By Russ and Tiña De Maris
A few weeks ago we asked readers if they’d had problems with their Coleman Mach 8 air conditioners. We asked because we’d heard through social media networks of an increasing number of disgruntled Mach 8 owners. Plenty of feedback came in, some of which we’ll share here. We also contacted Airxcel, the holding company of Coleman-Mach, the company that manufactures the Mach 8 units that have suffered what seems like an alarming number of air conditioner failures.
Readers tell us
“We lost one of our a/c units this summer on a trip, a week after it went out of warranty. It just stopped cooling, blowing hot air,” wrote Laura Y. Somehow Laura got Airxcel to agree to extend the warranty long enough to get it to a service technician. “We are now due a new unit from Airxcel under warranty but, there are no units to be had. Patiently waiting and praying the front unit does not go bad.”
Laura has every reason to pray that her front unit holds up. Plenty of our readers had tales of multiple Mach 8 air conditioner failures. Jim D. has a motorhome with three Coleman units up on the roof – and all three failed. The first a/c went bad while his Tiffin motorhome was still under warranty. Jim tells us that Tiffin had so many Coleman air conditioner failures among its customers that they had stocked up on replacements. Under Jim’s service contract, Tiffin went ahead and replaced the other two Coleman units on his coach. Test-firing the replaced units, one of them croaked after a 15-minute run.
Jim’s experience should have prepared us for the story Chuck H. told us. “We purchased our new Thor Vegas last November. The a/c went out while undergoing orientation. Yes, before we drove it off the lot. While waiting on the replacement we’ve made a couple of trips during ‘cool enough’ weather, but had to postpone all trips this summer. Not what we’d planned, for sure.”
Blown travel plans
Mach 8 air conditioner failures also blew up travel plans for other RVers. “Our Coleman Mach 8 a/c unit in our ten-month-old Grand Design travel trailer died in early June,” says Rick W. “It is under warranty, but have been waiting nine weeks now for a replacement they say they don’t have. We live in Florida and have had to cancel four excursions to date that we had booked with friends.” His words echo those of Len S. When his front roof a/c gave up the cooling ghost, he haunted multiple RV repair shops in a vain search for a solution. He wrote, “Unfortunately for me and the many others in the same predicament there are no available units. I’ve been told that it’s a wait of one year or more for any units to become available. I now have an $80,000 boat anchor in storage.”
We could go on – there are plenty more experiences where these came from. Needless to say, there are plenty of frustrated, fed-up folks who’ve experienced the Coleman Mach 8 air conditioner failure syndrome. We reached out to Airxcel, Coleman Mach 8’s “mama.”
So we asked Airxcel
We asked Piar Adams, Airxcel’s vice-president of marketing, about what seems like a high level of his company’s a/c units losing their cool. Adams was quick to point out that Airxcel “does not produce or manufacture any products – it is a holding company of brands.” He did, however, agree to dig deeper into the problem.
We asked about the percentage of failed units compared to the number the company has shipped out. While we didn’t expect we’d get an exact figure back, here’s what we were told. “While I cannot provide specific warranty data I can share that our warranty units and dollars as a percent of shipments have decreased year-over-year for the last five years running,” Adams responded. “That is good news, but we take each warranty case seriously and rather than tie it to a metric, we empathize with our customer and relate to their situation and the urgency to resolve the problem.”
“Our warranty units and dollars as a percent of shipments have decreased ….” That’ll be a tough one to swallow, especially for Mach 8 owners who’ve had multiple units fail. One perhaps jaded observer wrote about this response. “They might be playing a numbers game. If the number of failed units has not increased, but warranty claims have, then more failures occur earlier, in the warranty period.” He added, “That would also support what you are seeing – people are more upset with early failures than they are with after-many-year s***-the-bed’s.” That thought may be supported by folks whose units fail minutes after the first start-up.
Regardless of whether the number of units failing is increasing or decreasing, the result for those suffering air conditioner failures is real. It’s also frustrating. Asked about the seemingly “forever” wait to get replacement units, Airxcel’s Adams responded this way: “To be direct, we’ve had significant supply challenges recently. We know this is becoming a common response throughout the general economy, and specifically with the RV industry – but it is true.”
