Norcold RV Refrigerators

Norcold lemonMarch 27, 2016 – For about three weeks now, I’ve been dealing with trying to get the Norcold refrigerator in my four year old motorhome fixed. When it became a mystery as to why it worked sometimes and then would stop, I started researching and the things I discovered pretty much freaked me out.  So I’m sharing what I’ve learned and I tell ya – it’s more than I ever wanted to know!

I started with basic research about stuff like:

RV Refrigerator Stop Working? Tips For Repairing vs Replacing ItRV fridge repair – “When an RV refrigerator starts failing (not cooling as well as it should), it means the fluid is no longer circulating properly through the cooling unit.  The nice thing about RV refrigerators is there are no moving parts.  There are no pumps to wear out, and no compressors either. All the work is done simply by heating liquid — like in your coffee pot.  When the ammonia is heated, it circulates.  As RV refrigerators age, the ammonia liquid can create sediment that settles to the bottom of the cooling unit.  This sediment will hinder the ability of  the ammonia to circulate properly through the cooling unit.  As the sediment builds up, the refrigerator will cool less and less.”

So I’m wondering, is my four year old refrigerator considered old enough for sediment to be building up already for this to be an issue?  It wasn’t news to me that Norcold had its issues since my 2000 motorhome had to have recall work done three times in the 12 years I had it. But it was never an expense to me and it had never quit working, so I was pretty complacent about the matter.  (Norcold Recall Info)

fridge post-it

Use it or Lose it:  “A refrigerator that is used once or twice a year over a period of 5 or 6 years is much more likely to plug up than one that is in continual operation.  Fluid movement keeps any sediment suspended in the fluid, which ultimately prevents any accumulation from occurring.”

Since I’m a fulltimer and use my fridge constantly, I would think my fluid should have no problem staying fluid.

At first I was simply interested in what broke in my refrigerator and how to fix it. I knew I had a good extended warranty company (XtraRide) and all I would have to pay out was my $200 deductible.

If you’re interested in all the troubleshooting steps I took and conditions that existed in regards to power, etc., I prepared this Timeline of Problems With Norcold Refrigerator so I could keep track of everything.

Of course both times it went out, it was on a weekend, so I turned to my more techy friends on Facebook and I got all kinds of suggestions, like:

residential fridge“You should replace it with a residential unit.”

But since this fix is covered now by my extended warranty and a new residential one wouldn’t be, that’s the best I can do right now.  Besides, even though I don’t often boondock, I don’t want to lose the ability to and right now I can’t justify the expense of solar, bigger/better batteries or inverter to make it all work without shore power.  And seriously, is it too much to ask that my supposedly top of the line, four year old refrigerator actually work?!

But if you’re interested, Here’s Lucy blog details how and why they did it with pictures of the process.

baby burp“Did you ‘burp’ it? It sounds like the ammonia is not moving in the coils to do the cooling, you have to turn the fridge upside down or take the camper down a bumpy road to dislodge the gases and get it to cool.”

Well, that’s a new one on me – I’ve never heard of burping a fridge! But I’ve been down really bumpy roads recently, especially getting to the BLM camping on Lake Mead. So if that bumpy road didn’t do it, I wouldn’t want to be on any bumpier!  RVTravel.com article about “refrigerator indigestion.”

thumbsOf course, I heard testimony from friends who were either perfectly happy with their Norcold fridge or the service they received, or from those who were at the complete opposite end of that spectrum:

My friend Helen, “Ours all went just a month after the warranty expired and Norcold was an ass. We bought a big fridge for our shed when the last one went out just before the Thanksgiving holiday. We were so happy to be able to move our food out there before it spoiled.. Then we went on a little trip for a week and came back only to find that the surge protector tripped and everything was rotten. It cost us over $3 K for the three outages and that was after our extended insurance. Can you tell what we think of Norcold??  Anne can tell you the horror story about her friend that had a fire in the middle of the night and lost animals. They escaped but it was about a year I think before they could move back in their Monaco.”

What I learned in further investigation into this whole RV refrigerator subject left me  puzzled, asking, “How does a major company like this get away with producing a dangerous and defective product and charge out the wazoo for it at the same time?”  And is there anything we as consumers can do about it?

suing you

Then I ran across this forum discussion in a large RV group: Norcold Class Action Suit Settled.  The suit was filed in 2012, but one of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit Jeffrey Etter et al. v. Thetford Corp. et al participated in the discussion with quotes from court pleadings and his own commentary and experiences. Maybe it’s the old litigation legal assistant in me, but I found this case extremely interesting and I wanted to stand and applaud Jeffrey’s stated stand and purpose in taking on the Goliath Norcold:

“None of the named plaintiffs (at least the ones that I know and have corresponded with) got into this case for significant financial gain. We all were greatly offended by Norcold’s corporate actions regarding the problems that we individually encountered and their total lack of supporting their clients (us) in a manner that one would expect.

