keeping fridges cool sun

With the heat of summer on the way, it’s a good time to check the operation of your RV fridge to ensure it’s in working order. If you find it’s not performing to your satisfaction, there are a few tricks you can try to get the most out of your fridge.

It seems Australian summertime temperatures are forever on the increase with many areas experiencing record heat, right in the middle of the peak holiday season. With so many of us heading off on our RV adventures during this time, keeping our fridges cold is critical. No one wants to arrive at their destination with warm beer and spoiled food. Here we list some very simple ideas for ensuring your caravan or RV fridge is working properly and at its peak efficiency for the duration of your holiday.

Test before you leave

We have mentioned many times just how important it is to get your RV fridge going a couple of days before you leave. For starters, if for any reason you experience issues with your fridge, you have the opportunity to get something done about it before you leave. No point in getting to your destination only to find that it’s not working and there is very little you can do about it because of your location. Doing this also gives the fridge plenty of time to cool down so you can pack it before you leave and have everything cold for when you arrive at your destination. If you have a 3-way fridge, remember to switch it to 12v before you drive away so it will maintain cooling while you’re on the road. When you get to your destination, switch to either 240v or gas operation.

Install an external fan

It actually surprises me that so many caravan and camper manufacturers do not install a fan in the rear of the fridge to ensure adequate airflow over the cooling elements. There is a heap of information on the internet about the best way to do this and some fridge manufacturers even give guidance as to the best way to do this in their installation instructions. Fortunately, this is not a difficult modification to make to your RV and I strongly recommend you consider doing this especially if you have experienced issues in the past with keeping the contents of your fridge cold.

Install an internal fan

While this might be a bit more of a challenge to achieve, I’ve talked to a few people who have done this with a high degree of success. The idea is that the fan distributes the cold air more evenly around the contents of the fridge and across the cooling element. The problem with this is that you may have to make a hole in the wall of the fridge for the power wires to come through to the fan and unless you know exactly what you’re doing, you could end up causing more harm than good.

external fridge fan
These external fridge fans can improve your fridge’s performance by a significant margin.

Pack your fridge properly

No one likes to read the manual for anything these days however you may find your fridge’s manual contains some useful information about how you should pack it to ensure adequate and even cooling of its contents. One suggestion they all seem to make is not over-packing your fridge and leaving some space around food items to ensure complete and even cooling.

Keep your RV as level as possible

While not so critical for compressor or 12-volt fridges, your RV must be parked as close to the perfect level as possible. If your 3-way fridge is struggling to maintain a cool temperature, it’s very likely that an uneven van is a problem. You can install a spirit level on the drawbar of your van to assist with this when setting up. I also carry a builder’s spirit level and measure the fridge itself to make sure I have the right setting.

Avoid direct sunlight on your RV

You should make every effort to ensure you park your RV in such a way as to ensure there is no sunlight falling directly onto the side where the fridge is mounted. This will drastically reduce its ability to remain cold, especially in the afternoon when the sun is at its strongest. If that is not possible, consider installing a shade on that side or stringing up a tarpaulin as a temporary shade. It’s surprising what a difference this can make.

Regular maintenance

The rear of your fridge is most likely vented to the outside of your RV and is prone to intrusion of dust, insects, and other debris. It is vital that you periodically remove these external vents and clean out any foreign material that may be present. Purchase a can of compressed air and use it to blow out any dust that could inhibit your fridge’s operation.

Check your wiring

If you have a 12-volt RV fridge and after reading and completing all these checks your fridge is still not working properly, it could be that it has been connected with inadequate wiring.  Fridges draw a fair bit of current and if your wiring is not of sufficient gauge, it could be resisting current flow thereby affecting the fridge’s operation.  Upgrading the wiring could be a simple process or, in the case of a caravan or motorhome, it could be a huge task. If in doubt, talk to an RV electrical specialist.

Another possible wiring issue is a bad earth connection. Many fridges are wired with the earth screwed down to a metal part of the van. This is usually ok but, after a while, these connections can get wet resulting in corrosion or tarnishing. When this happens, the circuit will not earth correctly resulting in poor fridge performance. The remedy is to simply undo the connection, remove all traces of tarnish and rust and reattach it using new connectors if possible.

Fridge shade
These fridge shades are perfect for keeping the sun off the back of your fridge.

Check your seals

Consider what happens when someone leaves the door of your household fridge open. If the door on your RV fridge is not sealing properly, you may as well leave it wide open. A simple way to ensure your door is sealing properly is to see if you can slip a piece of paper between the door and the fridge. If it slides in easily, you have a problem.

Check the installation

Unfortunately, there are a lot of RV manufacturers out there who have little to no idea about how to properly install appliances, particularly fridges. Compressor or 12-volt fridges are not such a huge issue but 3-way RV fridges rely on correct installation with a certain amount of insulation and proper ventilation around the cooling mechanism. If you continuously experience issues with cooling your fridge, especially during hot weather, it will most likely be a bad installation. Installing a fan or two in the ventilation area may partially resolve this problem but the best course of action is to consult an expert and have the fridge installation corrected.

burnt out fuse holder wiring
This dodgy fuse holder was responsible for our car fridge to ‘think’ the battery was flat and shut down.

One final word

If you have a 12-volt RV fridge, it is perfectly safe to travel with it running as that is what it is designed to do. 3-way fridges need to be switched to 12 volts in order to run while you’re on the road. Many do not operate very efficiently running on 12-volts and can draw up to 14 amps from your tow vehicle’s charging system. This will place a significant additional load on the engine and add to your fuel consumption. Many owners are tempted to run their fridges on gas while in transit. While this may seem harmless enough, the reality is it is extremely dangerous to do this, especially if and when you pull into a fuel station.

While running on gas, the fridge has a naked flame burning and this can ignite fuel vapours. There is also the possibility that the flame can be blown out and, if the safety shutoff fails, could leak gas causing a further explosion hazard. The likely situation is that the flame will blow out and the gas line will shut off leaving no possibility of an explosion but it is not worth the risk.

Please do not run your 3-way RV fridges on gas while you’re driving along the road.

Safe travels…!

By Marty Ledwich

Marty Ledwich is a writer and photographer who is on the road full-time with his wife, Kylie, towing their off-road Roadstar caravan with a Toyota Land Cruiser 200 series. Marty was a volunteer in the Victoria Sate Emergency Service for 30 years and has travelled extensively around Australia.

2 thoughts on “Keeping your Caravan and RV fridge cool this summer.”
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