Team Outdoorsy
by Team Outdoorsy
Posted July 13, 2021

Ahhh, the wonderful RV camper refrigerator – you either love them or have a very rocky relationship with them. Ask ten RVers what their thoughts are on RV fridges, and you’ll get ten different answers. So why are they such a mystery?

How do RV refrigerators work

Most RV refrigerators use a different cooling method than the standard fridge you have at home. RV fridges operate using gas absorption, which involves heating ammonia to magically cool the refrigerator. Unlike your fridge at home, there are no moving parts in an RV refrigerator – things happen by heating the cooling unit either with propane or an electric heating element, depending on what source you use.

So what’s this mean to the RV traveler? Well, when they work, they work. However, when things aren’t working quite right (or not at all) it can be a mystery to pinpoint the exact problem. Keep that in mind and make sure things are up to snuff before hitting the road. We’re here to be your camper refrigerator guide!

Camper refrigerator types

There are four types of RV refrigerators:

  1. compressor refrigerator
  2. absorption refrigerator
  3. residential refrigerator
  4. hybrid camper refrigerator

Compressor refrigerators

Compressor fridges rely on AC/DC power. So, when you’re plugged in at your campsite, shore power keeps them running. While you’re on the road or boondocking, you’ll have to count on your RV batteries to keep them powered.

Absorption refrigerators

There are two types of absorption refrigerators for RVs:

  1. 2-way RV refrigerator
  2. 3-way RV refrigerator

Most RVs will have this type of camper refrigerator.

2 way RV refrigerator

2-way RV refrigerators can run off AC power (from shore power or a generator) or LP gas.

3 way RV refrigerator

3-way RV refrigerators can run off AC power, DC power, or LP gas. Because of this, they are one of the most flexible of the camper refrigerator options.

With both 2-way and 3-way fridges, you can save power by switching to gas. This means you can stay unplugged for longer. However, they often don’t cool as quickly or as evenly. Luckily, we have tips to help with that!

Residential refrigerators

Residential-style refrigerators are typically less expensive, cool more evenly, and have a greater storage capacity. But, they can only run off of shore power. To keep them running while your RV is not plugged in, you’ll need an RV inverter or generator.

Hybrid camper refrigerator

This type of RV fridge is a combination of an absorption and compression fridge. The refrigerators will give you the best of both technologies.

RV refrigerator alternatives

Additionally, a lot of RVers choose to bring along a chest-type portable refrigerator that works more like your home fridge. These compressor-based chests operate on 12 or 120 volts and are extremely efficient. The downside? You’ll need to have lots of battery life (or solar, or plan to run your generator) if you plan on doing any long-term boondocking with one of these.

Still, they are a fantastic option if you have space. Once you’ve got the fridge all figured out, these five smart solutions will help you optimize your RV kitchen space too.

Where to find the best RV refrigerators

There are a lot of options when it comes to putting a refrigerator in an RV and even more places to shop for them.

To help narrow it down, two of the most popular brands to look into for your motorhome or travel trailer refrigerator are:

Dometic RV refrigerator

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For owners with small to mid-size RVs, consider the Dometic DMC4081CFRH. The fridge is compact at 6.7 cubic feet, with a 5.5 cubic foot refrigerator and a 1.2 cubic foot freezer. The fridge features a user-friendly digital thermostat control, adjustable shelves, and a built-in LED light. It operates on AC/DC power, making it suitable for various environments. The Dometic DMC4081CFRH is known for its energy efficiency and quiet operation. It is popular among RV and boat owners who value these features.

Dometic has varying types and sizes of RV refrigerators, as well as air conditioner units and more to fit your RV needs!

Norcold RV refrigerator

Norcold N3150AGL
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The Norcold N3150AGL is a 3-way RV refrigerator with a 15-cubic-foot capacity and can run on AC/DC power or propane. The N3150AGL features adjustable shelves/bins, thermostat control, and a built-in LED interior light. It also includes a user-friendly control panel with an LCD display for easy temperature and mode settings. This fridge is designed to provide reliable and efficient refrigeration in mobile environments, making it a popular choice among RV owners and outdoor enthusiasts. Norcold also offers smaller fridge options for those with less space.

Tips to keep your camper refrigerator running

Now that you’ve found the best fridge for your rig, here are some tips to help you get the most out of that RV refrigerator.

1. Don’t pack it completely full

RV fridges work best when they have some empty space for air to circulate. To help out, consider using a small battery-operated fan to cool things more evenly inside the fridge.

2. Make sure your RV refrigerator is level

RV refrigerators need to be level to operate. Since there is magic gas absorption stuff happening, the unit needs to be level so that the gas can properly flow through the cooling unit. What’s this mean? Don’t park on a steep incline where things are seriously out of level – this can cause permanent (and expensive) damage to the fridge. When you are traveling, the magic juice inside the cooling units sloshes around, so you don’t have to worry about staying level while going down the road. It’s when you are parked when things can go wrong.

3. Pre-cool or buy cold drinks before putting them in the fridge 

It can take some time for an RV fridge to get to the proper cooling temperature, so you can keep the temp from fluctuating by putting in already cold beverages.

4. Park your RV in the shade when it’s hot

RV fridges respond to the weather outside. Seriously! If it’s boiling hot outside, your fridge will most likely have a little jump in temperature. Conversely, if you are camping in cold temps, you might need to raise the temperature of your fridge. If it’s super hot outside, try to park your rig in the shade on the fridge side. This helps to keep your refrigerator operating efficiently.

5. Turn it on ahead of time

Since they can take a while to cool, turn your camper refrigerator on a day before you plan to leave or stock it with food.

6. Check the refrigerator roof vent

If the vent carrying warm air away from the fridge is clogged with debris, it can cause the unit to work inefficiently or not at all.

7. Install a 12-volt fan.

Sometimes installing a small fan to help draft the warm air away from the fridge does wonders. They can be purchased online and installed by you or an RV dealership. Note: This is not the same fan that helps circulate air inside the fridge.

These seven tips can keep your fridge cool and running smoothly.

EXTRA TIP: If you are questioning whether or not your unit is running properly, purchase a cheap thermometer. The normal temperature for a fridge is below 40° F. Monitoring this will ensure that your food is staying at a temperature that prevents spoiling and harmful bacteria from growing.

Keep your cool

Don’t let melted ice cream ruin your trip! Keep your drinks cold and ice cream frozen with a good refrigerator in your RV.

And in case you run into fridge trouble on the road, make sure to check out this guide to finding RV mobile repair services.

Team Outdoorsy


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