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Old 09-06-2009, 11:57 AM   #1
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So, yer RV refrigerator has gone bad eh?

WELL, so was mine...

It had been obvious during our search for and "oldie but goodie" MH, that a very high percentage of those offered for sale were advertised as having new or recently replaced refrigerators - leaving the suspension that an equally high percentage out there were also on the verge of NEEDING replacement.

In our case, I was right...

The typical RV refrigerator - usually either a Dometic, or (like ours) a Norcold brand - consist of 3 general areas of function, the electronic control module(s), the electro/mechanical gas flow module(s), and the actual freezer unit itself. Of these, the larger and more expensive freezer unit is probably the most challenging to replace.

The older,'88 Winnebago we just bought was in great shape - at least all we could see and realistically verify on inspection - the refrigerator was represented as in "good condition", and since all the other seller representations seem truthful, we accepted his word on the refrigerator as well. And indeed, the 2 first outings with it, showed it DID work, just not well. and there was the odor of ammonia inside after the doors had been closed for a while.

All other functions of the unit seemed fine - the box is a 3-way, 110,12 volt, and gas - and all the physical interior and exterior were fine as well - so what to do?

Our MH, a very clean 27 footer, was in otherwise great shape, but guys with similar older units needing a refrigerator, maybe new tires, and a few other high $$$ items or repairs, might think twice about refrigerator replacement - so what are the options?

No decent RV service outfits within 150 miles or so of here - so the choice seemed to be either pay about $1500 for a complete replacement unit - or else about $500 for just a rebuilt freezer section alone - and replace it myself.

I took the cheaper way out, I'm retired, so my time is pretty cheap!

This is not a pictorial "how to", just a simple example of what I did, the results, and impressions now that it's all over. Actual detailed replacement instructions can be viewed over on the website where I bought our specific Norcold 8683 unit:

Changing a Cooling Unit - Norcold Instructions

Here's the pulled, tired and leaking unit - note the upper section where the actual freezing/cooling coils are - they are embedded inside a 4 inch block of Styrofoam type material, and all that is installed into a matching cavity in the refrigerator back wall:



This pic shows the culprit leakage area - in the lower cooling section coils



Once replaced, here's a couple of shots of the repaired and reassembled box:




Once reinstalled into the MH:



Good-as - or better than - new. I made a few minor mods intended to enhance the overall cooling efficiency and heat transfer of the unit - it really seems to cool exceptionally well, and quickly, for this type of unit. The $1000 savings was easy to take, as well!

What did I learn - would I do it again, or recommend others to do what I did?

UMMmmmmm - maybe...

A 20 year old box like this, that sees lots of weather extremes, plus very corrosive operating conditions, CAN create very challenging conditions where removal of old hardware is concerned. Fortunately, I have LOTS of tools - quite a few of the out-of-the-ordinary sort used in other past unusual operations - and those were certainly required in this instance - extra long drill bits for DEEPLY recessed screw holes to secure the new unit - sheetmetal "nibbler", to make the OEM heat shield fit the modified/rebuilt new one properly - a die grinder, to grind heads off mounting screws and bolts that would NOT remove otherwise - and a Dremel tool for the same usage.

This (in my case, and on THIS unit!) is NOT a simple hammer, pliers, and screwdriver job, or one for the undedicated and/or non-mechanically inclined. This replacement , with all the associated cleanup and minor maintenance out in the cavity on the MH where the refrigerator lives, as well as the required cleanup, minor adaption and installation of the rebuilt unit, all consumed 2 days of relatively leisurely work - and all of one half of our 2-car garage - plus occasional help from my wife to turn the box over for various steps in the job, and the help of my brother in law removing and reinstalling the box in the MH.

Keep in mind, that once the replacement unit has been obtained, and work started, there is NO turning back - you ARE committed to the job, since very few commercial refrigeration outfits would touch what you've started at ANY price!

Would I do it again? Perhaps - but not with great enthusiasm - nor would I recommend others to try it, unless they had the time, tools, and dedication/motivation to tackle what is a time consuming and sometimes challenging job...

YMMV!
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Old 09-06-2009, 03:41 PM   #2
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Have you used the "newsed" unit in service yet? I did the same thing with ours, but the place I bought the renewed cooling unit from had a slew of not-so-good cooling units. After I installed the new unit, and re-installed the fridge, it worked well for the first couple of trips, then the freezer started getting really cold, and the fridge almost room temperature. I went through this and re-replaced the cooling unit 5 times, then finally gave up and bought a new fridge.
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Old 09-07-2009, 10:35 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tmh462 View Post
Have you used the "newsed" unit in service yet? I did the same thing with ours, but the place I bought the renewed cooling unit from had a slew of not-so-good cooling units. After I installed the new unit, and re-installed the fridge, it worked well for the first couple of trips, then the freezer started getting really cold, and the fridge almost room temperature. I went through this and re-replaced the cooling unit 5 times, then finally gave up and bought a new fridge.
By all means, tell us WHERE you bought your rebuilt unit, so they can be avoided!

These rebuilts are no better than the quality and thoroughness of the work that goes into them - and the replacement job is already bad enough without replacing junk with MORE junk!

Our unit was bought from Nucold Refrigeration Inc, in Morillton Arkansas - I sure hope YOURS wasn't also from there!

No trips with ours yet, just a few cycles out in the driveway - but there's always the danger of random crap, bits and pieces from the repair and previous use, aided by poor cleaning and testing of the rebuild, to come up at some point later and BITE you - and that WAS also one of my concerns in going this route instead of a complete new unit...
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Old 10-15-2009, 08:06 AM   #4
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Did you need to make any tubing connectiona? Where did you find the replacememnt unit?

Thanks Tom
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Old 10-15-2009, 04:43 PM   #5
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Irwin, the cooling units are completely self contained on an RV fridge. They basically attach to the back and have a coating of thermal grease that helps conduct the cold from the coils to the fins inside the fridge.

The main things you have to remove are your electrical heating elements, and the propane assembly before you can unscrew the unit from the back.

From the inside, you need to detach the cooling fins.
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