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The Great Fridge Debacle (part 2)

See that crowbar? Things are getting serious

See that crowbar? Things are getting serious

Let’s rewind time a little. In the last episode on the ongoing saga of my broken fridge, I opted to drive out to Arizona to attend the RTR and Xscapers convergence rather than wait in Texas to get the replacement done at the Casita factory. I’ve not regretted my decision, but it’s now been over three weeks that I’ve been living out of a cooler and I’m ready to have my fridge back.

Why do I want to replace the whole fridge instead of just changing out the cooling unit? The cooling unit direct from Dometic is $695, where a new fridge is $1,095. Only $400 difference, and at nearly 17 years old what’s the chance of something else on it breaking within the next year or two? The trim broke over a year ago which means there was nothing to support the front panel and I had to get rid of it, exposing the ugly aluminum (have you noticed I haven’t shown any interior pictures of the Casita lately?) and all of the door shelves were slowly disintegrating too, bits of plastic breaking off that would eventually have led to them becoming unusable. I’d rather replace the whole thing and not have to worry about it.

Old fridge bits. You can see how the front of the door was plain aluminum

Old fridge bits. You can see how the front of the door was plain aluminum

With the official part of the Xscapers convergence over, I make a call to Southwest RV in Phoenix on the 18th. This is the place that told me back in Texas that they could take care of the fridge for me no problem after I explain that some disassembly is required to get the old one out and the new one in. As it turns out the owners are on vacation now and the fellow minding the store in their absence wants nothing to do with the project. To be honest I was sort of expecting a problem like this. It’s really, really hard to find good RV repair places. All the same, it’s aggravating.

It's out!

It’s out!

An hour or so of research and making phone calls, and I’ve made an arrangement with RV Master Tech. They’re going to order in the new fridge, and when it arrives an appointment will be set up to install it. In the meantime I get to stay longer at Dome Rock to attend the unofficial part of the convergence. Oh darn.

A week later on the 25th, the fridge finally arrives, but it’ll be one more week until they can get me in at the shop. I find a new boondocking area closer to Phoenix (more on that next post) and wait.

Yesterday, finally, I arrive at RV Master Tech. I have now been without a fridge for over five weeks. I drop off the Casita at 8:45 am and run errands in Phoenix. Around 1 pm I get a phone call, there’s a problem. Oh boy, here we go.

Jason, the service manager, is convinced that the old fridge won’t make it out the door, even disassembled. He’s thinking of either tearing out the kitchen cabinetry to make access to the door easier, or cutting a hole in the roof of the Casita and lifting it out.

Jason and his team inspecting the new fridge

Jason and his team inspecting the new fridge

Woah, woah, hold on. I know it’ll fit. I’ve talked to owners of older Casitas who’ve done it before. (Some time in 2002, Casita fixed the design and put a larger window in the rear of the trailer that the fridge can fit out of whole, owners of newer units can rejoice that they’ll never have this problem). Larry of Little House Customs to the rescue! I call him up and fortunately he has time in his busy schedule for an emergency consult. I hand the phone to Jason and they have a conversation on how to get the fridge out. No holes for Cas.

It's kind of alarming to see a big hole in your RV

It’s kind of alarming to see a big hole in your RV, see the yellow staining from the leaked ammonia?

Things move quickly after that. A crowbar is taken to the old fridge to get the cooling unit and door off. Three guys lift the remaining part of the body up over the counter through the tight space between the fridge cabinet and the bathroom door. It does fit. The new fridge is unwrapped and carefully disassembled to get it in the same way.

I spend the night at the shop. The fridge is in but not secured and the door is not on it yet. The shop has good WiFi and electric which is greatly appreciated.

Today the fridge is secured and the door attached with the special hinge kit from Dometic so that it opens to the left instead of the right. Now it’s just being tested to make sure it gets cold, and then I should be good to go!

The true test will be seeing how it’s working months and years down the road of course, but so far I’ve been pleased with the work RV Masteer Tech has done. They were reluctant to take the fridge out the front door worrying that it would damage the door frame or cabinets and I can definitely appreciate their concern for my property even if it did slow things down. (I did look everything over afterward – not even a scratch). They were willing to listen to suggestions from a third party who has done the work before, let me watch the proceedings, and offered to let me stay the night in Cas at the shop without me having to ask. They put drop cloths down to protect my furnishings, and even pulled out my door mat and swept the floor to clean up their mess.

There were four different rigs spending the night at the shop, a regular campground

There were four different rigs spending the night at the shop, a regular campground

The whole time they kept good communication with me on how things were progressing. They explained how they secured the baffling (didn’t quite catch the word, I think that was it) to make sure the new fridge vents properly, propped up one side of it a little so that it’s actually riding more level than the old one was (I could always tell by looking at the frame that the old one wasn’t completely level) and explained their process for bolting it to the floor and using screws through the front frame to make sure it’s secure. They also calked around the frame even though it didn’t strictly need it, to match the styling to everything else in the trailer again without me having to ask.

