How An RV Fridge Uses Propane
RV refrigerators are pretty amazing. They can run on either electricity or propane.
That means you can keep your food cold when dry camping without hookups or when traveling.
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RV fridges use an absorption method to cool the air in the fridge.
This method requires a heat source to activate the chemicals inside the cooling unit that draw out heat from inside the fridge.
That heat source comes from either an electric powered heating element or a flame fueled by propane.
The flame and propane are the two things that make some RVers nervous when traveling.
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Can the RV Fridge Be On During Travel?
There’s no specific rule that states if an RV fridge can be running on propane during travel or not. The decision is left up to the RV owner.
Most RVers will leave the RV fridge on propane when traveling.
RV fridges are built to be wind resistant, if you’ve ever looked behind your RV fridge you may have noticed that there’s a metal cover around the burner and flame.
The protective cover is to not only protect the area around the RV fridge from the flame but to protect the flame from the wind so it doesn’t blow out.
The way RV fridges are set up means the flame can be on even when the RV is in motion.
Even though RV fridges are made to be wind and water resistant there are still a few potential risks when traveling with the fridge running on propane.
Having propane tanks on during travel could be considered a risk. If you are going to leave the RV fridge on propane the tanks need to be on as well.
If you get into a wreck or hit a rough road part of the propane line or an appliance in the RV could potentially be damaged and cause a leak.
Propane leaks are dangerous for all sorts of reasons and many travelers don’t want to take the risk.
If you want to reduce the risk of propane leaks during travel close the valves to all the propane tanks connected to your RV and drain the gas lines by leaving a stove burner lit until the flame dies.
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While RV fridges have protections against wind there’s always a small chance some air could get into the burner area and affect the flame.
The flame could move and ignite something around it like insulation, or even the walls around the RV refrigerator.
If the RV refrigerator was installed correctly and the back of the fridge is clear from debris this should be an issue.
Sometimes insulation can come loose and fall down, that’s why it’s a good idea to check behind the RV fridge regularly to make sure it’s clean and working correctly.
Forget to Turn Off the Fridge at a Gas Station
Open flames and gas stations do not mix.
It’s recommended by the American Petroleum Institute to turn off any sources of ignition when refueling a vehicle, and in some states, it’s even a law.
That includes RV fridges.
If your RV fridge is turned on and using propane when you are refueling at a gas station you put the entire area at risk.
That extra step of turning off the RV fridge when refueling is easy to forget and it can be better to not have the fridge on at all during travel so you don’t make a mistake at the gas station.
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Tips for Safer Travel with the RV Fridge On Propane
Here are a few ways you can help keep the RV fridge cold during travel so the burner doesn’t have to be lit as often during travel or so you can turn off the RV fridge completely and still keep your food cold.
Turn RV Fridge to the Coldest Setting the Night Before
If you turn your fridge to the coldest setting the night before you travel the inside of the fridge will stay at food safe temperatures for longer when the fridge is turned off.
If the fridge is kept on propane mode you can turn the temperature setting back to normal before you start driving and the fridge will not need to turn on for longer.
Open the Door as Little as Possible
The second a fridge door is opened tons of cold air is released and warm air is let in.
When the RV fridge senses that the temperature has risen it will start the flame to get the inside of the fridge cold again.
This could happen while you are driving. One way to help keep the fridge cold during a travel day is to not open it until you get to your destination.
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When Should the RV Fridge Be Turned Off?
When Filling Up at a Gas Station
When you pull into a gas station and start filling up gas vapors can make their way to the back of the RV fridge.
If the fridge happens to light at that time there’s a high risk of a fire or even an explosion.
This risk is much higher with motorhomes than with travel trailers and 5th-wheels since you have to park the camper part next to the pumps.
To get rid of any risks it’s better to just switch off your RV fridge while you are at the gas station.
When Filling an Onboard Propane Tank
If your RV has an onboard propane tank all pilot lights and propane appliances need to be turned off before it can be filled.
Everyone also needs to be out of the RV and the propane tank will be shut off.
A lot of dangerous gas vapors are spread around when a propane tank is being filled and any flames nearby are a huge hazard.
If you’ve ever walked inside a motorhome right after the onboard tank has been filled you may notice that it smells a lot like propane.
Make sure you leave the RV fridge turned off until you are away from the propane fill station and your RV has had time to air out.
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Driving Through These Tunnels
There are a few tunnels in the United States where you are required to shut off the propane tanks before you are allowed to enter.
- Houston, Texas – Washburn Tunnel
- Virginia – Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel
- Boston, Massachusetts – All Harbor Tunnels: Ted Williams Tunnel, Callahan Tunnel, and Sumner Tunnel
- Baltimore, Maryland – Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and Fort McHenry Tunnel
- New York: Holland Tunnel, George Washington Bridge Lower Level, Verrazano Narrows Bridge Lower Level, and Lincoln Tunnel
In most tunnels it’s fine but in these specific tunnels that have a downward slope, propane is prohibited.
Have any questions about driving with the RV fridge on propane? Leave a comment below.