NHTSA and Norcold Recalls

Norcold recalls collage

My hope for this page is that it will encourage other RVers who have had failed Norcold (and Dometic) refrigerators despite the many recalls through the years to file a complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  This is the agency who deals with public safety issues in this matter (not warranty or reimbursement issues).  I’m going to include my contact and correspondence with them as a follow up to the research I did on their website.  This agency cannot force Norcold to change anything about their design, but it’s up to us to make our voices heard and complain or it will just continue to be business as usual for Norcold, with us paying the price.

“NHTSA cannot directly force a manufacturer to change a design or their manufacturing process.  Typically, when millions of units are recalled and costly campaigns conducted, the manufacturer corrects course.  However, if there is a safety concern we can open an investigation which may lead to a safety recall.”

Since this has been going on since at least 1999, it’s pretty obvious by now that Norcold has chosen the path of what is most profitable to them and has not corrected their course in any meaningful way.

what you allow will continueBut as Alex Ansley, Sr. Safety Recall Specialist, further said, “From the safety angle, consumer complaints are the biggest source of our investigative data and we really need complaints filed through our website found here https://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/ivoq/Complaint.cfm.”

It wasn’t a difficult or time consuming process.  Just have your model and serial number and your story to tell.  Here’s the one I filed on 4/5/16:

I have a Norcold Model 1211 IMT refrigerator, serial #13285569 in my 2012 motorhome. When my cooling unit failed recently, my research found numerous recalls on Norcold refrigerators since 1999. I read through all related info on NHTSA website and the Complaint filed in a pending lawsuit. The common defect is the cooling units’ boiler tubes corrode prematurely and leak. If flammable gas escapes near a heat source, fires occur. Even if fires are stopped by their latest retrofit High Temperature Sensor, the cooling unit is completely destroyed and needs replacement, in my case costing over $1,500. The latest recall in 2010 (10E-049) included 1200 models produced from 1/1/03 to 10/6/10. Even though my refrigerator is newer, the problem is exactly the same. I know RVers whose refrigerators caught fire despite having the latest recall fixes and/or not being on the recall list. I beg you to look at the research I did about the recalls at http://maliasmiles.com/norcold-refrigerator-recalls/. The last info I can find on your website stops on Nov. 16, 2010 with a letter from Norcold to you, but what is new? It can obviously take Norcold years to include model numbers in the official recalls and in the meantime, owners are still in danger believing if they have the latest recall fix or if they’re not on the recall list, they’re safe. Yet it’s obvious failures & fires are still occurring, whether Norcold acknowledges it or not. Regardless of fire, owners like me who are not included in the recall are left to pay for these fixes on our own. The latest serial number Norcold lists on its recall site is 13085759. I assume these probably correspond with the 2010 date of the recall. At the very least, the recall should include all refrigerators with the cooling units that are the same as ones currently on their recall list. It is ridiculous that Norcold continues to get away with this negligence and I think more could be done by NHTSA to address this public safety hazard.

There is a lot to complain about Norcold and how this whole matter has been handled, but since the last recall was started in 2010, and no further meaningful changes have been made to the cooling unit design, it’s ridiculous that owners (or even extended warranty companies where you have to pay a deductible) are made to bear the expense.

Update 4/20/16:  At first I thought it was because it typically takes Norcold years to extend a recall to include newer units. Meanwhile, these repairs are the owners’ responsibility instead of Norcold paying for them.

But then I heard this from a very experienced RVIA tech: “The recall was NEVER intended to fix the problem of cooling units failing. It’s only purpose was to install a high temperature sensor, so, IF the cooling unit did fail then the sensor would detect the temperature rising above safe limits and shut off the power to the entire unit. It was never meant to fix the problem, only to keep the problem from becoming a bigger liability issue due to fires. They have had a big issue with recall kits not being properly installed which allowed some fires to occur.  This is just corporate America having a big liability issue and trying to cover their ass as cheaply as possible.”

At this news, a little light bulb went on in my head as I realized they don’t care that the expensive cooling units fail, especially after their 1 year warranty. But the fires that were a result before and some after the retrofit devices are the “safety” issue that gets the NHTSA involved. But if their “safety” devices at least do the job in stopping a fire, NHTSA won’t get involved.

I haven’t heard back yet on my complaint, but maybe what I asked for as far as including newer units in the recalls has been satisfied by installing the Thermal Sensors on new units at the factory. Doesn’t matter to them that they’re not working as it will probably take many more years for the complaints on the newest units fires to be documented. I’m compiling personal experiences on that now to prove this.  Wow – what a racket!  If those who say they have won’t take the time and effort to complain, then I guess it will just continue to be business as usual for Norcold.

