RV Fridge: Should It Stay On While Traveling?

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RV Fridge: Should It Stay On While Traveling?

You’re ready to go with all your food in the RV fridge. But can you leave it on to keep the food cold while you’re driving?

It’s a question that’s often debated in groups and forums. So we dug in to find out the scoop on RV refrigerators.

Let’s take a look!

Differences Between an RV Fridge and Residential Fridge

Your RV refrigerator is different than a residential fridge. Of course, you may have a residential refrigerator in your RV. But, what we’re talking about here is refrigerators specifically designed for RVs.

An RV fridge works through absorption, so there are no moving parts. This is important because your RV is on the move a lot and moving parts, such as in a residential fridge. Unfortunately, this specialized function tends to make RV refrigerators more costly.

Residential refrigerators are also more efficient in warmer weather. In comparison, an RV fridge can have problems keeping food cold if you’re in a hotter climate. They also take quite a while to cool down if they’ve been off for a while.

The absorption process requires gravity for it to work, so the RV refrigerator needs to be level to operate properly. A residential fridge doesn’t necessarily need to be level to function since it uses a compressor to force the cooling process.

RV refrigerators are generally smaller than residential ones. In addition, you’ll rarely find any that have ice makers or connect to your smartphone.

Lastly, a residential fridge can only run on 110-Volt power. On the other hand, an RV fridge can run on 110-Volt or other power sources such as your RV’s batteries, gas, or propane. This is excellent for boondocking unless you have a lot of solar power to charge your batteries.

Dangers of Tilt

The RV fridge can malfunction if it’s not level.

The absorption process uses a fluid (refrigerant) that will crystalize if it’s not circulating properly. Each refrigerator is different, though, and may need to be less or more level than your neighbor’s. So check your owner’s manual for specifics.

If you’re driving on a long, flat highway, the RV refrigerator may be okay. However, driving up steep inclines such as mountain passes or hilly backroads could cause problems if the fridge is on.

Tony Barthel knows his RV info. In fact, you’ll often see his writing on RV Travel and Stressless Camping. Barthel suggests, “For those with the gas absorption fridge, we recommend never driving with it on. Firefighter friends of ours have rolled to a number of RVs where fires started in the fridge. Usually, the owner just stands on the side of the road saying, ‘this hasn’t happened to me before,’ to which they respond ‘until it does.'”

An RV is engulfed in flames at the side of a highway on a hot summer’s day. So much for the vacation…

Dangers of Propane

Very few RV refrigerators have the ability to run on 12-Volt. If yours does, you’re lucky and can run it while you’re driving. In addition, most generator manufacturers limit their machines to prohibit running major appliances while you’re driving. Some can power your refrigerator on the road but keep in mind you may need to replace your alternator more often.

So that leaves propane.

Honestly, leaving your propane open while you’re driving is not a good idea. Even a small crack in the propane line from something like a bump in the road can leave it open to ignition. Propane gas is highly flammable, and your RV could be in flames within seconds with just one tiny spark.

Imagine a tire blowout or even an accident with your propane on.

In addition, most states require you to turn it off before going through a tunnel or just on certain roadways. For safety, you’ll always want to have it off before you pull into a gas station. All that alone makes driving with your propane on and your RV fridge running a little bit painful.

Norman Doyle, the creator of Mountain Beaches YouTube channel, brings up a valid point. He says, “We have a solar setup with Battle Born lithium batteries so we always turn the refrigerator over to electric on travel days. We also turn the propane tanks off.”

Not all RV fridges have this option. But, if yours does (and you have the batteries to power it), it’s worth exploring.

Staying Cool with an RV Fridge

Driving with your RV refrigerator off seems to be the safest bet. So we’ve put together some tips for keeping it cool while it’s off. In fact, some of these tips even help it be more efficient when it’s running.

When you’re preparing to go camping, turn your RV refrigerator on to its coldest setting about 24 hours before you want to leave. That may not be possible in your case. But even if you turn it on while you’re loading up in your driveway for a couple of hours, it’s a good start.

If you’ve had it on for a while and are preparing to move to a new location, turn your RV fridge down to its coldest setting the night before you leave.

Driving a long day or days? Grab a cooler and put things such as drinks, snacks, and lunches in it, so you don’t have to open your refrigerator door as much.

Buy a fridge fan to help move the cool air inside. You can also place a non-breakable bowl of ice or a pack of ice in front of the fan to help things along. In addition, you could purchase a solar-powered vent fan. This goes inside the vent to draw the cooler air over the coils and out. It’s certainly beneficial during hot summer days.

Turn Your RV Refrigerator Off While Driving

Aside from the tilt issues mentioned above, it’s simply not safe to drive with your propane tank open and appliances pulling the gas through the pipes.

This alone suggests driving with your RV fridge on is not a good idea.

However, if you happen to have an optional 12-Volt RV fridge and you’re not worried about it being perfectly level, maybe you’ll try it. What are your thoughts? Do you drive with your RV fridge on or off?

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2 comments

  1. Yes. I leave it on always, unless I’m on a ferry and am required to turn it off. I’ve done that for 7 years with a propane fridge, but I am going to be replacing it with a compressor style fridge soon and then it will no longer run off propane.

  2. I have driven at least 250,000 mile over almost 40 years in three motor- homes with refrigerators operating on propane. On the surface this appears a dangerous thing to do. However to really gauge the danger good statistics and analysis are needed to quantify the danger. Many people think flying is very dangerous, and some refuse to fly, even though statistics show it is less dangerous than auto (and motorhome) travel. Anecdotal reports of refrigerator propane fires are just that anecdotal. I am not justifying my experience, and obviously propane off is safer, but there are no facts that quantify the danger of propane on.

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