Woohoo!

Woohoo!

Basically, they actually care and that’s unfortunately rare. A lot of time repair shops will do the minimum necessary to get you out the door, knowing that by the time a problem presents itself you’ll be hundreds of miles down the road and they won’t have to deal with it.

I do not have the final bill yet. Their hourly labor rate is $125 and I was quoted for this being a 4 to 6 hour project, likely it’ll be six hours when all is said and done. So when you add up the cost of the fridge, hinge kit, and labor, I’m look at around $2,000. The fridge is the most expensive appliance a Casita has and yeah, it’s a bummer to blow that kind of money on repairs when I would much rather have had it for traveling, but it’s not the end of the world.

I bought my Casita at 13 years old knowing that the strain of full-time use on aging equipment would be great. I budgeted for replacing one appliance per year of ownership until they were all new and had the emergency fund to cover those costs. Next month, I’ll have had the Casita for four years and replaced three appliances (water heater, converter, and now fridge) so I’m actually slightly ahead of the game the way I figure it. As seen in my last post, I did better financially last year than in any previous year on the road so it was a good time for the most expensive appliance to fail.

And now it’s brand new, and I won’t have to worry about it being a ticking bomb that could run out of time at any moment. In a way, it’s a relief.

Edit 2/3/16: RV Master Tech only charged me for 4.6 hours of labor so final bill was a bit lower than expected. Here’s the breakdown

Fridge

$1,074.00

Freight

$95.81

Shop Supplies

$23.22

Labor (4.6 hours)

$580.50

Sales Tax

$69.12

Total

$1,842.65

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Becky

At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.

57 Comments

  1. Terri on February 17, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    Oh, I’m so thankful that you were able to take care of everything, and I agree with you, now you don’t have to worry about it being a ticking time bomb anymore. (And now since my trailer is 17 years old, you make me worry about that possibly happening here!) That’s how I felt when I had to replace the AC unit (which in my trailer is also my furnace.) It sucked to spend the money at that time but I know it can work just fine now, going forward.

    I’m also hoping to be able to replenish my emergency fund a lot too, with the new job gonig forward.

    Btw, that Larry guy sounds like he is a guardian angel or just all around sweet man to help you out. I first read what you said about their cutting out a hole in the roof and I was like “oh hell no!” just reading through it!!! Glad that it didn’t come to that.
    Terri recently posted..Off the Prozac!!!!My Profile



    • Becky on February 18, 2016 at 1:42 pm

      Yeah Terri it was hard to keep my cool when they recommended cutting a hole in it, haha. I’m glad Larry was available to talk to them.

      Looking forward to hearing about how how living at the lake goes!



  2. LenSatic on February 10, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    We’ve never met face-to-face, only email contact. I’m Patrick McCarrell or LenSatic to him.

    Are you having any mods done by him?

    Pat



    • Becky on February 12, 2016 at 4:11 pm

      Nope I’m not Pat, got everything I wanted done at LHC in Texas before I drove out. Still haven’t had a chance to say hi but I’m keeping an eye out! Apparently Konrad has an inflatable couch and chair inside his screen tent, I hope I get to peek at it cause it sounds like something. πŸ™‚



  3. LenSatic on February 8, 2016 at 9:43 pm

    Too bad you didn’t get that rear window enlarged but I’m glad it all worked out. We’re going up to Larry’s cohort (Konrad) here in AZ to get shocks installed in a couple of weeks. Hopefully that will solve the broken hinges problem.

    Enjoy!

    Pat



    • Becky on February 9, 2016 at 12:13 pm

      Hope the shock install goes well Pat! I think I’ll have the chance to meet Konrad at the Fiberglass egg rally, he’s going to be here doing mods.



      • LenSatic on February 9, 2016 at 9:07 pm

        Is that the one going on now at the Q? If so, tell him I said “Hi”. πŸ˜‰

        Pat



        • Becky on February 10, 2016 at 6:37 pm

          Yep it is, he’s so busy with mods and fixes I haven’t had a chance to say hi yet, but when I do I’ll say hi for you too. πŸ™‚



  4. Joe Aro on February 6, 2016 at 9:58 am

    Great information. Normally household refrigerators are good for 10-years solid service. Beyond that is pure luck. Cannot speak re RV/Camper refrigerators. This site is a treasure. Thanks.
    Joe Aro recently posted..What is Content Curation and How to Get the Most Out of ItMy Profile



    • Becky on February 6, 2016 at 3:40 pm

      Glad you’re finding IO helpful Joe, thanks for reading.



