Caravan Fridge Errors & New Batteries - Travelling K
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Caravan Fridge Errors & New Batteries

It’s been a hot summer in New Zealand this year and I’ve learnt it’s challenging living in a UK caravan in this heat.

My fridge has decided to play up. It’s the worst time of year for this to happen as food goes off quickly and it sounds like the heat has affected a lot of other mobile home fridges.

Fridge Problems

My 10 years old caravan fridge has always been a little temperamental for me when running on gas. This type of fridge is called a 3-way fridge because it runs on power, gas or battery (if set-up).

Since getting a solar panel, I’ve been trying to run off-grid and not be plugged in as much. Partly to save money and partly because that is the type of camping I want to do.

This summer, the fridge started playing up.

Errors started regularly appearing on the fridge panel that were mainly gas related. Then the screen would go blank from about 11am to 3pm. I started doing tiny food shops as I could no longer trust the fridge.

I tracked down a gas man in the area who specialised in motorhome and caravan appliances, but he was out of town for the week. He sounded like the best option so I waited for his return.

Because the screen was going blank for just those set times, a theory formed that this issue was heat related. The sun was heating that side of the caravan in the mornings. I took off the outside vent covers and even tried an elaborate shade to try cooling it down… and it seemed to help that problem.

I started researching where I could buy a new fridge just incase this one gave up. A self containment officer had recommended getting a compressor fridge. I hadn’t heard of them before. They run on power but are very power efficient. Overall though, getting a new fridge looked like it would cost $2k and more.

Mark from Action LGP Services came out the next week to have a look. I listed all the odd errors with the fridge and he was pretty sure he already knew what it was. He took out a part that tends to get rusty in New Zealand… possibly the burner? Mine was stuck, so he gave it a good clean. The fridge worked… for half a day. Then another error started appearing all the time. Mark looked it up and said it was power related. The next step was to get the battery checked.

As it was a Saturday afternoon the battery shop was closed. I took the battery in early Monday morning. They charged it all day and learnt it wasn’t holding it’s charge. Time to get a new battery.

While this was going on, the fridge wasn’t cold when it was running (in-between all its other problems).

Food storage

  • I was able to pay a little extra and use the campground communal fridge. But then the attached room was booked which included the use of that fridge.
  • I couldn’t move the caravan to a powered site as they happened to be fully booked!
  • I tried turning my fridge into a chilly bin (ice box) but the ice didn’t last very long.
  • My neighbour kindly said I could store a couple of items in their outside beer fridge. Then kindy offered to let me plug into their home for a week until I got a new battery!

New Batteries

I’d planned to buy bigger batteries before winter. Last winter I really struggled if there were a couple of days rain in a row and no sun reached the solar panel.

My original battery was just 95ah. It’s basically the smallest you want to go. I’m pretty sure I had previously damaged the battery when I didn’t understand how long you could use the battery – turns out it’s just two days on that tiny battery.

Because I was planned to go away for 2 weeks, I wanted the new battery ASAP. I started ringing around and looking online before eventually deciding to go with AA Solar batteries. They were one of the cheapest, they set-up my solar panel so knew my system and they said the batteries would arrive quickly.

I’d been picking up bits of advice for some time. When I first got the solar panel, I was all about Lithium batteries and how amazing they sounded. But the general talk is how they are still a new technology so are very expensive. Deep cell gel batteries sounded the next best option. They are sealed and don’t require any maintenance. That sounds like my type of battery!

I’d planned to double my battery capacity with one 200ah battery, thinking this would be a huge jump! I found AA Solar has a 150ah battery which weighed 46kg and decided no-one could handle one heavier than that. Plus I’ve always been paranoid about my caravan’s weight distribution after warnings from different people. 

Talking to AA Solar on the phone, I was told this battery wasn’t big enough for what I planned to use it for. I’d mentioned my laptop as the biggest powered item, the possibility of winter in the South Island one-day and maybe getting a compressor fridge if mine finally died. Basically I could get a cheaper battery with a shorter warranty or get two 6 volt 300ah batteries with a 5 year warranty. Looks like I was getting the more expensive option!

