The minute you hit the road with your travel trailer, you have no power to the vehicle. After all, it’s not like you can plug into a campsite’s 120-volt socket when you’re on the go. If your trailer’s fridge is full of goodies that you don’t want to expire, you’ll need to retain the fridge’s coolness for as long as you can. How do you keep RV refrigerators cold when driving?
Try the following methods for maintaining a cold fridge even when driving your travel trailer:
- Set the fridge temperature very cold before you embark
- Keep the fridge door closed for as long as possible
- Put ice packs and frozen drinks in the fridge
- Leave no space in the fridge for cold air to escape
- Try a portable generator
- Keep your fridge in optimal condition
Ahead, we’ll discuss the above 6 options in more detail so you’ll have plenty of methods for keeping your fridge cold when driving your travel trailer, including across long distances. If you’ve ever had to throw out food prematurely because it quickly spoiled in your RV fridge, then you’re not going to want to miss this article!
6 Methods for Keeping Your Travel Trailer or RV Refrigerator Cold While Driving
Set the Fridge Temperature Low Before Your Trip
The first method you have for maintaining a cold fridge in your travel trailer even when you’re unplugged is to plan ahead of time. If you know that you’ll soon depart from a campsite and drive for the next several hours straight, then while you still have power to your fridge, lower the temperature.
The average running temperature of an RV fridge is between 34- and 43-degrees Fahrenheit. You want to set your fridge temp several degrees below this, although how low you go is at your discretion.
Do keep in mind that certain models of RV fridges will freeze if the internal temperature is too low. This is no good for a couple of reasons. For one, all your food that’s supposed to be cool but not icy cold is now a frozen mass.
Also, travel trailer fridges rely on a series of fluids to keep the appliance running. These include dissolved ammonia, water, and hydrogen. Ammonia won’t freeze until the temps are -107.9 degrees and hydrogen is even more tolerant, freezing only in -434.5 degrees, but water freezes as soon as it’s 32 degrees. No negatives, just 32 degrees.
If any of the fluids within your fridge happen to freeze, they block up the flow of travel the liquids are supposed to take. Perhaps they get stuck before reaching the fridge’s condenser or evaporator, or even the absorber coil. Either way, your fridge can stop working or work less efficiently.
So how do you fix a frozen RV fridge? You’ll need a hair dryer or blow dryer, plenty of super-absorbent towels, and some time. By aiming a heat source like your hair dryer at the fridge for about 20 minutes, it’ll begin melting.
This isn’t something you want to do more than once if you can help it. Once you know the temps your travel trailer fridge can take, don’t set them to freezing again.
Refrain from Opening the Fridge Door
Here’s a simple solution for retaining fridge coldness, but it will require the cooperation of everyone in your travel trailer. As much as you can, avoid opening the refrigerator door.
Yes, that’s all there is to it. You see, each time you open the fridge, a bit of cold air escapes. If you went through all the trouble of turning down your fridge temperature ahead of driving to your next destination, you would waste that effort if you were to grab a drink from the fridge and then get a cool snack an hour later.
If you have three or four other people in your trailer going in the fridge as often, then by the time you get to where you’re going, you will indeed have no cold air left in the fridge.
Adults might remember easily enough to not open the fridge, but you may have to remind your children several times. Tell them that this isn’t forever, but just for the next couple of hours. If you’re worried about any of your passengers getting hangry and making the ride unpleasant, then grab the refrigerated foods and drinks you need ahead of time and put them in a separate cooler.
Add Frozen Items to the Fridge
Another suggestion for maintaining fridge temperature is to take some frozen items and move them to the fridge instead. Now, considering that most freezers operate at around 0 degrees and your fridge will be somewhere in the ballpark of 30 to 40 degrees, these items will melt somewhat.
That’s why we wouldn’t recommend adding frozen food to the fridge unless you have no intention of eating it. The thawing and re-freezing can affect the food quality for the worse.
So what should you put in the fridge instead? Ice packs are a safe bet, as are sealed beverages like juice, soda, Gatorade, or whatever you have handy. Drinks aren’t so susceptible to going a bit funky if they’re frozen, thawed, and then happen to be frozen again. They may taste a little watered down, but that’s it. You can even freeze water bottles beforehand and place them in the fridge.
You can try putting frozen ice trays in the fridge, but this could turn messy. Again, whatever you transport from your freezer to the fridge will melt to some degree. You’ll end up with trays of water that you could easily spill if the travel trailer driver makes a sudden stop or turn.
Pack Goods in the Fridge Tight
Besides what you put in your travel trailer fridge, how you organize the items can also go a long way towards keeping your fridge cooler.
You probably have a certain way of packing fridge items back home. You put produce and deli products in the fridge drawers, condiments and dressings on the side doors, and then beverages and food items on the shelves. You likely don’t cram everything in as tight as it will go because then your fridge is cluttered and it’s hard to find what you need.
With your travel trailer fridge, especially if you want it to stay cold, that’s exactly what you should do. Take those ice packs, those cans, those bottles, and fill any and every available empty space with them.
Why? The fewer open spaces, the less room the cold air has to travel. That will keep it stuffed within your fridge. Also, by adding a surplus of frozen items, these increase the temperature of your fridge somewhat. The vicinity of the cold items can keep related items colder so they thaw less slowly, all of which goes towards holding in that cold air longer.
Use a Portable Generator
Another option to you have is to rely on a portable generator. Well, to a degree you can do this. If you have an internal generator in your travel trailer, then you can run it while driving, but that’s not the case for external generators. You also can’t use an external generator inside your trailer since generators can release carbon monoxide. Exposure could kill everyone in your vehicle, which isn’t meant to sound dramatic, just factual.
