By Tammy Williams
While visiting Jackson, Mississippi, I noticed things were not as cold in my RV refrigerator or freezer. After an Internet search, I learned about high temperature switches installed on Norcold refrigerators. Apparently some Norcold models had a bad habit of bursting into flames, and this recall box shuts the refrigerator off when the boiler gets too hot. According to many web articles, the switch has been known to trip when there is no overheating. There is a hack for that, which could save the expense of a service call.
I removed the outside panel and located the box. The red light was glowing, indicating it had indeed shut the ‘fridge off. There is no button or exterior toggle to reset it, but it can be internally reset by dragging a magnet across its surface. The trick is to use a strong enough magnet. Grabbing that souvenir from Mount Rushmore probably ain’t gonna cut it.
I use magnets to keep the bedroom television from moving around in transit, “locking” it to a metal plate on the wall. When I put one of those on the box and moved it around for a minute or so, I physically felt the switch and heard a click. The red light was off again. I was so proud of myself.
Six hours later, foodstuffs were even warmer. The hack did not work.
I called Magnolia Trailer Pro and talked to Rob. Waiting for him to arrive, I began the painful process of throwing away four garbage bags of food, saving some items in two soft-sided picnic style coolers I use for shopping.
Later, Rob pointed out the tell-tale signs of a cooling unit failure: yellow stains along the bottom of the compartment, indicating leaking ammonia.
A brand new RV refrigerator, which runs on either electricity or propane, was about $4,000. But then there is the issue of getting it in the motorhome: new installs require removal of either a slide out or the windshield. A cooling unit ordered directly from Norcold was $1,400.
Wincing at the thought of spending either amount, I looked around on the Internet for rebuilt cooling units. I spent hours online, looking at sites and reading reviews and Better Business Bureau complaints. Meanwhile, what little food I had left was thawing in the shower.
Many people replace their RV refrigerators with a residential model, which is certainly less expensive. That doesn’t work for me, as I like to boondock for days or weeks at a time and not rely on electricity. After speaking to a friend who is an expert in refrigeration, I opted for the new cooling unit from Norcold. It was backordered for two weeks. Growing weary of getting ice at the gas station every day, I bought a little dorm-sized cube refrigerator for 85 bucks at Target. It was just enough for Diet Coke, white wine, pet food, and a little ice for cocktails.
Rob’s fee for the service call and installation of the cooling unit was $450. Thinking that the part would fit in the small compartment outside the rig, I was a bit taken aback by that quote, but desperate as well. On the day the part arrived, I could not believe my eyes: the cooling unit is the entire back of the refrigerator!
It took both Rob and a helper to wrangle the refrigerator out of its cubby, put it on the floor and replace the guts on the rear. No wonder the labor cost $450!
More than $1,800 later, I’m back in business. The refrigerator is running even colder than it did before.
Nellie, my motorhome, is 10 years old this year (nine, if anyone at an RV park asks). That means the refrigerator is 10 years old, too. Since this happened I now know two other RV owners whose ‘fridge cooling units failed at the 10-year mark. Keep that in mind if you’re in the market for a used RV, or if you are budgeting for repairs on the one you already own.
Tammy calls Seattle home, but when on the road, she travels with her 2 dogs, Rocket and Pinkie, and Boss Tweed, her cat. A quote from her blog: “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”