Tuesday, March 21, 2023


Fact or Fiction? Doing THIS is the number one cause of RV fires on highways (ANSWER)

Answer: Fiction
The question of whether you should run your RV refrigerator on propane while driving will be debated until the end of time, or until something better obsoletes absorption refrigerators. The latter part of today’s question regarding the number one cause of RV fires on highways is a measurable statistic that has a definitive answer. The statistics say the number one cause of RV fires on highways is something other than RV refrigerators.

The statistics can be viewed in a 53-page report completed by the Fire Protection Research Foundation funded by the National Fire Protection Association. This comprehensive report incorporates fires for all types of RVs (motorhomes, travel trailers, truck campers, etc.) over a ten-year period. It even differentiates fires in stationary RVs (considered “structures”) and RVs in transit (considered “vehicles”). You can download the report via this link if you would like a copy.

The report’s conclusion is that:

“Mechanical and electrical failures or malfunctions were the leading causes of RV fires.”

Since an RV absorption refrigerator has no moving parts, it is hard to include them in the “mechanical” category. However, just to make sure, I drilled down further in the report just for confirmation. Table 13, shown below, lists the number one “Area of Origin” for “Vehicle Fires in RVs” as “Vehicle engine area, running gear or wheel area”—all considered  “mechanical” items. These accounted for 31% of RV vehicle fires. You will notice “Kitchen or cooking area,” where the refrigerator is located, is the fifth item on the list, accounting for only 7% of in-transit RV fires. It is hard to conclude that “Driving with your RV refrigerator on propane is the number one cause of RV fires on highways” from those statistics.

Further statistics debunking the statement “Driving with your RV refrigerator on propane is the number one cause of RV fires on highways” can be found in Table 17 shown below. The number one factor contributing to RV vehicle fires is “Unclassified mechanical failure,” and the number two cause is “Electrical failure or malfunction.”  These two items contributed to 43% of all RV vehicle fires.

There is plenty of additional information in the report that exonerates RV refrigerators as being the leading cause of fires while in transit, for those that wish to research it further.

Odds of experiencing an RV fire

For those who are fearful of an RV fire, I will leave you with the following statistic from the report.

“Of the nearly 10 million households that spend time in an RV every year, only
approximately 0.06% experienced a fire between 2008 and 2017.”  

The odds work out to a 1-in-60,000 chance of experiencing an RV fire in a 10-year period, or 1-in-15,000 chance over a 40-year period. When you compare that against the odds of getting hit by lightning in your lifetime being 1 in 15,300, you can pretty well put things in perspective safety-wise.

Now, some questions for you:

  • 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.



4.9 7 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe to comments
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
21 days ago

Advice I hear a lot is to put additive (such as Happy Camper) into the black tank to help the waste material break down. Is that fact or fiction? I think there are arguments both ways.

Bob Weinfurt
19 days ago
Reply to  Philler

Unless you are going to leave your waste in the tank for at least a few months, it won’t have enough time to significantly break down. HAPPY CAMPERS is a deodorizing agent you add to the tank that eliminate that “outhouse” smell and I think it also helps keep the tank cleaner.

Neal Davis
1 month ago

I don’t know that it is wrong, but we have been given exactly opposite advice by manufacturer service techs for our first two motorhomes. REV Group/American Coach techs said, “Level the coach first, then extend the slides.” Winnebago/Newmar techs said, “Extend the slides first, then level the coach.” However, Newmar techs did somewhat relent, saying if the coach is severely unlevel, then level BEFORE extending the slides. Thoughts?

Bob Weinfurt
19 days ago
Reply to  Neal Davis

It’s best to make the coach level before opening the slides.

1 month ago

I’d estimate I’ve RV’ed 2,000 miles a year for the last 20 years. Some of that was towing a trailer and the rest in a motorhome. Probably saw 1 RV fire every 2 years? All of them were RVs that had ascended a steep grade, at the top of which, they caught fire. Most of them were older vehicles. While I don’t have all the information, my scientifical wild guess is that they were all transmission fires. No separate transmission fluid coolers, more power for hill climbing transmitted to the fluid and reduced cooling air flow due to lower speed. I installed a transmission fluid temperature gauge and was surprised by how much the temperature increased when climbing hills, especially in warm weather. Newer vehicles have sensors that force automatic downshifts when the fluid exceeds a preset temperature to increase flow through the cooling system to reduce temperature. If the fluid exceeds 240 F for a few minutes replace is at earliest opportunity.

Jimmie C
1 month ago

Address proper use of tow bars. I have been told to criss cross my safety cables, or to wrap them around the tow bar. I do neither.

