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Norcold RV Refrigerators – Cool Options, Large & Small

Norcold RV Refrigerators – Cool Options, Large & Small

Norcold RV refrigerators have been making their way into rigs of all types since 1959.

If you have an RV built within the last 60 years, odds are good that your RV has (or at some point had) a refrigerator made by Norcold.

But are all Norcold RV fridges the same? If not, what’s different between them? Does Norcold make fridges for all sizes of RVs? Can you replace an older RV fridge with one of Norcold’s newer models?

Let’s talk about Norcold – one of the biggest names in the RV industry, and the fridges they’ve provided for RVs from the early 1960s right through to the present day.

Who Owns Norcold and Where Is It Located?

Since its founding in California in 1959, Norcold has manufactured and sold specialty fridges for mobile applications, namely the RV and marine industries.

The company was eventually moved to its current location in Sidney, Ohio, close to a large group of North American RV manufacturers in the Midwest.

Although Norcold has changed hands a couple of times since the early 60s, it remains a cornerstone of the RVing industry, right through to their newest iteration of mobile refrigeration, the Polar Series.

In 1997, Norcold was purchased by Thetford Corporation, a well-known manufacturer of RV appliances. Thetford owns the company to this day.

What’s So Great About Norcold RV Refrigerators?

While Norcold fridges can be expensive, they have a reputation for being innovative and durable. There are RVs on the road today with 20-year-old Norcold 3-way fridges that still function exactly as they did when new.

RVs travel thousands of miles over rough terrain, up and down mountains, bouncing through their adventures. They can sit for long periods of time without being used, and can be subject to wide variations in ambient temperature.

A Class B RV driving toward the red rocks

No matter where you take your rig, your refrigerator needs to be able to sustain the travel. Norcold fridges have a reputation for endurance.

From their smallest 30, 45, and 60-quart portable AC/DC refrigerators to their PolarMax™ 18, Norcold RV refrigerators are known for being quiet and energy-efficient, bolstering their reputation in the industry.

How Does a Norcold RV Refrigerator Work?

Norcold makes several types of RV refrigerators, all of which work slightly differently, to provide cooling in mobile settings (RVs and boats).

Unlike a household refrigerator that uses a compressor to run its cooling cycle, traditional RV refrigerators are “gas absorption” units.

Gas Absorption

Gas absorption fridges use heat to cool!

Absorption refrigerators can not only run on electricity, but also on propane gas. This is important for RVing (and boating) because a refrigerator needs to continue working even when it isn’t connected to shore power or a generator. (This is particularly important for boondockers like us!)

It’s important to note that the circuitry that controls the “brains” of an RV fridge always uses some 12V DC power. However, the amount of power required for the circuitry is minimal, making “propane” mode on absorption fridges highly desirable for off-grid use.

One downside to gas absorption fridges is that that aren’t frost-free, requiring periodic defrosting. For those of a certain age, that may bring back memories of old household refrigerators in the “pre-frost-free” era.

For far more information on how an absorption fridge uses heat to cool, see our detailed post on RV refrigerators.

Norcold manufactures several types of gas-absorption RV refrigerators, offering two or three cooling options.


2-way absorption fridges offer both propane-fueled cooling as well as 120V AC electric cooling.

The 120V AC aspect of the fridge is great when you’re plugged into shore power at a campground or RV park (or at home).

The availability of propane cooling allows you to operate the fridge while you’re boondocking (camping off-grid) or traveling from place to place.


A 3-way absorption style RV refrigerator offers the two cooling options noted above plus a third option: 12V DC power. This is for when you’re driving, when the 12V DC power is provided by your engine & alternator.

12V Compressor

A fully 12V compressor fridge runs solely on 12V DC power provided by an RV’s house battery bank.

To be clear, this isn’t the same use of 12-volt power that a 2-way fridge running on propane uses. As mentioned above, those use 12-volt power only for operating the circuitry that controls the fridge. A 12-volt compressor fridge uses 12-volt power to actually cool the unit rather than just control it.

