RV Doctor – Should I Use the LP Function for My Refrigerator While Driving?

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March 12, 2009

Dear RV Doctor,

My refrigerator only works on AC and LP. When on the go is it okay to use the LP function, or should I use the generator and run the refrigerator on AC? Or neither, and use ice only? I know you get a large volume of email, but I’m 78 years old and I may not have a lot of time left for you to answer! Any advice would be helpful.

Sonny Tissiere, (Warren Grove, NJ)

Answer:

Oh Sonny, I’m sure you will have plenty of time left to use that motorhome! But there are a few lines of reasoning about operating the refrigerator while driving down the road.

Some say as long as all the components are operating correctly and there are no LP leaks anywhere in the system, and you turn it off when you refuel, then it is perfectly safe to operate the unit on LP. Others say to run the generator and power the refrigerator with 120-volt AC. Others say, if the refrigerator and its contents are already cooled, simply turn the refrigerator off when driving and refrain from opening the door.

Most everything will still stay cold until you stop for the day and then activate the refrigerator. I don’t think anyone recommends putting a block of ice in there.

Obviously there are varying risks to running the unit on LP while driving and a noise/fuel factor for running the generator while going down the road. The safest option obviously is to pre-cool the refrigerator and turn it off while driving. Personally, knowing the integrity of all my components, I’d probably choose to operate on the LP function most of the time while driving.

(Please feel free to comment, however, please also note that due to the volume of communications I receive from multiple channels I cannot guarantee a personal response in every instance. However, questions of an overall general interest may be considered and published in an upcoming RV Doctor column.)

Leave a Reply

38 comments

  1. I move my blue ice blocks down from the freezer into the fridge, keeps it nice and cool until I stop for the night.

  2. Running with the LP on is safe as as that drunk driver doesn’t hit you hard enough to break a line to your stove, or fridge, or hot water heater, or your centraql propane heater. Thast,’ a lot of pipes running around an RV thaqt could be damaged with deadly results because of a fender bender. Why not install a small inverter just nfor your fridge? They are cheap.

  3. Fran Whitaker

    I live on the coast of Oregon and have seen my share of propane fed RV fires following collisions. I have also been RVing some 30 years. I used to run with the propane on to fire the frig but no more. One of the things I discovered was that as long as I didn’t open the frig door it would stay acceptably cold for several hours while I traveled. This means I can shut the propane off at the bottles and have no worries about the unfortunate results if I should be involved in an accident.

  4. rcsly

    I ran a C Class for yeas on the LP and never had a problem. I have a B class and an A class now. When I ran the fridge on the B Class it kept going out. My father-in-law, a gas man for years and camper himself had a look at it and found it full of soot, the regulator was apparently too close to the tank and he had seen that problem before (it should be up higher and further away). I run my A class all the time on LP and never had a problem related to the fridge. Stupidly is another thing. I had to put that in because my co pilot might read this. After a pre trip cool up you have to remember to flick the switch to LP if you didn’t have it on automatic when plugged in on the launch pad.
    With that said, I don’t want any feedback. (Unless you are willing to admit your own little stupid’s).
    I like Leons idea. I have one or two. Maybe I should try that. Why waste the gas. Think green. Thanks Leon

  5. William

    One of the reasons for haveing an RV/TT/5th Wheel is so that I can travel accross country and see the sites. Which will require me to stop periodically and take a break. During that time I would like to have somthing cold to drink and get a bite to eat. This is where the saving of money comes in. If the fridge is off then I can’t that drink or bite to eat because if I open it then the nice steaks and burgers I have in there might thaw out, thus costing me more money. (catch 22) So I run the fridge on LP (auto mode) all the time. If you want to go one better then have them install a 3 source fridge (ACDCLP) type in your rig. They make these for the slide in campers but they are not that large for those of yo with the big rigs.
    Just my .01 worth.

  6. David Hopkins

    With the built-in safeguards, there’s no problem running the fridge on LP. My CCI detector shut the gas off at the tank if it detects a leak. There’s also a protector in case of a surge (from a broken line, for instance) that shuts the gas off.

    The gasoline tank is just as dangerous and has none of those protections.

    My manual says nothing against running any of the LP appliances while underway. Because of the potential liability, I would think the manuracturers would warn against it if it was a problem.

  7. Walt Labree

    I run my refrigerator on propane 99% of the time while on the road. You must be aware that It is illegal to have your propane valve open ( in use ) when you are traveling thru some tunnels, not all tunnels and some tunnels may completely restrict the travel of propane. Roads that have restrictions on tunnels usually are adequately posted and may have a alternate route posted. Best to research the restrictions for tunnels before a trip when planning a new route.

