RV Refrigerator Not Cooling But Freezer Is (How to Fix it)

RVs have become so lavish that even refrigerators are complex and sometimes hard to handle. But you need to keep your food supply nice and cool while you are traveling. Looking after your fridge is as important as looking after your air conditioner.

One of the simplest problems that could be causing this situation is that the fridge has not had the time to cool down. Since both the freezer and fridge work off the same cooling unit, both should work fine.

To learn more about how your RV fridge works and why it may not be cooling down while the freezer is, just keep reading our article. It goes through this topic to make sure you have the facts you need to fix this problem when it happens to you.

Norcold RV Refrigerator Not Cooling But Freezer is


One of the first things you need to know about Norcold fridge and freezer units is that they must be level to work properly. Their cooling system works by gravity and keeping them level helps the unit distribute the coolant to where it needs to go.

The next thing you should be aware of is that if the outside temperature is too hot, then the Norcold fridge will not work right. The break point temperature for this scenario is 90 degrees F.

Also, you have to make sure the cooling fins have proper airflow. Remove the access panel and clear away any debris around the cooling fins and the outside vent. Bad airflow means that the fridge components will not get the air they need to keep the fridge nice and cool.

If you have done all that, there is still one more step to take. If your fridge is not showing any error codes, lower the temperature setting to as low as it will go. Then disconnect the thermistor and wait. If your fridge cools like normal, then you have a bad thermistor on your hands.

The reason you may be having a problem with your Norcold RV Fridge is that it is a gas absorption model and it has too many parts that affect the cooling system. To find the problem may take a little time as you have to check each part till you find the defective one.

Dometic Refrigerator Not Cooling But Freezer Works


Dometic also uses the gas absorption and gravity system as Norcold does. That means the problems you had when you owned the Norcold will be the problems you are having with your Dometic refrigerator.

If your RV is not level when parked, then you will have trouble with cooling your fridge. You may think that leveling your RV is only good for the frame and slide outs. Not so. Your fridge depends on your rig being level at all times when it is parked, even when it is in storage.

Then if you are camping out or in an RV park in very hot geographical regions of the country, then you are going to have problems with your fridge. Once the temperature gets over 90 degrees F, the fridge may not cool like it should.

Next, you will have to check for dirt, debris, and blockage. The outside vent may not stop all these things or even insects and small animals from getting inside. These elements work hard to stop your fridge from operating normally.

Keeping your outside access and interior passageways clear supports your refrigerator’s work. Finally, you will need to check the thermistor. Follow the same instructions found in the Norcold and you should be able to see if the thermistor is defective or not.

If it is, you will need to replace it. As with the Norcold, the Dometic fridge has many components that influence the cooling power of your fridge. You may have to check them one at a time to make sure you find the right source for your problem.

How RV Refrigerators Work

We have mentioned that the majority of RV fridges are gas absorption models and that they do not have two separate cooling systems. They only have one to cool both the fridge and the freezer.


For the refrigerator to work properly, you need to have your RV level when not driving it down the road. This allows the cooling unit to move the different gases throughout the cooling system.

The two main gases used in an RV Fridge are ammonia and hydrogen. The cooling system turns the ammonia gas into a liquid and the more you have the better. Then gravity moves the ammonia liquid to where the hydrogen gas removes the heat in the ammonia.

As the cooling ammonia evaporates, it cools your fridge and freezer unit. Then after it has done that job the ammonia liquid is sent to the boiling section to be turned back into gas and to start the process all over again

This is the basic version of how the majority of RV fridges work. Now the problem with this system is that it takes time to work. What that means is you have to turn the fridge on about 24 hours ahead of the time you are going to use it.

If you check back before that time, say after only a few hours, you may think something is wrong with the fridge. The only thing wrong is that you have not let enough time pass to let the fridge get up to speed.

The Defective RV Fridge’s Usual Suspects


There are some usual suspects when you go to diagnosis what why your fridge is not cooling when your freezer is. The process of cooling your fridge section starts with your freezer and moves down, following the gravity system.

If your freezer is cooling and your fridge is not, you need to check the usual suspects first to make sure they are all operating correctly. Before we get into listing those suspects, you need a couple of words of advice.

