Not Cold Enough? Dometic RV Refrigerator Troubleshooting

While you might think one refrigerator is the same as the next, it’s not always true. For recreational vehicles, especially, there are variations in fridges and other equipment. Navigating maintenance and repair of your RV’s fridge may be more complicated than you expect. When it comes to Dometic RV refrigerator troubleshooting, you need to know how the fridge works, how to operate it correctly, and what it takes to fix it when something goes wrong.

How a Dometic Refrigerator Works

Refrigerators from Dometic look like residential type fridges, but looks can be deceiving. RV refrigerators have features to ensure they stay closed while you travel. They also have variable power source compatibility, so whether you have a travel trailer or Class A motorhome, you can get a fridge to fit. Here’s more on how a Dometic works.

Dometic Fridge Basics

Dometic refrigerators use gas absorption cooling units. Heat boils an ammonia and water mixture, and as the ammonia vapor rises, it moves along a coil system. Ammonia vapor condenses to a liquid, which then finds its way to the evaporator. A hydrogen bypass lowers the pressure—and disperses heat—which provides the cooling effect.

The system continues to circulate ammonia and water, using very little propane to cool the entire fridge. Electricity, whether via a generator or site hookups, is another mode of heating the initial ammonia and water mixture. An electric fridge uses a compressor and Freon or HFC to circulate cold air, but the closed system is similar.

Why You Need an RV-Specific Fridge

RV manufacturers recommend a unique refrigerator type to ensure the best performance while you travel. A residential refrigerator might fit in your motorhome if you have a larger model. However, refrigeration units for motorhomes and travel trailers have special features you won’t find in a home fridge.

For example, Dometic units can switch between electric power and propane automatically. A residential option would require consistent electrical power to keep working. Without this auto-switching feature, your food could go bad while you’re boondocking or even camping in a park without power.

RV-specific units also incorporate adjustable fans. Because an RV is such close quarters, the noise of your refrigerator might keep you up at night. With an adjustable fan, you can turn down the circulation so that it’s quieter at night. A conventional fridge wouldn’t have that flexibility.

Common Dometic Fridge Problems (& Solutions)

No appliance is without its problems, which means a section on Dometic RV refrigerator troubleshooting is necessary. Here are a few common fridge challenges along with solutions. Sometimes, basic maintenance will get you back in business. In other scenarios, you’ll need professional assistance to repair your fridge or replace it entirely.

Problem: The Fridge Won’t Power On

If you typically use propane for your unit, the first step is checking to see if your propane tank is full. Many Dometic units can switch automatically from electric power to propane when the power goes off, so if the fridge works on electrical power but not on propane, this is a helpful check.

Some units don’t have an automatic switch to change from electric to propane power. If your model doesn’t, you may need to switch over manually. Lack of power is the most common problem with RV fridges. Fortunately, it’s a quick and simple troubleshooting step to start with.

A blown fuse is another potential factor with a fridge that won’t power on. Find your RV’s black box and open it to check on the fuses. Most motorhomes have clear labels on the fuse boxes, which helps make this step a bit simpler. Most fuses require replacement infrequently, so if you need to change fuses often, there might be a bigger issue at play.

Problem: The Fridge Isn’t Staying Cold

A warm fridge is probably the worst problem you can encounter while traveling in an RV. Unfortunately, there are many potential reasons why your Dometic is warming up. A few potential solutions include:

● Checking the exterior seal for gaps

● Ensuring a clear gas supply (cleaning the jet)

● Checking to ensure the fridge’s airflow isn’t blocked

● Replacing the Thermistor, a thermostat and resistor combination inside the fridge

● Removing the contents of the fridge and allowing it to cool for 24 hours before adding food

● Check for ammonia leaks—you’ll need professional assistance if you can smell ammonia. A strong smell indicates a leak in the cooling coil.

Problem: Propane is Connected but There’s No Flame

Sometimes debris can block the refrigerator’s burner unit. If this happens, a flame won’t ignite with propane power. Check for debris near the burner—vacuuming or dusting it out—and try to light the flame again. A weak flame might mean there’s still rust or other matter trapped in the burner. You can use a shop vac to remove debris. Always be cautious working near the electrical and gas components.

Safety Precautions for Dometic RV Refrigerator Troubleshooting

Like any other appliance, Dometic refrigerators require safety precautions while troubleshooting. Whether your fridge is running on propane or electric power, you should remove the power source before opening things up.

Before you get out a screwdriver or multimeter, you should know what you’re dealing with. Make sure to read your refrigerator’s user manual and read carefully as you open access panels or remove parts. When working near electrical components, wear rubber gloves and rubber-soled shoes to avoid electrical shock.

Keep water and other liquids away from the area, and don’t try to perform troubleshooting or repairs during rainy or stormy weather.

Though many troubleshooting tasks seem simple, it’s wise to consult a professional for more complex diagnostics. After all, if you’re unsure what you’re looking at, it’s possible you could make things worse rather than fix them.

Equipment for Dometic Fridge Troubleshooting

Even if you’re not an electrician, there are many steps you can take to troubleshoot the fridge on your own. A few tools can help make the process simpler.

