RV Refrigerator: RV, Motorhome and Camper Fridge Replacement Guide

Last updated on May 17th, 2021 at 11:26 am. Originally published on November 25th, 2019

One of the best things about an RV is the fact that it gives campers access to key household appliances during their camping adventures. Of these, one of the most useful appliances in an RV is the refrigerator. After all, we all need a way to keep our food cold, and while it is possible to do this with an ice chest, keeping an ice chest stocked with fresh ice is a huge hassle that takes away from the fun of camping.

Of course, no appliance lasts forever, and your RV refrigerator is sure to be in need of repair or replacement at some point. For this reason, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about your camper fridge. Knowing things like, “How does an RV fridge work?” as well as the differences between models (and how to properly maintain them) will help you when it comes time to repair or replace the unit in your RV.

Image source: Cathy T

How Does an RV Refrigerator Work?

The first thing you’ll want to ask is, “How does an RV refrigerator work?” The answer is not what many people would expect.

You see, these RV-specific units don’t work in the same way a household unit does. Your everyday residential fridge uses a compressor to keep things cool. Meanwhile, an RV fridge has zero moving parts and uses ammonia, hydrogen gas, and water to maintain the cold temperatures needed to keep food fresh. This type of fridge is called an absorption refrigerator.

In the simplest terms, an absorption fridge works by using heat to send the fluids mentioned above through various tubes, creating chemical reactions. The evaporation and condensation created by these reactions keep things nice and cool.

When a camper is connected to shore power or a generator, the heat needed to run the camper refrigerator is created by a heating element. Otherwise, an open flame produced by propane keeps the fridge up and running.

RV Refrigerator Types

Now that you know the answer to, “How do RV refrigerators work?”, the next thing to understand are the various RV fridge types.

Most RVs feature one of two types of refrigerators—two-way or three-way:

  • A 2-way RV refrigerator gives the user the option of running the fridge using either AC power (shore power or generator) or LP gas.
  • Meanwhile, a 3-way RV refrigerator can use the power sources mentioned above, or DC power from the house batteries.

In addition to the two-way and three-way fridges, we are now seeing more and more electric-only residential-type fridges installed in RVs. In some cases, these refrigerators are installed in the factory. Other times, they are installed by the user.

In both cases, it is important for the user to understand that compressors and other internal components of residential refrigerators can be damaged by travel over time. That said, these fridges tend to offer more storage capacity and better cooling and come with a much smaller price tag than their RV-specific counterparts.

Finally, there is the super modern and versatile hybrid camper fridge. These units are exactly what you might imagine: a hybrid between an absorption refrigerator and a fridge run by a compressor, giving the user the best of both worlds.

Image source: Ark PP

What Size is an RV Refrigerator?

If you will be replacing your RV fridge, it is important to keep size in mind. While most household refrigerators measure between 18 and 21 cubic feet, a typical RV refrigerator will be between only 4 and 12 cubic feet.

In addition to the cubic foot measurement (which is the measurement of the inside of your fridge), you’ll also want to know how big the exterior of your new unit can be. This requires carefully measuring the space the appliance should fit into. We recommend measuring a few times just to be sure your measurement is accurate, and you’ll have the best fit possible.

How Long do RV Refrigerators Last?

The average RV refrigerator will last between 15 and 20 years. Of course, the lifespan of your fridge will depend on a couple of things

First, if you purchased a used RV fridge, you can expect to get fewer years of use out of it. A refurbished RV refrigerator might give you more life than one taken straight out of another camper but still won’t last as long as a brand new one. You’ll want to choose based on how long you need the unit to last, as well as how much you’re able and willing to spend.

Another factor is how well you take care of the fridge. RV refrigerators are fairly simple to maintain. However, failing to keep up with simple care instructions can result in the premature death of your appliance.

Image source: Hustvedt

How Much Propane Does an RV Refrigerator Use?

Many people—especially those who plan to do a lot of dry camping—wonder how much LP gas their RV refrigerator will consume.

Obviously, the answer to this depends on the refrigerator in question and the temperature while the fridge is in use, among other things. However, one can typically expect to use an average of 1.5 lbs of propane per day when running their RV refrigerator.

What is the Best RV Refrigerator?

If you’re in the market for a new RV fridge, you may be wondering which one is best. Honestly, there’s no straightforward answer to this question. The best RV refrigerator for you is the one that suits your needs, meaning the answer varies for different people.

Things you’ll want to consider include…

  • Whether you’ll be dry camping and in need of a propane or DC power function
  • How much space you require in your fridge
  • The size of the space the fridge will need to fit (as we mentioned earlier)

All that said, there are a few different RV refrigerator models we recommend checking out. Try the units below for size:

RV Refrigerator Maintenance and Usage Tips

  • Turn it on early — Your fridge will need at least 6 hours to fully cool down. Turn it on the night before you plan to use it.
  • Start with cold stuff — Loading the RV refrigerator with cold items will help it cool down faster.
  • Don’t overload it — It’s important to leave space for cool air to move between items. For this reason, you’ll need to make sure you don’t overpack your camper fridge.
  • Install a fan — If you plan on camping in very hot weather, you will want to purchase and install a small refrigerator fan to help keep your unit cool.
  • Keep it shut — Opening the fridge and freezer doors often will make the unit work harder to stay cool, so keeping the doors shut as much as you can is the way to go.
  • Check the seals — Loose or dirty seals can also let cool air escape. Check your seals regularly and clean and replace them as needed.
  • Take time to thaw — Trailer and motorhome refrigerators and freezers are not frost-free. If you’ll be using yours for an extended period of time, make sure to take time to thaw them out from time to time.
  • Stay level — RV refrigerators can be ruined if run while unlevel, so be sure you’re always level while using yours.
  • Don’t sit for long — Leaving your fridge sitting without running it can also damage it. Therefore, you’ll want to make sure you run it as often as possible.
  • Check for obstructions — Regularly check the back and front vents for obstructions (such as leaves and debris) and remove anything you find there.
  • Change the settings — You may find that you need to change the settings based on the weather. For instance, hotter weather may call for a cooler setting. Meanwhile, cooler weather will not require the fridge to work as hard, meaning a lower setting should be fine.

Want more information on your RV appliances. Browse our blog for all the RV info you’ll ever need.

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