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Does RV Fridge Need Battery to Run on Propane?


An RV fridge will not work if the batteries are disconnected, even if it is powered by LP (or liquid propane gas). This is because the batteries are the ones powering the fridge’s control board and ignition. The fridge’s control panel requires around 12v of DC (Direct Current) to open a gas valve and 10.5v is needed for the igniter to start working.

To run on propane (LP), an RV fridge does not require battery power, but it does require battery power to open the gas valve and fire the igniter. The front panel LEDs and thermostat are also powered by RV batteries.

RV refrigerators commonly use a gas absorption cooling system. This means that the gas inside the fridge’s cooling unit is heated by an electric heating element.

The gas valve must be opened and the igniter must be ignited with at least 10.5 volts of power. This basically means that you need to make sure that your battery is NOT depleted and your refrigerator is getting the needed electricity to get going.

All modern RV refrigerators are equipped with an electronic control board. This control board is “in charge” of opening a gas valve.

If the control board in your propane refrigerator has gone bad or is lacking a 12-volt power supply from your batteries, the valve will never be opened, therefore no propane will flow through the burner. The burner will not ignite and the refrigerator will not cool down.

Make sure there is enough electricity to ignite the burner and power your control board if your gas isn’t turning on. If you do NOT have a power problem, checking the igniter and burner itself is the next step.

The igniter should be free of debris and the flame should be a steady blue color. If everything seems to be good, give it about 24 hours to cool down.

Keep in mind that it takes a long time for an empty refrigerator to get cold. If you haven’t used it for a while, or if it’s particularly hot outside, it may simply require a little more time to cool down.

RV refrigerator power sources

An RV fridge can run on multiple power sources depending on the make and model of the refrigerator. The first and most commonly used power source is – Liquid Propane gas.

LP (or Liquid Propane) is made of compressed vapor gases. During natural gas processing and refining, a vapor is produced as a byproduct. This vapor is compressed into liquid form, and then it is used as a source of gas.

Refrigerators can also be powered by a regular 120-volt Alternating Current (or AC). This is the same type of power that you connect your electrical appliances to at home. RV parks also supply you with Alternating Current.

Direct Current (or DC) is the power stored in the batteries. Direct current is not sufficient to run larger fridges, so, if you desire to run your fridge using DC you will need a device called “an inverter” to convert DC to AC.

The amount of amperes drawn by the RV refrigerator depends on several factors including the age of the RV fridge, the model, size, and make. All electrical devices do come with a label that indicates the watts and amperage draw for that particular item.

Your fridge too should have one such label. If your fridge lacks a label, you should check the manual or ask the manufacturer to provide you with the amperage information.

RVs do have different amp requirements for various operations. For instance, the highest amp draw is seen when the fridge is starting up, then the draw reduces when the compressor is running and defrosting.

There will be little amperage draw when the fridge is idle.

Two-way fridges

A two-way fridge functions on a 12v battery or mains power. This fridge works on a compressor system. Moreover, it does an excellent job in areas of high ambient temperatures.

This fridge is smaller than a three-way and will strain the battery. Thus, to be safe, you need an additional solar panel to maintain the battery off-grid.

Three-way refrigerator

A three-way fridge runs on both DC, AC, and liquid propane (LP) gas. This fridge does not strain your battery and you are fine using it with or without solar power. Furthermore, they are more efficient and effective.

They can run for weeks without needing to refill. If you want to go camping in an area without shore power, a three-way fridge is your best option, as it does not drain the RV’s batteries.

Refrigerator technology

There are commonly two types of RV fridges you can use in your RV. These are absorption (three-way) and compressor (two-way) refrigerators. There is also a residential-style refrigerator and this one has a fixed design similar to the one you use in your own house.

A three-way absorption refrigerator can run only for three hours on battery alone, but it does have a propane option!  You can use it as a source of power for the fridge and propane tanks is definitely something that you could take with you on the road:

Propane gas will ensure the fridge runs for weeks without needing to refill the gas tank. Two-way compressor refrigerators can run longer on battery power, but after that, you need to recharge them.

Unless you have some kind of electrical system in place, (like solar or generator), you can never really get away from the shore power if you would like to use your 2-way refrigerator.

Absorption refrigerator (three-way)

An absorption refrigerator that can run off both AC and LP gas is referred to as a 2-way fridge. It is the most common choice of the fridge for many RVers because it can run off of LP gas as well (which makes it more flexible than a compressor fridge).

A 3-way fridge is an absorption-type of refrigerator that can run off of AC, DC, and LP (Liquid Propane) gas. This means it is capable of running off of propane, generator, and batteries.

An absorption fridge is an excellent choice for the RV since you can easily switch to propane to save power. This will allow you to use it longer without actually needing the generator’s power.

Nevertheless, an absorption fridge will not cool quickly or evenly. Furthermore, it should be parked perfectly for the fridge to function effectively.

Compressor refrigerator (two-way)

A compressor-driven refrigerator is powered using AC/DC power. This means you can run it off of battery power if it is not plugged into shore power or run it off of your portable generator.

A compressor refrigerator cools way more faster and efficiently than an absorption refrigerator. And it is not affected by altitude, so the parking does not have to be perfect.

The compressor fridge can run for 12 hours straight using battery power. If you have a portable generator or solar panel fixed on your RV, recharging batteries should not be a problem for you.

Residential-style refrigerators (one-way)

Residential-style refrigerators are common in Class A and towable RVs. They are similar to the fridges you use at home, which means that they have a great capacity and they cool more evenly.

A residential-style fridge is a one-way fridge. This means it can only be powered off of shore power. When not plugged in, it can be powered through the use of an inverter or a generator.

The inverter will convert the DC from your batteries into AC power for the fridge. These types of refrigerators use a lot of power and it can be calculated like this:

In case you are wondering, yes:

The RV fridge can run down the battery

Modern RV refrigerators come equipped with voltage sensors, so running your battery too low is not a problem in this case.

What does this technology do? When the voltage drops below the recommended level, the fridge’s compressor shuts down automatically and protects your RV’s battery.

There are three different levels of battery protection:

You have a choice of selecting which one to use:

Low-level will cut off at about 10.1v, medium-lever at about 11.2v, and high level at about 11.8v. Unless your batteries are “deep cycle” it is not recommended to deplete your battery more than 50%,

Getting the most out of your fridge

Choosing the right type of RV fridge is the first step to having a wonderful camping experience with food and drinks! Which refrigerator to use in your RV depends entirely on your preference.

For instance, some prefer a three-way fridge and others want a two-way fridge. Others love the propane fridge and some hate the idea of having to refill the propane tank once it goes empty.

Nevertheless, here are a few things you need to consider before making the purchase decision:

  • Is the battery bank accessible? If your RV does not have an easily accessible battery bank, then you might decide to settle for an absorption fridge. You need to upgrade the battery bank if you want to use a compressor fridge or a residential-style fridge.
  • Do you want to refill the LP tank? If you find it tiring to refill the propane gas tank, then you might want to consider using a compressor fridge. But remember the water heaters and a cooker still require propane to burn, so you are not that completely free from propane, are you?
  • How much food do you need? If you are going camping with your entire family, then you will need a large fridge. A residential-style refrigerator will serve you best in such scenarios. Having a residential-style fridge should be less of a problem if you are camping on a developed campground with electric hook-ups.
  • Will your parking be perfectly leveled? An absorption (three-way) fridge needs to be leveled perfectly to work. A compressor fridge (two-way), on the other hand, is your best option if you are commonly parking on uneven terrain.
  • Do you love to camp? How frequently do you use your RV? If you camp a lot then you need an absorption fridge since it is cheap to run.

Just like any other device you have at home, an RV fridge also needs general maintenance to increase its life span and proper care while using. Do NOT overstuff, clean regularly, and don’t open the door too often… or is it too much to ask?

As you see, the RV fridges do need a battery to run on. So just don’t worry about it, GET SOME BATTERIES and start exploring the remote areas of our beautiful country!

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Attention! This article is for informational purposes ONLY and is NOT a replacement for professional advice! ALWAYS consult your local specialist for an appropriate solution to your problem. All statements, prices, contact information, recommendations, and reviews contained herein came from sources that we believe to be reliable, but the accuracy or completeness thereof is not guaranteed. Please contact the service provider for complete details and updates.

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