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Fridge Hiccups


kinseypw

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Yesterday i noticed that the fridge didnt seem to be very cold, but put it down to thee warm weather here in Yuma (90 outside). This morning when i got up the fridge was sitting at 65deg and rising and the freezer was no longer freezing, Did an inspection of the heating system - no yellow crud, flame is on, everything seemed fine. Switched to 110v - no change, so I started calling around looking for repairs. Since we are out at Ogilby Rd no one from Yuma was willing to come out but I did get some suggestions - turn it off for a couple of hours, hit heat exchanger pipes with rubber mallet, take fridge out and tilt it or turn it upside down! I tried shutting off and tapping but it didnt seem to do any good so I resigned myself to needing to replace the refridgerator guts. Got a quote for about $1000 for a new unit with a 2yr warranty and set up an appointment for Friday. Took stuff out of the fridge into a cooler but left the fridge on since it seemed to be keeping the freezer a little cool. About 4 hours later I just happend to check the fridge temp and it is down to 55. Freezer is now freezing nicely, Now what do I do????

 

I was told the likely problem was a blockage in the pipes circulating refrigerant. That it might clear up but would definitley happen again. I dont want to spend $1000 if I dont have to (living on a fixed income) but I also dont want to be stuck on a place where I am going to have to spend a lot more to fix the problem if it happens back in Canada.

 

Anyone have any wisdom to offer???

 

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If you don't boondock much replace it with a household fridge. When our Dometic died (just like your symptoms, eventually the yellow and ammonia odor appeared!) 2 years ago we replaced it with one from Sears. It was a very good decision. Installed it was 3/4 of the price you stated. Greg

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It is pretty difficult to do much actual trouble shooting based upon the little that you have told us thus far, but I'll try to point you in some direction.

 

The lack of "yellow crud" is not proof that you have not lost refrigerant from the coils, only one of the possible symptoms. Another symptom that points to that is any hint of an ammonia odor inside of the chill box or in the back where you looked for yellow stuff. The yellow is the anti corrosive chemical that is in the refrigerant. The ammonia is the primary part of the refrigerant and if it leaks out it will vaporize and the odor will dissipate in a fairly short time once it has leaked out. It is possible that you have a blockage in the cooling coils, or have lost coolant but there are some other possible causes of your problem. A factor to consider is the age of the refrigerator as there comes a point in time that it is debatable if the refrigerator is worth spending much in the effort to repair it and you have not indicated how old yours is.

 

It is normal for the freezer to work better than the chill area when an RV refrigerator begins to fail because the refrigerant is sent first into the coils of the freezer and then any remaining ability to absorb unwanted heat is then passed on to the chill area, where the temperature sensing thermistor is located. Thus the freezer will always be at a lower temperature than the chill box as long as there is any ability to cool left. You have not said what make/model your refrigerator is, but most of the newer ones will have some type of error code shown via the display so check your owner's manual to see how to check for them. If you have and a meter and are familiar with its use we might be able to give you some things to check, once you share what refrigerator you have.

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I was told the likely problem was a blockage in the pipes circulating refrigerant. That it might clear up but would definitley happen again.

 

To verify that it is a blocked coil.. check the tubes. The burner tube should be very hot and the left side of the coils would be barely warm. If both sides of the coils are hot, and you hear a gurgling then that would indicate a leakage rather than a blocked coil.. but assuming it IS a blockage issue you MIGHT try "burping" the coils. There is no guarantee they won't block again, but it's an old trick that can save you an easy grand.. or at least buy you some time to shop around without a gun at your head.

 

What you want to do is allow the coils to completely cool then disconnect and remove your reefer from it's mounted position. You want to lay it gently on it's side with the side of the coils that were not heating on the down side. Leave it in that position a good 8-12 hours. This will help allow the fluids to redistribute and release the blockage. Before reinstalling it.. set it upright, plug it in with an extension cord (120v) and extend the 12v wires back to the control board. Let it run like that for a couple of hours. If you're lucky.. you should notice that both sides of the coils are becoming equally heated. If so.. you're good to go for the time being. Reinstall your reefer, cross you're fingers and keep you're eyes open for a good deal on a new set of coils.. or if your reefer is quite dated.. possibly a full on replacement.

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Thanks for all the input. Fridge temp is now 47 degrees and dropping. everything seems to be going back to normal. I'm guessing this may happen again - any ideas on what the chances are? If it happened once is it bound to happen again or could I go another year or two without a repeat? What is the substance causing the blockage anyway? Is there a reason you cant empty the refrigerant out and replace with new ammonia? To answer Kirks question - no smell of ammonia at all, no gurgling on start up I can just hear the propane going through the burner. I did check level and we are pretty good.

