Keeping beverages ice-cold for campsite enjoyment is a priority for most happy campers. Running an RV fridge on a 12v battery is as easy as flipping a switch on the panel of the fridge from running LP or 110 a/c power. An RV refrigerator can be run one of three ways, by 12v DC power, 110 a/c power, or liquid propane gas (LP).
Both absorption and compressor-style RV refrigerators are designed to run on 12v power. Though, a compressor fridge is manufactured with 12v power in mind, meaning it is more energy-efficient when compared to an absorption unit and thus, will run colder.
If you have one 12v battery or a series of 6v batteries, there is sufficient battery storage to fuel your fridge. It’s important to know that running your RV fridge is not the same as powering a residential home fridge. The power source of a battery is not unlimited.
Running your RV fridge off batteries alone is not very efficient. It will quickly drain your battery. For this reason, many RV users supplement power with propane or electricity from solar panels when not plugged into 110 a/c.
With this setup, it is possible to dry camp and power the fridge on batteries for longer periods. For those who must rely on campground electricity, it is still feasible to keep the RV fridge cool while unplugged. But you will need to remain aware of battery usage.
Can You Run The Fridge On 12V While Driving To The Campground?
Once you have selected DC power on your refrigerator, you are all set to head out. You can drive to your destination while running the fridge on your 12v battery. The battery will not power the appliance indefinitely this way though. You must keep an eye on the state of charge of the battery. If not, you run the risk of permanently damaging the battery or batteries.
Keep in mind that many RV refrigerators are designed to run at peak performance when they are completely level. If you primarily travel on asphalt, well-maintained roads between home and the campground, you won’t likely notice a difference. However, if you are traveling down bumpy, hilly, or gravel roadways your fridge may not cool as efficiently and may shut off altogether. To read more about leveling your fridge during use, read here.
If traveling longer distances many people choose to pre-cool their refrigerator to reduce some of the initial draws on the battery. You can do this by plugging into 110AC power and dropping the temperature. This will help extend the battery life by reducing the amount of electric draw by the fridge.
How Long Will An RV Fridge Run On Battery?
Running your RV refrigerator off of 12v power is not an unlimited option. On average, you can get several hours of run time from the battery, but exactly how long depends on a few different factors. As previously mentioned, a compression fridge is more efficient and will run off of battery power for longer than an absorption unit.
How long you can run off battery power will also depend on the size of your appliance, with bigger fridges using more stored power than smaller ones. You must also consider the electrical draw of your refrigerator. You can find the exact numbers in your user manual or by contacting the manufacturer.
Lastly, the amount of time you can run your RV fridge on battery will depend on how many and what type of batteries you have onboard. Lead-acid batteries, for example, should not be drained down below 50% of their power capacity. Lithium-ion batteries, however, can safely be discharged well below 50%. If you’d like to know more about the type of battery you have in your RV and how it works, you’ll find all the details here.
The number of batteries and total battery storage you have will also make a difference in the length of time you can run your RV fridge on battery.
How Long Will A 100AH Lithium Battery Run A Fridge?
A lithium-ion battery will run a fridge for longer than a lead-acid battery. Generally, you can expect to run an RV fridge for a minimum of 3 hours and up to 16 hours on a lithium battery. For example, if an RV fridge is a 60watt fridge, it will use 5amps per hour on a 12v system.
This is calculated by dividing watts by volts (60/12=5). A lithium-ion battery can be discharged to around 80% before potential damage occurs. This means you can effectively use 80amp hours. (80ah/5amp/h=16hours).
The things you’ll want to know to properly calculate how long your fridge can run on 12v battery power are:
-amp draw per hour (calculated by watts divided by volts)
-the type of battery (will determine the depth of discharge)
-total amp-hour storage of the battery
Once you have these numbers, you will be able to plug them into the example formulas above and determine how long your particular appliance can run on battery power. Keep in mind that during the initial start-up the amp draw is going to be heavier.
Your battery draw is also affected by anything else using electricity in your RV. The more things you have on and drawing amps the less time your battery will supply adequate power. For this reason, many people choose more efficient appliances and electronics.
How Long Will An RV Compressor Fridge Last On Battery?
Compressor refrigerators are indeed more efficient than absorption refrigerators. They draw less energy overall, doing the same job. The average RV compressor-style fridge will last at least 8 hours running on a 12v 100Ah battery. As we did above, some math needs to be done to calculate exact timetables for your setup. You will need all the same information as mentioned previously, and the same formulas.
The average compressor refrigerator uses 4-6amps per hour. Surprisingly, there are some models out there that draw as few as 1.2amps per hour. Typically, these most efficient models are a bit more on the pricey side. Some models are older and not as efficient, drawing at least 10amps per hour. In a case like this, you could expect an estimated 8 hours of run time on a lead-acid battery and 13 hours on a lithium-ion.
Again, be aware that upon start-up there will be a higher power draw from the fridge. Include this in your calculations, along with anything else you have plugged in, to factor in the most accurate idea of what your battery offers.
While it may be tempting to run out and buy the most efficient 12v refrigerator on the market, there may be better-suited options that don’t cost as much. Switching your fridge to a different power source may solve your efficiency worries.
Does An RV Fridge Function More Efficiently On Propane Or Electric?
The answer to this question will depend on what type of electricity is being used. An RV fridge will function more efficiently on propane than on 12V DC power but runs most efficiently on 110AC power. How long you can run your RV fridge on batteries has already been factored above.
Running on propane, the refrigerator will stay cool for at least a week or more, using only a stand 20-pound tank. If plugged into 110AC shore power, you could run the ridge indefinitely.
As far as efficiency goes, using electricity will keep the refrigerator and its contents cool for longer. But, this will require more power to get the unit from ambient temperatures down to an appropriate level. Propane, however, will cool faster and use less energy overall. In hot weather, propane run fridges have increased difficulty keeping the inside at a suitable temperature.
One advantage of running your fridge off electricity is that you don’t have to think about the safety precautions necessary when carrying or using propane. Some states require propane appliances and valves to be turned off while in transit. For the most recent and up-to-date information on traveling with propane, visit the National Fire Protection Association.