We all entered this litigation because we felt a moral imperative in the fact that we believed / knew that there were potentially many fellow RV’ers who were in danger of significant property loss, physical injury, or death, and we were compelled to take a stand and say “This has got to stop!

We all bought our RV’s with the intent of being able to travel, use and enjoy them. None of us envisioned that we would be forced to spend more than two years of our lives conducting a battle regarding these issues. But we all felt that it was imperative that someone stand up and see the truth of this situation exposed to the light of day.”

Right on, brother – greatly offended is putting it mildly!

Rather than making this page even more unbearably long, I did a separate page with only information about that lawsuit.  Please check it out – Norcold Refrigerator Class Action Lawsuit – but be prepared to be outraged if you believe even half of the allegations.

I also had friends who just seem to accept this kind of stuff with comments like, “Just comes with the territory. These homes on wheels are fun but damn there’s always something going on with them.  Fix it and move on…still cheaper than paying property taxes and mowing lawns every week.”

zen dogI guess I’m just not evolved enough for this kind of Zen attitude.  It’s a bit hard for me to swallow how crappy these expensive appliances are made – not to mention how dangerous they can be. I understand you can’t expect a rolling home to not have issues, but “Just comes with the territory” sounds pretty lame in this case and certainly gives these companies no incentive to make better products.

I understand that not all units fail or catch fire, but that’s no excuse – way, way too many of them do. Are the newer ones made more cheaply to increase profits and fail faster as a planned obsolescence design of some sort? From what I’ve been reading in the class action lawsuit against them, that company is pretty unconscionable about the whole deal because they’ve known about this for years.  I checked the recall list when I first bought this motorhome in 2013 and have checked a few other times since then. It’s not on the list, but in what I’ve been reading from other owners whose units caught on fire, theirs weren’t on the list, either. In fact, one guy called and confirmed his wasn’t on the list and 3 days later it caught fire!

screwedSo that’s what kills me – unless we as consumers take the financial hit by replacing the refrigerators the manufacturers install by replacing them with residential style and then have to deal with how to operate them if we want to boondock by supplementing with solar or bigger inverters and batteries, we are screwed and will continue to be at risk.

Pardon the pun, but that’s pretty cold, Norcold and Dometic dudes!  Have you no conscience at all??

Lest you think it’s only Norcold that has this problem, Dometic has similar issues and I’ve even heard there are more reports of fires in them.  However, I’ve also heard from more satisfied Dometic users, so like everything else, it’s personal experience that counts with most folks.

And it’s not just consumers who are at risk.  I thought it was interesting what this RV repair/dealer decided after an RV caught fire on his lot:

Billy Thibodeaux’s Premiere RV – For over a decade, Norcold and Dometic RV Absorption Refrigerators have been burning down travel trailers, motorhomes and buses. Since fire is indiscriminate, damage is often not limited to the RV. The flames also destroy everything surrounding your RV; garages, homes, automobiles, collectibles and life itself. Although both manufactures have taken steps to prevent these mishaps, fires still occur on a very regular basis.

On July 14, 2010 a 2005 Newmar Essex, a very expensive motorhome, burned on my lot.  Fortunately quick response from my neighbor, who noticed the smoke, saved an entire row of motorhomes from being destroyed until the fire department arrived.  Inevitably I, along with everyone else who has ever touched this motorhome, will be sued by the customers’ insurance company.  Years of expensive litigation will follow even though it is clear-cut that failure of the Norcold refrigerator was the direct cause of the blaze that totally destroyed the coach and this is the process every time someone’s coach burns due to a refrigerator fire, tying you up in court for months if not years before they ultimately settle out of court.

To this end, I have decided that until the RV absorption refrigerator manufacturers correct this dangerous condition, we will no longer sell, install, or repair these units.”

Amish madeOnce it was determined that I needed a new cooling unit (the most expensive thing you can replace), my research for a better solution than just another Norcold replacement cooling unit led me to information about the Amish built cooling units.  See this page – Amish Built Refrigerator Cooling Units – for more info.

Only since I started investigating Ford’s response to the Escape being flat towable due to all the trouble I had based on their misrepresentations have I reached the conclusion that a company was totally without conscience and cared more for their bottom line than the very lives of their customers. I don’t think I would have believed this if I hadn’t experienced it for myself. But I actually think Norcold now takes the prize for the most irresponsible and heartless corporation!

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More Info:

Investigating Absorption Refrigerator Fires (AEG Forensics) – This is a company that has been retained to help identify components within an RV which may have caused or contributed to a subsequent fire event.  He gives statistics on Dometic fires, also.

ARP Control – I saw this recommended by a friend, so here is info on this control that supposedly provides safety aspects regarding fridge fires.

Mac the Fire Guy (Mac McCoy) – YouTube video explains how and why RVs catch fire.  “Four door refrigerators have a bad habit of catching on fire.”  When I spoke to Mac, he told me they should be called “Norburn” because it’s not a question of IF they will catch fire, but WHEN.  Whoa!  This guy is a nationally recognized RV fire safety expert, so when he says this, I’d pay attention!

