Refrigerator failure: Replace or repair?

18

By Tammy Williams
www.theladyisatramp.net

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.”

##RVDT1444

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Bill Langton
1 month ago

Our less than 2yr old Dometic failed this last spring. We were in Utah at the time, about 10 days from home. I too bought a great little dorm model at Home Depot that took care of us for the rest of our trip. Unlike your scenario, our cooling unit showed no signs of leakage or failure. Our dealer initially replaced the cooling unit after the same initial 2 week backorder delay and that failed to fix the problem. Even though our rig (Newmar) was out of warranty, they authorized our dealer (Guaranty RV, Junction City, OR) to replace the entire fridge on their dime. Since a new fridge was also on backorder due to COVID and supply chain issues, Newmar authorized the dealer to remove the replacement fridge from a new unit in stock! That was accomplished in 2 days and we were back on the road!

Hindsite being 20-20, I should have got a residential model in the first place as we are looking at going to lithium batteries, a whole house hybrid inverter system and 1260 watts of solar!

BadWolfe
1 month ago
Bob Weinfurt
1 month ago

My MH is 43 years old. Pretty sure it has the original Dometic 3 way fridge. I’ve had a few issues with its operating but found most of them to be caused by its rear ventilation or debris in the burner. The only part I’ve replaced is the thermocouple. Even a spiders web can restrict the airflow. Just a little time cleaning things keeps it working like new. Were they made better back then?

BadWolfe
1 month ago

“Fridge Defender” (arprv.com) to prevent fires and extend the life of our RV Refrigerators. Here is some additional information, in case folks want to know: The primary root-cause of RV fridge failure that leads to fires is the overheating of the boiler. Dometic and Norcold did the anallisis, clearly overheating promotes corrosion and in turn reduces service life of the fridge.

Corkey
1 month ago

I have replaced the cooling unit in 2 RV’s. Both were Amish rebuilt units purchased from Pines RV in Shipshewana, IN. Paid a VERY reasonable price (less than 1/2 of a new one) and replaced them myself. They were very helpful in both instances. A year after replacing the cooling unit in the small rv it failed. Pines RV replaced it free of charge only asking questions to determine the failure. They are always very helpful and respectful. The warranty on rebuilt units are excellent. I highly recommend them.

Last edited 1 month ago by Corkey
James Shoe
1 month ago

After I read about the many fires caused by the Nevercold Fire Starters I researched alternatives. I found JC Refrigeration in Shipshewanna, In. Set up an appointment and had them retrofit my refer with one of their units. Took about 3 hrs total. They also will send out kits if you want if you are a DIY type. I have a new trailer on order and when the fridge is out of warranty I will make another trip to Indiana. JC is now making retrofit units to convert the Nevercolds to 12 volt or 120 volt compressor units. 

BadWolfe
1 month ago

Anyone that would like to prevent the overheating and failure condition in RV Absorption refrigerators might want to check out the ARP product. It sense that terrible condition, then prevents your fridge from that failure point. Really knowledgeable engineer built and patented this product years ago. https://www.arprv.com

Last edited 1 month ago by BadWolfe
steve
1 month ago
Reply to  BadWolfe

I installed one of those ARP units. It has shut my fridge down 3 times so far due to high temp. Comes right back on when boiler temp drops. Could probably bypass the Norcold sensor altogether.

BadWolfe
1 month ago
Reply to  steve

Ya, it PREVENTS fires by stopping it from getting to that extreme overheating condition and then after the fridge cools down, it automatically starts the fridge back up, keeping the food cold. It should be designed into the fridge in the first place!!!!

Marilyn
1 year ago

We have replaced the cooling unit in our Norcold twice since our MH was built in 2006. The latest replacement was in 2018 in Mesa Az. We now have an Amish rebuilt cooling unit & it works great; hopefully it will last for a good few years. CampFridge in Tempe Az installed the unit for a very reasonable price. I would highly recommend Matt for fridge repairs if you are in the area.

Bryan Crawley
2 years ago

I refused to continue my travels when I learned that my “Notcold” frig could potentially cause a fire in my coach. I was already dealing with the marginal cooling capability. I decided to replace it with a Samsung residential. And thanks to an iRV2 forum individual, who posted numerous pics of his Samsung install, I felt I could pull it off. 5 Years later…ice cream rock hard, beer ice cold, 50% more cu ft storage and most of all, very happy wife.

Kevin
2 years ago

I’m counting my blessings! My norcold is 20 years old and still cooling like new. It could go at anytime but I have no reason to complain after this many years.

Winnebago Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Kevin

You definitely got your money’s worth out of it! Our last trailer had a Dometic “Americana” in it that lasted 15 years, before it threw in the towel. New MH has a Norcold, I hope it will last as long as yours. When it dies, I am going for the 12volt compressor model.

Jim
2 years ago

Bought my RV new in 2006, after replacing 4 Norcold cooling units in 7 years and having to wait 3 to 4 weeks each time for “Norcold to manufacture it” I went directly to jc-refrigeration. in Shipshewana, IN. They manufacture a superb unit. They installed it 3 years ago and it has worked fantastic. Ice cream actually freezes. I highly recommend them.

bob aikman
2 years ago

The Amish dealer is Pines RV service 260 768 7990 @Shipshewana In. bought many cooling unit always treated with respect he also builds new cooling units as well as refurbished ones ask for Larry

WEB
1 month ago
Reply to  bob aikman

From Pines website:
We are a wholesale company that supplies aftermarket cooling units directly to RV Dealers and Service Centers. If you are a retail customer who would like to purchase one of our products, please visit JC Refrigeration or RV Cooling Unit Warehouse for purchasing options.

Dave
2 years ago

In 2006, we bought a NEW motorhome. In 2009, we had a frig fire and Norcold paid the full shot of getting it replaced. They even replaced my Kidde fire extinguisher. 14 months later to the day, the same thing happened. Norcold wouldn’t do anything.
We opted for a Amish built replacement cooling unit and have been happy ever since. Much colder freezer, even keeps ice cream froze, something our eariler ones wouldn’t.

Bill T
2 years ago

Good to know. Thanks.