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Controversy: Should Your RV Fridge Stay on While Driving?

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 a 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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  1. Al LeFeusch says:

    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. Dallas Baillio says:

    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.

  3. Michael Richmond says:

    The fact is that the overwhelming majority of RV and auto fires are the result of fluid leaks such as gasoline,oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, etc. It is extremely rare for propane to be the actual cause of an RV fire! The only tunnels that prohibit propane, regardless of whether the tank is open or closed, are those that go under a body of water, a river, bay, etc. Tunnels through mountains don’t have that restriction. Propane has been used as a fuel in school buses for decades and has never been the cause of a fire even when involved in an accident.
    RVs are built with many highly flammable materials and if a fire starts regardless of cause or reason, they quickly burn completely! This is why owners should have their units properly maintained or all systems and the propane and other systems inspected on a regular basis.
    I’ve always driven my motor home with the propane on and the refrigerator operated on propane. Did the same with a travel trailer and so did my parents with their trailers since 1966, before electronic ignition. That’s 57 years without incident! Both my parents and myself always turn off all electric, electronic, and other systems prior to pulling into a gas station to refuel and don’t turn them back on until well clear of gas pumps as should anyone traveling. Never had issues! Proper maintenance and inspections are the key!
    As for absorption refrigerators not properly working while driving due to off level, that’s not quite true while in motion though! The fact is that even regular compressor type refrigerators don’t work properly when off level! When stationary it is important to be relatively level, as long as the RV is close to being level the refrigerator will work fine.
    Please don’t use false and/or misleading information to make what are your opinions regarding RVs appear to be factual!

  4. Frederick Raco says:

    Have been camping for over 30 years and have had dozens of different campers. Have never heard of turning your fridge off while on the road. Never had any issues.

  5. Dan Hartley says:

    Driving with the fridge on 12V isn’t much safer than on propane. The boiler can still overheat on a long incline because the refrigerant can’t circulate. This breaks down the corrosion inhibitor in the fluid, and over time the boiler rusts out and springs a leak, spraying flammable ammonium around the heating element.

  6. Ross says:

    When in motion I take the frozen water bottles out of the freezer and distribute them around the refrigerator to keep the temperature down. When stopped for the night I put them back in the freezer to refreeze while running on propane or electric. Next time I move I do it again. I also leave a couple of frozen bottles in the freezer to keep the contents frozen and don’t stock up a lot on frozen stuff when planning continuous travel days. This has worked ok for a few years.

  7. Jeff says:

    I call bullshit. Drove for years with absorptionfridge on. Never an issue on hills. Your tank will largely shut off if hose is ruptured, stopping gas flow. Quit scaring new owners. This has bwen true for decades

  8. Bob says:

    Nonsense. Propane fires in the fridge often happen when mud daubers and other bugs block the flame tube and the owner doesn’t check it before leaving. Seen mine get blocked twice in the last 15 years.

  9. Mark Weiner says:

    WOW, so, very few refrigerators can run on 12 volts? Have you researched this lately?

    I mean, I got my 12 volt Nova Kool refrigerator installed in 2019, four years ago and it’s fantastic. It has a Secop/Danfoss compressor that uses 2.2 amps per hour when it’s running.

    It’s a marine refrigerator and it can operate up to 30 degrees off level. Not that anyone would sleep 30 degrees off level, but, you understand.

    The Nova Kool is whisper quiet, we never hear anything from the unit. It is very consistent and cools down quickly. Yes, it runs 24/7 from the two solar panels ( 275 watts) and I never had a problem with the twin 6 volt AGM batteries and 224 amps each battery.

    I highly recommend people who have an old propane refrigerator to have it inspected. Our old propane refrigerator was inconsistent and not doing well. When I had it removed, the shop discovered that there were burnt wiring just a few inches from the propane flame. I’m glad I had it replaced. It’s just not worth the risk.

    Also, give Nova Kool a call, they impressed me by answering the phone, yes, a real live person, and answered every question I had. I recommended this company to a friend and they are delighted. The guy who helped me said he had the exact same model in his boat working continuously for over 15 years. That’s all I needed to hear.

    Good luck.

  10. Conrad Topp says:

    Before publishing nonsense like this, you should find a person that has knowledge of RVing.

  11. Firemedic 78 says:

    To you all that leave your propane refrigerator on i have one question. Is leaving the propane on really worth having your rv go up in flames?
    I have been a firefighter for almost 30 years and have responded to at least 20 rv fires on I-5 and the state highways in our coverage area. The point of origin in all these fire was the propane refrigerator.

    Make a good decision turn the propane off, not a bad decision and hope you get lucky.

  12. Dale Rose says:

    ” 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” I’m confused about this first you say generator and replace your alternator more often what does one have to do with the other?

  13. Leslie says:

    Great info as a new RV’er I’ve been driving with my fridge on… no more…

  14. Lance J Weeks says:

    I completely disagree. I have been towing and motorhoming for over 40 years and have never had an issue with my fridge not functioning or a propane issue.

  15. Jeffrey Jordan says:

    We always turn off the refrigerator while driving to be safe. Just throw a couple of ice packs in the fridge before we leave and always arrive with ice and a cold refrigerator even after 8 hours of driving. Always leave it closed while driving however. Simple and safe solution.

  16. FCC6 says:

    We drove out Winnebago Vista 32K with the gas or electric(generator) on while traveling for 10 years with no problems. We always had a cold rv fridge. Sometimes we had to turn it up as it got too cold. It was a regular rv fridge.

  17. Michael says:

    I worked at Traveland in s cal and worked on trucks and RVS at no time leave electrical or propane on when you leave RV /. Shut electricity off for all Rv and turn off propane manually BECAUSE I CAME BACK AFTER WEEK END TO SEVEN FIVE HUNDRED $ RVS BUNT TO THE GROUND WHY MIDDLE ONE LEFT ELECTRICAL ON BOTH SIDES OF IT 🔥