First, make sure you have the right tools on hand to find and handle the problem. Second, fridges are electrically powered, so be careful and not careless. Being careful will help you avoid injuries.

The usual suspects:

1. The evaporator coils- this is the component that cools the air down keeping your food fresh and safe. If there is too much frost on these coils, there may not be enough air getting to the cooling coils. This lack of air will hinder your fridge from becoming cool.

If you check the evaporator coils and see there is a lot of frost on them, take your wife’s or daughter’s hairdryer and blow hot air onto the coils. Once the frost is gone, your fridge should work normally again.

2. Defective or malfunctioning defrost timer- if you see that the evaporator coils are frosting up frequently, then you may have a problem with this device. The timer turns the heating element on from time to time to make sure frost does not build up on the coils.

You can pull the timer out and check to see if it is working or not. If it is, then just put it back where you found it. The owner’s manual should be able to tell you its location. If it isn’t working, then replace it with a new one.

3. The evaporator fan is broken- if the previous two components are fine, this is your next stop in trying to find out why your fridge is not cooling. If the fan is not operating at all, then your fridge will not receive any cool air, or at least in the quantities it needs to cool down.

One way to tell if the fan is malfunctioning is by listening to the noise it makes. If it is too noisy, then you need to replace it with the right part and model for your particular fridge. Using the wrong fan may cause you more problems and have you spend more money.

4. Damper control assembly is defective- what this component does is regulate the cold air coming from the freezer and heading towards your fridge. If this device malfunctions or becomes defective, then it could stop the flow of cool air depriving your fridge of the needed cooling air.

To troubleshoot this part, you need to examine the device and test it to see if it is working or not. If it is broken or malfunctioning, then you will need to do the obvious and replace it.

5. The thermistor is not working right- we have talked about this for the Norcold and Dometic refrigerators and this can be a problem for other brands as well. What the thermistor does is measure the temperature at their locations and transmit that measurement to the thermostat.

A damaged or broken thermistor may send faulty information to the thermostat causing it to stop the flow of cool air to the fridge. The design of the thermistor has them exposed to electrical current. This exposure degrades them and can create this faulty situation for you.

To avoid this problem you will need to check your thermistors regularly and make sure they have not been degraded by the electrical current if they have, then you need to replace and then keep checking them from time to time.

How Cold Should You Let Your Refrigerator Get?


The owner’s manual that comes with your brand of refrigerator should give you the exact temperature settings you should sue when you use your RV’s refrigerator. It is possible that different brands have different allowances.

The rule of thumb though is that you should set your freezer at 32 degrees F, or just under that temperature. For the fridge section it should be set at 34 degrees F or you could go a little bit higher and have it work at 40 to 42 degrees F.

More recent models of refrigerators have been redesigned by the manufacturers to handle steep roads better than the older more conventional models. But these upgraded versions are not free from the same problem that affects those conventional fridges.

Steep hills that bring your RV’s fridge more than 3 degrees out of level, will eventually damage the unit and shorten its lifespan. To avoid this issue, turn your fridge off before entering those hilly and mountainous sections of the country.

If you need to check the level of your fridge and RV, just use a standard carpenter’s level and see where the bubble lies.

One Tip to Cut Your Cooling Time Down

  • We stated earlier that it should take about 24 hours before your RV’s fridge is cooled down enough and operating normally. There is a way to cut this time frame down and get you on the road a lot quicker.
  • To cut the cooling time in half, all you need is a battery-powered fan. You place it facing upwards towards the fridge compartment and turn it on. Not only will this help speed up the cooling time, but it should also help your fridge run more efficiently.

Little tricks like this can make your RV vacation a lot more enjoyable.

Some Final Words

Having the fridge not cool down while the freezer does, is not a big problem to solve. As you can see, some common sense troubleshooting should clear the matter up in no time at all.

Finding the source of the problem just takes a little time as you have to check all the components to find the right culprit. Sometimes, the simplest solution is a matter of time. In other words, you need to wait 24 hours to make sure the fridge truly has a problem.

The fixes described above should work on all RV fridge brands as the majority of them are all built the same and use the same cooling system.

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