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Six Ways to Fix a Camper Refrigerator


Even the best RV fridge can have problems. Thankfully it’s not hard to fix a camper refrigerator that breaks. If you learn how to troubleshoot and fix your fridge, you can save thousands of dollars. For tips on the most common ways RV refrigerators usually break down, keep reading.

What if I told you that it’s easier than you thought to fix a camper refrigerator? As long as you have some working fridge knowledge, you can do this easy RV repair. By following along with the guidelines in this post, you can troubleshoot and repair many common camper refrigerator issues.

What You Will Learn

Before you do anything else, first go outside and check your coach’s positioning. Is it level? If not, (and even if the coach is at a slight angle), you’ve just figured out what’s wrong with your cooling unit. If that didn’t fix your camper refrigerator, keep reading.

How To Troubleshoot the Six Most Common RV Refrigerator Problems

  • Pilot light won’t stay on
  • Cooling unit is leaking
  • Ammonia sediment buildup
  • Frozen cooling unit
  • Faulty Burner
  • Troubleshooting random RV fridge problems

Unfortunately, whether from age, misuse, or just a plain ol’ case of bad luck, the components of your fridge can stop working. Sometimes they get clogged up and other times they simply break down. Here’s what to do when that happens.

RV Refrigerator Problem#1: The pilot light won’t stay on.

Camper refrigerators are not like your fridge back home. These will run on propane gas or electricity depending on the model. Sometimes it’s even both. That means the fridge will include a burner jet, also known as a pilot light.

The pilot light is responsible for triggering the fridge burners. But sometimes this doesn’t happen. You may light the pilot light in the morning, only to return to the fridge in the afternoon and find it’s burned out.

You repeat the process, relighting the pilot light, and yet it burns out again and again and again. Why though?

How to Fix a Camper Refrigerator with a Burned Out Pilot Light

There are a few reasons your pilot light may be giving you trouble. One is that the thermocouple may be failing. This regulates how much gas is in the fridge’s burner at any time. If this component is done for, it’s time to get a new one.

If replacing the thermocouple doesn’t work, your pilot light problems might be because the pilot light’s gas line has too much air in it. This prevents the pilot light from turning on and staying on.

To fix it, access the fridge’s gas valves. For now, power these down. Then reset them. If you have a newer model fridge, you can do this all by pushing the power button. If not, you’ll have to reset the fridge manually.

Once your fridge is up and running again, you should see the pilot light go on. This time, it should stay on.

RV Refrigerator Issue #2: The cooling unit is leaking.

Your camper refrigerator contains a cooling unit. This keeps the food in the fridge chilly and the items in the freezer frosty. The unit is cooled via a combination of water, hydrogen, and ammonia, also known as cooling solution.

This solution can sometimes leak, unfortunately.

There are two immediate indicators to let you know you have a cooling unit leak on your hands. The first is a heavy ammonia odor. The second is a hot absorber but warm boiler.

You may also notice, once you access the cooling unit in your fridge, that it’s now coated in yellow residue. Don’t stress too much. This occurs because the steel tubing has deteriorated due to prolonged exposure to the cooling solution.

How to Fix a Camper Refrigerator with a Leaking Cooling Unit

Okay, so all this sounds pretty bad, right? What can do you do to troubleshoot this unwanted leak?

It’s going to take some time and patience.

First, you need to find the heating element’s 110-volt wires. These are often white. Plug those in to a 110 VAC element. Make sure you’re careful as you do so. Never be afraid to call in the professionals if you feel a job’s scope is too large for you.

Next, you need to find a way to read the temperature in the fridge with everything unplugged. To do so, fill a glass of water and add in a thermometer. Put this in the fridge and close the door.

Now wait. The temperature should read about 43 degrees Fahrenheit in a 12-hour period. It’s okay if it’s a little lower. That temperature should drop to somewhere between 20 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit within 24 hours.

This test may seem silly, but it lets you know if the cooling unit leak is the only issue or if something worse is going on. For instance, if your fridge can’t get to those temperatures, it may be time to think about getting a new cooling unit.

Otherwise, now you must contain and plug up the leak or let a professional take care of it.

RV Refrigerator Issue #3: Ammonia Sediment Buildup

If you don’t use your camper trailer all year long, you must be aware of the potential for ammonia sediment buildup.

This occurs most often with older fridges. When the refrigerator sits unused, ammonia leaks out in liquid form. This pool of liquid or sediment drips down to the cooling unit.

Once you pull out the camper from storage and start using the refrigerator again, the cooling unit will stall. The sediment is prohibiting the liquid ammonia from flowing as it should across the unit. That means your fridge will seem barely cool, and then warm, and then warmer.

Soon, it won’t keep food cool at all, and you’ll have to throw out food and drinks left and right.

How to Fix a Camper Refrigerator with Ammonia Sediment Buildup

Although this sounds a little like the cooling unit leak we mentioned above, this is a different issue entirely. To prevent ammonia sediment from developing in the first place, make sure you don’t leave your fridge inactive for too long.

