* Norcold Refrigerator Recall *
Starting in about 2002, Norcold has had a gradually expanding recall on it's RV gas absorption refrigerators. The recall has been expanded several times from the original cooling unit mfg dates of 1996-1999, each time including units mfg'ered at progressively later dates. This has occured as RV fires triggered by defective refrigerators have continued to occur with units in the apx 5 - 7 year range. There have been over 2,000 RV fires due to this problem, with many RVs totally destroyed, and some deaths. The recall letter states "The nature of the defect is a fatigue failure in the section of the cooling unit which contains the refrigerant. This fatigue failure could allow the liquid solution to slowly leak from the cooling unit. If a leak occurs and the refrigerator continues to be operated after solution circulation has ceased the heat source could generate very high temperatures. At such high temperatures the steel material of the cooling unit could soften and rupture. If refrigerant gas is still in place when the rupture occurs hydrogen gas may be expelled and could be ignited by the high temperature, possibly causing a fire." Models included in the recall that I am familiar with are 4-door model numbers 1200 and 1201 ...however, many other models, including single door models, are also included. IF YOU HAVE A DOMETIC REFRIGERATOR, you need to be aware that they have had similar recalls for similar reasons. Recall information can be found at your manufacturer's website, OR just google "norcold recall" or "dometic recall."
Many owners have mistakenly presumed that if they do not run their refrigerators on LP (liquid propane), but only on electric, the risk of fire is removed. THIS IS NOT TRUE! Gas absorption refrigerators use heat to make the inside of the refrigerator cold. This is accomplished by powering heaters by either LP or electricity. So, even when running on electricity, there is great heat present in the workings of the refrigerator. The recall kit includes installation of a metal sleeve toward the base of the refrigerator chimney/flue. On the sleeve is a thermal switch, which is designed to cut all power to the refrigerator in the event of excessive heat being generated. When power is cut, the refrigerator will not run on gas OR electricity. The first picture here, on the left, is of a typical refrigerator BEFORE the recall kit has been installed. The second picture, on the right, is AFTER installation of the recall kit with the thermal switch.
How easy the recall kit is to install depends on the make of the RV. Many can be done without removing the refrigerator by working through the access hole on the outside of the RV. In these cases, the refrigerator might have to be taken loose and moved slightly away from the wall of the RV. In other cases, particularly in Winnebago motorhomes, the refrigerator may have to be totally removed from it's enclosure and laid on the floor inside the RV. This is because of the normally smaller access hole on the outside wall on most Winnebago motorhomes.
Getting the recall performed on our 2003 Winnebago Ultimate Advantage was a real experience. We are fulltimers, and when we received the notice that the recall had been expanded to include our refrigerator, I checked the Norcold website and found there were no authorized service locations in the entire state where we happened to be. I checked other locations along our planned travel route and found a mobile repair guy where we planned to be about a month down the road. I contacted him and arranged to have the recall kit meet us there. When the guy came to our location about a month later, he immediately said, "Oh, it's a Winnebago!". Then he said he would have to remove the refrigerator to do the job. After I volunteered to help with the lifting, he struggled for about an hour before the said he was unable to get the refrigerator loose without damaging the wood trim!! After a telephone consult with Norcold, they agreed that he could leave the recall kit with us, and they talked with me to arrange an appointment with a recommended service center another month down the road.
A month later, we were in Spokane WA for our appointment with RVs NW. In the meantime, I had done a little research and learned that in addition to screws under the trim inside the doors of the refrigerator, not only does Winnebago have four additional bolts inside the outside access panel, but they ALSO have bolts on top of the refrigerator accessible only through the roof vent!!! The mobile repair guy was not aware of the bolts inside the roof vent. In addition to the extra bolts, the refrigerator is "glued in" with silicone caulk. One dealer service tech I talked with said "Winnebago installs a roll-over kit" with the refrigerator. This ensures the refrigerator doesn't go flying around inside the motorhome in case of an accident ...great in case of an accident, but additional work when the refrigerator has to be removed. Norcold granted RVs NW additional labor time, and they got the recall accomplished in apx 5 hours.
That could have been the end of our story ...but it isn't. Only six weeks after we had the recall kit installed, with the refrigerator running on electricity, we awoke up one morning to find the refrigerator was dead ...no display on the front panel. After a little checking, we found tell-tale yellow residue inside the outside access panel -- a sure sign the cooling unit had sprung a leak and allowed the magic amonia to leak out. After further inspection, we found obvious high temperature damage on the chimney/flue immediately above the newly installed thermal switch. It was apparent that the recall kit did it's job, cutting power to the refrigerator as it began to overheat. The end result for us was having to have the refrigerator removed again to have the cooling unit replaced ... total cost right at $2,400.00!!! (that included 6.5 hours of labor at $100/hr). But if you think that sounds bad, a replacement refrigerator with mis-matched front panels would have cost around $4,000.00. As additional cost was $150.00 for a small "apartment" sized refrigerator that we used for about 10 days while waiting to get the refrigerator repaired.
The moral of the story is, if you have a refrigerator included in a recall ...Norcold, Dometic (yes, Dometic has had similar recalls...), or whatever ... get the recall done SOONER rather than later. Many owners mistakenly believe they are not at risk of fire if they run their refrigerator only on electric rather than on LP. They are WRONG ... the heaters that make the gas absorption refrigerator work are powered by either LP OR electric ...they get hot on electric just like they do on LP, and the refrigerator can dangerously overheat when running on electric as easily as it can when running on LP!! We were very fortunate in getting the recall kit installed before our refrigerator cooling unit failed ...the installed thermal switch shut things down before "excessive" temperatures occured ...too many others have had a fire, and some have died. Daytime fires sometimes are contained with only major damage ...nightime fires nearly always result in a narrow escape or death and a totally destroyed RV. *** GET THE RECALL DONE ***
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