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Airstream Travel Trailer And Motorhome RV Absorption Refrigerator Repair and Troubleshooting And FAQS

Updated on June 9, 2013
Randy Godwin profile image

Randy is a lifelong lover of the outdoors and especially camping. This article is intended to help the RVer save money and time on repairs.


Airstream Refrigerator Maintenance

Keeping your Airstream travel trailer or motorhome absorption refrigerator in peak operating condition is normally an easy task. The Airstream RV absorption refrigerator, which normally comes standard in the unit, uses an ammonia solution which is heated by 12 volt DC current, 110 volt AC current, or with the liquid propane (LP) gas supply.

These reliable refrigerators can last for many years if properly maintained on an annual basis. Unlike ordinary 110 volt AC house-type refrigerators, these absorption refrigerators are very versatile, especially if a normal 110 volt AC power supply is unavailable.

Using the 12 volt DC or the LP gas to power the Airstream refrigerator allows the unit to operate while the travel trailer or motorhome is being towed or driven to the next camping site. This keeps the food inside of the refrigerator cold during this travel time. This article describes maintenance procedures to help you keep your RV refrigerator in top working condition.

A standard absorption RV fridge.
A standard absorption RV fridge. | Source
The absorption fridge in an airstream replaced with a 110 volt apartment size household model.
The absorption fridge in an airstream replaced with a 110 volt apartment size household model. | Source

How the Airstream RV refrigerator Works

Without going into complete detail about RV absorption refrigerators, the process is fairly simple. This type refrigerator has no moving parts to replace unless you consider the switches involved in changing the unit from 12 volt DC to 110 volt AC or LP gas. Many of the newer refrigerators do this automatically with no manual adjustment.

These wonderful absorption refrigerators use heat to make cold temperatures. The ammonia solution is cycled over and over being heated and circulated through separate capillary sections with the heat going in one direction and the cold in another. The cold solution is concentrated in the proper area of the refrigerator to complete the process and then recycled.

There are several reasons why your refrigerator is not performing properly. These factors are simple to check, maintain, and repair, if needed. Most of these refrigerators are made by the Dometic company which also makes ice makers and air conditioners. You may get replacement parts for many of these units from them or other RV parts suppliers online.

RV Absortion Refrigerator Maintenance

leveling The Airstream RV Refrigerator

Because the RV refrigerator uses gravity to circulate the ammonia solution, it is very important to keep the unit as level as possible. A refrigerator which is not level may not work properly or at all. An unlevel campsite often causes an absortion refrigerator to not cool properly.

Check the level on your unit before beginning the maintenance check. Get your Airstream travel trailer as level as possible and then check in half an hour to see if this solves the problem.

Some owners use small stick-on level indicators to insure the refrigerator is properly situated. By placing a stick-on level to the front of the absorption refrigerator unit, and to the side of the wall adjacent to the unit, you can see how the unit must be situated in comparison to the Airstream level indicators on the chassis.

Airstream Refrigerator Heat Vent Maintennance

Another common RV absorption refrigerator problem may be caused by a blockage of the heat dispersal system. Airstream travel trailers and motorhomes use a vent pipe to allow the heat from the ammonia solution to disperse into the air. Often, birds nests and wasp nests may block these vent pipes and cause the RV refrigerator to not perform properly.

There is also a vented door located behind the absorption refrigerator on the outside of your Airstream travel trailer or motorhome. These vents may also be blocked by insects or birds nests. This is easy to check from the outside of the Airstream travel trailer.

Annual cleaning of these heat dispersal devices will ensure proper ventilation and circulation of the ammonia based solution. Cleaning the refrigerator vent pipe may be easier from the roof of the Airstream travel trailer or motorhome.

Accessing the Airstream Refrigerator Vent Pipe

Use care when cleaning the RV fridge vent pipe to avoid roof damage.
Use care when cleaning the RV fridge vent pipe to avoid roof damage.