Get-up-stand-upPlease think about filing a complaint with your particular details.  How can we keep complaining that something needs to be done about this kind of negligence if we aren’t willing to at least start with this much?!

Of course, your focus and info may differ somewhat, but start here and choose “Equipment” to see the info you will need to provide.  Then scroll down to type your Description.  (You have 2000 characters.) The site will take you through the rest of the data you need to include and you have a chance to review everything before you submit it.  Just remember, this agency does not deal with warranty or reimbursement issues.

Other avenues would be your state’s Attorney General or the Better Business Bureau.  I’ve heard people say this won’t do any good, but really – how do you know until you try?

divider-green

Here is the correspondence between me and Mr. Ansley to date:

April 3, 2016:  Hi Alex,

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me on Friday and offering to address my questions about the numerous recalls required of Norcold refrigerators.

My interest is that I am a fulltime RVer and travel writer and I currently am dealing with getting my Norcold refrigerator’s cooling unit replaced.  Even though my particular model is not yet within Norcold’s model numbers tagged for recall, the failure I have experienced is the same problem they’ve dealt with for years regarding their cooling units.  Even though my extended warranty company is paying for the replacement of my cooling unit so I don’t have to depend on Norcold for anything, my research into this matter has left me appalled at how Norcold has handled this entire matter and I want assurance from NHTSA that the public safety issues that are inherent herein are being properly addressed.  I’ve started publishing my findings on my website and want to be sure I’m providing accurate information.

I’ve started with studying all the documents listed on the NHTSA website related to the recalls of all Norcold refrigerators.  I recapped these issues on my website at Norcold Refrigerator Recall Information.  Regarding Recall 02E-044 and 02E-045, I saw in the August, 2002 acknowledgments from NHTSA to Norcold the following language:  “Norcold is responsible for the repair of this equipment from this day forward regardless of age or ownership.”  Both of these acknowledgments are attached.

In a subsequent letter from Jennifer Timian to Norcold, she refers to David Roberts’ contact with you wherein he said Norcold was unable to continue to discharge its obligations under Federal law since the gas valves that were the remedy are no longer available.  Ms. Timian informs Mr. Roberts that “…the onus remains on you to identify and provide owners a free remedy that will adequately discharge your obligations.”  She references the statutes that say Norcold must offer remedy by repairing or replacing equipment with identical or equivalent equipment within 60 days after evidence of failure.

Following that, Norcold argues that it would result in an “extraordinary windfall” for owners with refrigerators made before 1992 and those owners should pay for installation.

An August 29, 2012 email from you to Norcold agrees that this group of owners with refrigerators made before 1992 must pay for the installation.  This set of correspondence is also attached.

My question was to be when Norcold balked at replacing models with new at their installation cost regardless of age, why did NHTSA not stay with its original directive which seemed clear to me that “Norcold is responsible from this day forward…regardless of age or ownership.”  But from what you said today that you thought they are not obligated to keep fixing over and over again and only have to repair units that are 10 years old, there seems to be a contradiction there.

As I continue my investigation, I feel strongly that the full scope of these ineffective recalls and the dangers still present for owners of these refrigerators are not known widely enough and I feel it’s my duty to let my fellow RVers know about it as much as possible.

I see correspondence between NHTSA and Norcold about the latest recall – 10E-049 – where in 2010 NHTSA (Jennifer Timian) says Norcold has not met reporting requirements and seems to be concerned about their understanding of the defects and efforts to remediate them and she provides a chronology from her understanding.  Norcold responds with their defense and chronology, but I don’t see anything after that.  The last quarterly report I see online is dated 4/17/12.  What is the current status of this recall?

I find it extremely interesting that I, along with several other newer model Norcold refrigerators that are not part of the current official recall, are experiencing the same type of failures and yet we have no recourse with Norcold because we’re not on their list.  Of course, it’s taken Norcold years to include models on the list and even then are remiss in notifying owners of these recalls.

Meanwhile, the burden is on the consumer to replace these cooling units since they can’t be repaired due to one of the recall “fixes” that leave the refrigerator unable to be repaired.  This kind of information and testimony from Norcold’s own people are included in my research about one of the class action lawsuits I’m aware of, Jeffrey Etter, et. al. vs. Norcold, et. al.

I know this is a lot of information to take in, Alex, but I sure would appreciate your looking into this for me and providing your slant on what else can be done to assure the public safety regarding these products since it’s quite obvious that failures and fires are still happening after all these years, both to refrigerators within and outside the current recall.  Can anything be done to force Norcold to actually redesign their cooling units with better materials instead of continuing to apply cheap bandaids to gaping wounds?  It truly offends and alarms me that nothing meaningful seems to be happening here and I sure would appreciate hearing from you!