  8. GMAs

    Besides common sense… one will find the local state laws keep them from having the refrig on propane while running down the road or around any refueling…

    If the refrig has been runing the night before… and you shut it off when in motion.. I doubt that it would warm up that much in 4 or 5 hours of traveling… stopping for lunch one could fire the genarator up and let it run on the 120 volts…

    Most however have a second or third heater pocket in them… their you can install the 12 volt heter element… now when the MH is running down the road the refrig will be on 12 volts… getting power from the MHs engine alternator… and staying cool.. Might want to check and see if your unit has the kit…

    One other thing that is important if you are runing with the refrig on… and its a LP type… and that is when you park.. you must make sure the refrig is level… if not you will damage it.. and it won’t work anymore as well…

    We went to the all elect refrig years ago.. and got away from all the problems associated with the little blue flame. Ours works on 12/120 volts… and doesn’t have the outside air temp problems that the LP ones have.. (after you get above 100 deg.. they quit working and end up heating the food instead… making your ice cream turn to soup) The all electric compressor type keeps things frozen even when its 120 outside… and it runs on solar as well…

    The old LP refrig’s are old technology… and not as effecent as the new all elect ones like in your house are… Running on propane or run a gen… I’ll take the gen and electric… which has more uses… some of these new refig’s are pretty darn effecent now… and work better too…

  9. Phil from St. Pete

    Go back to Leon’s comment — install a DC/AC inverter, either a small one to run just the fridge, or a larger one to run other things as well. It gets power from the coach batteries which are being supplied by the engine alternator while you’re underway. No potential problems from an open flame while refueling, or any of the other problems mentioned.

  10. M Jaroska

    I vote for Leon Eaves response. Why not install an inverter, they are not expensive for the that is required to run the refrigerator. That is what I did and it works great.

  11. Frank Madia

    I have said it before and will say it again. If you drive with the propane turned on you are asking for a fire.

    I have driven thousands of miles and never even had the ice cream get soft much less the steaks thaw. We always stop for lunch which we take from the turned off refrigerator and still we have no premature thawing problems.

    Put a thermometer in your frig and see just how cold it really does stay for the several hours a day you are driving with it turned off.

  12. If you ever put your RV on a ocean/lake Ferry, you not only have to turn the LP off but you have to trun off the valve at the tank. Thus, for the next 2-3 hrs everything is OFF. I will agree that “most of the time” you can travel with the LP off. However, when you are traveling in the summer (like the ultra -high heat of ’07) and it is 112 outside, you are going to have to keep the LP on for some part of the time during a 6-8 hour drive.

  13. Larry

    You people that turn your LP off while traveling must not travel in daytime temperatures over 90 degrees very much. On one of my last trips out to the left coast in mid summer thru Nevada had the internal temperature of my fridg up past 40-45 degrees (F) while running the LP with the fridg control turned all the way down to as cold a setting as it would go. Obviously, if I had turned it off as you safety-for-all types do, then we would’ve had a lot of spoiled food at the end of the day. On my fridg, the electric side doesn’t cool as much as the LP does, or I would have used my inverter and just ran it electic.

  14. I’ve always subscribed to Mac McCoy’s (www.macthefireguy.com) way of thinking about this. Mac says there are two kinds of RVers who drive with the propane on – Those who have had a fire, and those who are going to have one.

  15. The state of California states it is against the law to have your propane on while traveling on the road in CA. Plus my Generator is a Generac which is Propane fueled. You can check other state laws about their restrictions. I know most people ignore the laws just like they ignore the speed limits. I think the Inverter would be a good idea but what size do you need for the side by side type AC/Propane fridges?
    I currently use the blue ice method. Leave a couple in the freezer and a couple in the fridge part. They are still frozen solid at the end of the day. Just remember to put the ones you put in the fridge back into the freezer side.

  16. Robbie

    Gawd this subject is getting old !!!! I’ve run on LP on my last 3 coaches, no problems. Has anyone stopped to think about all of the LP fueled vehicles on the road out there. It’d be awful hard to turn off the LP, and still make it down the road, unless you were being towed, and that, of course, would defeat the purpose of running on LP !!!

