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The Free RV Refrigerator Fix that Saved Us $1000 or More

The refrigerator fix was easy. It was a cheap repair--free. The hard part was figuring out what was causing the problem. Here's what we did to track down the problem of our RV fridge not cooling.

The Refrigerator Fix: Finding the Problem and Fixing Our RV Fridge

Our Dometic RM 3600 refrigerator had been performing well, even after 30 years of service. Over a period of two to three weeks, we noticed the refrigerator compartment hadn’t been as cold as it should be.

The RV Fridge in Our Motorhome Is FullThe RV Fridge in Our Motorhome Is Full!

The weather was hot and windy. The sun was on the refrigerator side of the motor home. We theorized that was what was causing the problem. We turned it to a colder setting. That didn’t help.

Maybe it was just over-filled. We'd been finding some great deals at the grocery store. Coleen can pack a lot in there. If air can't circulate inside the refrigerator box, it can't cool. We took out a few things that didn't need to be refrigerated, and ate some others. There was plenty of room for air circulation. That "refrigerator fix" didn't work, either.

It had been awfully humid lately. The coils in the refrigerator compartment sweated a lot. The door seal was getting bad, though it wasn’t noticeable worse than it had been. The freezer frosted up quickly, within a few days. But, it was freezing just fine---even ice cream sandwiches stayed frozen. We hoped the high humidity was to blame, and waited for the weather to change.

Meanwhile, we planned meals around what was in the fridge and freezer. And, we cut way back on buying meat, dairy, and other perishables. "Fix the RV refrigerator," went on my "To Do" list.

We feared the old refrigerator was just giving up the ghost. Thirty years of service, and the motorhome was not always perfectly level....

The odd thing was the freezer compartment was staying cold. Meat and other frozen foods stayed frozen hard.

RV FreezerThe RV Freezer Continued to Keep Food Frozen

Talking with people who should know about these things didn’t yield any help. The prevailing theory was that it is 30 years old--time to buy a new one.

Maybe something was frozen-up in the back of the housing, so air wouldn’t circulate. We defrosted it well, letting things thaw completely, and let it sit for the better part of a day. That didn’t seem to help.
We weren’t ready to spend $1,000-$1,500 for a new refrigerator for this motorhome. I went looking for the problem.

RV RefrigeratorThe Old Dometic RV Refrigerator in Our Motorhome

I opened the back and took out the gas orifice and cleaned it. I cleaned the burner, and thermocouple. I went onto the roof and opened the roof vent to see if there was anything obstructing the airflow. I tried to check the burner tube for obstructions, but was unable to access it.

I cleaned everywhere I could behind the refrigerator unit, and then I saw it. An odd shaped thing, it was sitting on a horizontal tube, hiding behind the 120 volt power box. I poked at it and it moved. It didn’t look like it should be there, so I flicked it out with a long screwdriver.

After studying it for a while, I decided it was originally a piece of putty, for plugging a hole. What hole--and where?

There! It was about eight inches up, where a control wire went through the housing into the refrigerator compartment. Above it was an identical hole, with a similar plug in it. A three-quarter inch hole, open into the refrigerator compartment, couldn’t be doing us any good. Maybe it was the problem.

Using a piece of rag dampened with rubbing alcohol on a stiff wire, I cleaned the hole as best I could. I made a six-inch extension for a tube of elastomeric caulk that I had handy. I did my best to fill the hole about an inch deep, sealing around the wire and plugging the hole.

The results of my efforts were noticeable the next morning. There was a definite improvement in the coldness of the refrigerator.

As time passed we realized this refrigerator repair certainly helped, but didn't eliminate the entire problem. We’re still looking for other problems. However, with this refrigerator fix, our current RV refrigerator is working well enough now to get us by. Hopefully we’ll soon find the rest of the problem, and hopefully the fix will be this cheap and easy.


Editor's note: My husband, Bob Nilles, wrote this article. He does much of our RV maintenance and repair work. He is not a trained RV technician and doesn't claim to be an RV repair expert. He is, however, handy and mechanically inclined. He is diligent about doing preventive maintenance on our motorhome and travel trailers. His efforts save us a considerable amount of money each year.

Read more about RV maintenance and repairs.

Go to the RV Life and Travel home page to find more articles about RVs, RV camping, and full-time RVing.

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