If replacing your refrigerator isn’t an option at the moment, you can always try fixing it. That said, this troubleshooting tip doesn’t always work long-term, so you’re really prolonging the inevitable (which in this case would be replacing your camper refrigerator).

Once the fridge is unplugged, take it outside or somewhere spacious in the camper. Flip it so it’s upside down. This should allow all the sediment to travel away from the cooling unit.

Again, if that doesn’t work, it’s time to replace your fridge. It’s pretty much the only way to keep your food cool.

RV Refrigerator Issue #4: Frozen Cooling Unit

Admittedly, this is a rare issue, but it can happen.

If you’re the type who keeps your camper lukewarm to warn, you never have to worry about freezing issues. If you store your motorhome in the wintertime though, and the temperatures drop down deep into the negatives (I’m talking at least -30 degrees Fahrenheit or lower here), it’s possible that freezing of components in the fridge can occur.

So what happens when the liquid cooling solution becomes a solid mass? Said solid mass prevents the refrigerator’s heat source from working, which means your fridge won’t work, either.

How to Fix a Camper Refrigerator with a Frozen Cooling Unit

The biggest troubleshooting tip here is to watch your temperatures! Make sure you don’t leave your camper out in below-freezing temperatures and you should be okay.

What if you’re ever in a situation where the fridge’s solution does freeze to the point where the fridge doesn’t work? Use a lightbulb that’s at least 60 watts to gradually heat up the temperature and melt the freezing blockage. A space heater also works.

RV Refrigerator Issue #5: Faulty Burner

Remember how we mentioned that your camper refrigerator can run on electricity or propane gas? It’s not a guessing game about which to use. If you treat it as such, you could end up with a faulty burner.

How to Fix a Camper Refrigerator with a Faulty Burner

First, know when to use electricity and when to use propane. For many models of camper refrigerator, it’s advised that once you surpass 5,550-feet altitudes, you should run your fridge on AC power instead of gas.

The altitude can put a strain on liquid propane. If you fail to make the switch as you approach higher altitudes, your burners can…well, burn out.

If this has already happened, you can fix it. Chances are, excess air has found its way into the gas supply lines, which is contributing to the burner failure. By resetting your refrigerator and purging the propane cylinders, you should clear the excess air.

In the future, next time you use your fridge, make sure to change power sources depending on your altitude.

RV Refrigerator Issue #6: Nothing You Do Keeps Food Cold

You’ve tried the above tips and nothing is working. You’re still having issues with the fridge’s cooling unit. It just won’t work for long periods, which is leaving you with spoiled food you have to throw out every few days or so.

What could possibly be causing such an issue? You’ll probably be surprised, but the problem may have to do with the positioning of your camper’s coach.  

How to Troubleshoot a Camper Refrigerator when Other Repair Tips Don’t Work

You already know how ammonia sediment forms. Part of it has to do with age and part of it has to do with refrigerator inactivity, but positioning your fridge at an angle (inadvertently due to the coach angle) also allows the liquid ammonia to travel to places it probably shouldn’t, like the cooling unit.

Back at home, your refrigerator is undoubtedly 100 percent level. You don’t have to question it. You know your kitchen floors and walls are level, so your fridge is, too. That said, with your camper, it’s different. You may think the coach is level only to discover your fridge is having issues.

Grab a ruler, measuring tape, or even a level and take it outside. Check the angle on the camper coach. Adjust as necessary.

In the future, be conscientious of the angle of the coach. This will keep your camper fridge running at its best.

Conclusion

I hope these six troubleshooting tips above provided enough guidance for you to be proactive with your fridge issues and try to fix them yourself. Remember, if a job ever seems too big for you, or the issue is more severe than you thought, feel free to bring your fridge to the pros. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy travels, and may your food and drinks stay cool.

Author Nicole Malczan Avatar

Nicole Malczan

Nicole Malczan is a content marketing writer and freelancer. She's applied her knowledge of marketing and SEO to many clients over the years, ranging from foodservice to facilities management and currency exchange. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, baking, and music.

36 thoughts on “Six Ways to Fix a Camper Refrigerator

  1. Hello everyone. I bought a 2021 Cougar keystone travel trailer two weeks ago and I have not been able to get the Dometic refrigerator to work. It runs with electric and propane. The off and on lights on the refrigerator do not turn on at all. I have checked the fuses and everything else but cannot seem to find the problem.

  2. Glad I found this site!
    I have a Dometic New Dimensions. 2007 5th wheel. The fridge goes out in the middle of the night. I try turning it on again, lights go on for a second and then off. Takes until 2 in the afternoon to get it back on , ice still
    frozen and after several tries it go on again and turns back off in the middle of the night.
    Trying to find someone to come out as I’m stationary living in it full time. I’d appreciate any help you can give me.

  3. Fridge Fix of NJ is your Sub Zero, Viking, Wolf & Cove repair specialists. Fridge Fix is a Sub Zero Factory Certified installer. Sub Zero can repair, restore and install all makes of built in refridgerators and wine coolers.