Piar added, “The Mach 8 is further challenged because it uses a number of unique components. Other models of Coleman-Mach roof top ACs are not experiencing the same, time-delaying challenges.” He added Airxcel may not hear about a shortage of components until the day the parts are due at the factory. “Under normal circumstances our expectation is to ship warranty units within 24 hours.” Evidently, expectations aren’t quite meeting reality – what with some folks being told they’ll be waiting for weeks or months for a replacement unit.
Wait times aside, what’s causing the problems to start with? We’ve had several readers send us photos of their broken Mach 8 units. Included among them were images of broken copper tubing supply lines. We sent one of the photos to Airxcel’s Piar Adams, and asked about it. Response?
“We analyze our warranty incidences regularly and execute root cause analysis as needed for product improvements. In this particular case, while the components and product performance metrics are within specifications and tolerances, we identified some areas where improvements could be made,” says Adams. “As we analyze data across the entire Mach 8 line … we are not seeing consistent failures at a rate that suggests there is a systemic issue or failure. We are, however, pursuing improvements but I hesitate to be specific because there are different component variables that may affect one Mach 8 model differently than another Mach 8 model.” It may be our education level, but we’re not sure if that answer really gets us anywhere.
What’s the solution for overheated RVers?
Does Airxcel really know what the problem is? We’re not sure. Will they have it fixed soon? Maybe Airxcel’s “pursuit of improvements … [among the] different component variables” of Mach 8’s line will lead them to some solution. Sad to say, we’re not holding our breath. What’s the solution for overheated RV owners with Mach 8 air conditioner failures?
Much depends on whether your failed unit is under warranty. If it is, and you’ve already documented the failure and applied for a replacement unit, you may be stuck waiting in line. But for those whose Mach 8 units are kaput and out of warranty, it’s time to consider alternatives.
Mach 8 units are described as “low profile,” as their height above the RV roof level is pretty short. Airxcel specs their height at 8.25 inches. That’s the shortest RV roof air unit we’ve found. Chubby Checker in “Limbo Rock” asked that repeated question in the chorus: “How low can you go?” Better we should ask: “How low do you NEED to go?”
Can you go higher?
If your rig is typical for many with Mach 8 units, it stands fairly high above the roadway. Having a low profile a/c unit keeps you from “bumping your head” on low-slung overpasses. But we’ve noticed that some folks, even with low-profile a/c units, have other stuff on their roof that stands higher than the a/c unit. Think of some automated RV satellite dishes. If you’ve got something that’s higher on your roof than the Mach 8 and you’ve successfully negotiated underpasses or storage shelters, maybe you can go a bit higher with your a/c.
In terms of legalities, most states have a 13’ 6” height limit for RVs. On interstates, you’re generally good up to 16’, as that’s the lowest any typical overpass height can be. You’re experiences will vary, of course, so watch for signs! Get off the interstate, and urban and rural highway overpasses should be no less than 14’ without being marked.
How high are you – and how does it matter?
So how tall is your RV? Don’t rely on the information provided by your rig’s manufacturer. Many use roofline-to-pavement as their “measuring stick.” Vents, a/c units, and other attachments aren’t included in their height measurements. Get outside with a tape measure and determine your height on your own. Be sure to measure to the highest point on the rig. Write down that measured height on a tag and post it in plain view of the driver.
If you can add a little bit more to your a/c height, then there are plenty of a/c units that are presently marketed as being “in stock.” For example, Dometic’s Penguin II 15,000 btu roof air unit (on Amazon) specs in at 11 ¼” inches. That’s just 3” taller than the “failed” Mach 8. RecPro’s Houghton 13,500 btu a/c unit (on Amazon) claims to stand a mere 8 13/16” high above the roof. It, too, is “in stock.”
If you decide to shop for another a/c unit to replace your Mach 8, be clear on both the btu rating, and how the air is distributed inside your RV. Not all brands provide for “ducted” air, that is, where chilled air is blasted through a duct-work rather than directly into the room below the a/c unit. And, mind you, read the reviews. There are plenty of folks who aren’t happy with all of Dometic’s a/c units. Out of the ice box and into the fire? Maybe, but at this point, at least there’s a greater likelihood of getting a replacement unit if your “new” unit fails, compared to the wait times for Mach 8 air conditioner failures.