Thursday, September 28, 2023


Norcold RV fridges keep failing—I’m done! New Amish fridge is a winner!

Two of my Norcold RV refrigerators have failed in the past year—one was 11 years old, the other was two years old. The first one I replaced with a Dometic—after fruitless months and dollars spent trying to fix it. That did not go well (the door handle kept breaking).

(Let me just pause here and admit I was an idiot to get a whole new fridge when all I needed was a cooling unit. I believed the RV repair shop that recommended it.)

When the second Norcold in my “new” B-plus finally bit the dust, after working part-time for a month and being checked by several repairmen, I was not going to buy a standard new cooling unit. A: I was done with Norcold. (And Dometic.) B: Two certified repairmen said the cooling unit I needed was on backorder. Of course. C: Several repairmen told me they just don’t build Norcold or Dometic like they used to; many are failing much earlier than in years past.

Forget Norcold RV refrigerators: Go Amish!

A friend of mine had gotten an “Amish fridge” at JC Refrigeration a few years ago to replace the cooling unit in her Class A and she raved about it. So, I made an appointment at the factory in Shipshewana, IN, (145 miles away from “home”) and got an appointment in a week.

FYI, in my good ol’ Google search I only found one other outlier company that replaces just the RV cooling unit—ATCO America Galvanized.

JC Refrigeration started rebuilding propane refrigerators and then got into the RV market. The owner, JR Lambright, added a 12-volt cooling unit to its line in 2017. This fall they are enlarging their “Dutch Aire” facilities to build their own RV refrigerators for larger rigs.

They will join a half dozen other alternative companies that build 12-volt RV fridges, like Furrion, GE, Contoure, Everchill, RecPro and Haier.

But JC Refrigeration is a relatively small operation and JR doesn’t want to overexpand.  Right now, the factory employs 11 men, builds 41 cooling units a week, and installs about 15 a week. The rest go to RV repairmen or shops.

The big question: What type of fridge is best and how much will it cost?

The big question was: Should I replace my fridge/freezer innards with the standard propane/electric model or leave propane behind and join the future: 12-volt RV refrigerators?

A knowledgeable friend advised me against the latter: I would need a lot more solar, better batteries, and a different charger.

Being the rebel I am, I went with the 12-volt. The actual cooling unit and installation cost me exactly the $1,100 price quoted for just a Norcold cooling unit.

This price included a three-year warranty; I extended that warranty by three more years just because it was so cheap.

What wasn’t cheap is what came next. JR said I would need at least 600 watts of solar to run my fridge/freezer. (I had 300 watts and a 1,000-watt inverter.) So, the company sold me 400 more watts of solar, installed it and installed Battle Born lithium batteries. That plus a new charger and battery monitor cost me nearly $5,000 more.

After the initial cost, 12-volt refrigerators are cheaper to operate because you are using less propane. Yeah, that’s a lot of propane, I know. But what I like best is I don’t have to keep my RV level anymore or worry about the No. 1 cause of RV fires. Plus, my cool cabinetry remains intact.

The only thing I’m not crazy about is that if my rig is in 40-degree or lower temps, I have to turn on the light bulb switch. It’s a long explanation why.

Installation only took a few hours but I stayed a couple of days longer at the Dutch Aire factory to make sure everything was working right. It turns out my fridge was “overcharged” and they had to adjust it. Since then, it’s had zero problems, although it is a tad noisier.

I always know what temp my fridge and freezer are running with a portable thermometer that is outside the unit. I can read how my batteries are doing in an app on my phone. Very reassuring.

I realize that with the Norcold RV refrigerator body, I am still exposed to the risks of latches breaking, which my research says happens a lot.

I also realize there are few RV repairmen who instantly know how to repair my Amish fridge if anything goes wrong, although JC Refrigeration will advise anyone. But the fact I return home twice a year where I’m just 145 miles away makes me feel better about that.

Am I glad I got an Amish cooling unit? Absolutely!

More from Jan:


Jan Steele
Jan Steele
Former newspaper editor Jan Steele started her career in third grade as a school correspondent for her local newspaper and has been writing for publication ever since, including a 30-year-stint at the Herald-News in Joliet, IL. She decided in fourth grade she wanted to hit the road as soon as she could—and retired eight years ago to RV full-time.


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27 days ago

JC Refrigeration (Dutch Aire) is great. They retrofitted my absorption Dometic with a 12 volt compressor cooling unit. Works really well. Great service from them too.

The LIGHT switch in the absorption boxes keeps the courtesy lamp on in the main cabinet which makes the compressor run more and causes the freezer to get colder. Ice cream actually stays frozen.

