By Chris Dougherty
Chris Dougherty is a Certified RV Technician. Here is a letter he received from a reader while he was serving as RVtravel.com’s technical editor.
RVers are fortunate to enjoy a wonderful lifestyle — and the equipment that makes it possible. One such piece of technology is the RV absorption refrigerator. While it is not my intention to give a detailed breakdown of these units, there are some things the RVer can do to help keep the refrigerator running at peak efficiency for many years.
RV refrigerators are completely different from the machines we have at “home.” The refrigerators in our RVs have no compressor, but rather a series of coils in the rear when heated properly circulate gasses (most noticeable of which is ammonia when the cooling unit fails) that absorb heat from the interior of the refrigerator and expel it outside. The heating is accomplished by either an electric element(s) (110v and/or 12v) or propane flame.
It’s because of this circulation that it’s so important to keep the refrigerator “comfortably level” during operation. Also, it is important to occasionally inspect and clean the rear of the unit for optimum operation.
SAFETY NOTE: It is important for safety reasons to follow the manufacturer’s safety and maintenance instructions to the letter. Adjustments or repairs should be made by a QUALIFIED TECHNICIAN ONLY. Failure to do so can increase the risk of fire, personal injury, property loss and death.
Keep that refrigerator clean! Inside and out. The inside of the refrigerator, if closed up dirty, can grow all kinds of nasty things, so clean it well, using manufacturer recommended cleaners, and prop open for storage.
The rear of the unit should be inspected, and occasionally vacuumed out to rid the space of debris and webs, etc. Often, the metal parts, including the cooling unit and the burn chamber, will attract moisture and therefore rust. Cooling unit failure is often the result of rust. Severe rust should be examined by a qualified technician for repair. If, on a newer unit, you start to see rust forming, it might be worthwhile getting the paint on the cooling unit touched up, using a paint recommended by the refrigerator manufacturer.
Considering how much an RV refrigerator costs, a little extra time and money now to take care of the one you have will pay off in the long run!
Fridge Defend (https://www.arprv.com/) appears to be good insurance for these absorption units too.
Could you also address SECOP/Danfoss compressor refrigerator/freezers, including how they work, pros and cons over absorption refrigerators, and maintenance?
Good topic but not much info that I can use other than take the RV to someone else to inspect it.
My refrigerator is not cooling but the freezer is working fine. What gives?
The inside of the reefer requires air movement to draw the heat out through the fins in the back. So items cannot be packed tightly inside and then there are small fans available to assist in the movement of the air.
Search RVTravel for many articles on this issue.
Install manuals I’ve seen require baffles to direct air flow through the coils in the rear of the unit. The propane/electric heater not only drives the refrigeration process, it draws extra air up through the rear space to cool the coils. If there is too much space between the outside wall and the coils, most of that air doesn’t cool. I have yet to look behind an absorption fridge and see proper baffles. Installing them after build is quite difficult. So a design that can be finicky at best is made worse by poor installation.