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Can I Run My RV Fridge On Battery While Driving?

A lot of RV owners go back and forth on what you can and can’t do while driving your RV. You can do anything you’d like to while parked, but when the tires start rolling, the questions arise. Can you stand up? What if you need to take a shower? Every owner will tell you something different, and it’ll also vary depending on what kind of RV you’re using. 

One question that comes up is about the fridge; you would certainly want it to keep working while it’s holding onto perishables like milk and meat. To achieve that, can you run your rv fridge on battery while driving? Will it wear down your batteries, or will the battery even last through a long trip? 

The short answer is that yes, you can run your RV fridge on a battery while you’re driving. However, the long answer is that it’s a little more complicated than that. While it’s possible to power your RV fridge with a battery, it might not be entirely practical. What type of fridge you have will also play a key role in how well it can last on batteries while you’re on the road. 

Can I Run My RV Fridge On Battery While Driving 

Understanding your fridge, your RV’s battery capabilities, and your alternator will have an impact on this. When you’re driving might actually be the best time to run your fridge batteries if they’re hooked up to the alternator. 

The alternator is the RV’s built-in generator that lives within the engine. If you’re using a fifth-wheel RV or a pull-behind motorhome, the battery in the tow truck is what holds the alternator. It will be what powers the fridge, in that case. 

While you’re driving, the alternator will charge the battery for you. Running it on an auto setting will make it switch to gas power when it needs to. 

Using Propane

Some RV owners wonder if they can just use propane to power their fridge while they’re driving. 

Using propane opens you up to a few dangers and risks, such as how flammable it is. A severed propane line is a dangerous thing, and if it was damaged in an accident, it might ignite. 

This is a matter of personal choice, as some drivers may have different levels of comfort when it comes to using propane on the road. 

If you’re planning to use propane, you’ll still need to use a battery when you’re on the road. The battery will be there to ensure the fridge stays cold. If it’s not keeping the interior chilled, then there’s no real point to running it. 

The point of the battery is to power the thermostat within the fridge, which is vital to correct functioning. The thermostat monitors and regulates the environment within the fridge, allowing it to make adjustments. 

RV Fridge Battery Life 

The battery in your fridge will be charged by the alternator on certain voltages. In some cases, the alternator might be able to keep up with the fridge. This will be the case if the fridge has more of an electric draw than an inverter that powers the unit. 

How long will an RV refrigerator’s battery last when it isn’t being charged by the alternator, then? 

The battery life on your RV’s fridge has a few things that contribute to how many hours you’ll get out of it. For one, residential or compressor fridges can, depending on the model, net a cool 12 hours from the battery. On the other hand, absorption style fridges, the ones that usually come as a default in an RV, might only reach three hours. 

What kind of power being used will also factor in to the overall battery life of your fridge. 

Compressor Refrigerator 

If you have a compressor style fridge, also called a two-way fridge, you might be using one that is designed to be in an RV. Brands like Dometic release these models specifically so that they can be run while the vehicle is traveling. 

Compressor refrigerators in RVs run on either 12 or 24 volt power, supplied by either the RV itself or camping batteries. They can hit a maximum of 240 volt power if used with a portable generator or when hooked up to shore power. 

Because they’re meant to be used in an RV, you can run a compressor fridge on batteries while driving. It will last on batteries for about 8-12 hours; this might be enough to get you to shore power. Keep that in mind if your battery is not being charged by the alternator. That’s especially true if you’re going to be on the road for a very long trip. 

It’s not always possible to run a two-way fridge off of an inverter. The electrical systems in some RVs disable the option to do so. The reason they do this is to keep the alternator from overheating. If you’re familiar with the battery capacity of your system, you still might get away with this, though. 

Absorption Refrigerator 

Perhaps your RV has an absorption style fridge instead of a compressor one. This is another type of unit that is popular in RVs. Like their compressor counterparts, absorption refrigerators – also called 3 way fridges – use 12 or 24 voltage powers. They can also run on propane or LPG gas. 

They use a gas flow heat exchange system, cooling the fridge through thermodynamics. It removes the heat instead of creating cold air. 

As stated, you can run this fridge with propane while driving, but it will still need a battery to run the thermostat. You can run an absorption fridge on a battery on the road, but you have the option of supplementing it with propane. 

Absorption refrigerators, especially of the 12-volt variety, will only last about 3 hours on battery power alone. This might not be enough to get you over state lines, so to speak. You may need to consider alternate cooling options for things like medications or perishables. 

Bear in mind that the model you use will also determine how much battery time you can get from it. Some more compact models might be able to sustain up to 6 hours on a battery, 

Residential Fridges 

If you’ve made the swap from an RV refrigerator to the type typically seen in homes, you know these units eat up much more power. Residential refrigerators aren’t meant for RVs, meaning they’re not made to be powered by batteries. However, they can still run, they’ll just need an alternate source. 

Known as ‘one-way’ fridges, they can only run when connected to shore power. Alternatively, an inverter can convert the DC batteries already present in your RV to AC power. Residential fridges can take this type of power, and will stay functional on it. 

