Protective Control.
The ARP works because it simply shuts off the fridge whenever the boiler temperature is higher than it’s usual 350 degrees. Then it continues to monitor your fridge until the temperature drops and then restarts the fridge automatically so that no food is ruined in the process, if possible. This makes sure that the boiler isn’t overheating causing stress to the metal which can cause either gradual issues or immediate failure to the unit.
A cooling unit that is running properly can operate for years, but in just a short amount of time a cooling unit can also fail. It is best to protect the unit and install a ARP control that “monitors the vital signs of your fridge to solve issues before they happen”.
(Sold at Snowy Peaks RV)
Failed Cooling Unit
So how do you know if your RV fridge is in need of repair or if it is time to replace it altogether? Just because your fridge isn’t operating properly doesn’t necessarily mean that it has a failed cooling unit. There are many factors that play major roles in an RV fridge’s operation and it is recommended that any issue with an RV fridge be tested & repaired by a certified RV technician. However, there are some tell tale signs to a failed cooling unit such as the fridge making gurgling noises, seeing a yellow powder on the back of the fridge, and/or smelling a strong chemical/ ammonia. If any of these are present, your local RV service center may advise on replacement of the cooling unit itself or the entire fridge.
Depending on the fridge sometimes a new cooling unit is the only option as fridges over the years become discontinued and the sizes change too much for modifications to the coach. Replacing just the cooling unit is usually a half or two thirds the price of a brand new RV fridge installed; however, replacement may take more time as the install and repair generally take longer (based on time of year and availability of a new fridge).
If you are just replacing the cooling unit there are two options. You can either buy a brand new cooling unit from either Dometic or Norcold, depending on the make of your fridge. Or your cooling unit may be repaired by an Absorption Refrigerator Repair Technician; which usually means having the cooling unit removed and sent to Hillstreet Propane in Enderby, BC for repair. In the summer months it can take up to three weeks to have a fridge repaired as Hillstreet propane is the only person certified to repair a cooling unit in western Canada.
Either way it is best to prevent cooling unit failure before it happens as RV fridges tend to be more expensive then regular household ones.
Red Seal RV Technician
Snowy Peaks RV