Dear RV Shrink:
We bought a new trailer and the refrigerator is not staying cold enough. We have had it in the shop where fans have been added, outside shades have been installed, and airflow inspected. Do all absorption refrigerators work inefficiently? They say we are in normal temperature ranges, but it fluctuates wildly and gets very warm if we are camping in hot weather. I hate to be a complainer, but this just doesn’t seem acceptable and I want it fixed properly before our warranty runs out. Should I scream louder or get used to it? —Getting the cold shoulder and hot fridge in Fresno
I am not an RV refrigerator repairman but have pretended to be one many times over the years. They are much better engineered today than they were two decades ago. I used to take mine out and roll it like a snowball to get the juices running again. You shouldn’t have to do that anymore.
Since you have a new trailer with a warranty, I would put the ball right back in the manufacturer’s court. In my opinion, your refrigerator should be designed and installed efficiently enough to keep the box at 34 to 43 degrees without having to add fans and shades. A mechanic will usually check for airflow blockage, ammonia leaks, thermostat failure or failing heat source.
Most RVs are designed with a roof vent. Air enters the refrigerator access door and flows up past the absorption fins and out the roof vent, much like a woodstove chimney.
They most likely added fans because this was not happening naturally. Again, in my opinion, an RV without a roof vent will give you poor venting, thus poor cooling.
Often people find that bugs have built nests in the roof vent and blocked the venting process. Or if you have an ammonia leak you slowly start to experience temperature drop.
I have seen floor plans that rob the refrigerator of airflow so they can squeeze in some other amenity. Too much refrigerator for too little space will not allow the absorption process to operate properly.
My guess is that you have an airflow problem. You can help relieve the situation by removing the access door completely and giving the unit as much airflow as possible, but I would not accept that as my final solution. I would be screaming warranty until I didn’t have to do anything or add anything to make it work properly, hold an acceptable temperature range, and keep my beer good and cold.
If you have to sweat possible food loss until the sun sets, that is not happy camping. If it is a design flaw by the manufacturer, you are doing them a favor by forcing the issue and making them redesign that space.
If you have a side vent it will be much less efficient: Wind can stop convection entirely, and units tend to fail more often with that design. Probably not something you gave any thought to when making a buying decision, but now dealing with constantly.
The best designed and insulated refrigerator spaces will move hot air out away from the RV, allowing the refrigerator to work at peak level and help cool the RV interior.
Hope this sheds some light on your problem. Don’t be shy when talking to the manufacturer. Remember, “It is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.” —Keep Smilin’, Richard Mallery aka Dr. R.V. Shrink
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