When I first read on a social media post that newer absorption refrigerators must be run on electric in high altitudes above 5,500 feet, I believed it to be fiction. After all, I have dry camped high in the mountains for years and never had any problems. Nor had I ever heard of it when I worked in an RV dealership.
However, after researching it, I discovered it to be true.
Both Dometic and Norcold owner’s manuals outline the potential of experiencing reduced cooling performance and burner outages when operating on propane gas at altitudes over 5,500 feet.
Dometic owner’s manuals state: “Always operate the refrigerator on electric power at altitudes higher than 5,500 feet.”
Norcold owner’s manuals states: “Norcold recommends that you operate the refrigerator on AC when at altitudes higher than 5,500 feet above sea level.”
An online search will confirm that many RV owners are experiencing problems operating these name-brand absorption refrigerators on gas above 5,500 feet.
Following are just a few examples
“My brand-new Norcold fridge (24.1 Vegas 2017) won’t stay lit at altitude on LP.” Per this post.
“Now Denver is at 5,280 feet and we camp in Colorado at National Forest campgrounds that usually do not have hook ups are all above 5,280 ft. The Dometic fridge hardly works on propane it tries to ignite and fails to ignite 99% of the time, we have been to five dealers and spent nearly $800 of our own money and it still doesn’t work. Now Dometic is telling us that their new fridges will not work above 5,000 feet. Why are dealers in Denver selling a TT with a fridge that only works at sea level?” Per this post.
“We took our trailer out for the first time at 6,400 ft. elevation and the refrigerator stopped working on LP gas. It would not re-light and we had to move all the food to a cooler.” Per this post.
“We just spent a week camping without electrical hookup in Colorado at 9,000 ft. and our Dometic fridge couldn’t keep the propane flame lit.” Per this post.
“I am out elk hunting in Colorado at a 9,000-foot elevation. Dometic fridge (about three years old) is trying to run on propane but is struggling, particularly at night when temps are near freezing. It tries to light multiple times—click poof, click poof, etc. About half the time it checks out. When it does run the flame sound is loud and irregular. I recently replaced my regulator and the new one probably needs adjusting to 11 lbs. as the fridge ran barely with my old regulator. Next week, I will borrow a gauge from the propane company and adjust it. The flue and burner were recently serviced. Another rig in the same campground with a newer Dometic fridge is worse off than I am as their fridge doesn’t run at all. My question is, has Dometic come up with a fix for this? Their product is obviously defective” Per this post
What’s causing the problem?
Air becomes less dense the higher you travel. With less air (oxygen) to support combustion fuel, burning appliances operate less efficiently, if at all. You have likely experienced this phenomenon via less engine power when ascending a high mountain pass in your RV. The odd part is this only seems to be impacting newer RV refrigerators. Seasoned RVers don’t recall this type of problem with older RVs they have owned.
Is there a fix?
There is no shortage of discussions regarding this subject on online forums.
Many posts contain information where Norcold informed the customer to narrow the gap on the ignitor. Others say to adjust the pressure of the propane regulator. Others say to adjust the air/propane ratio, some say clean the burner, while others claim there is a different-sized orifice that can be installed. One person commented that they solved the problem by removing the exterior access door, which allowed more air for the combustion process. As far as I can tell, there is no official “fix” offered by Norcold or Dometic other than to operate the refrigerator on electric.
Disclaimer: Neither the author nor RVtravel.com endorses making any of the changes listed above. Stay safe and leave any adjustments to a trained expert.
Test your knowledge some more with these previous Fact or Fiction questions:
- A propane furnace emits lots of moisture
- If you see these on your RV, do not use it in winter!
- Outside temperatures can be too cold for an RV refrigerator to cool
- Never plug in with a 20-amp extension cord
- Doing THIS is the number one cause of RV fires on highways
- Propane gas has no odor
Now, some questions for you:
- Have you experienced problems with your RV absorption refrigerator at high altitudes?
- Is there a reoccurring half-truth you keep seeing online that you would like to see addressed?
- Were you taught something by other RVers that turned out to be bad advice?
- Have you recently read something that left you wondering, is that true?
- Do you know something to be true, but none of your RVing friends believe you?
Please share your comments using the comment box below and we will do our best to provide the facts in a future Fact or Fiction entry. Thanks!
Dave will be speaking at the 2023 America’s Largest RV Show in Hershey, PA, September 13th – 17th. He would love to meet RVtravel.com readers that will be attending. Feel free to introduce yourself after one of his seminars.