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any ideas on what the chances are? If it happened once is it bound to happen again or could I go another year or two without a repeat? What is the substance causing the blockage anyway? Is there a reason you cant empty the refrigerant out and replace with new ammonia?

 

That's hard to say. It's likely, but not a given. You may go years with no other issue or it could clog again tomorrow. It's typically the corrosion inhibitor mixed in with the ammonia and such that forms crystals or thickens from either operating for a prolonged period (several hours sometimes) in a non level orientation or from simply sitting idle for extended periods. You "can" have your coils rebuilt, however, it's typically cost prohibitive. You're better off with an out and out coil replacement or a new reefer. There is no easy way to simply have a tech drain and recharge your coils.

 

Once the inhibitor has crystal formations there isn't much that can be done. They will continue to circulate through the system and are always going to be likely to hit each other just right to form another blockage.

 

Being forewarned is about the best you can do. Shop around.. keep notes of contacts.. set aside a few bones to your nest egg as you're able so you are ready to pull the trigger if the problem resurfaces.. but don't sweat it too much. It'll be what it is and all just part of the 'life'. B) You very well may just be able to burp it every now and again and get several more years out of it. Who's to say......

 

Glad it's doing what it should for now. If you don't have one already you might look into putting in a wireless temp monitor. They don't cost much and will alarm at predetermined temps. It could save you from loosing a reefer of good ets.

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I'm guessing this may happen again - any ideas on what the chances are? If it happened once is it bound to happen again or could I go another year or two without a repeat? What is the substance causing the blockage anyway? Is there a reason you cant empty the refrigerant out and replace with new ammonia?

While it is pure guessing to speculate about the problem going away for long term, I'd be surprised if it didn't return in the near future, but I'll not guess on how long the near future is nor the probabilities. The valid answer to that question would require knowing for sure what the problem was and we don't have that information. My best guess is that there was some type of blockage in the tubes and this usually comes from the chemicals in the refrigerant having begun to crystallize and when the solids hang up they can block the tubes and the cooling stops. If that was the case, the length of time before it happens again will depend upon how large the crystals now are, on how well you keep the unit level, how much you shake things up by traveling, internal temperatures of the cooling unit, and probably several other factors that I have no way to predict. If you are lucky, the coolant has only a very little crystalline material as yet and the plug was a fluke. If you are not lucky it may happen again at any moment.

 

But a plugged tube is not the only thing which could have caused the problem, just the most common one. There are a few electrical issues that could cause your symptoms but no readings were taken and no trouble shooting was done. In addition, the age of the refrigerator plays a part and the make and model of it could be a factor as well. In my experience, the odds of your refrigerator lasting for one more year are very poor, but there is just no way to be sure. If it were mine, at this point I would just wait, but keep a very close eye on temperatures inside(both the chill box and the freezer) and I would record them at least daily(every 4 hours would be better) to watch for any trends. If they both go down into a normal range and never seem to vary, the unit may last a long time but if the temperatures rise and fall over time, then it is probably not good news and I'd be prepared for future problems. Remember that if you leave the refrigerator alone for long periods and it should fail, you could loose significant amounts of food and also that food allowed to warm and then cool again may not be safe.

 

As to emptying the refrigerant and refilling, it is possible, but I have never heard of any RV shops that have the needed equipment to do so and it would probably be less expensive to replace the cooling unit than to replace the refrigerant. It is not the same as recharging the typical air conditioner or refrigeration unit in that those use a form of Freon gas for refrigerant, while the absorption refrigerators in RVs use a mixture of distilled water, ammonia, an anti corrosive chemical, and hydrogen. This is much more difficult to install and since the problem may be blockages, you would need some means of cleaning out the existing tubing and also of checking it for leaks or weak spots as it may cause a leak to get worse and cause a total failure, or even a fire.

 

There are several things which cause the aging and failure of the absorption refrigerant and if you are interested, Escapees Magazine has published the first two in a series of articles explaining how they work or you can find more information about this on the website of the author of those articles in the magazine.

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Thanks Kirk, you make good points.I am checking the temp daily and will continue to do so. I was able to do a little shopping around and found a reputable store in Idaho on our way home that will do the replacement for $650 so that may be my best bet unless something happens sooner. I guess its a gamble so we'll see how it works out

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