Recently whilst on holiday in Cornwall our caravan fridge stopped working: it wasn’t staying cold and there was water dripping as it slowly defrosted. Luckily this happened the day before we were due to head home and the fridge was almost empty. So, although a little inconvenient, it was no big deal. But it was a puzzle: it had been working fine on mains hookup for the previous two weeks – what had happened?
We arrived home and parked the caravan in its usual spot, and I switched the fridge back on and left it running while I went into the house to do some research on what the problem might be. When I went back to check on it later, it was working as normal?
Armed with lots of information, I managed to work out what the issue had been (see my conclusion at the bottom of the page) but meantime, I decided to put together a simple trouble shooting guide to share what I had learned…
Caravan Fridge Trouble Shooting Guide
Fridge is not working or getting cold when running on 24v hook up:
Is the fridge switched to 24v and is the 12v switch turned off?
Is the caravan level in all directions?
Check to see if there is heat coming from the fridge vents outside the caravan also make sure that the vents are not obstructed.
If there is heat coming from the vents, then the problem could be a blockage in the coolant system, see Blockage in the coolant system below.
If there is no heat coming from the vents then check that any mains switches to the fridge are switched on and that the fuse has not blown. If the fuse is OK and the fridge is getting power, then the problem may be with the thermostat or with the 24v heater element. Try running the fridge on gas, if it then gets cold, the problem is much more likely to be the 24v heating element. If the fridge still doesn’t get cold then the problem could be a blockage in the coolant system, see Blockage in the coolant system below.
Fridge is not working or getting cold when running on 12v:
Is the fridge switched to 12v and is the 24v switch turned off?
Normally the fridge will only work on 12v power when the caravan is connected to the vehicle (via the gray plug) and the engine is running. Powering the fridge on 12v is really only meant to keep an already cold fridge cool whilst on the move.
Check fuse and the wires running to the fridge and also check the 12v heating element is working.
If the fridge still doesn’t get cold then the problem could be a blockage in the coolant system, see Blockage in the coolant system below.
Fridge not working or getting cold when running on gas:
Is the caravan level in all directions?
Are the 24v mains and 12v switches turned off?
Check that the gas has ignited by looking at the inspection window.
If there is no flame, check that you have enough gas and that the gas pressure regulator is working correctly. The gas burner jet may also be blocked, see video Servicing a Caravan Fridge (at the bottom of the page) on how to remove the jet.
Check to see if there is heat coming from the fridge vents outside the caravan.
If there is heat coming from the vents the problem could be with the thermostat or a blockage in the coolant system, see Blockage in the coolant system below.
If there is no heat coming from the vents then the problem may be with the thermostat.
Blockage in the coolant system:
A blockage in the coolant system seems to be a common problem especially if the caravan has been sitting for long periods without being used. I found these two proposed solutions:
Hook up the caravan to your vehicle and tow it for a while on a bumpy road. This may help stir up the coolant fluids. Then run the fridge on gas as this creates more heat, making it more likely that the coolant will circulate around the system.
Remove the fridge (see video at the bottom of the page – Servicing a Caravan Fridge to learn how to remove the fridge) and turn it upside down for 24 hours. This will send any bubbles to the top separating the liquid from the gas. Refit the caravan fridge, turn it on and wait a couple of hours. This solution sounds simple but apparently it is well known and has worked in many cases including for the guy in this video.
So what was the problem with our fridge?
There were two possible reasons our fridge wasn’t staying cold.
The caravan was not level enough:
Before leaving Cornwall we’d decided to stay a couple of nights on a cliff-top campsite. The pitch we were allocated had a considerable slope to it (front to back) and by the time I had leveled the caravan, the jockey wheel and two front corner steadies were adjusted to the max, even with the aid of some blocks! When checking the level of the caravan it was not 100%, but it was close enough, or so I thought.
It’s important that the caravan/fridge is level for the fridge to work correctly (some caravan manufacturers even specify that the caravan must be within 5% of level) – so perhaps our caravan just wasn’t level enough for the fridge to work?
Maybe the ambient temperature was just too high:
The day the fridge stopped working, it was extremely warm. The sun was shining directly on the back of the caravan where the fridge vents are located. This may have been heating up the fridge and canceling out any cooling the fridge was doing?
I can’t be sure which of the above was causing our caravan fridge to stop working (perhaps it was a mixture of both) but once we got home and the caravan was parked up and leveled and the ambient temperature was cooler, the fridge was working normally.
At the end of August my wife and I were all set for another trip to Devon and Cornwall. A few days before we were due to leave I switched the fridge on ready for loading it up with provisions. The fridge had been on for 48 hours and was barely getting cold. I had checked everything listed above and the only thing I hadn’t tried was removing the fridge and turning it upside down for 24 hours. So this is exactly what I did. I refitted the fridge, turned it on and within a few hours it was as cold as the Antarctic! The next day we set off down South and for the next three weeks the fridge worked perfectly. In fact it worked a little too well as the milk had ice crystals in it, this was easily rectified by turning the thermostat down.
So turning the fridge upside down really does work!
One last tip:
When possible, run your fridge on gas as this usually means that the fridge will run colder.