Getting To Know Your RV: Important RV Refrigerator Tips Before You Hit The Road

Getting To Know Your RV: Important RV Refrigerator Tips Before You Hit The Road

It seemed so simple when they showed you how to use the RV refrigerator the first time.

But, in reality, it isn’t all that easy.

There’s more to it than just putting the switch in the ON position.

An RV refrigerator has some unique quirks about it.


Here’s what you need to know if you want everything in the RV refrigerator to be cold before you hit the road…

RV Refrigerator Models

RV refrigerators come in 2 configurations:

  • 3-way RV refrigerators – which will operate on 12-volt DC, 110-volt AC, and propane gas.
  • 2-way RV refrigerators – which are more common and operate on 110-volt AC and propane.

Here’s a little about the differences between 2-way vs 3-way refrigerators.

Leveling Your RV Is The First Requirement

So you have the RV sitting in the driveway, and you need to pack everything for a trip tomorrow. What’s the best way to get things cooled down, so your beverages are ready to drink when you pull out of the driveway?

Your first concern should be your rig level. RV refrigerators will not cool unless they are darn near perfectly level.

The best way to determine how close to level you are is to stick a small bubble level inside the refrigerator itself. Relying on a level attached to the exterior of your RV may not be as accurate, depending on how the refrigerator is mounted in your RV.

What’s important is the RV refrigerator needs to be level to allow the solution inside the cooling unit to percolate. This is how it transfers heat out of the interior. (The solution consists of Sodium Chromate, mixed with ammonia, hydrogen and water.)

Just like in a coffee pot, heat is used to create the percolation action. When you’re plugged in and operating off household 110-volt AC electricity, a heating element heats the fluid and creates circulation. If you have a 30-amp receptacle available at home with the same prong configuration as your RV power cord, you will have no problem using this source of power to operate your refrigerator.

However, if you’re running an extension cord across the yard to reach your RV, keep in mind that your power source may not allow the heating element to get hot enough to do the job. You’re better off running on propane at this point.

Starting An RV Refrigerator On Propane

To start your refrigerator on propane, for many models it’s as easy as flipping the switch to GAS.

There is one potential problem: If your RV has been shut down and stored for any length of time, that means the gas lines are empty and your refrigerator is not going to light the first time you flip the switch. In fact, you might have to flip the switch from OFF to GAS and back for quite some time before it will actually light.

When you open the valve on your propane tank, the easiest way to purge a good portion of the air out of the gas line is to light a burner on the stove. The stove has a big flame, and the gas line that supplies it is good sized as well. The burner may take a minute or two to bleed off the air, but once it’s burning you have brought the gas supply much closer to the refrigerator.

Now, you can cycle the switch on the refrigerator to the GAS position, and after 3 or 4 tries it should light. It may still take more attempts, but no matter what, you have greatly shortened your time before achieving success.

If your refrigerator doesn’t have an electronic ignition, you will need to hold in the pilot knob until you have ignited the flame. Once you have a flame, continue to hold the button in for 30 seconds until the thermocouple senses the flame.

Refrigerators with the 12-volt DC feature can be operated in this mode when driving to conserve propane and avoid any danger that operating on propane may present while traveling.

One thing to remember: The drain on your RV battery will be extensive when operating on 12-volt DC. If you turn off your motor to go shopping or sightseeing for a couple hours, you’re likely to have a dead battery when you return.

Personally I’ve traveled all over the country with my refrigerator running on propane without any problems. In most cases, you will find your refrigerator will operate better and cool much more efficiently on propane too.

So there you have it! As long as you start your refrigerator the evening before you plan on loading it, you will find it nice and cold when you’re ready for your trip.

Other Helpful Tips About RV Refrigerators

  • How To Clean & Service An RV Refrigerator
  • Tips For Repairing vs Replacing An RV Refrigerator
  • How To Remove & Prevent RV Refrigerator Mold
  • Tips For Improving The Efficiency Of Your RV Refrigerator
  • How To Defrost An RV Refrigerator


I’ve been involved in RVing for over 40 yrs — including camping, building, repairing, and even selling RVs. I’ve owned, used, and repaired almost every class and style of RV ever made. I do all of my own repair work. My other interests include cooking at home, living with an aging dog, and dealing with diabetic issues. If you can combine a grease monkey with a computer geek, throw in a touch of information nut and organization freak, combined with a little bit of storyteller, you’ve got a good idea of who I am.


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