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Thetford toilet consumer says he got crappy service

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This is the tale of two toilets—and their very unhappy owner. Rick S. owns a Super C motorhome equipped with two Thetford toilets—Tecma macerator toilets. These puppies don’t just wait on gravity to evacuate—they wait for a jolt of juice to spin the props on their grinding motor and, from there, chop up and pump out whatever goes in the bowl. That is, on a good day—as you’ll soon see.

Too-quiet toilet

Rick and his wife recently set out for a three-week trip from sunny California, with a stop at an FMCA rally in Nebraska. Not too far into the journey, as it usually does—nature called. Sadly, when the Tecma was called to dispose of the deed—it didn’t. Pushing the flush command button responded in a too-quiet Thetford toilet. For those RVers who are rare enough to have two toilets in their rig, the answer would seem simple—just use the other one! But for Rick and company, the twin toilets became twin tormentors—neither one would work!

Thetford toiletHere’s where things get really weird. Tecmas have control panels equipped with LED lights and push buttons. One push button pumps a little—for little jobs, if you will. The other button pumps a lot—for big jobs, of course! The LED lights indicate that all is ready. If for some reason a button is not pushed in an eight-hour window, the LEDs wink out, and the Thetford toilet officially goes to sleep. In Rick’s case, once the eight-hour span had elapsed, a button push would revive the toilet, and it would actually work as commanded. That is, until the motorhome was fired up and moved. Once that happened, it’s back to the “terror toilet” that refuses to flush.

Becoming familiar with RV park bathrooms

Rick and the motorhome made it out to Nebraska, but, he says, both he and his wife became quite familiar with RV park bathrooms, since their own were useless. At the rally, between sessions, Rick spent plenty of time on the telephone calling Thetford—repeatedly—for help. Typically, Rick says, “I would get a recording most days telling me to visit their website for parts and troubleshooting information. On the days I was able to enter the queue for a customer service representative, I would hold for at least 40 to 60 minutes before I gave up waiting.” After days of trying, he still hadn’t been able to speak to a human being at Thetford.

After the rally, Rick had an appointment with the coach manufacturer for some other work. While the coach was in the service bay, the manufacturer’s crew took a crack at those troublesome Thetford toilets. They must have had the rig in the bay for more than eight hours, because they reported, as they pulled the rig out of the bay, “the problem was fixed.” Just for ha-ha’s, Rick checked their work. Sure enough, both Tecmas were out on strike—again. Since he had another appointment down the line, Rick turned down the offer to have the rig brought back in the bay for another round of toilet troubleshooting.

“Don’t want to hear your ‘SOB’ story”

It wasn’t until after the trip that Rick took another shot at Thetford for service help. This time, he finally got through to a live service representative. “When I started to explain my toilet trouble,” relates Rick, “I was interrupted by the representative with the statement ‘Before you go into detail with your “SOB” story, we can only help you with part number lookup.’” Asked what sort of attitude went with that statement, Rick said it was “short and rude.”

Interestingly, when Rick talked with the coach manufacturer, they, too, had tried to reach Thetford for help. Since they were an “authorized facility,” they used their top-secret Thetford service phone number. After nearly an hour on hold, they gave it up, too. They couldn’t get anyone to answer their call.

Had to resolve the mystery on his own

Thetford toiletOK, long story short. Rick, who has a background of building race cars and is pretty handy with a voltmeter, decided to try and solve the problem himself. The required voltage was definitely available at the toilet pump. He ran down the wiring, checking connections, and everything was good and tight. Then the “light bulb” moment came to him from his days of working with race cars. “Check the ground!” Crawling around under the coach and chasing the wires back led him to an area behind the rear tires. That’s where the toilet’s ground wires met up with the chassis. Sure enough, on removing the screw he found the telltale signs of corruption: corrosion. After cleaning up the crud, the “crap shooters” ran fine.

Well, sort of. A post-repair cruise revealed that the Thetford toilets ran flawlessly when shore power was available. But away from shore power and running on house batteries, things got a bit dicey. Finally, after dragging out his hydrometer, Rick found a bum cell in one of his house batteries. New battery, new day, toilets run fine. A combination of a bum ground, and bum batteries, made his bum supporters bummed out.

Thetford responds

Thetford toiletWe’re happy Rick’s toilet troubles are history. But for Rick—and for us—it raised a troubling question. Why was the service provided by Thetford so lousy? We reached out to Thetford and caught up with Laura Petee. After we ran through Rick’s Thetford toilet tale of woe, Laura actually groaned.

What’s the deal, we asked. Why can’t Thetford product owners get any troubleshooting help? Laura suggested the issue runs back to liability issues. Since a great deal of modern RV technology is beyond nuts-and-bolts, the company has to assume repairs are likely beyond the ability of the average owner. What to do? Petee suggests the best approach is to have a trusted repair facility or mobile RV mechanic get involved. They can call, and Thetford will happily assist.

