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Will An RV Fridge Run Off Battery While Driving?

| Updated Jun 20, 2023

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?

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

Will An RV Fridge Run Off Battery While Driving?

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.

Absorption Refrigerators

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 not?…

Why Do First Responders Recommend NOT Using Propane While Driving

Will An RV Fridge Run Off Battery While Driving? propane and fires can happen

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.

Compressor Refrigerators

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.

Will An RV Fridge Run Off Battery While Driving?

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.

The Truth About RV Solar Power & Lithium Batteries

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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Mike Wendland

Published on 2023-03-18

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

5 Responses to “Will An RV Fridge Run Off Battery While Driving?”

May 09, 2024at10:04 am, thats not my neighbor apk said:

Interesting question! I’ve been RVing for years and have always wondered the same thing. I’m glad to see someone addressing this topic. I’ll be looking forward to reading the rest of the post and learning more about it.

Reply

November 17, 2023at8:05 pm, Eliot Teeci said:

Nowhere on any google search can you get a straight answer to this question in full. #1- while driving is the refrigerator level? In the owners manual it says that you have to have your 12 V refrigerator level to run it. #2- you might be lucky for a while but it only takes once stopped at a restaurant fueling, or just sight seeing on a uneven spot . I had to replace the compressor on my Ever Chill for that reason. I bought my trailer out of state and it was delivered to me. I picked it up at a truck stop parking lot. I inspected the trailer, sign the paperwork and hooked to it to bring it home. I noticed the refrigerator was running and there was no way that this trailer was sitting on level ground. It was a brand new 2019 puma 187 toy hauler. About a week later, sitting on level ground where I had parked it quit running. It was under warranty, but the mechanic told me that it should’ve been shut off in shipping and that it wasn’t meant to be on while driving or pulling it down the road. Like I said, you might be lucky.

Reply

May 09, 2023at3:49 pm, Allan Cooper said:

You can operate a residential refrigerator with a inverter while driving

Reply

March 19, 2023at10:32 am, Loren Crowe said:

We had a propane refridge years ago in a pickup camper. When moving, the wind would often blow out the pilot light. Same with the propane furnace. We only ran them when parked.

Reply

March 20, 2023at9:46 am, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Yikes! Thanks for sharing this, Loren – Team RV Lifestyle

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