The grand total for these batteries was $1k and it still wasn’t certain if this would fix my fridge issues. I had been hoping to get grey water tanks soon, but they have been pushed down the list.

The batteries arrived in town and the company helped load the very heavy batteries into my car boot.

I’d been feeling uncertain about my ability to correctly attach these batteries. Another of my neighbours is a semi-retired electrical mechanic and offered to help. I’m glad he did as I would have been stuck a few times.

Between the two of us, we shifted the batteries under the sofa seat. This is where all my solar power controls are. Fuses were taken out. A wire needed cutting and reattaching which is where I would have become stuck. A wire went from positive to negative on the two batteries which made them parallel or series batteries?!?! Still figuring it out. This means the batteries go from 6 volt to 12 volt which is what you want in a caravan or motorhome. But the total amp hours is still only 300.

My two new batteries

The power error has since disappeared but the fridge hasn’t been cold for the last couple of days. Seems to be ok right now… guess we’ll see how it goes.

What I’ve learnt

  • There are 3-way fridges and compressor fridges. A 3 way fridge runs on power, gas or battery (if set-up). A compressor fridge runs off your battery or power but is very energy efficient. A compressor fridge might make a bit of noise but is more reliable – it’s also cheaper!
  • Juicies are fantastic when the freezer is mostly working. They are sealed in plastic so can’t melt everywhere. The problem is if they overheat for too long, then they inflate and burst!

Overall, having a working fridge is really handy! Especially when it’s crazy hot and all you want is something cool to drink.

Have you had fridge problems this summer? Think you know what’s wrong with my fridge? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

5 Comments

  1. Robin Benton says:

    Karen, there are two things that need to be considered.
    1. Your fridge is an absorption fridge and needs a good airflow over the workings at the back of the fridge. The easiest way to rectify this is by fitting a small say 6inx6in 12v fan behind the top air vent and have it running on hot days. Have the fan so that the hot air is being pushed out from behind the fridge thereby creating as airflow from bottom to top behind the fridge. I have had this problem myself and this method really does work. You should be able the get a suitable fan from Jaycar or an electrical wholesaler.
    The fan can be switched either manually or via a temp switch (this is more difficult to explain the installation of here). I had mine manually switched which is easy to achieve.
    2. Your fridge may be struggling with the high ambient temps due to the fridges rating. These fridges are set up for different climates and yours may be set up for the English climes not for us here in NZ. How you can tell is at the back of the fridge inside the cabinet there should be a rating plate with lots of info. You are looking for an entry called “climate class” Have a look at this site https://www.whitegoodshelp.co.uk/climate-classes-for-fridges-freezers-and-fridge-freezers/. This is only I fo as you can not change the climate class of your fridge but should explain why you are having a problem in these high temps. My NZ built caravan has a Dometic absorption fridge rate “T”.

    I really do recommend the fitting of a fans to increase the air flow behind your fridge.

    Regards
    ROBIN (www.romanyramble.blogspot.com)

    • TravellingK says:

      Hi Robin, Great advice – thank you! Good to know about the fan from Jaycar. Think I’ll be looking into that. And I had heard the fridges in the imported UK caravans weren’t set-up for our climate. I’ll have a good read of the website link.

  2. bpetersen says:

    Thanks for the article post.Really thank you! Great.

  3. Alan says:

    Karen, these area my type of articles. Just remember with deep cycle batteries that you have, that you should not run them below 50%, which means your 300ahr is really only 150 ahr. In fact for maximum life expectancy, you shouldn’t let them go below 75%, which is only 75. ahr.

    All that nonsense you have been told about lithium ion batteries, by people who never used them i bet. The technology is not that new and they have been in cell phones for 15 years. The main advantage with them, is you can run them down to 10% and they keep the full charge. With ordinary deep cycle batteries, lights start dimming below 50%.

    If you want reassurance about lithium batteries, look at all the youtube RVers that have them. Not one regret and you cant beat the 13kg light weight. However, they are expensive. Nevertheless, 300ahr deep cycle costs the same as 120ahr lithium ion and you get more usable amp hours from it than on a 300 ahr deep cycle setup.

    Love your article, you are an excellent writer, very clear and easy to understand.

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