What’s great about this is that it eliminates the need for both LP (liquid propane) gas and 120V AC. Of course, you may still require LP to power your furnace, water heater, stove, etc.

12V compressor refrigerators are also more efficient than gas absorption fridges when they’re running on 120V AC or 12V DC power. Because of this, they can run for longer off of the same type of power.

Unlike gas absorption models, 12V compressor fridges are also far less susceptible to frost, much like typical residential frost-free models.

There are a couple of different types of 12V compressor fridges as well, and Norcold makes both types.

Residential Style 12V Compressor Fridge

Norcold’s 12V series of residential-style compressor refrigerators range in size from 8 cu. ft. to 19 cu. ft.

The latter is a substantial size for an RV fridge, offering double doors on top and a large lower-drawer freezer compartment below (known as French doors).

Norcold's 19 cu ft residential-style 12V DC compressor fridge closed and open

Norcold’s 19 cu ft residential-style 12V DC compressor fridge offers double fridge doors and a large drawer-type freezer compartment. (Photo source: Norcold)

Portable 12V Compressor Fridge

Norcold also makes small portable 12V compressor fridges such as those regularly used by van campers, car campers, and boaters.

Norcold RV Refrigerator Options

Here’s a brief look at the fridge/freezer options that are currently available from Norcold.

Norcold Polar Series 12V DC Compressor Refrigerators

Norcold’s DC Polar Series comprises residential-style 12V DC compressor fridges.

This series is offered in 8, 10, 15, and 19 cu. ft. capacities.

An 8 cu. ft. 12V DC Norcold RV refrigerator

This is the 8 cu. ft. version of Norcold’s residential-style 12V DC RV refrigerator. The larger size is shown in the section above.

These units offer reversible stainless steel doors with curved edges and adjustable shelves for storage flexibility. The doors have travel latches to keep them closed during transit.

The fridges in the Polar Series have a “Night Mode” that reduces the compressor’s run time and fan speed to conserve battery power and reduce noise.

All fridges in the Polar Series have manual defrost to reduce battery usage and touch-control LCD panels.

Norcold’s Polar Series 2-Way and 3-Way Refrigerators

These RV fridges from Norcold are available in either 2-way or 3-way power options.

A Norcold Polar Series 3-way RV refrigerator, closed and open, with features shown

Norcold Polar Series RV fridges are available as 2-way and 3-way units. Here you see a 3-way Polar Series fridge, closed and open, with features described. (Photos/graphics courtesy of Norcold)

The 3-way versions operate on LP gas, 12V DC, or 120V AC power, while the 2-way versions use LP gas or 120V AC power.

With similar features to the 12V DC Polar models noted in the section above, these 2-way and 3-way fridges also offer automatic frost-limiting and optional ice maker and/or cold weather package (available on some models).

This series is available in 7, 8, and 10 cu. ft. capacities.

Norcold Large 4-Door RV Gas Absorption Refrigerators

Large four-door gas absorption RV fridge shown open and closed

The large 4-door gas absorption RV fridges come in 12 and 18 cu. ft. capacities.

Norcold’s Ultraline and Polarmax units are large residential-style absorption refrigerators.

Available in 12 cu. ft. and 18 cu. ft. capacities, these side-by-side 4-door RV fridges run on LP gas or 120V AC and offer considerable food storage/cooling/freezing space.

Norcold N2000 Series 12V RV Refrigerators

This is Norcold’s N2000 series of 12V compressor fridges.

These are smaller fridges available in 3, 5.3, and 6.2 cu. ft. capacities.

Three N2000 Series fridges shown open

The N2000 Series consists of three sizes of RV fridges that operate on 12V power. These are smaller units, available in 3, 5.3, and 6.2 cu. ft. capacities.

All three of these energy-efficient models include both a fridge and a freezer.

Energy-saving standby and night modes contribute to the efficiency of these 12V fridges.

Norcold AC/DC Refrigerators

Norcold offers a series of AC/DC fridges that operate on 12V or 24V power.

