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Your RV fridge is supposed to work on gas and electricity, and it did for a while. If the gas still runs fine today, but the electricity won’t work, you’ll want to remedy that fast. What has caused this issue, and how do you fix it?
Your RV fridge only works on gas and not electric for plenty of reasons, including:
- Dead batteries
- Accumulation of sediment
- Fridge burner issues
- Broken heating element
- Electric breaker issues
- Blown fuse
- Lack of insulation
- Frozen fridge
With your two-way or three-way fridge only operating as a one-way fridge, it’s easy to feel frustrated. Don’t stress, as ahead; I’ll present some excellent troubleshooting solutions to get the electricity in your motorhome fridge working once more.
Why Is My RV Fridge Not Running on Electric When the Gas Works? Plus Troubleshooting!
RV fridges are either two-way or three-way. A two-way fridge uses 120 volts of electricity and propane (gas) as fuel sources. If yours is a three-way fridge, then in addition to the above fuel sources, the fridge can also run on 12 volts.
If the electricity stops working, the gas in the fridge might still be fine; the opposite can also apply.
Let’s take a closer look at all the issues with an RV fridge from the intro and how to fix each one.
Issue #1 – Dead Batteries
Is yours a three-way fridge? Do you think that maybe you unplugged it before you winterized your motorhome for the offseason, but admittedly, you’re not sure?
Fridge batteries, like any other battery, will discharge with time. This means that even if you’re not using the 12-volt battery–such as during the offseason–it will continue to deplete gradually.
Your fridge won’t run on electricity when you return to your motorhome or RV in the spring since the house batteries are drained. More so, other parts of your vehicle will be dead, as the fridge uses power from your RV’s house batteries.
For now, charging the batteries should renew electricity to your motorhome, including to the fridge. In the future, be sure to take out your batteries and store them in a cool, dry location away from direct sunlight.
Periodically check their charge and recharge the batteries as needed, but don’t overcharge. That’s just as bad.
If you charged your RV’s batteries but the electricity in your fridge still doesn’t work, you might want to test your batteries. Bad batteries might keep the fridge from working.
It could also be an issue outside of your batteries.
Issue #2 – Accumulation of Sediment
Another issue that you can come back to if your RV has sat in storage for a while is ammonia sediment accumulation. The longer it’s been since you’ve taken your vehicle out for a spin, the likelier this issue is.
An older RV fridge is also a frequent target of ammonia buildup.
Whether your fridge uses electricity or gas, it’s moving hydrogen, ammonia, and water in the fridge to keep its contents cool.
When ammonia accumulates to a significant enough degree, it can lead to system blockages. Your fridge can’t work as well as usual, and the electrical side of the fridge may stop working entirely.
Unblocking your fridge isn’t something you have to leave to a professional, but it will be labor-intensive.
You have to unplug your fridge, cart it out of your RV, and then–usually with the assistance of a friend or family member–turn it upside down.
Now, wait several hours for the ammonia sediment to drain.
This usually works, but it’s not guaranteed, especially if you have a significant blockage.
You can also save yourself the headache and buy a new RV fridge. Up to you! Here is another article where i compared and put together the prices of 25 different RV fridges!
Issue #3 – Fridge Leaks
You’ll recall that it’s a combination of water, hydrogen gas, and ammonia that your motorhome fridge uses both when running on gas and electricity.
If your fridge is leaking one or more of the above liquids, then you might find that the fridge doesn’t work at all, let alone the electricity.
You can determine if you have a leak in a few ways. For one, the fridge coils will have taken on a yellowy sheen that they didn’t have before. This discoloration is caused by residue, usually from ammonia.
You can also smell a leak, believe it or not! The smell of ammonia is quite distinct and has an odor like sweat or even urine.
If you don’t have any bathroom blockages and you’ve showered today, then you know the smell that has you pinching your nostrils is your fridge, not you.
So what do you do to solve a fridge leak that stops your RV’s electricity from working?
Power down the fridge and open some windows to air out your motorhome. Inhaling large quantities of ammonia can be dangerous for your health, leading to issues like respiratory tract damage, lung damage, blindness, and even death.
If you feel any throat and nose irritation and you’re coughing a lot, those are signs to get away from the ammonia.
Issue #4 – Fridge Burner Problems
Where do you like to camp in your motorhome?
I only ask because depending on your altitude, you could keep putting out the fridge burner.
Once you exceed 5,500 feet, the lack of oxygen in the air will strain the burner. It’s only a matter of time before it fails to stay lit.
If that’s the only problem with your fridge burner, then troubleshooting this issue is easy. When you know you’ll be traveling at high altitudes, run the fridge on AC power.
If your burner still doesn’t want to work even with more oxygen in the air, then you’ll have no choice but to replace it.
Issue #5 – Broken Heating Element
The next issue to be on the lookout for is the heating element. You’ll need a multimeter to test the heating element’s control board.
In some cases, the control board can’t power the heating element sufficiently, which explains why your caravan fridge won’t run on electricity any more.
Sometimes the issue is with the control board itself, including the fuse and the relay. The multimeter will tell you as you gauge how much (if any) power your control board is getting.
Depending on what the issue is here, you have several fixes you can utilize.
If the control board is working fine, but the heating element isn’t, then the heating element has gone bad, and you need to replace it.
When you get a low reading on the multimeter, or the control board receives no power, you’ll have to replace that as well.
Reinstalling these parts is a little complex due to all the electrical wiring required. You can always have your favorite RV mechanic take care of the job if you’re uncomfortable.
Issue #6 – Lack of Insulation
The insulation in your motorhome fridge is typically foam seals and vacuum panes. These parts trap in warmth, so the fridge doesn’t begin hemorrhaging heat and fails to work properly.
That said, vacuum seals are not forever like many things in life. When the seals degrade past a certain point, the walls of the fridge are not properly insulated.
If not the vacuum seals, the issue could be the fridge door’s magnetic seals.
You can test both seals, and it’s quite fun to do so! Take a piece of paper and put it in the fridge, then close the fridge door.
Does the paper come out with no problem? One or both sets of seals have gone bad.
On the other hand, if you struggle to yank the paper out, you should look into the other issues I’ve talked about, as one of them is likelier than worn seals.
Replacing faulty seals will get your fridge mostly airtight again. The electricity will work better, and your food will stay colder, so it’s a win-win-win!
Issue #7 – Frozen Fridge
How likely is it that your motorhome fridge will freeze and that that’s what’s keeping the electricity from working? I’ll admit it, not very. However, I don’t want to leave any stones unturned here, so I had to mention it anyway.
In such a situation, your whole fridge will probably stop working, not just the electric side. Gas can’t really flow in subzero temperatures, after all!
If you suspect this might be your problem, you need to get out of the cold ASAP. Once your RV fridge has time to thaw out, the electricity and gas should work again.
In the future, try not to camp in temperatures that cold!
There you have a whole list of fixes to try when your RV fridge works on gas but not electricity.
I’d recommend beginning with the easiest troubleshooting methods first and then working your way up to the ones that are a little more involved. You can soon get to the bottom of your issue and enjoy properly cooling from your fridge again!
If you are still having issues you could check out this youtube video from My RV Works, inc;