Looking for an RV refrigerator?
You've come to the right place!
In this article, we'll cover how an RV fridge works and how to troubleshoot your RV refrigerator...
We'll also compare some of the best RV refrigerators and reveal our top picks.
We cover price, quality, durability, reviews, and more!
Before we get started, here's a quick overview of the entire buying guide so you can jump right to where you wanna go:
Note: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This doesn't cost you any more than normal. Read our disclaimer for more info.
How An RV Fridge Works
Before we reveal the best camper fridge, it's helpful to understand how an RV fridge actually works.
Your RV refrigerator works very differently from a residential fridge.
Your home refrigerator uses a compressor. An RV refrigerator does not have a compressor or use any moving parts to cool things down.
This is called an absorption refrigerator.
Here's how an absorption refrigerator works:
Basically, an absorption fridge uses a flame to heat a combination of ammonia, hydrogen gas, and water.
The heat causes these chemicals to evaporate and the condensation from them cools the fridge.
When using shore power or a generator, the heat is produced by an element. When electricity isn't available, the LP gas is used to create a flame and heat the chemicals.
Most modern RV fridges can be set to automatically switch between LP gas or electricity depending on whether you're plugged in/using a generator or using propane.
That way you don't have to remember to switch it and you don't have to deal with nasty spoiled food if you forget. 🙂
If your RV refrigerator has this feature, it most likely looks like this:
You can switch the settings between "AUTO", "OFF", and "GAS".
Auto is the automatic switch feature, off is off (shocker, I know) and gas only runs on LP gas. This is useful if you're boondocking and don't want to run the fridge off your generator or solar power.
However, models are categorized into two "types": 2-Way and 3-Way.
- A 2-Way is the most common type. It runs off AC power or LP gas.
- A 3-Way runs off AC power, DC Power, and LP Gas.
Finally, there are two major brands of camper refrigerators today: Norcold and Dometic. But we'll get into those in the section on the best RV refrigerators.
For now, let's see if we can save you some money!
How to Troubleshoot Your RV Refrigerator
If you're buying a new RV fridge because yours isn't working properly, you might be able to save some money by simply troubleshooting your fridge first. It could be an easy fix!
Here's a quick video on how to troubleshoot your RV or camper refrigerator by our friends at TrailorDayz:
Simply put, you either have a thermistor problem, a control board problem, or a heating element problem. They are not hard to troubleshoot, and he covers most of the common failure points in the video.
Here are the products he mentioned:
Which Situation It's For
Thetford (618548) Thermistor Assembly
If your thermistor plugs into the interior light.
Norcold 620528 Thermistor
If your thermistor has no light connection.
Dometic 3851210025 Thermistor Kit
If your fridge is a Dometic model.
If you need more help, click here to access the Norcold Thermistor Ohm Chart and Location Guide.
Moving right along...
Things to Consider When Buying a New Fridge
If you've tried troubleshooting and your fridge still isn't working, or you just want a new refrigerator, then we've found some of the best!
However, the right fridge for you will vary based on:
Let's discuss each.
Depending on the size of your rig, you will have a different size fridge. You'll need to measure the space to make sure you purchase the right size unit.
If you're replacing an old Norcold fridge, click here to see their conversion chart.
To find your replacement, hit "Control + F" (or "Command + F" for Mac) on your keyboard, then type in your model number. It will show you the size of your fridge to help find a replacement.
However, Norcold Inc. does warn that some cabinet modifications may be necessary, as replacement dimensions are not an exact fit in all instances.
Remember the golden rule: Measure twice, cut once!
Like household refrigerators, RV refrigerators have varying capacities for food storage - even between fridges of the same size!
Figure out how much you actually need, then purchase based on that.
If you need more freezer or food storage space, consider buying a mini fridge. Most of them run off AC or DC power, plus you can put them outside while camping so you don't need to run inside for a drink!
They're especially helpful if you have a small RV and don't want to buy a cooler or ice chest that constantly needs new ice to store extra food.
Different RV refrigerators offer different options. Choosing the right options can save you a pretty penny!
For example, some people need ice makers and two-door refrigerators, and others could care less about an ice maker. It's up to you to decide!
Good RV refrigerators aren't cheap. They start around $1,100 and go all the way up to $3,000 plus for luxury models.
The reason they cost this much is because unlike a residential refrigerator, which is made of plastic parts, RV fridges are made from stainless steel to deal with the constant rumble of the road without breaking apart.
If you're looking to save, consider buying refurbished. However, be careful not to buy a dud! Make sure you test the model before you buy it.
If you want to be safe, you can always buy the new models we share below.
4 Best RV Refrigerators of 2020
Finally, here are the best RV refrigerators we've found this year!
Dometic DM2652RB Americana
24 x 23 x 53.8 inches
Norcold DE0061R 7 cu. ft.
55 x 24 x 24 inches
Dometic DM2852RB Americana
28.5 x 143 x 63.5 inches
22 x 18 x 23 inches
How to Install Your New RV Fridge
Once you've purchased a new fridge, you need to install it - which isn't the easiest thing in the world, especially if you need to alter the cabinetry.
If you're not a handy person, it may be better just to have a dealer install it for you.
But if you want to save some money, installing it yourself is an option. Just be careful - you're working with LP gas lines and electrical wires, so put safety first!
Here's a video by Mountain Top Adventures on how to install a new RV or travel trailer refrigerator:
Camper Fridge Tips & Tricks
You did it! Congratulations!
Before we go, here are a few tips & tricks to keep your new fridge running efficiently and make sure it lasts a long time:
- Turn on your fridge the night before a trip. This allows time for the fridge to get to temperature and be ready to store food.
- Put only frozen, cold or room temperature foods in your fridge. Warm foods take much more power (and time) to cool down.
- Leave space between foods. A packed fridge restricts airflow, which causes food to cool unevenly and makes the fridge work harder.
- Buy a battery-operated RV refrigerator fan. These things are awesome - they can decrease your cool down time by as much as 50%!
- Don't open your fridge too much. You need to maintain a temperature of 34 to 36 degrees (or 0 to 10 degrees in the freezer) to keep food safe. Anything over 40 degrees can cause food to spoil, and that can happen quickly if you leave the door open.
- Get a thermometer. Keeping a thermometer in your fridge will give you peace of mind that your fridge is working and ready to store food!
- Defrost your freezer once every month or two. Frost buildup can reduce your freezer space and become annoying. Turn off the fridge completely and let it thaw. To speed up the process, put a pan of hot water in your freezer.
- Your fridge needs to be level to work properly. Using your fridge off-level will damage it. Stick a bubble level on it to make sure you're good to go.
- Run your refrigerator once in a while, even when you're not RVing. There are sediments in the liquid chemicals, and when your fridge isn't running, they settle on the bottom and cause clogs that can damage the fridge and slow down the cooling process.
- Check the back and front vents before and after every trip. Routine maintenance like this can keep your rig (and your fridge) running smoothly for a long time to come.
- Park with your outside vent in the shade. The outside temperature can affect how well your fridge works. If the back of the fridge is in the shade, it will stay cooler and not have to work as hard.
- Make sure the seals close properly. Like all seals on your rig, checking the refrigerator's door seals after every trip (and putting baby powder on them once every few months) can keep things sealed and running smoothly.
- Get some expandable refrigerator bars to keep things in place. There's nothing worse that setting up camp, only to find your food spilled all over the fridge.
And that's all there is to it! I hope you've found a great fridge for your RV, installed it properly, and are all set to go for your RV travels!
If you have any questions, comments, or tips of your own, be sure to leave a comment below!