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Does An RV Refrigerator Work While Driving?

If you’ve ever wondered if you can run your RV refrigerator while driving, then you’ll be happy to hear that the answer is: Yes…technically. RV refrigerators are a hot topic for debate among RV-ers, especially when it comes to running that fridge while driving.

While you can in fact run an RV fridge while driving, there are a few factors to consider. First of all, the safety of driving and running a fridge will depend on whether your refrigerator uses propane. There are also power concerns, and whether your power source will last until you reach your destination.

Now that you know that you can run your refrigerator as you roll down the highway, here is some more information on how to stay cool while evaluating the risks of driving and chilling your next campground meal.

RV Fridge Power Sources

When talking about RV refrigeration, the main thing you actually need to consider is heat. Heat is the power source for refrigeration, whether that heat is produced by a propane pilot light, 120V AC, or 12V DC electrical power.

RV fridges can run on two or three of these heat sources. These are referred to as two-way or three-way refrigerators.

Two-Way RV Refrigerators

Two-way RV fridges run on 120V AC power and propane. They are the most common type of fridge, and are the most reliable at maintaining a consistent temperature.

Two-way refrigerators can receive heat from your propane tank while your RV is running as a way to conserve electricity. Then, once you plug-in to the campground grid or turn on your generator, the fridge can switch to 120V AC.

While running off of a generator, heat is produced by an electric heating element. While running off of propane, the heat is generated by a propane flame, which explains much of why some RV-ers consider running a fridge while driving to be an unnecessary risk.

Three-Way RV Refrigerators

Three-way RV fridges can use propane, 120V AC, and 12V DC power. A three-way fridge uses 12V DC power from your RV’s battery bank. While more versatile than two-way fridges, they also have the reputation for holding a less consistent temperature.

12V DC power is more limited than the other power sources, so these fridges do not have the capacity of two-way refrigerators. They are better suited to older motorhomes and pop-up campers.

12V DC is the safest of the three power sources, but it can drain your RV’s battery.

Choosing A Power Source

Which power source your RV fridge uses will depend on your situation. Each power source has positive and negative points, so it is important to understand each before running your fridge.

Propane, while dangerous, can be useful when watching your electrical usage. This is especially important when dealing with RV power, since you don’t want to have a dead battery in your motorhome.

120V AC is the most consistent power source and will keep your fridge running at a consistent temperature. However, it requires connection to a grid or an external generator. It is possible to power a fridge with 120V AC through an inverter, but this requires a battery with high capacity.

12V DC is safer than propane, and is your electrical option if you don’t have a generator or access to a campsite grid. However, you’ll run the risk of draining your RV’s batteries.

Many RV fridges on the market today are able to detect what power is available and switch automatically.

Is Propane Worth The Risk?

Between the three power sources, propane is the most hotly contested.

Many RV-ers consider using propane while driving to be too dangerous, and with good reason. Propane is highly flammable – very efficient as a heat source for powering your fridge, water heater, stove…wildly dangerous if something goes wrong.

Dangers To Avoid

A rough spot in the road, a sudden stop, or a sharp turn could jostle the propane tank’s lines. A loose line could lead to a gas leak. If inhaled, propane gas can cause anything from dizziness to seizures or unconsciousness. Not to mention that even a single spark could cause an explosion.

How To Use Propane Safely

If you decide to run your fridge on propane while driving, you’ll need to make sure everything is properly secured before setting out on the road. Be sure to check your RV propane system regularly for any damage or loose connections.

Remember to obey all laws and turn off your propane before fueling at a gas station. So if you’re prepared to take on the responsibilities and risks of running propane while driving, then you can use it to keep your fridge running while driving.

However, propane is certainly not the only way to go when running your fridge on the road.

Electric Power On The Road

120V AC And Generators

It is possible to run a generator inside your RV. However, Generators can be noisy.

A noisy generator might not be a problem if you’re driving down a highway, but it can draw unwanted attention from authorities if it is too noisy in a quiet suburban area.

Additionally, many generators run on propane. If your RV generator is one of these, just be sure to follow the same procedures you would if running your fridge directly off of a propane power source.

12V DC Battery Power

If you have a three-way RV fridge, you can simply switch the power input to 12V DC and your food will stay chilled! Since RV batteries recharge while the engine runs, your fridge won’t drain them quickly at all.

However, be sure to watch the temperature outside. 12V DC is not as efficient at maintaining a constant temperature inside the fridge and may wear out your battery’s life and put unnecessary strain on your alternator.

Are There Any Alternatives To Propane Or Running My Fridge Off Of My RV’s Battery Bank?

If you’re looking to conserve power, you may not need to run your fridge while driving at all. A well-maintained fridge should maintain a near-constant temperature for six to eight hours before the temperature begins to rise significantly.

So, if your fridge is at the correct temperature before you head out on the road, you’ll have most of the day to drive before you have to make plans for powering your fridge again.

Will Driving On Uneven Roads Impact My Fridge’s Performance?

All refrigerators, whether home units or RV fridges, run at peak efficiency when they are kept level. This is something to consider if you plan to drive your RV on a mountain road or over hilly country. It might be best to power down your fridge until you’re on a level path again.

This applies to parking as well. If you’re going to run your fridge once you’re camped for the night, make sure it is level with the ground, not just the floor of your RV.

In Summary

It can be a breeze to run your fridge while driving your RV cross country. However, there are risks and benefits to how you choose to power your RV.

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