  4. I had turned off the gas during winter, not thinking about the refrigerator. I turned it back on 2 months later & everything seemed to be working. Now a few days ago, the refrigerator was not working. I have a older Skamper travel trailer.

  5. I have no idea what model the camper is but it’s older. It belongs to my daughter and son-in-law. It has a norcold fridge/freezer unit in it. It worked fine up until a few weeks ago. I’ve always run it on power. But it suddenly just quit working. I had just had the butane bottle filled to use for heat. I never got to use it. Couldn’t get the pilot to light on the heater. Then about a week later the fridge quit. I went to check the bottle that me daughter had hooked up and it was empty but never used. I can’t get the fridge to set like it was on electric. The camper hadn’t been moved and I’ve been living in it for about 8 months or so now. I’m camper stupid but it’s my home now and I have no money of any kind so I’m gonna have to try to fix it myself. Can you help please. As I said I’m stupid about these things. Could it be a fuse in the fridge as ND how would I check? Electricity scares the crap out of me.

  6. My refrigerator is freezing everything up is there a setting to where you control the temperature The brand of refrigerator freezer is a domestic model number RM2652 serial number 20605993 it works off of both electric and gas

  7. I purchased a Dometic refrigerator, Model #DM2652BB, Serial #82488356, on 9//15/2018, and ever since then, a strip across the inside of the freezer top and also the door top, forms a Frost Buildup. What could be wrong?

  8. Turned on my genni and the fridge still doesn’t work. We have propane/electric fridge. Where you run it on auto or just gas and it’s not cooling. We are in high altitude but it worked a few days ago. Please help.

  9. My 2019 keystone cougar ref is plugged in and not cooling at all. Any suggestions as to why checked power and it’s on lights come on will work on propane but not electric. Do I need The propane on for the electric to work

    1. No it should work on either, sounds like a fuse has blown, located in the back of you refrigerator, take panel of and it’s in the plastic looking box, take cover off and you should be able to check the fuses.

  10. Hi I have a 1985 Road Ranger Camper we have not used it in two years the ref worked and now its now what I need to know is there a way to put Freon in it. And how do you do it.

  11. Hi my fridge will not cool gas or electric there are no lights lighting up when I turned it on check the outlet that it is plugged into it’s good what can it be

  12. I have a 2007 Dometic Refrigerator it works on propane not electric. I have replaced the Circuit Board.
    Is there something Im missing out on. I did have a black wire that was extra and couldnt find a place on the board to put. ?? Please help

  13. I have a 2005 Rockwood by forest river M-8314SS.REFRIGERATOR hasn’t been used in a year. Light inside comes on but want cool. It runs on electric or gas. I opened panel outside and this black pump looking thing is hot as a firecracker. My husband took care of theses things now it’s on me now. Does anyone have any idea if that could just be a bad compresser?thanks

    1. I wish I knew , iam having same type problem. Little Circuit breaker switch on the tank that gets Hot, it keep throwing the switch on the tank and that shuts the whole refrigerator off, I can reset then in 30 minutes it’s off again. Why ?

  14. I have a Dometic refrigerator. It does not run on gas or electricity if you light the pilot light it will run a few hours and freezes ice in the ice trays but then the pilot light goes out. I checked and it is level

  15. I Bought a 2005 Rockwood with a electric refrigerator. The lights come on but it’s not cool. I don’t see any controls inside to adjust the temperature. It only has a off on switch at top. Can anyone tell me what I’m doing wrong. I don’t have the gas turned on, didn’t feel a need since it’s electric!

  16. I have a fifth wheel with 2 domestic rm3892 , the left one gets to cold ,I have tried to drop the setting down to the 1 setting it don’t help just gets colder and colder I have to shut it off to defrost it

  17. I have a Jay Flight camper and put two new batteries in and the fridge will run on ac but when i unplug the camper it wont run on prpane and no lights like it isnt running on the batteries

  18. Bought a keystone bobcat. The fridge isn’t working. I need someone to come to me to fix it. Can you give me a name and number in the Athens TN area who makes is a mobile tech. My email is: [email protected]

  19. My ref. runs on elect. but not on gas. The igniter is working and there is propane going to the valve but doesn’t seam like anything is coming out of the valve. ANY IDEAS? Or just replace the valve?

    1. Take gas lines off and hold them down to drain them there is a liquid that can build up and block the gas. I didn’t believe but it’s true

  20. This is some really good information about caring for your caravan. It is good to know that your refrigerator cooling unit can freeze. That does seem like a good thing to check if you want to use your refrigerator when camping with a caravan.

  21. Hi my travel trailer fridge doesn’t cool or freeze. Changed it to gas and still the same. What should I change on it ?

  22. Hi, I have a 1997 nomad 5th wheel, almost everytime I try to go from electric to gas it failes, a dealer put in a new circuit board saying that was the problem, it didn’t change a thing, still have the same problem, what could be wrong? Marty.

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