A fridge that breaks down can be pretty inconvenient, especially if you are away from home. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon, and many RV (Recreational Vehicles) owners have had issues with a dometic refrigerator not cooling on electric power only. As a first step before you hire a technician to check matters out, look at your refrigerator and perform limited troubleshooting to discern whether you even need to pay for an expert.
How Does a Dometic Refrigerator Work?
A dometic refrigerator uses a heat source to provide the energy needed to drive the cooling process.
In most cases, we really don’t get into the inner workings of the dometic refrigerator. As long as the drinks are cold and your food stays fresh, we often do not pay too much attention to this vital appliance.
However, if your dometic refrigerator is not cooling on electric, it is important to understand how your RV fridge works. The most important element to understand is that it operates differently from your home refrigerator, in the following ways:
- In your home refrigerator, a compressor pumps freon gas through coils. In contrast, in the dometic refrigerator in your RV, heat from an electric element or propane gas causes a percolating action that circulates a mixture of ammonia through cooling tubes.
- Typically, RV refrigerators will operate on either 110v AC, 12v DC or propane gas.
How to Troubleshoot a Dometic Refrigerator not Cooling on Electric
- 1. Make sure your dometic refrigerator is level:
Keeping your dometic refrigerator level is crucial for proper function. This is because your dometic refrigerator works by continuously moving liquefied ammonia to keep everything cool. If your dometic refrigerator is not level, the circulation of this liquefied ammonia will be restricted, and consequently this can cause your dometic refrigerator to not cool.
Proper leveling maintains the circulation of the liquefied ammonia so parking your RV in a leveled space is critical. Leveling has to do mostly with your parked vehicle. When the RV is in motion, its movement will keep the liquefied ammonia circulating.
- 2. Check for reduced airflow:
In most dometic refrigerators, the cool air originates from the freezer and flows into the main compartment. This means that if the freezer is functional but the main compartment is not, the result is reduced airflow. The evaporator fan circulates cold air from the freezer into the food compartment through a diffuser.
If the evaporator fan is not working or the diffuser is clogged with ice, this could be the cause of your problem. Check whether the fan is broken by listening through the door; if it seems fine, then it is time to check whether the diffuser is clogged. You will find the diffuser at the upper rear center of the main compartment.
- 3. Do you smell ammonia?
A key step when troubleshooting is to identify whether the cooling unit is punctured. If it is punctured, ammonia will be leaking into the air and you will smell a pungent air in the cabin.
While a punctured cooling unit can be repaired, in most cases it is more practical to replace your dometic refrigerator. The cost of repair and buying a new unit will be more or less in the same ballpark. Contact your RV dealer for a practical solution.
- 4. Check for voltage if your dometic refrigerator works on gas but not on electric:
You first need to confirm that you have 110v AC in the refrigerator. You can do this by checking circuit breakers and fuses.
Check the outlet at the back of the refrigerator by using a multimeter or plugging in a different appliance such as a blow dryer to the outlet. This way, you can check whether the appliance works. Obviously, if the other appliance works, then the voltage is not the problem. If it does not work, then you have a voltage problem.
- 5. Test the electric heating element:
If you have verified that the voltage is present and all indicator lights are functional, then you need to check out the electric heating element. Always use a multimeter when testing the electric heating element to avoid any electrical hazards.
You can access the wires that lead up to the heating element by removing a small bit of the shielding. If you do not know where these wires are, they originate from the tin enclosure that is beside the cooling unit. Using your multimeter, test for voltage while the element is hooked up. You should have voltage on both wires.
If one wire does not have voltage then it is likely that the heating element is burned out. A burned-out heating element will cut off voltage, causing your dometic refrigerator to not cool on electric.
When there is no voltage at the element, you need to have a qualified dealer or technician look at your dometic refrigerator since the issue may be linked to the circuit boards of the refrigerator.
- 6. Check for ammonia sediment build-up:
If you do not use your RV often, then there is a possibility that your dometic refrigerator is not cooling on electric due to ammonia sediment build up. This is a common problem in old refrigerators.
When your dometic refrigerator is unused for extended periods of time, the liquefied ammonia starts to leak and drips down to the cooling unit. Once the sediment accumulates it interferes with the proper circulation of the liquid ammonia in the cooling unit, causing your dometic refrigerator to have cooling issues.
You can remedy this by unplugging the fridge and flipping it upside down to drain the sediment from the cooling unit. This is only a temporary measure and you will ultimately need to have the refrigerator replaced.
Avoid this problem altogether by ensuring your dometic refrigerator is not left inactive for extended lengths of time.
A dometic refrigerator that does not cool can put a real crimp in your plans since it is the only way to keep your food fresh. Troubleshooting will eliminate the simplest of issues, but it is always safer to have a qualified dealer look at your dometic refrigerator when it goes on the fritz.