Many thanks,
Malia Lane
divider-green

From: alexander.ansley
Sent: Tuesday, April 05, 2016 1:58 PM

Hi Malia,

Thanks for your email.  I’ve read through the materials on your website and you have quite the encyclopedia on the matter!

I believe the wording used in NHTSA’s 2002 recall acknowledgement letter (that you bolded below) doesn’t give the full picture of Norcold’s responsibility under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act.  Norcold was (and is still today) required to remedy that recalled equipment if the equipment is presented to them.  The Safety Act, however, does not require Norcold to provide a free remedy if that equipment was older than 10 years from the date the recall was issued.  You can find that provision by searching 49 USC 30120(g) online.  Our email exchange with Norcold in 2012 (that you attached in your email) made clear that Norcold would still provide a remedy for the pre-1992 units, but would not provide free labor for the installation.  This was agreeable as, per the Safety Act, no-charge parts & labor are not a requirement for units that old.

Also, that 10-year no-charge remedy exception was just extended to 15-years by the recently passed FAST Act.  So, in future recalls the eligibility period will extend to products as old as 15 years.

As to your last paragraph, NHTSA cannot directly force a manufacturer to change a design or their manufacturing process.  Typically, when millions of units are recalled and costly campaigns conducted, the manufacturer corrects course.  However, if there is a safety concern we can open an investigation which may lead to a safety recall.  From the safety angle, consumer complaints are the biggest source of our investigative data and we really need complaints filed through our website found here https://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/ivoq/Complaint.cfm.

Thanks,
Alex Ansley
Sr. Safety Recall Specialist
Recall Management / W48-301
Office of Defects Investigation
US DOT- NHTSA
1200 New Jersey Ave SE
Washington, DC 20590
P. (202) 493-0481

divider-green

From: Malia Lane
Sent: Tuesday, April 05, 2016 6:24 PM

Hi Alex,

Yeah, for sure you’re right about the info I’ve compiled so far being quite the encyclopedia.  It’s not exactly light or enjoyable reading, but unfortunately necessary to try to come to understand this issue.  🙂

While I understand your explanation about the actual responsibility of Norcold and the age or time limits, I hope you can understand that I took the NHTSA words “Norcold is responsible for the repair of this equipment from this day forward regardless of age or ownership”  to be quite literal and that turned out not to be the case.

But I’m glad to hear they extended the eligibility period to 15 years.  And thank you for directing me to where to file a complaint. I just did and will encourage my fellow RVers who have also been affected to do the same.  It’s been too easy for Norcold to deny responsibility for these newer units that are failing for the same reasons as the recalled cooling units.  It seems to me that Norcold keeps dragging their feet and waiting years to admit the problems still exist in newer units because then the fixes are no longer being made at the owners’ expense.  I’ve even heard of cases where owners have paid for new cooling units when they weren’t on the list, and then after when they were added to the list, Norcold will deny the expense.

I’ll copy the complaint I just filed online below.  Thanks again for the response and your direction.  If there’s anything else you think I can do to get this recall expanded or any other action I can take, please let me know.

Regards,
Malia

divider-green

All the nitty-gritty information you’d ever want to read about the recalls Norcold has done on their RV refrigerators since at least 1999 and the nightmares this has caused thousands of RVers are contained in the first four pages of research I’ve posted to my website:

Norcold lemonNorcold RV Refrigerators – My experience when the cooling unit failed in my 2012 motorhome and the start of my research into this unconscionable company.

Norcold class actionNorcold Class Action Lawsuit – Recap of Etter v. Norcold filed in 2012 and still pending. This page also links other lawsuits that have been settled, including one resulting in the death of an owner.

Amish madeAmish Cooling Unit v. Norcold – I was happy to see there is an alternative to keep replacing with Norcold defective parts. And it also proves a better product can be made, so why isn’t Norcold doing it?

fridge recallNorcold Refrigerator Recalls – Getting into details about the numerous and ineffective recalls done by Norcold to its cooling units since 1997 and how they are actually now making things worse for the consumer.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):  This is the agency that deals with public safety issues in this matter, not warranty or reimbursement issues.

divider-greenMailboxYour comments and feedback matter to me. The only way I know if this site is of any value to you is if you tell me about it. I love hearing from you and my mailbox is always open. Contact me or please leave comments above. Comments from folks who have "journeyed" with me at Malia's Mailbox.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes