One of the joys of RVing is bringing along a fridge full of food, but how can you keep it cold while driving?
This dilemma is a concern for long and short RV trips, but there are options to keep your refrigerator and freezer running during travel using propane, a generator, or a few tried-and-true tricks.
To learn the best ways to keep your food at a safe temperature inside your RV fridge while driving, check out the information below!
What Makes an RV Refrigerator Different
If your recreational vehicle comes with a refrigerator, most likely it’s able to operate on both electricity and propane so that you can use it with campground hookups or while boondocking.
Standard RV refrigerator models come in two versions. The first is a 2-way model that operates on 110-volt AC and propane.
The second is a 3-way model that requires 110-volt, propane, and 12-volt DC to run. This type of RV fridge requires you to keep a charge on your battery bank, or the control panel on the unit will not work, rendering the fridge useless.
The benefit of dual-power RV refrigerators is that you can run your propane while driving to keep your food cold enough to prevent bacteria growth until you reach your destination and plug into shore power. You can also keep the propane running if you’re camping off-grid.
Another difference you’ll see in an RV fridge is the amount of insulation, which is more than on a standard residential fridge.
The extra insulation is to combat the extreme temperature range in most RVs, as most recreational vehicle structures have thin, poorly-insulated walls.
More insulation means the interior of the fridge will stay colder for longer when the unit is off.
If you’re still shopping for an RV, do take a good look at the refrigerator model in campers that interest you. Many used RVs may not have the original dual-power compact fridge in place.
It’s widespread for RV owners to move to a residential, electric-only refrigerator once the original unit breaks.
An RV fridge is costly, but a compact residential refrigerator and freezer are affordable, easier to install, and do a better job keeping ice cream frozen!
If your RV fridge is electric only, you’ll have to look into other methods to keep the food inside cold during driving.
Is It Dangerous to Drive an RV While Using Propane?
This is a question most new RV owners have. Whether or not it’s safe to drive while running propane is a matter of your comfort level.
It would be best if you weigh the risk of losing a fridge full of food over the dangers of having your propane tank open and flowing while on the road.
This concern is especially valid for travel trailers and fifth-wheels where you cannot watch for proper operation of the fridge and propane system while inside your tow vehicle.
It’s much easier to monitor your propane’s function while in a motorhome. Any leaks should trigger the alarm on your RV carbon monoxide detector.
Pros and Cons of Driving With RV Propane On
RV While Using Propane
The most obvious benefit of driving with your propane running is that you can keep your fridge cold.
Many RVers find packing food for a camping trip much more economical than eating out while on vacation. Other campers are on a special diet and need to bring along specific food to stay healthy that may not be available at their destination.
You cannot rely on keeping your refrigerator door shut to maintain a safe internal temperature for long trips so food doesn’t spoil. Most RV refrigerators are well-insulated but can only keep food safely cold for around six hours.
It’s smart to “test” your RV fridge by cooling it down, adding several jugs of cold water to simulate food, placing a wireless thermometer inside, and shutting it off to see how many hours it will stay cold.
Using an affordable wireless thermometer lets you keep track of temperature over several hours without altering the fridge’s internal temp by opening the door.
Knowing exactly how long your RV fridge will stay cold can be a lifesaver or at least prevent upset stomachs from eating spoiled food.
When you do keep your RV propane on while driving, it also operates your water heater. Being able to wash up with warm water during your drive is another benefit you may not appreciate until you need it.
Driving With Propane Cons
Propane is a highly flammable gas, so it can be dangerous to let it run while driving as there are many more ways for things to go wrong.
Propane Gas Leaks
The vibration and bumps of travel could dislodge propane piping, causing leaks. If the gas accumulates inside your motorhome, you could quickly succumb to the symptoms of CO2 poisoning and pass out, causing an accident.
If you have a travel trailer, the gas leak will go undetected until you open the door. If you create a spark or are entering the camping trailer with a lit cigarette, the whole thing could explode.
Propane accidents like the examples above are rare, but they can happen even when you are careful with your propane during travel.
Propane Roadway Regulations
You’re cruising along in your RV and have the propane running, so your fridge stays cold. Then you see a sign for a tunnel ahead.
Be aware that most states require propane appliances or equipment to be shut off while driving through tunnels.
Your propane system may be simple to turn on and off from inside your motorhome, but if you have a travel trailer, you’ll need to find a place to pull over to shut off the gas.
The same situation applies when stopping to refuel. Having propane flowing at gas stations is a recipe for disaster and again will require you to stop and turn off the system and restart it after you pull away.
Lowers Your Available Propane at Campsite
You’ll use up propane if you leave it running while driving to your campsite. Lowering the propane level could lead to issues with tanks running out during your trip.
Trying to refill tanks during your vacation could be a hassle depending on your location, so keep this in mind.