Robert R Hill
30 days ago

We put in one of JC Refrigeration’s Cooling units many years ago. 2 years ago we started having problems with it. We went to JC’s to have it checked out. We were offered a great deal to replace the cooling unit with the 120 vac compressor unit and their control system. Nothing about it is Norcold anymore as they have a really good control replacement.
Absolutely love it!

Pierre Woody
27 days ago
Reply to  Robert R Hill

I don’t get it? How is it good that it only lasted 2 years?

Janette Steele
30 days ago

Dave: Say watt?? Clever! 🙃 am trying to say the light that comes on when you open door is the one you have to turn on if it’s 40 degrees outside… I don’t plan to camp in cold weather so my lithiums should be fine… but it did get down past freezing a few days last winter in Tampa!!

Joe Mars
1 month ago

For extended dry camping my 12V fridge uses 11amps when both compressors and all three fans are running. In hot weather this will take down my 200amp battery by day three its is flat. So I need to start my generator and run a garage size battery charge (set to 50amp boost). I do this in the morning and before bed for 1 1/2 hours.
This works for me and that JC fridge keeps my freezer at zero to 4F .

I would like to know what the freezer temps are for a good propane fridge running for three days in the woods in hot weather ? Anyone ever checked ???

Don Sayer
30 days ago
Reply to  Joe Mars

Ice cream is rock hard, Norcold set to #5 on propane.

Ed Hoog
20 days ago
Reply to  Don Sayer

In Fort Myers last winter, several days it got into the 90s. Our Norcold 2118 was set at 9 and the freezer never got to 0deg. Very happy for you, but very frustrating that some appear to work fine and others don’t. I’ve tried many things and ours just doesn’t cool.

26 days ago
Reply to  Joe Mars

Mine is -5 to -10 degrees at 5 with replacement gas electric cooling unit from jc

Neal Davis
1 month ago

Thank you, Jan! Very interesting stuff. Congratulations on all your upgrades. 🙂

1 month ago

I drove to JC Refrigeration in the evening and spent the night in their parking lot. They opened their garage door and waived me in exactly at my appointment time. They had my failed Dometic retrofitted in about an hour and a half. I bought the remote display and the double warranty. My wife and I are both delighted with the new 12V unit and feel much safer with the propane valves off when we drive. Now we start the refrigerator when we wake up on the morning of the trip instead of leaving a propane fire on overnight to cool the fridge. JC is highly recommended by this satisfied customer. As a bonus, the people are extremely knowledgeable and pleasant.

Bob Weinfurt
1 month ago

My 1977 MH has the original Dometic 3 way fridge. It still works.

1 month ago

JC is the best! I had a norcold fail less than 2 years old, JC Refrigeration put a new coil pack on the back with a 3-year warranty and a great price. That was about three and a half years ago and that refrigerator has never been colder and more reliable. I would definitely recommend JC refrigeration and Dutch air.

1 month ago

I must be one of the lucky Norcold owners. 35 years old, one new brain before I got my rig.
Last week and the weeks before traveling in Wa.-Id.-Mt. 105*+- temps outside, freezer temp -7*. Cold-cold Klondike Bars, several flavors….Yuummmm.

Ronald Theede
1 month ago

I replaced three 1210 norcold refers and at least three norcold cooling units. They all failed. Apparently, norcold told my tech that they have been sending out defective units. My tech talked norcold into sending a 12volt refer. He installed it, and now I finally have a working refer after 22 months of non-working refers. We lost 2 years of camping as a result of bad norcold refers.
To my good fortune, the original replacement refer and subsequent refers and cooling units were under warranty. There was no charge for the final 12volt refer. It’s larger and cools faster.

John S
1 month ago
Reply to  Ronald Theede

Ronald, may I ask why you didn’t go camping for two years because your fridge didn’t work? Just wondering?

Tommy Molnar
1 month ago

When our 11 year old Norcold fridge bit the dust (in Houston on a 106 degree day!) we were quickly on the hunt for another one since ours lasted as long as it did. Luckily we were unable to find one (quickly, because keeping our stuff cold in borrowed coolers was sketchy at best) anywhere near and instead opted for a 120v ac Haier brand fridge at Home Depot for $450. It fit EXACTLY in the spot our old Norcold resided. Our fave mobile repair guys (Mitch’s Mobile RV Repair) removed the old fridge and installed our new one. I’m WAY too old to even THINK of lifting stuff that heavy. The new fridge is magnificent! As others have mentioned, ice cream is cold and ice cubes don’t turn into a big block of attached cubes. I run it on our inverter when going down the road. Solar and lithium batteries keep plenty of power to operate it when not hooked up to shore power. And, as an added bonus, there is much more room inside than simply converting our old fridge at JC.

