Like any gas appliance, a ‘van refrigerator must be serviced at frequent intervals and an annual service is recommended by the manufacturers. However, this only applies to absorption fridges or three-way fridges. First, let’s look at the types of refrigerators found in leisure vehicles.
Also known as three-way fridges, these are found in most coachbuilt motorhomes. Heat is used to circulate refrigerative chemicals around the cooling unit. The heat used to provide the energy comes from one of three sources:
- A burner (butane or propane)
- A heating element run on 12V from the battery
- A heating element operating on 230V AC when coupled to the mains supply
- Compared with compressor fridges, absorption fridges’ main strengths are versatility and quietness. Installation is more critical and their efficiency relies on periodic servicing.
However, they can be more costly, they require ventilation apertures in the side wall, routine servicing is essential and removal for repairs and servicing isn’t always easy.
These are similar to domestic fridges and tend to be more common in van conversions. Like home appliances, they employ a compressor to circulate cooling chemicals. Household appliances run on 230V mains power, whereas ‘van compressor models run on 12V from the leisure battery.
Normally, they don’t need servicing, nor do they require ventilation outlets in the side walls. They are also relatively cheap. But they do tend to be noisy and can quickly run down your leisure battery.
A habitation service includes checking the fridge is operating, but will not involve pulling it out for cleaning. Servicing the fridge is an optional extra, normally costing around £85.
The first step is to remove the fridge, so the rear is accessible. This might include disconnecting it through the vent, removing the sink and unscrewing the fridge from its housing unit.
The burner tube is an insulated flue above the gas burner. The suspended plate in the burner tube – the baffle – is removed and cleaned.
To gain access to the gas burner, a steel shield is disconnected from the casing. The burner assembly is pulled away, to prevent soot falling on it when the fluid is cleaned. A purpose-made wire brush is used to remove sooty deposits from the flue pipe, ensuring no debris falls into the assembly.
Every time a refrigerator is serviced, a tiny gas jet has to be taken out and replaced. Gas jets are cheap and nothing should ever be poked into the hole in an attempt to clean away soot.
Burner slots can be blocked by rust, soot and dead spiders, causing poor flame performance. In some Dometic products, the burners must not be cleaned or poked with wire.
The flame failure device has to be cleaned and secured, and its couplings inspected to ensure they are tight. The igniter is inspected and cleaned, and its spark gap readjusted if necessary. The gas system undergoes a tightness test, where a manometer is used to check for system leaks after the fridge is reinstalled. Electrical connections are checked and voltage readings taken. I would recommend using a mobile engineer or service centre register with the Approved Workshop Scheme.
- The silver fins in the top of the fridge draw heat from the food compartment, so must never be covered.
- Avoid packing the fridge too tightly with food – air needs to circulate.
- If outside temperatures are below 10°C (50°F), fit winter covers over the vent to help prevent overcooling.
- When your fridge is not being used for an extended period, leave the door ajar to prevent mould growth.
- If you have insufficient cooling on busy sites in home weather, try running the fridge on gas, rather than the mains.
- Avoid using household products to clean inside your fridge. Try Thetford Bathroom Cleaner, or half a litre of lukewarm water with a teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda.
Special thanks to Mark Caravan Medic for his professional help.
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Future Publishing Limited, the publisher of practicalmotorhome.com, provides the information in this article in good faith and makes no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Individuals carrying out the instructions do so at their own risk and must exercise their independent judgement in determining the appropriateness of the advice to their circumstances. Individuals should take appropriate safety precautions and be aware of the risk of electrocution when dealing with electrical products. To the fullest extent permitted by law, neither Future nor its employees or agents shall have any liability in connection with the use of this information. You should check that any van warranty will not be affected before proceeding with DIY projects.
A habitation service includes checking the fridge is operating, but will not involve pulling it out for cleaning. Servicing the fridge is an optional extra