RV Refrigerator Repair - Problem Solving
No Cooling on any fuel source
This situation indicates a problem with the cooling unit, itself. Follow the steps below to determine the
For an explanation of how the cooling unit operates see how it works.
Testing the Cooling Unit
Testing by " Feel "
For this method of testing the only tools required are your hands! CAUTION: some of the components may be HOT!
If a cooling unit is operating properly, there should be approximately the same amount of heat in the middle
sections of the boiler and absorber.
Cooling unit blockages
When a cooling unit malfunctions due to a blockage, the boiler section may be too hot to touch and the absorber
will be relatively cool. Any blockage reduces the free flow of the solutions and will inhibit or completely prevent
A blockage is caused when the fridge is operated in an off level condition. The heat that is generated by the
propane flame or the electric heating element is the force that initiates the cycling of the solutions inside the
cooling unit. This action is similar to the familiar coffee percolator where the water is lifted by the heat and
flows by gravity down over the coffee grounds.
The refrigerator depends on gravity to move the solutions through the system once the heat source has lifted the
solutions to the top of the cooling unit. The passages that the solution must travel through have only a slight
slope to them and any off-level condition will hinder this gravity flow. Parking on a hill, with your refer running
while you go off to lunch, starts the degradation of the system and every time you do this, it adds up. There is no
way to reverse this problem.
What happens in this situation, is that the solution in the cooling unit gets overheated, and a component of
this solution crystallizes and becomes solid particles that float around and lodge where they're not supposed
Tipping the refer upside down, may or may not, dislodge the particles, but they are still in there and will
(sooner or later) plug things up again.
You have two choices ... replace the cooling unit (new or recharged) or replace the entire refrigerator.
A new refer or a new cooling unit, comes with a one year warranty. In my area, a rebuilt cooling unit comes with
a five year warranty - figure that one out!
Leaking Cooling Unit
If the boiler is warm and the absorber is hot this indicates that a leak has developed and the hydrogen gas has
escaped. The liquid ammonia does not change to a vapor without the hydrogen gas atmosphere and circulates as a
liquid. A strong ammonia smell is a definate sign of a leak. The cooling unit must be replaced or re-built.
There is a chemical called sodium chromate in the solution that circulates inside the cooling unit. It is there
to prevent the ammonia/hydrogen/water solution from corroding the steel tubing. If a leak developes, this chemical
changes from a liquid state to a powder in the presence of air. A yellow residue on the outside of the cooling unit
indicates a leak.
Advanced testing methods
Dometic recommends the following method for testing the cooling unit:
1. Make sure the unit is level.
2. Hook up the 110 VAC element directly to a 110 volt source, in effect bypassing the thermostat and control
systems. To do this, locate the two white wires coming from the 110 volt heating element. The heating element is
located in the cylindrical tin casing surrounding the burner flu, and is accessible through the removable panel on
the side of the casing. If you have a three way refer there should be two elements side by side. The 12 volt
element can be identified by noting the way the wires are connected. The 12 volt element has one wire connected
directly to the element and the other wire connects with a spade type of terminal. The 110 volt element has both
wires connected directly to the element. Also, if you fully remove the elements, the voltage will be stamped on the
Disconnect the two wires at the terminal block and connect these wires directly to a 110 volt source. If you are
not comfortable or sure about what you are doing, then this test is best left to your RV Technician.
3. Place a thermometer in a glass of water and place in the food compartment. It is important to use the glass
of water for this test as it equalizes the temperature reading.
4. After 12 hours the temperature should be 43 deg. F or less.
5. After 24 hours the temperature should be between the low 20's to high 30's maximum. If these temperatures are
not reached and maintained, then the the cooling unit is faulty and should be replaced or rebuilt.
LPG Flame Outage Problem
The first steps to undertake are to clean the flue, the burner tube and the orifice. Remove the rear access
cover on the outside of the coach. On the right lower side of the refrigerator, there is a tin cover which you
remove to access the burner. The flue, or chimney, is located right above the burner flame. Often, a flakey rust
colored residue falls from the flue and clogs up the burner ( this is a result of combustion and is a normal
occurrence). This residue will also interfere with the sensor probe and flame outage will result.
Use compressed air to blow out the flue and the surrounding area. Remove the screw holding the small tab that
holds the thermocouple in place. The thermocouple is a narrow rod with the end that sticks into the burner flame.
Pull out the thermocouple to access the two screws that hold the burner assembly in place.
Remove the burner tube and soak it in alcohol for 15 minutes, then let it air dry.
The orifice is located just to the left of the burner tube and is a brass colored nut with a very tiny hole in it.
Remove this a let it soak in alcohol also. Do not probe or poke anything into the orifice to clean it - this will
drastically affect the flame characteristics and will render the orifice useless. Once soaked and dried, you should
be able to hold it up to a light source and see the light shining through the orifice opening.
Re assemble every thing and light the burner flame. A normal flame will be a "hard blue" color with no yellow
tip, and will emit a slight roaring sound. If you still have a flame outage problem then the electrical circuitry
is most likely the cause.
The Electric Heating Element
The electric heating element supplies the neccessary heat for refer operation on shore power. It is located at
the rear of the refer as shown here (under the cover marked #6).
The element can be checked with an ohm-meter. Be sure to disconnect the 110 volt power cord and the 12 volt
supply before working on the unit. On three way refrigerators there will be two heating elements - on a two way
model, there will be only one. Note: some older models had a combination 110 volt and 12 volt element in one
Locate and disconnect the wires leading to the element. With the multi-meter set on ohms reading, check the
resistance of the element.
A zero reading indicates an internal short inside the element - an infinite reading shows an open circuit - in
either case, replace the element. The correct reading varies from model to model.