Checking The RV Refrigerator heat Elements

The 12 volt DC and 110 volt AC heating elements can go bad over a period of time. By using an electrical multimeter to check the voltage of these two elements you can ascertain the right voltage is reaching each heating element. Check the links below to find an article on how to use one of these handy electrical testers.

If one or the other of these heating elements do not work when the correct current is indicated, you can easily replace it by ordering it from a Dometic RV refrigerator parts supply or other available RV parts distributors. Usually, ordering a new refrigerator heating element online is the most economical procedure.

Make sure all electrical current is off before attempting replacement of either element. Be sure to use the model and serial number from your refrigerator when ordering a new element. This a fairly common problem in Dometic RV absorption refrigerators, as well as other RV refrigerator brands.

Inexpensive RV Refrigerator Replacement

The absorption fridge in this Airstream Sovereign was replaced by a $200 110 volt AC model.
The absorption fridge in this Airstream Sovereign was replaced by a $200 110 volt AC model.

RV Refrigerator Ignition Check And Repair

In some cases the pilot light or electronic ignition system on Dometic RV refrigerators, and other makes and models, may be at fault when the LP gas option is required.

Older refrigerators may use a traditional pilot light to ignite the flame which furnishes the heat to the ammonia solution. Carbon buildup may cause the pilot light to go out unless it is removed.

Using air pressure to clean out the pilot light is usually the best procedure to follow. After turning off the LP gas, remove the gas line from the RV refrigerator and use compressed air to blow through the connection. The higher air pressure usually will clear the blocked pilot light orifice.

The newer Dometic RV refrigerators use an electric spark to ignite the LP gas heating flame. You can usually hear or see the spark when the switch is activated. Replacing this igniter will often solve this problem.

New igniters may be found at several RV parts suppliers or from a Dometic refrigerator parts supply.
In rare case a new control circuit board may need to be replaced. Once again, an electric multimeter comes in handy for checking out this refrigerator component.These replacement circuit boards are quite expensive so be sure this replacement part is at fault.

A new RV refrigerator ignition component may be found on this page. Check the model and serial number of your fridge to ensure ordering the correct part.

As always, disconnect the electrical supply, both 12 volt and 110 volt, and turn off the LP gas before doing maintenance on the absorption refrigerator..

Replacement RV Absorption Refrigerators

RV Refrigerator Switch Check And Repair

Using the multimeter again, check to see if all switches are working correctly. These switches, whether used on a Dometic RV refrigerator or any other type absorption refrigerator, will malfunction over a period of time.

Replacing these switches is a simple job and may just solve your problem. Order them from the Dometic company or from other RV Parts supplier. Be sure to check the model and serial number of your Airstream refrigerator to ensure you replace it with the proper type.

If all else fails, you may wish to replace it with a new refrigerator or perhaps a small home type unit instead. Using a regular home-type unit is very inexpensive compared to buying a new absorption model. Unless you plan to camp in the wilderness this type refrigerator will work just fine.

Instructions for making this alteration can be found in the links below. Proper maintenance will ensure that your Airstream refrigerator will give you many years of satisfying results and a worry free camping experience. Good luck with the repairs and maintenance on your Airstream RV Refrigerator.


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    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 7 years ago from Southern Georgia

      @6hotfingers-Yes, Airstream travel trailers take all the "rough" out of roughing it when camping. LOL! It is getting a bit easier to find replacement and repair parts for them but most seldom need major repairs if maintained well.

      Thanks for the comments and for checking out my article.


    • 6hotfingers3 profile image

      6hotfingers3 7 years ago

      Great hub! Using the airstream travel trailer is the closes I would come to camping. Knowledge of how to keep things running smoothly adds to the enjoyment of the travel adventure. I appreciate the fact that the replacement parts are made by domestic companies. That is encouraging. Thank you for the useful information.

    • profile image

      BenjaminB 7 years ago

      Very informative and well detailed Hub you have here Randy.I had to check it out because I've always had a fascination with Air Stream campers, they just look so darn cool.Someday I hope to own one and I'll have to revisit this Hub as refrigeration is something I've never been good at I believe because of my lack of patience in repairing things. Rating you up and useful on this one for sure!