An RV fridge will run off battery while driving ONLY IF you have a 3-way or 12-volt refrigerator. Here's what you need to know and alternatives to keep your fridge cold…
“Will an RV fridge run off battery while driving?” is an extremely common question. After all, RVers must keep their perishable food cold on the road, especially on long road trips.
While there are a few ways to power your RV fridge while driving, only two situations use battery power. We're going to explain those two situations, as well as alternative power source options.
Plus, we'll give you tips on how to keep your fridge cold while driving WITH or WITHOUT a power source!
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When Will an RV Fridge Run Off Battery While Driving?
As mentioned, there are two situations when an RV fridge will run off battery, and both come down to the type of refrigerator. If you have a newer RV with a 12 volt compressor fridge, you're good to go! These modern RV refrigerators can run when you're driving.
The other situation is common on most older RVs and small campers. Many often have three-way refrigerators, which can run while driving. You simply switch the fridge to the “3rd way” and run your fridge on 12 V DC power while driving.
More common on later model RVs are 2-way refridgerators. These are often found on larger Class B and smaller Class C motorhomes, as well as many towables and fifth wheels. The two ways they run are propane when boondocking, and 110 volt AC, when plugged into shore power at a campground.
You can install a three-way refrigerator in your RV; however, they are often smaller than 2-way fridges. Another downside to a 3-way fridge is it can quickly drain your house battery if you forget to switch it off DC once you park.
These are the best and safest ways to run your fridge while driving since your battery will continuously recharge as you drive. They'll keep the fridge cool for the entire road trip.
But they're not the only way to power your RV fridge while you drive. We'll explain alternatives, but first, you must know the following…
Absorption vs. Compressor RV Fridges
Before we cover alternatives to running a fridge on RV batteries, we need to clarify the different types of RV refrigerators. Knowing which type of fridge you have will help you determine your best options.
We don't want to overwhelm you with technical info on how RV fridges work. So we'll explain the types of fridges in the most efficient way possible. Then, explain how you can use them while driving.
The traditional RV refrigerator is an absorption fridge. These refrigerators have been the RV standard for many years because they can run on electricity (AC or DC) or propane (LP gas). That means you can run them on propane gas, shore power, or a battery.
The drawbacks of absorption refrigerators are their inefficiency if your RV is not level and the dangers of using propane.
2-way vs. 3-way fridge
As noted above, an absorption fridge can be 2-way or 3-way, depending on the model. A 2-way fridge uses propane or AC, while a 3-way fridge uses propane, 120 V AC, or 12 V DC.
Which Cools an RV Fridge Faster: Electric or Propane?
Once an RV fridge is cold, any power source will pretty much keep it cold the same way. However, there is a big difference in how fast electric or propane power gets a fridge cold in the first place. Propane is the clear winner for cooling down your warm refrigerator the quickest.
Can You Run Absorption Fridges While Driving?
The short answer is yes, because you can connect to a portable generator or switch it over to propane. However, using propane while driving is not recommended. There is a lot of controversy over this topic, but fire rescue and first responders widely agree that you should not use propane to run your fridge while driving.
Why Do First Responders Recommend NOT Using Propane While Driving
Because jostling down the road can loosen or break propane lines, which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, fire, or even an all-out explosion. Not to mention the danger if you get into an accident. Don't forget that using your propane tank to run your fridge means there is an open flame.
Now, mind you, many RVers drive all around the country with their propane on without incident. You may never have a problem doing so. However, it's one of those things that isn't a problem… until it is.
If You Do Use Propane While Driving, You MUST…
It's important to note that if you do choose to run your RV fridge on propane while driving, you must be aware of some laws and act accordingly. For instance, it's against the law (and common sense) to pull into a gas station with your propane turned on. You must turn it off at a safe distance from the station before pulling in.
Furthermore, it's illegal in many states to drive across a bridge, through a tunnel, or be on a ferry with your RV propane turned on.
A compressor fridge is what you use in your sticks and bricks house, which is why it's also called a residential refrigerator. An RV residential fridge works the same way as the one in your house. It uses a compressor to keep things cold, and most run solely on an electrical power supply.
A compression fridge, therefore, must be connected to power the entire time to run it. So, it's usually not the preferred type of RV fridge for dry camping. Boondockers need a significant battery bank and plenty of solar panels to keep it running.
However, RVers who exclusively camp with full hookups often prefer a residential-style refrigerator. The main benefits over other RV fridges are they are usually bigger, cool down faster, and hold a more consistent cold temperature.
12V RV Refrigerator
Until relatively recently, RV compressor refrigerators ran mainly on AC power, which means you couldn't run off battery while driving. However, more and more RVs now have 12V refrigerators, a type of compressor fridge that runs solely on 12V DC power.
Since it runs exclusively on DC power, there's no need for gas or AC power. In most cases, it is powered by the RV's house batteries which are often charged by solar power. Best of all, it can be powered by the RV's alternator, which means a 12V RV fridge works while driving!
7 Tips to Keep Your RV Fridge Cold While Driving
The following tips will help keep your RV fridge cold and conserve power while driving, no matter what kind of RV fridge you have. It's always a good idea to take these simple steps to conserve as much power and cold air in your fridge as possible while driving.
- Cool down the fridge before you hit the road
- Keep the fridge closed as much as possible
- Pack it with cold beverages to serve as cold packs
- Place several ice packs throughout
- Park in the shade whenever you stop
- On long trips, use propane during pit stops to cool it down
- Monitor the fridge temp to ensure it stays within the safe range*
*According to the USDA, perishable food should never be at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
Need to Maximize Your RV Battery Power?!
If you're trying to optimize your RV's energy system, we recommend reading the following and watching the video below.
- RV Upgrade That’s Actually Worth It: Battle Born Batteries
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People keep asking us if all the solar and lithium upgrades are worth it… Today we are going to show you just why we love having reliable power while out boondocking in our Arcadia 5th wheel. Come along as we upgrade our RV power system and learn from the experts at Keystone RV!
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