All well and good, of course. As most RVTravel.com readers know, putting one’s rig into the hands of a “trusted repair facility” will likely erase your travel season, at the glacial speed that most shops work at these days. And as to “call and Thetford will happily assist,” what about Rick’s repair facility that called, and gave up after nearly an hour in the queue?

The answer there, says Thetford’s Petee, is timing. “Long call waits in peak season aren’t unusual,” she admits. Thetford blames the problem on what many other industries are complaining about: The inability to hire willing workers. She called it “The perfect storm of high season and labor challenges.”

When asked about the brusque “Don’t bother me with your problems. I only give out part numbers,” response, Laura Petee seemed genuinely upset. She described her feelings as “mortified” on hearing of the rudeness Rick received. She was quick to tell us that the company’s culture and attitude just aren’t that way—or aren’t supposed to be.

Use at your own risk

Thetford’s closing comments were that now, with summer behind, call times should come back to normal. That won’t help the stranded consumer cum repair person. Thetford simply won’t be handing out technical support to anyone who doesn’t make a living at it. As for those shortened wait times, we’d love to hear about your experiences. Sad to say, as competition among RV part suppliers gets limited, as big companies gobble up smaller ones, it may come down to this: Use Thetford—and any other RV component supplier—at your own risk.

Have you had dealings with Thetford’s customer service? We’d like to hear about them. If you can, please tell us the month and year. We’d like to see if “peak season” really makes a difference. Use the form below, and enter “Thetford” on the subject line.

Click or drag a file to this area to upload.

Other stories by Russ and Tiña De Maris

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Ray Morgan
1 month ago

Our brand new 2015 Itasca purchased in Nov of 2014 had a Thetford toilet. From day 1 it would not hold water with a soft flush. In Feb of 2015 we were at a Good Sam rally in Goodyear AZ. There was a Thetford booth there & I asked the people there what I could do to cure the problem. They told me to poor there “magic” chemical into the toilet for 8 hours and it would cure the problem.

I asked them, “If it won’t hold water for 5 minutes, how will it hold your “magic” chemical for 8 hours?.

They couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.

8 months ago that toilet totally failed, and we bought a new toilet. I was terrified of buying another Thetford, but my wife is vertically challenged & the Thetford was the only one that would fit.

Happily, it has worked flawslessly for the time we’ve had it.

Bill
1 month ago

In 1965 my father bought a new car with manual roll down/up windows. I asked him why he didn’t get the power windows, and he replied “Power windows is just one more thing that will eventually need repair.”

That was a defining moment for me and ever since I’ve limited my purchases to just about everything to a product that meets my minimum requirement. Of course, manufacturers pretty much only manufacture for sale products that are overloaded with ‘bells and whistles’ that are nice, but also future problems. That’s one reason my RV is a 32′ 1990 General Motors LaSalle by Champion. No unnecessary ‘bells and whistles’ on it other than those I’ve added, like my back up camera.

RallyAce
1 month ago

I worked as a project engineer for plumbing contractors for many years. The three basics of plumbing have always been hot on the left, cold on the right, poop flows down hill and pay day is on (place day of the week here). The addition of space age technology to something as simple as a toilet and plumbing is nothing more than over complicating the simplest of systems on an RV. Yes, macerator toilets were developed for space travel as there was no gravity to do its thing.

Spike
1 month ago

We have 1 1/2 baths. The full bath in the back has the Tecma because it has to pump the effluent to the black tank. But the 1/2 bath sits right over the tank and, thank God, the original owners had the good sense to have a gravity toilet put there!

Snoopy
1 month ago

In all fairness it had nothing to do with Thetford! They for sure had lousy attitude with customer service, something more common these days! Looking back to the solution, it was the COACH builder who installed the toilets, who didn’t do a good job & a dying battery. Hmm this article didn’t mention the brand name of the coach nor how old it was or bought old or new. That would be very necessary information! That bad battery must have caused other issues other than the toilet.
This article has left a bad taste (yuk) in my mouth with missing important information & the lack of customer service from Thetford!
Snoopy

Crowman
1 month ago

I’ve said this in the past if you can’t do most of your own repairs don’t by an RV.

Tom
1 month ago

Ouch! Part of the whole problem, finding willing and knowledgeable people who actually know their products.
This is not just a Thetford problem, but exists across our current industries.
Good catch on the bad ground.

Seann Fox
1 month ago

It’s why I like my low-tech best. Manual toilet, crank down stabilizer etc. much less to go wrong

Rick Myers
1 month ago
Reply to  Seann Fox

Yes, the KISS method !!!!

Bob p
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick Myers

Yes my thoughts exactly, the more technology the bigger the headaches.

Dan
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob p

How true. That still does not excuse literally crappy response to phone calls.

Bob p
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan

Customer service as with everything else today comes in the form of younger generation people. I hate to keep saying it but it’s all due to the parents who wanted to be “friends” with the children instead of being parents. You’ll have many years to be friends with them after you teach them to be good responsible adults. This dates back to the parents of the ‘80s until now. My introduction to this was when I was driving a school bus the last 6 years I worked.