Driving While Running an RV Generator
Some RVs have an onboard generator that you can run while driving to provide electricity to your fridge’s compressor to keep it cold. Don’t forget to switch your fridge over to the electric setting if you choose to go this route.
CAUTION: The power required to run the generator to maintain a cold RV fridge will stress your motorhome’s alternator and lead to early replacement.
Many RVs have the generator wiring set to prevent using it to operate the fridge during travel to avoid overburdening the system.
Tricks to Keep Your RV Fridge Cold While Driving
There are ways to keep your RV fridge cold during travel if you choose to skip operating your propane or generator.
I’m a full-time RVer on “Team No Propane While Driving” for reasons other than the dangers I list above.
The main reason I don’t ever run my RV propane while driving is because I’ve never had to stay without power to my fridge for more than the 14 hours it can stay cold.
Between my initial test and some tricks that extend cool internal fridge temps, I can safely go a long time without worrying my food will spoil. If I know I’ll be longer than this period, I either empty my fridge and use a cooler and ice for my food, or I wait to buy food at my destination.
Next up are four ways to keep your RV fridge cold on no shore power for a more extended period.
Don’t Open the Door
Yes, it seems silly to put this tip first, but you’ll be surprised at how many people think it won’t do any harm to grab something from the fridge quickly.
Every time you open the door, you’ll raise the temperature by quite a bit. A good-quality RV fridge should only lose about 4 degrees over 8 hours, typically an easy range to go without power while driving.
Since most people keep their fridges at around 37°F, it will take less than eight hours for temperatures to exceed the safe temps of 40-41°F.
When you know you’ll be traveling a distance, lowering your RV fridge temperature to 33-35°F the night before can buy you extra cooling time once you hit the road.
Ensure your fridge door stays shut during travel, as it can easily pop open from the jarring of road travel without you noticing.
You can opt for a refrigerator door latch that will prevent this issue, or use some duct tape in a pinch.
Another reason the door will pop open is from food shifting within the fridge. I find the Camco Shelf Bars invaluable to prevent items in my refrigerator from sliding around. The bars are spring-loaded and adjustable, to corral bottles and food tightly.
Fill the Fridge
A fridge with little food inside will warm up quicker than one that is full. Items inside the refrigerator will disperse their coolness as the ambient temperature inside the fridge rises, maintaining a lower temperature longer.
If you don’t have enough items inside your fridge, toss in some jugs full of frozen water or use sealed reusable ice packs. I prefer using ice water in jugs as you can let it melt to drink at your destination or for emergencies while on the road.
Lay down a kitchen towel underneath any frozen items to absorb moisture from condensation that forms and drips down on the outside. If you don’t, expect to open the fridge to a wet mess.
When you corral your food items using the shelf bars, you create a block of cold that works together to keep the internal temperature inside your RV fridge colder for several more hours.
Use a Fan
Get a rechargeable or battery-operated fridge fan to keep the temperature in your fridge compartment even.
A fan will help prevent some food items from warming up while others stay cool.
Some RV refrigerators have a built-in electric fan that should not operate if the power is off to the unit.
If, for some reason, you can work the fan independently by using an external power source, like your generator, don’t do it. The heat the fan generates during operation will warm the fridge’s interior instead of helping cool it.
Run the Generator During Rest Stops
You may need to occasionally lower your fridge temps on long-haul RV trips by running your generator while you stop to eat or rest.
This method is ideal for people who have RVs that do not allow generator operation while driving.
Ensure you’re in a location where running the generator is legal or will not bother other people before you start it up.
Is Running Propane While Driving to Keep Your RV Fridge Cold Worth the Risk?
In my opinion, keeping your propane on while driving is not worth the risk, no matter how minimal.
Thousands of RVers practice this method for keeping their fridge cold during travel days without any trouble at all, indicating that the overall chance of mishap is very low.
I’ve never had first-hand knowledge of anyone having a fire or leak from RV propane during travel in the seven years I’ve been full-time.
The problem is that if one time things don’t go as planned, the resulting gas leak, fire, or even explosion can be deadly.
With an RV fridge staying cold without running propane using the tips above, you’ll rarely need to worry about perishable items spoiling while driving.
Between this fact, the extra safety (and peace-of-mind), and the savings of not using your tank to run the fridge, I find it’s easier and less stressful not to drive my RV while leaving the propane on.
But, this is only my personal opinion. My best camping buddies always run their propane in their travel trailer between destinations because that’s what works best for them, and they’ve been full-timing for nearly two decades.
Don’t judge. That’s not what the RVing lifestyle is about.
Every RV owner will eventually find the best solution to keep their RV fridge cold while driving. Don’t allow people to tell you what to do, but be open to learning new tricks and taking advice from other RVers.
This guide gives you all the ways to maintain a cold RV fridge while driving so you can find what works for your needs.
Why do you want your RV fridge to stay cold during travel?
Because there’s nothing better than getting to your campsite, setting up, and kicking back with a cold beverage straight out of your RV fridge!