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We fixed our dead Norcold fridge’s cooling unit, but it was a lot of work!

I remember in the late ’80s when TV reporters filmed people in Poland waiting in line for hours to buy an exorbitantly priced loaf of bread. We all said this would never happen here at home. Hooey! While not as bad as Poland, the disruption in our supply chain, fuel prices and transportation logistics sure make finding a new appliance or its replacement part(s) exceedingly difficult.

We’ve grown quite fond of the nice wood front. It has more charm than stainless steel. And as a defunct fridge, it was good for storing dry goods until fixed.

When the cooling unit in our four-door Norcold 1200 propane/electric refrigerator failed, the begrudging conversation ensued: time to fix or replace it. First, my spouse began preliminary research on replacing this propane/electric fridge with a residential model, thinking it would be easier. Initially, we decided that a residential would meet our needs today as we boondock less, a metric based on the fact as we get older, we enjoy more comfort. That was problem one.

Prices and delivery times way up

Problem two was that we traveled every couple of weeks, so repair and replacement timing along with logistics were an added problem. So, to attack problem one, we went to “Woe is Me” Lowe’s and “Homeless” Depot. Our coach required a counter depth refrigerator which was built-in above a large fuse panel. The last time we were at Nathan’s RV shop, residential replacements cost $1,700 for stainless steel. Not seeing a floor model, we asked an associate. They quickly informed us they did not have this model and one would be available in about 4–6 months. Not surprisingly, the price had jumped to $1,995. After checking online, delivery options were similar.

More useless exploring for fridge

So, off we go to “Too Many Campers World” and “Glamping Outdoors” to find out our refrigerator replacement was between $4,500 and $6,500 plus installation. Yikes… That’s a lot of greenbacks! Not pacified with our initial findings, we needed an alternative. Our small in-bay fridge is strictly for beverages and condiments when enjoying the outdoors, but we could squeeze eggs and milk in it for the time being. It just couldn’t manage the daily needs of our big fridge. So, off we go to the local Wally World in Spearfish, SD, to check out small refrigerators, which we could squeeze into a spot in the galley… (hmmm… right where hubby’s dining chair sits…).

This was after the old compressor was removed and ready to be laid down to install the new compressor unit pictured below.

A temporary alternative for the fridge

We located a 4.3-cubic-foot unit that barely fit in the space. Since it was at ground level, the old body has to deep bend to find that consumable necessity. I called it “fridge Yoga” – and we lived like this for the summer months until we arrived back from Sonora, Mexico, (read about that adventure here) to Arizona, where we would be for an extended period. My hubby had been in contact with Nathan Davidson of Davidson RV, who recommended we replace the original ammonia cooling unit with a new compressor unit that was more efficient and manufactured by JC Refrigeration in Shipshewana, Indiana. And it comes standard with a three-year warranty! Impressive!

Another common-sense reason to repair versus replace was that cabinetry woodwork would be required before changing out to a residential fridge. Not cool. And Nathan advised us that a residential model might require changing out our inverter. Also not cool!

While it appears as if it is not sized properly, it was, in fact, exact. All pre-drilled holes lined up perfectly. It was sturdy and easy to put in place.

Installing the new compressor unit was easy

After viewing their website and installation videos, hubby called and discussed our problem directly with the manufacturer – JC Refrigeration. Satisfied this would fix our dead fridge, we ordered the new unit. This unit replaces the old unit perfectly and uses either a 12v compressor or 120v compressor unit. It’s your choice. They also have a direct replacement for the original ammonia unit, but we chose to go without the ammonia feature. The cost of our replacement unit was $950 plus freight. Hubby ordered the compressor on a Monday and the company shipped it the next day. We received the unit via truck the following Monday. Excellent turnaround time. It arrived completely assembled, sans wiring and minimal affixing to the back of the fridge. All components needed were included.

New compressor completely installed. Ready to be raised upright to sit overnight on the stand before reinstalling in the wall and plugging in.

After all was said and done, it was delightful to have the big refrigerator back. And, our experience with a manufacturer who still believes in customer service… fantastic! It’s what American ingenuity is supposed to be.

Kate Doherty has been writing for more than 30 years in technical and general media. In her previous business, she and her spouse dealt with special projects within the military/government sector. Recently she published “Masquerade: A Logan Scott Novel” under the pen name Bryan Alexander, a thriller now available in eBook and paperback on Amazon. It’s a page-turner!

##RVT1025

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Pat
1 month ago

I also replaced my fridge absorption unit with a dc compressor from JC Refrigeration. I drove to their shop and they changed it out in two hours.

Tommy Molnar
1 month ago

Did you get the AC or DC unit, and what is your power requirement experience? Can your batteries keep up if boondocking?

Dave
1 month ago

Kate, I am somewhat confused. Did your refrigerator start out as an absorption model and you converted it to a compressor model? The article title “We fixed our dead Norcold fridge’scooling unit” sounds like you fixed the absorption cooling unit, but in reality it appears you eliminated the cooling unit and installed a compressor.

Vince Sadowski
1 month ago

I have had Leon at National RV in Shipshewana replace the cooling unit in 2 refrigerators. About $1500 for a 4 door Norcold. Very satisfied.

wanderer
1 month ago

Another delightful secret of Shipshewana, there are Amish guys who work wonders with refrigeration. I used National for repairs, and they were very good. Those with problem units might want to plan a voyage through Indiana.

TIM MCRAE
1 month ago

Who did the replacement? Did you hire someone & what did that cost?

If you DIY how did you solder the lines, evacuate & charge the unit?