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.
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!
Here’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
OK, 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.
We’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.