Monday, September 25, 2023



Reefer madness? Did you purge the gas line?

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

A couple on their first RV trip were having a great time. The first night on the road was in an RV park and all was well. On their second night out, however, they were camped out in a Walmart parking lot and noticed to their chagrin that the refrigerator – which had been working fine – was warm. What could the problem be, they wondered.

Operating an RV refrigerator can be a whole new game for RV first-timers. The refrigerator at home requires almost no attention – just plug it in, set the thermostat and it takes care of itself. The RV refrigerator, by virtue of its design, requires a bit more attention. First, there’s the matter of the controls.

Most RV reefers operate on LP gas or shore power. A few add the convenience of operating on 12-volt electric. Users need to pay attention to the controls, generally found on the top of the fridge, just above the doors, in an area oftentimes called the “eyebrow.” You’ll likely find a switch that will set the reefer for its various operation modes. “Auto” or “automatic” sets the refrigerator up to operate on “shore power,” when you’re plugged into it. When not plugged into AC voltage, the refrigerator will automatically operate on LP gas. You should also be able to set your refrigerator to operate only on LP gas regardless of whether you are hooked up to shore power or not.

But operating on LP isn’t just a matter of flipping the switch to LP operation or disconnecting from shore power. If your rig hasn’t been hooked up to LP gas in a while, you’ll need to go through a couple of extra steps before running the refrigerator on LP gas.

When the gas valves on the RV tank or LP cylinders are turned off (or if these containers run out of gas), the lines running to the refrigerator will need to be purged before the fridge will operate properly. The easiest way to accomplish this is to leave the refrigerator set in the “Off” position and light one of your stove top burners. This may take a bit of doing at first. Turn the burner control to open the burner wide open (high) and using a “gas match” or other lighter, hold the flame of the lighter near the burner head until it lights.

We don’t suggest using a match as it may take some time for the gas to purge the lines and the burner to light. Initially the burner may act like a “weak sister” and need to be coaxed along by keeping the lighter flame stuck near the burner until a healthy burner flame develops. After the burner flame is good, retry starting the refrigerator by switching it to LP.

reefer eyebrow
The “check” light at “D” is the one to watch

Keep an eye on the “eyebrow” for a warning light — often labeled “check” — that indicates that the refrigerator didn’t start (see the reefer owner manual). If it doesn’t start the first time (and it probably won’t), turn the switch back off then back to LP operation. You may need to repeat this more than once to purge the air from the line running to the refrigerator.



  1. I’ve been using my Fleetwood Bounder for six years and have been using large coolers to store food while driving. I decided to try turning on the LP gas and put the food in my frig for traveling. It never worked (had to stop in Topeka, KS for another overpriced cooler). On the fourth day I read through my manuals and found out I had to turn on my gas detector first, which I did (and I always do when I park, but never have turned it on while driving). Driving back I tried turning on the frig with the gas and it still didn’t work. It kept going back to “check”. I had been using my stove for at least four days while hooked up to shore line (the frig worked on that), so I don’t see how turning on the stove to burn off gas would help. Camping World did a complete check before I left and said everything (including the frig) worked. Is there something else I’m missing? I could try turning on the stove again, but I really don’t think that will help.

  2. You forgot to mention the AC/LP hot water heater has this same issue of phantom gas.

    I totally second your experiences and using the stove to “bring up” the gas – but *why* is this neccessary after just closing the tank for a couple weeks? It seems to me, even if a minor leak released the pressure, the lines would still contain propane, and be repressurized when you open the tank again… Instead, appliances act like the line was re-filled with unburnable air…what’s up?


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