1 month ago

During 40+ Years of camping/RVing I have observed that jet engine contrails along major flight routes contribute heavily to cloudy skies on what would otherwise be clear days. My RVing friends have scoffed at the idea but now I find that this phenomenon is factual based on University and other research studies.
If you stay at Las Vegas Bay or LTVAs around Quartzsite and pay attention you’ll soon see clear mornings become more and more cloudy. This is because many times the high altitude temp & humidity allows the contrails to persist and form a base for cirrus clouds to build around.
Reference a study by the Imperial College of London published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology from 2019. It found that raising the cruising altitudes of commercial flights by 2000′ could reduce contrail formation by 60%.

1 month ago

Here’s the #1 topic – or at least running a tight race with running propane while driving.

How about those trailer tires?
If it’s stamped with 85mph, why can’t you drive that fast?

No, I’m not asking for my own justification but I have run across several new RVers who declare they drive 80+mph because their tires are rated for it and because their trucks are perfectly capable of towing their trailer. No mention of braking and nothing about the integrity of their RV as it barrels across the country over potholes and rough roads.

Lucky G
1 month ago

I’ve been reading conflicting assessments lately of whether or not one should sit in a dining (or any) slide-out equipped with Schwintek slide hardware while it is rolled in. I saw everything from absolutely not to no big deal, been doing it for years. Definitely wondering what the truth of this potential concern is.

1 month ago
Reply to  Lucky G

Lippert (owns schwintek now) recommends no added weight when moving the slide. The RV must also be level and stabilized.
Why would anyone want to sit in a moving slide anyway?

Jimmie C
1 month ago
Reply to  bill

I think Lucky G meant while the slide was in vs out, not while it was being retracted. This could obviously be read both ways. I think it is ok to occupy a slide once it has been fully retracted, You stop at a rest stop and sit in the dinette or chill on the sofa with the slide in.

Jim Johnson
1 month ago
Reply to  bill

Not sure by the original post’s language whether the intent if the slide-out is moving in/out, or if the question is one of sitting there when the slide is fully in versus fully out? I doubt the stationary position matters. And while I personally wouldn’t get a thrill from the ride, I do know that our slides have storage spaces in use which is another source of weight beyond what the manufacturer put into that space. And this weight has not impacted operation.

1 month ago

Still think it is a bad idea to run an open propane line with an open flame while driving down the highway at 60 mph. Why increase your risk of a fire when you don’t have to? This article contributes to an unsafe RV practice, no matter what the “facts” might tell you.

1 month ago
Reply to  Stuart

I think there are really two question here. The first one being, do RV refrigerators cause the bulk of RV fires? And the answer is, NO they do not according to the information provided (debatable).
The second question, (not to be confused with the first) is traveling with the gas on safe? The gas obviously needs to be on to operate the refrigerator. And the answer is NO. This second question has been beat to death in previous posts, and everyone has their opinion. Yet there is no denying that having the gas turned off at the tank is safer then traveling with the gas on.

Do RV refrigerators cause the most fires? NO
Is it safer to travel with the gas off? YES 

Ormond Otvos
1 month ago
Reply to  Kevin

Consider that half-cooled food is also a health hazard, so turning off the fridge may not be optimal, unless there’s an electric option.

1 month ago
Reply to  Ormond Otvos

True, there are many variables to consider, no one size fits all solution. When I travel I turn the gas off as my longest trip is less than two hours away. I realize not everyone has that good fortune

1 month ago

The biggest recurring non-truth is that the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) that gathered that information is complete and accurate. It’s not.

Barely 70% of the 30,000 fire departments in the US contribute even one report a year to NFIRS. Only 18% of fire departments in the US are entirely full time where people are getting paid to enter accurate reports.

Just like medical coding, different coding gives different stats. There are at least three ways to classify an RV fire properly and a fourth, Vehicle Fire, will not show up as an RV fire at all. Even if you agree that the data is solid, the missing age of the RV from the stats skews the data tremendously. Older units burn more due to wear and tear, deferred maintenance, and old equipment and recalls not done. Etc.

Details and accuracy matter. But don’t expect NFIRS and NFPA to ever come out and say their data is fuzzy-wuzzy. Their federal funding depends on how they report.

Norm M
1 month ago
Reply to  J J

Having spent several years as a volunteer member of a fire department on the Oregon Coast, a vacationing haven, I did not respond to any moving RV fires. In fact I only saw one fire in a trailer. It was a situation where the fire department lit the fire for training purposes. From that I should deduce using you logic that fire departments are hazardous to trailers.

Your inference that the statistics cited by the article is bogus. 21,000 reporting fire departments is a significant number of reports to show trends in fire incidents. Using your supplied statistics, 4,800 full-time and 16,200 part-time departments reported. This is quite a bit of data. As to the accuracy, I can attest to at least to one mostly volunteer department that reported this type of data because they cared deeply about the work that they did.

Please stop with your inaccurate drivel and inferences.

Tom H.
1 month ago

When we had a MH with RV fridge we always ran it on propane while going down the road. Never thought much about it.

T. Helms
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom H.


Sign up for the

RVtravel Newsletter

Sign up and receive 3 FREE RV Checklists: Set-Up, Take-Down and Packing List.