If it’s not super important that you reach your next destination in a set amount of time, then to make the most of a generator, you want to stop every few hours and find a place to plug the generator in. It will give your travel trailer 120 volts of alternating current or AC power that your fridge will use to run.
While your fridge has power, you can use it freely without worrying much about the cold air being sucked out. You can also keep frozen items in the freezer, and there’s no need to turn the fridge down and possibly risk freezing it.
Gas generators are a good option since you have a ready supply of gas available through your trailer’s gas tank. Do keep in mind though that you will have to plan a trip to the gas station immediately upon starting up your travel trailer again, as you’ll lose a lot of fuel running a gas generator. It’s best if you can use your generator and have a gas station very close by. This way, you don’t risk getting stranded without gas!
Some gas generators will power themselves down before your travel trailer’s gas supply is less than a quarter, which is helpful. Not all generators do this though, so you may have to keep an eye on your gas tank to ensure it’s not depleted.
Using a generator to power your travel trailer fridge does have its downsides. For one, a built-in generator can recognize when your travel trailer is in motion. To keep everyone in the vehicle safe and to leave some fuel in your gas tank, the generator will limit its power until you stop driving. You might find that your generator’s power supply is too weak to sustain your fridge. That makes using a generator a moot point in this situation.
Also, generators can produce fumes, especially if yours runs on propane. We’ll talk more about this later, so keep reading. These fumes can make it hard to breathe, and staying in your trailer will be an unpleasant experience.
Besides the potential for fumes, your generator is going to make a lot of noise. Even the models advertised as being whisper quiet aren’t 100 percent silent. Not only can the noise of your generator be grating to you, but to anyone else you’re sharing a space with. If you’re parked near residential properties, you could get noise complaints and have to vacate the area.
Keep Your Fridge in Great Running Condition
When was the last time you’ve given your travel trailer fridge a thorough once-over? Have you ever done maintenance on the fridge? Like your fridge back home, your travel trailer fridge needs care to keep cooling at its best.
Here are a few things you can do right now to get your fridge in better running condition.
For one, clean it both inside and out. Obviously, you don’t want to open your fridge right now and remove the frozen items if you’re trying to keep it cold. When you freely have power though, remove everything and clean the drawers and shelves. Then move on to the exterior of your trailer fridge.
Check the vent cover too, which can get coated in dirt, dust, and even spiderwebs if you’ve never touched the cover before. Wipe down the vent cover thoroughly and it will automatically begin working better.
Next, you want to ensure your fridge is completely level. Remember how earlier in this guide we discussed how fluids move within your fridge? Those fluids need gravity to travel since your fridge lacks a mechanical pump.
When your fridge is on uneven ground, it can tilt in such a way that the fluids get blocked up in a corner of your fridge or otherwise obstructed from traveling as necessary. This can make your fridge work less well. What we recommend is getting a level and ensuring your trailer floor is completely flat and even. If it’s not, then adjust the fridge’s positioning until it’s on level ground.
If your fridge is running healthily and robustly, then even without any power, you can sometimes get away with driving for eight hours straight without the fridge temperature increasing any more than around 4 degrees.
Should You Run your RV Refrigerator on Propane While Driving?
As we said we would, let’s discuss a solution that comes up a lot when RVers and travel trailer owners ask how to keep their fridge cool without power. That is, to use a propane system or the propane tank in their vehicle.
The biggest perk of a propane generator is that you’re not at risk of emptying your fuel tank by running the generator. You don’t get that same assurance with a gas generator.
As for running your fridge on a propane tank, it’s actually very common. RV fridges are built in a two-way or three-way style. Two-way refrigerators will run on propane or electricity on 110+ volts of AC power. Three-way fridges use propane and/or AC power as well as direct current or DC power.
So if you don’t have AC or DC power to your fridge while driving your travel trailer, what’s the harm of using propane instead?
Well, for starters, you’re not supposed to breathe in propane gas. It’s not deadly like carbon monoxide is, but propane inhalation could lead to symptoms such as breathing difficulties, changes in heart rate, dizziness, and headache. In more serious cases, you may have fall unconscious and have a seizure.
Your trailer’s propane tank has lines attached to it that send the propane where it has to go. The issue is that these lines are temperamental. If you’re driving and you happen to hit a pothole or make a hard turn, you could loosen the propane lines. Now propane is free to leak out, sometimes without you even knowing.
Any activity you do that could spark a fire, such as turn on your travel trailer stove, could be all it takes to cause combustion and sometimes even make the vehicle explode. Propane is extremely, extremely flammable, so you’re literally playing with fire if you use propane on your travel trailer.
As you cross state lines, you don’t have to worry about any cops pulling you over for relying on your propane tank to power your fridge. Some RVers even use on their propane tanks for just such a purpose all the time. However, we’d say it’s far too risky to trust in a flammable fluid like propane just so you can have a cool fridge.
Click the link to read more on Is it legal to drive my RV with the Propane on?
Will my Fridge Run Off an RV Battery While Driving?
Depending on your RV and the type of refrigerator you have, it is possible for it to run off battery while driving. So, which ones will run off battery.
If yours is a 3-way or 12-volt refrigerator then a battery will work for it.
When driving your travel trailer, you typically can’t be connected to a power source to keep your fridge cold. Fortunately, you don’t have to idly stand by and watch all your food spoil either. You should turn down the fridge temperature, keep the doors closed, move frozen goods to the fridge, and pack them in nice and tight.
Gas generators are one such option for powering your fridge, as is a propane generator or using your propane tank. These all aren’t the safest choices though.
At the end of the day, nothing replaces regularly maintaining your travel trailer fridge. By keeping the appliance clean and its components working, the fridge should retain more cold air than you’d expect with little effort on your part.