Saturday, December 2, 2023


Fridge not cooling? Diagnosis of problem may be easy

Steve Savage submitted this article to when he was a Master Certified RV Technician with Mobility RV Service.

Do you have an RV refrigerator that’s not keeping its cool? We often make service calls for this very reason – and often the call wasn’t necessary. Why? Many times a customer could make their own diagnosis. Here are a couple of things to look at before calling the service tech, or dragging your RV to the dealer.

First, check the controls on the front of the refrigerator. These are properly called an “eyebrow board” or “upper board.” Is the board getting power? You’ll know it if any of the lamps or indicators on the board are lit up when the power switch is on. If the upper control board has power, you’ll find your problem on the back of the refrigerator. Do your checking behind the vent lid on the rig’s exterior wall.

Locate the burner unit. This is the tube where your propane flame heats up the cooling unit and where one or two electrical heating units are found.

If the burner is working with a hot flame, you can be sure the refrigerator controls are working. If after a few hours’ operation you find your fridge still isn’t cooling, it is almost invariably that the cooling unit has lost its charge. Feel the cooling unit. If it’s very hot to the touch but still not cooling, it’s possible you’ll hear gurgling noises or notice a yellow coloration on and around the burner tube.

Gurgling and/or yellow on the burner tube are dead giveaways the cooling unit has leaked. The same is often true for a hot cooling unit with no cooling – a “leaker.” The only decision to make at that point is whether you want to spend the several hundred bucks to have a new cooling unit installed or whether to replace the fridge.

If the RV is just sitting stationary, it’s a simple (and less expensive) task to replace the fridge with a small electric household model. Replacing the cooling unit is doable but requires a good bit of labor. In the event you are thinking of a completely new refrigerator, keep in mind a replacement will normally set you back “north of a grand.”

(photo courtesy austinado16 on




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Bob Salmi (@guest_91180)
3 years ago

Here is trick you can do with a refrigerator if all else fails.A person has to be pretty handy to do it. With no sign of leakage and the heat is getting to the boiler from either a gas flame or electric heating element try this. Take the frig out and turn it upside down for about 10 minutes. A lot of time there is a bubble in the system created by the frig not being level for a while. Traveling they get along OK. Extended off level can cause this. My father did propane repair for a gas company and taught me this many years ago. I have done it with a small Dometic unit a couple years ago very successfully. Like I said, you have to be handy but sometimes it works when everything else is OK.

Bill Langton (@guest_90990)
3 years ago

The Norcold N811 model in our 2018 Newmar motorhome recently died. Since some RV parts (including refrigerators) are hard to get in a timely manner during these unique times, Newmar authorized our dealer to replace it with an identical fridge from a new unit in inventory. The fridge was still under Norcold’s 2 yr warranty but the coach was out of warranty. New fridge is working great. Newmar picked up all associated costs with the replacement as well! Now looking to add the ARP for additional protection!

John Goodell (@guest_90964)
3 years ago

I had an interesting issue with our Norcold 2-way Mod# N811. It worked well with shore power but not propane. We had the camper for several years before we discovered that it didn’t cool at all with propane. I searched repair and trouble shooting guides for a couple of years and could not find the problem. An RV repair tech endoscoped the burner flue and said there was no blockage, it was clear, and he could see all the way to the top. I remembered that comment a few months later when I was studying a parts schematic and saw that there is supposed to be a spiral metal baffle in the burner flue. This baffle traps and transfers heat to the cooling unit generator. This seemed to be missing from my refrigerator. I searched for the part number on Amazon and found it for $21.91, installed it, and it has worked great ever since.

Sc00ter (@guest_90960)
3 years ago

Our Dometic slowly died over 5 years. Tried all the tricks which helped it limp along but after year 5 and having to throw away 50° food we made it our winter project. Replaced the cooling unit with a dc compressor. Love it. No more fire. No more worrying about being level, it just runs. We did have the ARP and it probably saved our unit from burning up. I think the unit was overheating and the ARP would shut it down.

BadWolfe (@guest_90957)
3 years ago

Highly recommend: Here is a product you all should be aware of: ARP Fridge Defend. It both monitors the boiler and prevents over heating, damage and explosions. Also, it provides diagnostics on what your Fridge is doing and can help to determine if everything is working properly.

BadWolfe (@guest_90955)
3 years ago

I wanted to comment on the statement “If the upper control board (eyebrow board) has power, you’ll find your problem on the back of the refrigerator. ” I just recently had the opposite finding. Our Dometic DMR-702 stop working. Power and lights were on the upper control board, but would not “start” on either shore power or gas. Bottom line, after lots of diagnostic work and replacing the main circuit board outside in the exterior section, it did turn out to be a bad “upper control board” (or eyebrow board) after all.
So my comment is not to rule out the upper control board completely just because you see that it is getting power.

BadWolfe (@guest_90956)
3 years ago
Reply to  BadWolfe

(Note: Due to the huge delays currently being experienced at every RV Service business around right now, our RV would have been “parked” on their lot for months while we waited for authorized Dometic Service, so we tackled the job ourselves.
The main circuit board cost $250, and turned out to NOT be the problem. The upper control board was $85 and even though it did have power and lights, it WAS the problem)

Steve (@guest_90954)
3 years ago

Another telltale sign is the smell of ammonia. That’s what ours did, both of them! Had an Alfa 5th-wheel with 2 refrigerators. These allowed us to stock up when in larger cities and cut costs. Then one went out! Smelled the ammonia and after a while the fridge was no longer cool and that is when I learned about the cooling process and science of propane refrigerators! This fridge became a pantry and we learned to live with the one; yes, expensive replacement, whether just the cooling unit or the whole shebang! Then, the second one went out! okay, now we have to do something. After researching, found an Amish company, RV Cooling Unit Warehouse, that manufactured replacement cooling units, $825 delivered and still had to install. I do everything myself, hire out very little. Fairly easy for me; hardest part was getting the fridge out and in position to R&R the cooling unit! Everything required for the replacement was included and the core is returned, postage free.

PennyPA (@guest_90951)
3 years ago

Does yours defrost the freezer too or just the fridge?

Astrid Bierworth (@guest_90948)
3 years ago

One thing that I never see mentioned is the defrost cycle. Our RV fridge self defrosts every couple of days. When that happens, the fridge temperature goes up. We have a display telling us what the temperature is inside the fridge, and it shows a rise.

if you turn the fridge on in the evening, then the defrost cycle happens at night. If you turn it on in the morning, it will happen during the day. When our fridge kept showing intermittent temperature rises every couple of days, I kept a log and did extensive research. This is what I discovered, and we haven’t had a problem since.

this is a free fix, and I recommend it any time there are intermittent temperature rises.

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