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Ask Dave: My RV propane fridge doesn’t cool. Can I fix it myself?

Answers to questions about RV Repair and Maintenance from RV expert Dave Solberg, author of the “RV Handbook” and the managing editor of the RV Repair Club. This column appears Monday through Saturday in the RV Travel and RV Daily Tips newsletters. (Sign up for an email reminder for each new issue if you do not already receive one.) Today Dave discusses fixing a propane fridge that doesn’t cool.

Dear Dave,
My propane fridge lights up but does not get cold. It’s likely sat for a long time unused and probably not level. Are there any DIY tricks I can do at home to revitalize my fridge without paying a professional (funds are limited)? —Jason

Dear Jason,
While it is important to have the refrigerator level when it is running, you will not do any damage to the cooling unit being unlevel when it is not in use.

How a propane fridge works

The heat source (flame in the LP mode) heats a solution of hydrogen, ammonia, water, and sodium chromate from the burner vessel. That turns into a vapor and travels up the flue to the evaporator coil in the freezer compartment. There are a series of chemical reactions and the solution turns back to liquid and must make it’s way back down the zigzag cooling unit to the burner vessel. There are no moving parts and no pumps so the liquid flows by gravity. If the unit is out of level, it will pool on one side and will heat up, which will cause the liquid to thicken, flake, and eventually block the tube. If it’s not running, there is no heat.

Does your unit also run on 120-volt power? If so, try that mode and see if it cools, as it will use an electric heating element rather than a flame. If it does cool, then it is something in the LP mode. But if it does not, then you most likely have a blocked cooling unit. There are some dealers and service centers that claim to be able to cut the blocked part out and reinstall a clean tube. However, I have not had any experience with that.

Try taking the propane fridge out

You can also try taking the propane fridge out and tapping the blocked area with a rubber mallet. You will see the coil is discolored and paint is burned off due to the heat. Also, you can plug the unit in and use a laser temperature gun to identify the hot spot. Otherwise, it’s a new cooling unit or new refrigerator.

If by chance the unit works on electricity, or you don’t have an electric mode, try cleaning the burner assembly.

Use an air compressor and air gun as shown in the photo and blow out the tube and flue. You might need to remove the metal housing that protects the flame from wind. Wear safety glasses as you will have a ton of dust and soot flying out. This will allow a better LP to air mixture and a better flame.

Check the flame

After this, run the unit and verify the flame is tall and blue and not jumping around. Also make sure it is staying lit for the entire operation. If the flame goes out quickly, you have an issue with the thermal coupler. That is just above the flame and creates a closed connection telling the module board there is flame so keep the gas valve open. If it does not have a tall enough flame, it tells the board to shut off the valve. If the flame does not stay lit, it could also be low or sulfated house batteries. Try putting a battery booster on and see if it stays lit.

Read more from Dave here

Dave Solberg worked at Winnebago for 15 years developing the dealer training program, as marketing manager, and conducting shows. As the owner of Passport Media Creations, Dave has developed several RV dealer training programs, the RV Safety Training program for The Recreation Vehicle Safety and Education Foundation, and the accredited RV Driving Safety program being conducted at rallies and shows around the country. Dave is a leading expert in the RV industry and author of the “RV Handbook” as well as the Managing Editor of the RV Repair Club.

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Bob M
1 month ago

I had trouble with a Dometic Fridg. It worked on propane, but wouldn’t work on Electric. Took it to a RV dealer for repair. When I got it home It worked on electric, but not on propane. Charged me $600. Took it back after all new parts, they still couldn’t get it working on propane. Repairmen contacted Dometic and they told him to replace the unit at my expense. It was about $1,700. for a new fridge. Dometic just wants to make money selling new ones. Didn’t repair just used the electric. Afterwards I heard Dometic had a bad batch of Fridges around 2017. Makes ice about the clogged flue. Repairman said when he pulled fridge out propane worked, but didn’t when he put back in.

Thomas D
1 month ago

No body mentioned ” burping ” it.
Remove the whole thing and clear some floor space.
Turn it upside down, lay it on its front,side back. All ways you can think of. A day at a time.
Reinstall and test. I did that to mine years ago on someone’s advice. The unit was still working when i sold it 5 years later

Larry
1 month ago

I have solved a noncooling fridge by running a coat hanger wire down through the flue after removing the spiral device from the top. Soot fell out the bottom. I was surprised at how little soot it takes to block the tube completely. It appeared to have formed a shelf like structure across the tube.

Dan
1 month ago
Reply to  Larry

Good idea. Ours works when it feels like it so eventually I will replace it with a 12 volt compressor unit. I have checked the propane flame tested the resistance of the AC element and all appeared fine I never thought about a dirty flue. Thank you.

Tom
1 month ago

It is also possible that there is a problem with the 12-volt side. The controller, on most units, runs at 12-volts. It could be your battery, converter, or an issue with the control board.