Norcold's smallest and largest AC/DC fridges shown

Norcold’s AC/DC RV fridges come in six sizes ranging from 1.7 to 7 cu. ft.

These RV refrigerators use Danfoss BD micro-compressors for energy efficiency.

They have low-voltage battery protection and high-ambient temperature shut-down. They’re available in six different sizes from 1.7 cu. ft. to 7 cu. ft.

Norcold Compact RV Refrigerators

These compact 3-way RV refrigerators run on 12V DC, 120V AC, or LP gas.

Three sizes of Norcold's compact RV fridges shown, doors closed

Norcold’s compact 3-way fridges are perfect for smaller RVs. They’re available in three sizes – 2.7, 3.7, and 5.3 cu. ft. and run on propane, 120V AC, or 12V DC power.

They’re available in three sizes — 2.7, 3.7, and 5.3 cu. ft. — making them perfect for small travel trailers and Class B rigs, and even for van conversions with electric and propane systems.

Norcold 12V Portable Compressor Refrigerators

Many van conversions, car campers, and even small travel trailers are great candidates for these small portable compressor fridges.

Three portable compressor fridges shown closed and open

These portable 12V compressor fridges are great for van and car campers, boaters, or anyone needing portable refrigeration with limited space.

Norcold offers these fridges with sealed compressors that have low-voltage protection built in, and customizable battery protection to prevent drain. (When voltage returns, the fridge automatically turns back on.)

These fridges have stainless steel interiors and removable wire baskets, making it easy to find what you need.

Norcold’s portable 12V compressor-driven fridges/freezers are available in three sizes:

  • 1.1 cu. ft. portable refrigerator – Capacity: 42 x 12-oz cans
  • 1.6 cu. ft. portable refrigerator – Capacity: 64 x 12-oz cans
  • 2.1 cu. ft. portable refrigerator – Capacity: 86 x 12-oz cans

With so many fridge/freezer units to choose from, if you need (or simply want) to replace your RV’s refrigeration system, there’s likely to be a Norcold fridge that would work well with your setup.

From the smallest rig to the largest, there are lots of absorption and all-electric options available from Norcold.

We Cut Our Fridge In Half!

While we’re on the topic of RV refrigerators, we thought we’d include the video below, just for fun!

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Walt Leutwyler

Sunday 7th of April 2024

I am a cheese salesman and have used a portable Norcold to keep my samples cool in my car when I travel. At night I plug the unit into the wall outlet in my hotel to keep my samples cool at night.

Walt Leutwyler

Sunday 7th of April 2024

@Walt Leutwyler

FYI, I have used this unit since the mid 1980s when I sold frozen hamburger meat. Now sometime we place the unit in the basement of our motorhome to keep wine cool.

frank conaway

Thursday 13th of July 2023

recently bought a coachmen trailer w/a norcold model N7V frig that has an issue...frig is off, plug trailer into shorepower & frig comes on w/o me turning it on- I can turn it back off, then when I unplug the trailer to put it in my shop, it tries to come on using LP- Can't find anyone at norcold to tell me why it is doing this- I want to physically turn the frig on when I want, not it to come on by itself- frustrating when you unload the thing in the driveway, turn it off & leave the doors open to air it out, put the trailer in the shop, plug it up, then go out there 2wks later & discover the frig has been running all that time w/ the doors open & theres 4" of ice built up in the freezer- I assume it might be a control board, but would really like to find someone to tell me for sure before I go 'throwing parts at it'


Thursday 15th of June 2023

Norcold is a poor quality product. Twice now I have had refrigerator doors fall off because of their poorly designed hinges. I would say look elsewhere.

Larry Miller

Sunday 9th of April 2023

Norcold engineering is the worst. This company has caused more RV fires than any other product. In addition, the gas absorption system is extremely sensitivity to how level the box is used. Out of level leads to a breakdown of the entire system and a possible fire. I recommend the 12VDC compressor system.

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