Digital Multimeter

A digital multimeter, or voltmeter, can tell you whether there’s power going to your fridge. Apart from refrigerator diagnostics, you can use a multimeter for troubleshooting other electrical issues on your motorhome. In many cases, it can prevent you from replacing parts that aren’t broken when it’s a campground’s electrical that’s to blame.

A Basic Toolbox

Even if you don’t plan to wrench on your motorhome yourself, you should keep a basic set of tools on hand. For Dometic RV refrigerator troubleshooting, you may need to remove a panel to access essential parts. Similarly, you may need to scrape clean connectors, tighten bolts, or other basic tasks with the aid of a toolbox. 

Spare Parts

Some spare parts are essential whether you’re taking a weekend trip or are a full-timer. For example, an RV fridge thermocouple is a temperamental part. It’s wise to keep an extra one on hand. Even if your trip is only a few days, you don’t want to spend that time shopping for replacement parts.

If you suspect the thermocouple is the problem with your malfunctioning fridge, you can test the thermocouple with just a screwdriver and multimeter.

Dometic Refrigerator Best Practices

To keep your Dometic RV fridge running smoothly, here are some tips on best practices.

Don’t Overload the Unit

Fridges keep things cold, so you can pack it full—right? Not so. If you put too many items in your fridge, air can’t circulate. The result is unevenly cooled food and potential spoilage. Make sure you don’t put too much food inside—and keep colder items farther toward the back.

Check Door Seals Periodically

Keeping your fridge closed is a crucial step in preserving the freshness of your food. Dometic refrigerators have special seals to keep them closed while you’re on the road. Check the seal periodically to ensure it’s not cracked or otherwise damaged. A broken seal means warmer—and potentially inedible—food. It can also mean spillage when you take sharp turns.

Give it Time to Cool Down

If you RV sporadically rather than full time, give your Dometic time to cool down. The day before you plan to leave on a trip, turn the power on to your fridge so it can begin to cool to food-safe temperature. By the time you’re ready to depart, the fridge will be the appropriate temperature.

Also, consider putting pre-cooled or frozen food in your fridge right before departing. By using your home fridge to freeze or cool down refrigerated foods, you’ll prevent your Dometic fridge from working too hard to keep everything cold.

Monitor Frost Levels

Keeping a consistent temperature in your fridge and freezer is ideal for fresh food. You can use a thermometer to keep tabs, but it’s also helpful to check frost levels in the freezer. Too much frost buildup and you’re probably running the unit too cold. No frost at all, and the setting isn’t low enough—or you have a problem with the seal or refrigerant.

Replacement Costs for Dometic Fridges

Dometic refrigerators cost between $1,000 and $3,000 depending on the size, style, configuration, and features. But there’s more than the bottom line to consider when it comes to replacing your Dometic.

Size and Style Considerations

Dometic RV refrigerators come in a variety of styles and sizes. Every fridge works with RVs, but you need to know the size and configuration of yours to determine replacement costs.

Variations in styles include:

● 1.9 to eight cubic feet of storage space

● Right or left hinged top-freezer or double-door style

● Compact or full-sized

Drawer-style (auxiliary fridge/freezer space)

Saving space is often a priority in motorhomes and travel trailers, so keep in mind the existing fridge and how well it works in the space. You may want to downsize to further conserve space, or you may prefer a bigger refrigerator to avoid food spoilage and the cost of eating out.

New Versus Used

You should also determine whether you want to buy a brand-new unit. A refurbished or second-hand fridge is often a financially sound decision, though it’s difficult to predict just how cost-effective a used fridge is. Many units work for years without a problem—and there are no guarantees even when buying new.

That said, new units often come with a warranty. If your RV itself is new (or certified used), it may even come with a warranty which covers appliances. Some RV insurance policies also cover appliances, though there’s typically an additional cost involved. Check with your insurer to see whether they’ll help with replacement costs for your fridge.

When looking at RVs for sale, consider the cost of replacing appliances when choosing equipment packages. In an older motorhome or trailer, you may need to replace the refrigerator sooner rather than later. Consider asking the seller or dealer whether they’ll upgrade your appliance package or if there’s a warranty available for the existing equipment.

You can also use RV Finder to narrow down your purchasing decision based on the type of amenities an RV has. If an expansive kitchen and ample fridge are essential, avoid looking at smaller floor plans without those features.

Features and Benefits

If you’re considering upgrading your fridge, it’s worth looking at the features and benefits before purchasing. For those looking for more freezer or fridge space, you may want to invest in a portable freezer or fridge unit to add more cubic footage without paying for a brand-new replacement unit.

For an older yet still functional fridge, adding a fan for additional cooling or replacing the interior components could extend its life. Often, parts such as circuit boards or thermocouples can go bad, and you can replace them without replacing the entire fridge.

Final Thoughts

Understanding how your Dometic fridge works is essential to successful troubleshooting. Fortunately, with a basic set of tools and a bit of know-how, you can determine what the problem is with your fridge and decide whether it needs replacing. Costs vary widely with Dometic refrigerators, but you can find an excellent deal by comparison shopping and prioritizing the features and benefits you want.