Operation of the refrigerator in the motorhome


The list of every basic equipment for a camper and caravan must include a refrigerator - after all, it is difficult to imagine even short journeys without it (especially in summer). Since the design of a "mobile" refrigerator may differ significantly from the solutions we find in our homes, it is worth knowing how to deal with it.

While traveling, the refrigerator is subjected to many stresses and challenges. Recreational vehicles heat up much faster than buildings and are exposed to shocks - it should generally be assumed that more difficult operating conditions mean that such a device must be specially adapted for installation and use in a vehicle.

Due to the fact that camping refrigerators can often be powered by various sources (gas, 12V direct current sources, 230V alternating current sources), there are also a number of potential problems that the devices must cope with. Contaminated gas lines, poor quality gas, voltage fluctuations - a refrigerator in a camper or trailer does not have an easy life.

When traveling, especially in a larger group, we will certainly appreciate the advantages of modern designs - the latest refrigerators and freezers for campers and trailers can have a capacity of up to 160 liters, which is a qualitative leap in the last few decades. Of course, due to the fact that the area and volume of mobile homes are relatively small, the cooling devices are still smaller than in a standard household. Some recreational vehicles are still equipped with small under-counter models - a lot depends on the specific vehicle system - this is an important parameter that needs to be checked when renting or planning to buy a new camper or trailer.

Types of refrigerators in campers

Generally speaking, refrigerators used in campers and trailers can be divided into compressor and absorption refrigerators.

Compressor refrigerators , as the name suggests, are equipped with a compressor and mechanically compress and circulate the gas used for cooling. They can operate with various power sources - from 12 V (batteries in passenger cars/campers), 24 V (trucks) to 230 V (stationary connection/voltage converter). The current is converted into compressor operation. Compressor failure automatically means no cooling. Fortunately, compressor failures do not occur often.


In absorption refrigerators, cold is obtained at the expense of heat energy. This type of refrigerator works on the principle of circulation of the refrigerant between the absorber (here it is absorbed) and the desorber (in the refrigerator this function is fulfilled by the digester - here it is separated from the solution). These devices operate with a power supply of 12 V DC and 230 V AC. Their advantage is the ability to switch the power supply - from electricity to gas.

Portable tourist refrigerators - thermoelectric or compressor - also have many supporters. They can be an alternative to built-in refrigerators or an additional refrigerator when we want to take more provisions. Thermoelectric technology involves the use of Peltier modules. As a result of the flow of direct current through the junction of different metals, heat or cold is generated, depending on the direction of its flow. This effect was enhanced by the use of heat exchangers and fans.

Thermoelectric refrigerators are cheaper and lighter, but their efficiency is determined by the amount by which they are able to reduce the temperature inside relative to the ambient temperature. Therefore, if the nominal temperature is 15 degrees and the ambient temperature is, for example, 30 degrees Celsius, the effective temperature inside the refrigerator will be at best 15 degrees.

Due to their efficiency, tourist/portable compressor refrigerators will be a better choice for long trips. They have a much larger capacity, and the temperature inside these devices is virtually independent of external conditions. We tested one of such refrigerators in battle and described it in the article - Dometic CFX 100W compressor refrigerator - CampRest test .

How to operate a refrigerator in a camper?

Remember that even the best refrigerator will not work miracles in a short time, especially if we fill it with drinks and food at ambient temperature on a hot day. Stuffing more dairy products, meats and drinks into the fridge may even cause them to spoil.

We advise you to put pre-chilled products in the refrigerator before going on holiday. If we are shopping on the way, remember not to add too many items at once to items that require refrigeration, e.g. bottles or cans at ambient temperature - these objects will emit heat and behave like "radiators" in the refrigerator.


Modern refrigerators in recreational vehicles are equipped with a control panel. Most functions are clearly visible on it - such as the door closing status, current temperature, manual or automatic (so-called AES system) power mode selecting the optimal source, and a fast freezing or defrosting indicator.

While driving, the refrigerator is most often powered by gas or electricity from the battery, which simultaneously powers other devices. Due to poor performance and high power consumption, the latter solution should be treated as a last resort. Let us remember that in order to legally use gas-powered devices while driving, we must have the so-called crash sensor connected to the gas cylinder.

Refrigerator in a camper - what to do in case of problems?

It may happen that when operating "on gas", the refrigerator will not work properly - then you need to reset the settings (in new Dometic refrigerators, just press the triangle with an exclamation mark), and in older ones, check whether it "gives a spark" and whether the gas supply cables and exhaust gases are unobstructed. If the absorption refrigerator does not want to "start" on 230V current, it may very likely be the fault of the heater (a common fault).

If we have a problem with the efficiency of the absorption refrigerator, it is worth considering installing an additional ventilation grille to facilitate air circulation (heat exchange) behind the refrigerator and/or installing an additional fan(s). There are many solutions of this type on the market. An additional switch allows us to decide when to turn on this "support".


Another problem may be that the freezer seal may freeze, making it impossible to open the door. Modern refrigerators are also prepared for this - just use the seal heating function (press the square with a spiral). In older models we will have to heat the seal (raising the temperature / turning off the device).

IMPORTANT! Regardless of what manufacturer the refrigerator comes from, we handle it very carefully. Plastic elements, shelves and hinges are delicate and filigree elements. Do not allow bottles, boxes, jars, cans or bottles to move loosely inside. In addition to unpleasant noise while driving, the device may be damaged. The most frequently reported defects, apart from plastic cracks, also include breaking locks and... unfortunately... failures of electronic boards controlling, among others, the AES system (automatic power mode switching system).

Operation of the refrigerator in the motorhome – image 1
Operation of the refrigerator in the motorhome – image 2
Operation of the refrigerator in the motorhome – image 3
Maciej Kinal
Maciej Kinal

I feel best in the form of trade fairs and meetings with enthusiasts. Technical freak. In my life I have dismantled many motorhomes for the first time. Fan of large vehicles, mountain biking and traveling without weight and financial restrictions. At CampRest, I am responsible for all publications on automotive topics.

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