Richard Izzi
1 month ago

I had a problem with my Norcold and it started when it was new. The temperature setting had to be at the coldest setting for it to stay cool. After several years it finally stopped cooling. I then did my own troubleshooting and found both thermistors had failed. Replaced both of them (very low cost) and now it works perfectly. Temperature in the fridge maintains 38 deg F with the control set in the middle of the range.

Rolling Coal
1 month ago

Our Norcold 1210 cooling unit failed two months ago. It took me a little over 4 hours to replace it with the JC cooling unit. The design (these are not copies of Dometic & Norcold)), material and build quality is noticeably superior along with a 3 year warranty with an option to double that makes this an easy choice vs. the Norcold replacement with 1 year warranty. So far, it’s performed like a champ!

Cheri Sicard
1 month ago

I am currently going through hell with Norcold over a brand new fridge that almost caught the trailer on fire less than 2 weeks after installing it.

Bob M
1 month ago

I’ve had bad luck with a Dometic Fridge as well as the stupid company told the service technician. I have a Norcold Fridge and haven’t had any problem. It does keep the ice cream cold. Just have to check that when it switches from elect to propane it did. I’m not sold on 12v fridges yet. The manufacturers never put enough solar or batteries to keep them running. Some 12v fridges have issues depending on who made them. Wish there was a Consumers tester for RV’s and RV equipment.

Bruce Williams
1 month ago

“Service is limited outside of the installing company”…Good news is that the Amish unit is built like a tank and just don’t seem to have problems. I have had mine for 4 years and am still thrilled. I was one of their first customers for a solar install when they started that line of business. Heck, back then they were not even carrying Battleborn or Renergy products. Highly recommend JC Refrigeration.

1 month ago

“light bulb switch” ?? … kind of left us having on this one…

1 month ago
Reply to  Paul

I think the light bulb switch is for a light bulb in the battery compartment as the lithium batteries won’t work at that 40 degree & lower temperature! Some brands come with heaters built in!

1 month ago
Reply to  DAVE

Lithiums work fine on the output side down to -4f .. they just won’t take a charge if ambient is under 32f.
Yes you can buy a lithium battery with a built in heater but that takes 3 amps per hour to operate.
In reality I don’t spend much daylight in less than 32f and if so my 200ah of battery will cover most of my needs for a few days.

Explorer Outdoors
1 month ago
Reply to  DAVE

This is incorrect. Lithiums do work below 40*, however if your lithium battery has a built in BMS, the battery will stop accepting a charge at around 32* F, but will continue to allow a discharge down to around 0*F. There are several ways to get around this including battery heaters or battery heating blankets

Janette Steele
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul

The bulb that lights the fridge when you open it … switch has to be turned on if camping below 40 degrees

1 month ago
Reply to  Janette Steele

Say watt?????

G Smith
1 month ago

My Dometic fridge spewed yellow when it turned three years old. After some research I purchased a replacement absorption cooling unit from JC Refrigeration. The only difficult part was lifting the fridge back into place in our motor home.

We’ve now been using it for three years and it runs 24/7/365 with no issues whatsoever.

1 month ago

I had JC convert my Norcold “No-cold” to a 12V after a fridge fire and two years later it is still perfect! Ice cream cold perfect!
Would highly recommend JC Refrigeration for anyone even considering it.

1 month ago
Reply to  Leonard

Hi Leonard, what happened to cause a reefer fire? We have a 2023 Norcold and read nothing but bad things about it. They are no longer making the two-way reefer strictly the 12 VDC type here in the US.

27 days ago
Reply to  Kerry

Hi Kerry,
We stopped and hooked up to 30 amp campground power. Long story short but I tripped the breaker by using the microwave an a/c. When this happened my fridge called for propane and of course a spark to light it. Well from some rough roads my propane supply line was severed and the back of the fridge went up in flames. I was just lucky that when the breaker tripped I decided to go outside and reset the 30 amp pedestal. I saw the flames, ripped off the access panel and got the fire out. If I would have waited another couple of minutes the RV would have burnt to the ground! This happened in early 2022. My RV is a 2020 Montana 5th wheel. I had heard about fridge fires being a leading cause of RV fires, but who ever thinks it will happen to them?
Not only is the 12v fridge/freezer amazing, I no longer worry about a fridge fire. Ticking time Bomb. I hope this helps in your own decision.

Bob P
1 month ago

I backed out of a RV purchase due to the fact it had a Norcold fridge. Over the last several years every time I’ve read about a fridge fire it’s been a Norcold unit. I’ve always had good luck with Dometic but since the 12V units have came on the market I’m convinced that’s the only thing I’ll buy. We don’t boondock so having the propane capabilities does not affect us. Having a freezer compartment that keeps ice cream frozen is much more important to us. Can’t help it, that’s our main thing, we like a small bowl just about every night. Lol

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