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RV Refrigerator

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Make sure you have read and understand  Basic Power
before reading this article.

RV RefrigeratorAn RV refrigerator is quite different than a conventional refrigerator.
RV refrigerators  are a heat absorption type instead of a compressor type.
They almost always feature 2 way operation. 1 way is 120 volt ac electricity and 1 way is L.P. gas.

Norcold Quick Start Guide

Most modern RV refrigerators have an automatic feature. When in the automatic position,
they will operate on available power. AC electricity will override L.P. gas when available.
AC electricity will be available only by power cord connection or gasoline generator.
Without ac electricity the refrigerator can operate on L.P. gas.
For the L.P. feature to work, the refrigerator must be switched to either L.P. or automatic.
The L.P. tank and leak detector must be on and there must be 12 volt dc power from the coach battery available.
The refrigerator L.P. gas valve requires 12 volt dc power to operate.
If the coach battery is dead, the refrigerator will not operate.

Safety: An RV refrigerator has a small flame outside the RV when in the L.P. mode.
You need to be absolutely certain the refrigerator and any other L.P. operating item is switched off
to extinguish the flame before entering a gasoline or L.P. filling station.
I recommend turning the refrigerator off electrically.
This means switched off at the control panel not at the L.P. tank shut off valve or leak detector.
The leak detector should always remain on, even when filling the L.P. tank.
Anyone filling the L.P. tank will turn the tank shut off valve to the off position
so be sure the refrigerator is switched to off at the control before entering the fill area.

NOTE: The reason the refrigerator should be turned off at the control
is because it needs to have the L.P. gas valve turned off.
If the L.P. tank shut off valve is closed without switching the control off,
the refrigerator will continue to run for a short time until the lines are empty.
This will cause a flame to continue until all L.P. is evacuated from the line.
Once the valve is opened, the refrigerator will not start again without cycling the power switch.
If the L.P. line is empty, the gas valve will get only air and will not relight for several attempts
causing a “check” light and no operation.

To operate the refrigerator, turn the power switch to the on position.
Some RV refrigerators do not have a temperature adjustment.
There will be some type of power light that will come on.
If there is an automatic position, I recommend using it.
If you prefer the refrigerator to operate only on L.P. gas, you can switch to L.P. instead of automatic.
When the power is turned on, the refrigerator should start. You will need to be sure it actually runs.
To do this, wait about 30 seconds to  be sure the “Check” light does not come on.
If there is no L.P. flow, the 12 volt coach battery is dead,
or there is no 120 volt ac electricity available if switched to that position,
the refrigerator will go into fault or “check”.
In the “check” mode the refrigerator is not running and will not cool.
Sometimes if the L.P. has been turned off at the shut off valve, or at the leak detector,
there may be air in the L.P. line.
If there is air in the line, the refrigerator may not light the flame on the first attempt.
This will cause a “check” light and no refrigerator operation.
This is why it is important to be sure  the refrigerator is operating.
When powering the RV with 120 volt ac electricity, the refrigerator will change to that power source
if in the automatic position.
This means either the shore power cord or the generator will power the refrigerator.
Because the refrigerator will be transferring from L.P. to ac electricity,
I recommend checking the refrigerator control
to be certain it is still operating and did not go into fault (“Check”).
If the “check” light is on the refrigerator is not running.
To reset the “check” simply turn the power switch off, count to ten, then back on.
This can be repeated until the refrigerator stays on.
(it usually takes about 30 seconds to go to “check” if there’s a problem)

Since RV refrigerators are absorption type, they are slow to cool and slow to recover.
You will need to have the refrigerator on several hours prior to needing it.
I recommend having items already cold before placing them in the refrigerator.
Be sure to keep door opening to a minimum.
Be sure the doors are latched while traveling and items inside are secured.
Do not leave anything open in the refrigerator while traveling.
Be careful not to scratch the refrigerator with sharp items.
Freezers are not frost free and will need to be turned off and melted to clear ice.
I have seen entire refrigerators destroyed by people trying to chip ice out.

RV refrigerators will do a good job for you as long as you remember to follow the correct procedures

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RV Refrigerator Repair

Is your RV Fridge in need of repair?
Do you smell ammonia?

There are several areas of an RV absorption type refrigerator that can cause failures. Most common failures are cooling units and electrical problems.

The cooling unit is the part of the RV refrigerator that contains the chemical. If you smell ammonia in the vicinity of the refrigerator, the cooling unit is leaking. That is considered a major malfunction. The cooling unit can be replaced. If the refrigerator is old or outdated, I recommend replacing the entire refrigerator. The cooling unit is only one component. There are many pieces and parts in an RV absorption type refrigerator. The price difference between a new cooling unit and a complete refrigerator is minimal.

The cooling unit can also fail due to a clog. There are several factors that cause a clog in the cooling unit. Using the refrigerator when not level is a common cause. The cooling unit may develop a restriction in chemical flow, resulting in poor cooling. You will notice poor or no cooling in the refrigerator first. There may still be cooling in the freezer, however when checked with a thermometer you may find it is not cooling properly either.

To diagnose a cooling unit you will need to run the refrigerator for a complete day or overnight. Be certain there is a power source (L.P. and battery or AC electricity) Check at the outside access for heat at the cooling unit. The cooling unit is the tubes that run back and forth the rear of the refrigerator from bottom to top. (Be careful not to get burned) The tubes should be very hot at the bottom and gradually cooler as you go toward the top. If you get to a spot where the tubes get cold, there may be a restriction. A cooling unit restriction cannot be repaired. The unit or refrigerator will need to be replaced. I do not and will not replace a cooling unit with a rebuilt unit. I have had 0% success with rebuilt cooling units. I have never had a rebuilt unit last more than a short time. Typically they don’t perform as well as new right away.

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Electrical controls are another common failure in refrigerators. 2 way refrigerators use either AC electricity or L.P. to operate. You must have a good battery source to operate on L.P. The battery supplies voltage to run the gas valve. It will stop operating if the battery charge is low. AC electrical elements don’t fail very often. When operating on AC you should feel heat around the chimney area. The chimney is the round vertical duct on the right. Be careful not to get burned. It may be very hot. It will be hotter when running in the L.P. mode. If it is hot when on AC, the element is probably working. There should be a small access cover where the L.P. flame is on the far right below the chimney. There should be a blue flame when in the L.P. mode if there is L.P. and a charged battery. If the L.P. has been turned off by the shut off valve or leak detector, be sure to try ignition several times. This can be done by turning the refrigerator on, waiting until the “check” light comes on, then cycling the switch off. Wait 10 seconds then on again. This procedure will purge any air in the system. If the refrigerator will not ignite after several attempts you may need to have a qualified technician look at it. I do not recommend attempting to diagnose a circuit board failure for a DIY’er. You must have the proper test equipment and diagnostic procedures. Circuit boards are expensive and are not returnable if not needed.

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