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Can You Charge An RV Refrigerator?

No RV road trip is complete without a luxurious dinner prepared in the great outdoors. And one of the benefits of camping out of a mobile home is that you have the ability to bring along a portable fridge to keep those dinner ingredients chilled.

Only one type of RV refrigerator can be recharged, and it’s called a compression fridge.

The first step in fixing your camper fridge is to learn more about what unit you’re working with.

Can RV Refrigerators Be Recharged?

There are three types of RV refrigerators out there on the market:

  1. Compression Fridges
  2. Absorption Fridges
  3. Thermoeletric Fridges

Only compression fridges can be recharged.

Compression RV Fridge

Compression RV fridges are the same kind of refrigerator that most people have in their homes. Basically, this is how a compression fridge works.

  1. A compressor “compresses” refrigerant vapor.
  2. This causes pressure and temperature to rise
  3. Refrigerant vapor is pushed into the condenser coils on the outside of the refrigerator
  4. The hot gas in the condenser coils becomes a liquid when cooled by the outside air temperature
  5. Now a liquid at high pressure, the cooling refrigerant flows through the expansion valve into evaporator coils inside the fridge and freezer unit
  6. The refrigerant absorbs heat from the air inside the fridge
  7. The refrigerant absorbs the heat inside the fridge, cooling the air inside
  8. The refrigerant evaporates as its temperature rises, flows into the compressor again
  9. The cycle repeats, and the fridge stays cool.

You can probably recharge the coolant in your RV fridge if you know that low coolant is the culprit. However, you need a certification from the EPA before attempting to fix your refrigerator on your own.

Unless you’re already certified, it’s easiest to let a professional diagnose the problem and recharge your fridge if that is what’s needed.

Before spending time on EPA certification or money on a certified professional, be sure to check your fridge’s warranty. Some camper coolers will not be protected by their warranty if you recharge them. It’s best to be sure it’s out of warranty anyway before attempting to recharge your beloved RV refrigerator.

Thermoelectric RV Fridge

Thermoelectric RV fridges are great if you need food and drinks to be kept cool for a short period of time.

Thermoelectric fridges work by basically pumping hot air out of the fridge, thus lowering the temperature.

These little fridges work well for the short term. They’re fairly inexpensive, usually running for less than $250. However, they work best as a “cooler,” not a true fridge. They aren’t a reliable solution if you have food that needs to be kept cool for more than a few hours.

If you’re having issues with your Thermoelectric fridge, it’s usually best to just replace the unit. Since they don’t use coolant, they can’t be recharged. On the bright side, you could always take this as an opportunity to upgrade to a compression unit.

Absorption RV Fridge

Most RVs today are using absorption fridges. They’re popular because they don’t require electricity to run and can just as easily run on propane.

Absorption fridges are unique because they use an ammonia solution mixed with hydrogen. While this is all very interesting, the practical fact is that you can’t just recharge an ammonia solution the same way you could recharge a coolant like freon.

If the problem does lie in the cooling unit, then that part has to be replaced. One giveaway that it’s the cooling unit that is the problem is the smell. You’ll be able to smell the ammonia when opening the fridge door.

You might also see something that looks like rusty water or a greenish-yellow slime coming out of the fridge. These are visual cues that there is a leak in the fridge.

In this messy situation, it’s best to get the help of a professional.

Additionally, finding the right cooling unit for an absorption fridge is not the easiest task in the world. It’s best to go through your RV fridge’s manufacturer to be sure you have the correct replacement part.

In Summary

When in doubt, consult a professional.

When it comes down to it, only compression fridges can be recharged by replacing the coolant. However, this job requires certification and should only be done by a professional.

If you own a thermoelectric refrigerator or an absorption fridge and it stops working, then it might be time to consider a replacement or an upgrade.

That being said, when out in the great outdoors, part of the fun is being away from the complexities of modern life. Sometimes you don’t need the most advanced fridge on the market. And if you aren’t sure which model to buy, then don’t let someone pressure you into buying a costly replacement.

Ultimately, it’s up to you, whether you try to fix it yourself, have it repaired, replace it, or forgo it entirely for a while. Just remember to keep cool, enjoy life out on the open road, and enjoy camping with your RV and your (hopefully) fully-functional RV refrigerator.


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