But how long will a residential fridge last on batteries? Typically, if an inverter is converting the DC to AC, it will hang in for up to 12 hours. 

Battery Type 

The type of battery and battery rating your RV has will also play a hand in how long it will keep the fridge adequately cool. Some RVs run from a 12-volt battery, while others utilize four 6-volt batteries. 

Some will be ‘heavy use’, meaning they’ll be able to safely drain to 20% without incurring damage to the battery itself. Others are light use, only allowing a dip down to 50% before landing in the danger zone. 

If your RV uses a 12-volt battery system rated at 100 amp hours (Ah), your battery will put out 5 amps of power per hour. It will be able to carry this out for 20 hours until it is completely drained. 

Keep in mind that the fridge might not be the only thing the battery is powering while you’re driving. It’s best to understand what type of battery you have and how many hours it is rated. This will help you better comprehend if you can run your RV fridge on batteries while driving. 

What If I Don’t Want To Run My RV Fridge On Battery While Driving? 

Keep The Fridge Cool

You can run your fridge on batteries if you choose to. However, it’s up to you, and how you prefer to manage your RV’s battery life. If you decide not to run your fridge on batteries while you’re driving, there are ways you can still keep it cool. 

  1. Don’t overfill your fridge. The day before a big trip, try to clear out the fridge. Either eat, toss, or find another storage for anything that might be taking up a ton of space. The reason for this is that your goods will stay colder if there’s more space for air to move around them. When things are crammed in, they won’t cool down evenly or efficiently. 
  2. Turn down the temperature the night before. If you know that you’re going to be hitting the road for quite a while and don’t want to use batteries for the fridge, prepare wisely. Turn the temperature down and let everything get nice and cold overnight. That way, when you disconnect the fridge, it will take longer for the temperatures to drop. 
  3. Don’t open the fridge much. It can be tempting to pop open the fridge and try to decide on a snack, only to close it again empty handed. However, it’s best to curb that tendency when you’re keeping the fridge off on the journey. Without being opened, a fridge will only lose roughly 4 degrees for every 8 hours that it isn’t opened. Looking in the fridge will make that temperature rise significantly. Try to only open it when you know exactly what you’re getting out of it. 
  4. Use a fridge fan. A small fan designed for the fridge will make it much more efficient, and keep things a little cooler for the ride. 

Keep Shelf-Stable Foods 

If you’re planning a long expedition between you and the next stop or place to hook up to shore power, you’ll still want a bite to eat. Stock up on foods that don’t need refrigeration that can still keep you full. 

Good shelf stable foods to stock up on before you hit the road include: 

  • Nuts or trail mix 
  • Canned foods such as soups, beans, tuna or chicken, or canned vegetables. 
  • Bread, bagels, and tortillas  
  • Some fruits and vegetables. While some vegetables need a colder environment, others, like potatoes, onions, and squash, will last fine in a cabinet or on a countertop. Fruits like apples, bananas, grapes, oranges, or melons will also keep out of the crisper. 
  • Dried fruits 
  • Rice cakes 
  • Cereal and oatmeal
  • Peanut butter. You can also keep some jams unrefrigerated 
  • Snack foods like chips, crackers, pretzels, and cookies
  • Dried or cured meats, providing excellent protein to keep you full for the journey
  • Food mixes, like pancake or waffle mix, cake mixes, or quick bread mixes. 
  • Powdered milk. This will be perfect if you’re on an especially long trip and won’t be running your RV fridge on batteries the whole time. 

When you’re dry camping or boondocking, having plenty of foods that don’t need refrigeration will keep you full. 

Use A Cooler Or Cosmetic Fridge 

For things that you do want to keep chilled, such as drinks, medications, or leftovers, you can always look to a good cooler. 

Granted, you’ll need to stock up on ice to keep a cooler chilled, but it might help if you’re only looking at a 4-6 hour excursion. That way you can preserve the battery life that connects to your RV fridge, while skill keeping your beverages nice and chilled. 

If you need something small kept cold, like medicine, look into a cosmetic fridge. They can be powered via USB or with independent batteries. They’re compact, so you won’t be able to stuff a gallon of milk into it. What counts is that you’ll have the chance to keep small important items fresh and safe to use. 

Conclusion 

When you’re on the road in your RV, the whole idea is to take the comforts of home with you. You get to tow along everything you need to sleep, eat, and bathe, but such luxuries aren’t always easy to maintain. Your RV runs on a complex system of converters, inverters, batteries, and gas. 

So when you are looking to keep up the life of your RV, can you run the RV fridge on batteries? You usually can do this. It depends on what kind of fridge you have and the battery rating on your RV. If you use propane to help power your fridge, keep in mind that you will also need battery power anyway. 

For some arrangements, the alternator will keep the battery charged, meaning it will keep your fridge nice and cool for as long as you need it. This isn’t the case for every vehicle, as some models will disallow it. 

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