  17. Jay

    I had my Midas Class C for 23 yrs. and finally things started to fall apart. The refridgerator quit on a final trip in September. I had all winter to think it all over as to what to do with the Fridg problem! I decided (after researching the wattage to run the Fridg) to purchase a good inverter that would run on 110ac the fridg.while driving all day. I did the hook up and gave it a try at home in the yard before spring and our first trip and the inverter performed surprisingly well. I was so pleased with it, I no longer had to turn it off when refueling or driving through tunnels or restricted areas Happy Trails Sonny Stop watching the calender and worrying about birthdays just go make some memories!!
    Best regards, Jay

  18. Jay

    I had my Midas Class C for 23 yrs. and finally things started to fall apart. The refridgerator quit on a final trip in September. I had all winter to think it all over as to what to do with the Fridg problem! I decided (after researching the wattage to run the Fridg) to purchase a good inverter that would run on 110ac the fridg.while driving all day. I did the hook up and gave it a try at home in the yard before spring and our first trip and the inverter performed surprisingly well. I was so pleased with it, I no longer had to turn it off when refueling or driving through tunnels or restricted areas Happy Trails Sonny Stop watching the calender and worrying about birthdays just go make some memories!!
    Best regards, Jay

  19. Jay

    I had my Midas Class C for 23 yrs. and finally things started to fall apart. The refridgerator quit on a final trip in September. I had all winter to think it all over as to what to do with the Fridg problem! I decided (after researching the wattage to run the Fridg) to purchase a good inverter that would run on 110ac the fridg.while driving all day. I did the hook up and gave it a try at home in the yard before spring and our first trip and the inverter performed surprisingly well. I was so pleased with it, I no longer had to turn it off when refueling or driving through tunnels or restricted areas Happy Trails Sonny Stop watching the calender and worrying about birthdays just go make some memories!!
    Best regards, Jay

  20. Fletch

    on my house batteries ,which are 6 volt are in need of change, can i switch this to 2

    12volt batts. 6 volts sure are costly

  21. Judy Ferrer

    We live in So California where the temps get up in the 100’s in the summer. When We take off on a trip. I take a cooler for perishables and plenty of ice. then use the cooler as an extra bench seat. I travel mostly with the refrigerator on 12 volt. I like the idea of the freezer packs too. You can also buy insulated food bags, fill with frozen foods put the frozen food filled bags in the fridge before you take off on trips. I have never had cold or refrigerated food’s go bad while traveling. Also. freeze a few water bottles and put them in the fridge to help keep the fridge cold while traveling. Where there is a will there is a way. I am always looking for a better idea. Thanks for all the tips.

  22. Richard Medlock

    In Cheyenne, and at other elevations above roughly 3000′, we have to run the generator while on the road so we can have AC for the frig. Due to elevations and gusty winds, the LP side will not stay on and will not faithfully reset itself once it goes out. So we have no choice. The good part of the generator, it’s a diesel just as the engine, and we notice very little difference in mpg even with it on. Quantify – < (less than) 1 mpg, ever.

    Richard Medlock

  23. Doug

    My Norcold AC element draws a whopping 27 DC amps through my inverter. Although not a lot for a truck alternator, it is substantial current for trailer pigtail wiring.

    So as an electrical engineer, I would not recommend an inverter if you have a trailer and your fridge load is comparable to mine. I much prefer the idea of moving ice from the freezer to the fridge and turning off the fridge.

  24. Dan Rambow

    Over the past two years, out of ignorance or bliss, I have always traveled with the propane on, because I love ice cubes and Dr. Pepper while driving.

    I don’t know if I just am lucky, or have an exceptional freezer, but my 2 door Norcold in my little class a, 32′ 2003 Itasca Horizon, keeps those ice cubes frozen. Including one day, traveling across Wyoming, well over 100 degrees all day long, opening that freezer door every hour or so. It must be just dumb luck, or those Winnebago and Norcold engineers, but my propane powered refridgerator works really well, parked or driving down the road.

    After seeing the videos on RV fires, I am thinking hard about the idea of shutting off the propane while driving, I like the idea of the blue ice packs being used during travel times, and will try it this year.

    There is actually a manufacturer’s checklist above my exit door that says the propane should be turned off when driving.

  25. Dale Wellnitz

    We carry a small cooler and put our lunch,snacks,drinks etc. in it in the morning before hitting the road thus no need to open refridg. until evening. We also do the blue ice or frozen water jug. We travel in the west and southwest and it works for us.

  26. Bruce Beattie

    I’m a new RVer.

    I just bought a new 2009 399BHS Open Range, 5th wheel. Other RVers tell me that it is important to have some type of water and power protection for my RV. I bought a water pressure protector (40 psi) for my unit but I am not sure what I need to protect my RV from high/low electrical issues. Does my RV come with electrical surge or low power protection or should I buy a protector that goes between my RV power cord and the RV park power?
    If necessary, what would you recommend for a power protector?

    Thanks

    Bruce

  27. Kylekai

    Darryl French states above “The state of California states it is against the law to have your propane on while traveling on the road in CA.” That’s not true. I checked with the CHP, and they say no such law exists. Call them yourself if you like: 858-650-3600 and ask for the “commercial unit.”

  28. my frige will not run on 120volts it trips the breaker

    -1
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  34. BETTY

    the fridge on our motorhome only works on generator not on LP any idea why?

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