Gypsy Journal (Nick Russell) – Shares his experience with Norcold going out, the red light being lit on the retrofit recall fix, and why he ultimately decided on a residential unit.  (Comments also from Dometic owners with similar reports of failures and fires.)

Norcold Refrigerator Fires (RVForum.net) – Norcold continues to install recall ineffective kits which detect high temps, that is too little too late.  The RV fires keep on happening (even with the latest recall). The largest models (the 12 cubic footer) seems to be most prone to fire.  (Of course, this is what I have.)

Another Norcold Warning (IRV2 forum) – Discusses option for Amish made unit and differences in installation, etc.  Knowing what I know today – would I do it again? Yes I would. Especially since I don’t have to worry about leaks any more, but also because the performance of both the freezer and the fridge has improved substantially.  Talks about Dometic issues as well. An opinion from poster rmcb that Amish cooling units are not as good as expected and install was difficult, but he later recants and states that Amish unit is good replacement. By far the majority of opinions are pro Amish made unit.

Misc. Info I Didn’t Know:  YouTube from Gary Bunzer (RV Doctor) – Norcold won’t run on propane at over 5,000 feet elevation.  Is it just Norcold or is there a way to adjust for this?

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help me please

I seldom ask for help, but this is so important, not just to me, but to all RVers who have these ticking time bomb refrigerators in their rolling homes. I fulltimed for 15 years before I truly became aware of the nature and scope of these problems, even though I had another Norcold in an older motorhome that had at least three recall fixes done. It’s ridiculous, but it seems that the problems are getting worse and more serious, not better.  We need to stick together regarding this issue, so please comment on any (or all) of the related pages linked below.  Tell me your story, suggestions, etc.  I’ve gotten lots of emails and private messages, but since I intend to share these pages of research with the NHTSA, manufacturers and dealers to ask why more is not being done to protect consumers from these dangers, the more support shown on these pages, the better.  Please comment below and/or on other pages and spread the word!

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All Malia’s Miles Norcold pages:

Norcold RV RefrigeratorsRecalls not Working

NHTSA & Norcold Class Action Lawsuit  ♦ Amish Made Cooling Units

  • Helen

    Spot on gal ! I have heard really good things about the Amish one but our warranty would not pay for a new refrigerator since it was the cooling unit that was out. We also looked for a residential unit but they don’t make any that would fit our space and we would have had to do major remodeling.

    • It is just the cooling unit that the Amish make that I’m talking about getting, not a new refrigerator. It doesn’t seem like I’ll have any problem with that, but I’ll report back once I know for sure. Thanks, my friend!

  • Daves nothere

    Very Informative Malia, I have marked the unit for mine as a future purchase asap.
    ps, its me tab, but daves not here lol

  • Thanks, Bazia! I totally agree with your assessment about corporate responsibility and how rare it is for anyone to really take a stand anymore against this type of greed that puts so many of us in danger, including our own government. Even as I continue to research this, I have gotten discouraged from the blatant disregard for their customers and only concern shown is for their profit margin. But now that I’ve learned about these abuses, I can’t just forget them. The bell can’t be unrung in my head and I hope others will show support by sharing their experiences and at least making their voices heard!

  • I really liked your article! Yes, they needed to be held accountable. Whether it be Norcold, Dometic, Atwood, or any other gas absorption model refrigerator, it’s important to understand what causes these dangerous cooling unit failures. We have some information you’d find interesting on what is actually causing the cooling unit failures. It’s not because of a cheap design or poor quality in production. Cooling units will fail due to prolonged overheating of the cooling unit, usually from off-level operation. There are ways to fix this. I didn’t see it mentioned in the article so if you have a second, give this article a quick read:
    http://thenorcoldguy.com/norcold-technical-blog/what-causes-norcold-cooling-unit-failures/

    • Thanks! I’m on the road and will check this out when I have more time.

  • I’m copying a comment from a reader who posted on my Norcold Refrigerator Recalls page. I had never heard of this and thought it important enough to share here on the general Norcold page:

    You mean NeverCold — oops Norcold. Just bought a brand new Grand Design Reflection 303RLS. Had them install duo pane windows and it has an Arctic package. Well we are camping in Colorado. Found out after the fact that the N811 they installed doesn’t work under 39 degrees. Are you kidding me! Lost all the food in our freezer and refrigerator. Temperature inside refrigerator is 60 degrees. Outside temperature right now is 42 degrees. NorCold (Thedford) said that without the Cold Package enhancement — a $90 part — it won’t work. Not only does NorCold have fire issues, they also don’t cool properly either. And install something like this in a fifth wheel meant to be used in cold weather! Go figure.

    • My reply to Sue:

      Well, that’s certainly a new one for me! A refrigerator needs an “enhancement” to work in cold weather? WTH?! Plus, they obviously didn’t make that clear to you and I would have never thought of something like that. That’s got to be up there with some of the most outrageous things I’ve heard from this ridiculous company!

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