Dometic & Norcold RV Refrigerator Troubleshooting


RV Refrigerators can be difficult to diagnose, as some symptoms can be caused by different things, such as a bad thermostat, faulty electric heating element, insufficient gas (propane) pressure, a bad or weak 12 volt battery, etc. However, there are some basic signs of a faulty cooling unit. Among these are:

1) A strong ammonia smell inside the refrigerator. This indicates a rusted out evaporator.

2) A yellow residue around the gas burner on the back of the refrigerator. This indicates a crack in the boiler.

3) A gurgling sound coming from the refrigerator. This indicates a hole in the system.

If you experience any of these symptoms, then it is time to replace your cooling unit. However, not all symptoms are as easy to diagnose. For instance, a blockage inside the cooling unit will not show up as easily. Your refrigerator will slowly cease to function. You might notice that the refrigerator compartment is not as cold, or even warm, while the freezer compartment stays cold. This usually is caused by a bad cooling unit, but, it can also be an indication of another problem.

The best way to check a cooling unit, if you do not have one of the obvious problems listed above, is to bypass the thermostat and all of the electronics and run the refrigerator direct. To do this, you will need to trace the wires from the 110 volt heating element and unplug them from the control board. Next, you will need to take an extension cord (a heavy one) and cut the end off of it. Strip the wires back on the extension cord, and wire the 110 volt element to the extension cord. Plug the extension cord into a household outlet, level the refrigerator, and let it run for a few hours. If the unit heats up and no cooling takes place, then you have a bad cooling unit. If the refrigerator cools in both the freezer and refrigerator compartments, then the cooling unit is good and you have another problem. It really is that simple.

For more information, or to talk to one of our technicians, please contact us at 1-501-652-6269 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, Central Standard Time.


Proper ventilation is absolutely necessary for an ammonia absorption refrigerator. If the heat from the normal operation of a rv refrigerator is not removed from the back of the unit, it will build up and "choke" the cooling unit. This can cause permanent damage to the unit.

The best ventilation setup for an rv refrigerator is a roof mounted vent, as hot air rises. There must be no obstructions in the roof vent, and it is necessary to check the vent periodically.

RV Manufacturer's have started mounting refrigerators in slide-out rooms to free up and increase space in an rv. When installed this way, the roof vent is replaced by a vent mounted on the side wall. Refrigerators installed in this manner are prone to fail due to the lack of ventilation that this setup offers. The best way to remedy this is to install 12 volt dc current fans in the vents (top and bottom) to direct cool air in at the bottom and hot air out through the top vent.