  5. Dave Bain on February 5, 2016 at 10:10 pm

    My refrigerator went out about 2 weeks ago. Boy, the things you can learn on the internet. I had no signs of leakage so I’m hoping I have a blockage. ( sort of). I pulled mine out and turned it upside down to burp it. I’ve got it back in now and under power. I won’t check it till the morning. Fingers crossed!



    • Becky on February 6, 2016 at 3:38 pm

      Any number of things can go wrong with a fridge aside from the ammonia leaking out. Hope the fix for yours is inexpensive Dave!



  6. Linda Sand on February 4, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    I’ve heard good things about RV Master Tech; glad to have another good report on them.

    It sure will be nice to have actual refrigeration again.

    I look forward to your report on the Egg rally next week.



    • Becky on February 4, 2016 at 6:38 pm

      Yeah Linda, they treated me well.

      And I’m looking forward to attending. Will be great to see what other people do with their eggs.



  7. Clarke Hockwald on February 4, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Congrats Becky on getting the new refer installed! I wish I had your patience! Safe travels!



    • Becky on February 4, 2016 at 6:37 pm

      Thanks Clarke! It feels so good. Tomorrow I’m going grocery shopping…



  8. Jodee Gravel on February 4, 2016 at 8:34 am

    Wonderful to have a (finally) successful repair by good people who give a darn about the final plus the future. They may even call on Larry again when they hit a snag like that πŸ™‚ And a little extra time to play in Q and see the Phoenix area isn’t a bad gig!
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Playing Tourist With A Third Generation LocalMy Profile



    • Becky on February 4, 2016 at 6:36 pm

      Nope Jodee, all’s well than ends well!



  9. Russell on February 3, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    Good to hear you have a working refrigerator. When our’s died we had a warranty for all appliances, so we only had our deducible to pay.

    Just saw your video with Technomadia. How are your solar panels holding up now that your refrigerator is working? That is the next big ticket item we have to invest in.

    Amazon applications came out a few weeks ago for 2016, where have you put in for. We are heading to Murfreesboro, TN. No way are we going back to Haslet, TX.



    • Becky on February 4, 2016 at 6:35 pm

      So far so good Russell.

      I’m going back to Haslet.



  10. Jim Schmechel on February 3, 2016 at 11:54 am

    I’m so thankful you found a good repair shop! You will now be able to enjoy your refrigerator for years to come. πŸ™‚
    Jim Schmechel recently posted..Live Like ThatMy Profile



    • Becky on February 3, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      Me too Jim! Ahh, refrigerated food…



  11. Sheila Hagadone on February 3, 2016 at 11:40 am

    Hi Becky! That was a good call to get a NEW refrig! After all, it is caring for the food to keep you well!



    • Becky on February 3, 2016 at 2:59 pm

      And it looks pretty too Sheila. Lets not forget that as a motivator. πŸ˜‰



  12. Swankie on February 3, 2016 at 10:31 am

    Good job, Becky.
    Swankie recently posted..Welcome New Followers and Fairwell to Old OnesMy Profile



    • Becky on February 3, 2016 at 2:58 pm

      πŸ˜€



  13. Rob on February 3, 2016 at 8:53 am

    Good decision on full replacement…nice to hear about the shop treatment. You are right about few rv repair facilities. We had good service from Parliment coach works in Clearwater fla when our awnings were changed.



    • Becky on February 3, 2016 at 2:56 pm

      Glad to hear it Rob. Isn’t it kind of sad how getting good service feels like winning the lottery?



  14. Terry Brawley on February 3, 2016 at 8:05 am

    Thanks for the update and great recommendations on handling fridges. Glad it worked out well.



    • Becky on February 3, 2016 at 2:55 pm

      You’re welcome Terry.



  15. Karen - SC on February 3, 2016 at 7:48 am

    Wow!! what an ordeal. But I am sure you are relieved to have a fridge finally. You will enjoy the investment for years to come. I have a 1986 Champion motorhome that I have been slowly getting updated. First too me is mechanical issues then a want list of mods. Fortunately when I bought it last year it already had a new fridge. Happy trails.



    • Becky on February 3, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      It’s always nice to have a project Karen. All the same, I bet you’re happy to not have to worry about the fridge as intensive of a project as it is. Good luck and have fun with the fixes and mods!



  16. Reine in Plano on February 3, 2016 at 7:34 am

    Congratulations on having a fridge now. I’m sure Larry advised you to save several of the parts from the old fridge to share with folks who run into problems. The freezer door and the door shelves especially if they are in working condition.

    Now you just need the button guard and the hinge plate from LHC to protect your investment.



    • Becky on February 3, 2016 at 2:52 pm

      Yeah Reine, feels great. πŸ™‚ Larry (and others) did advise me to save parts but I didn’t. The door shelves were close to breaking anyway as I said in the post and the hinge on the freezer door didn’t close tight enough and frost buildup around the freezer door was becoming a problem. Maybe they were salvageable, but to be honest as a full-timer I would have had to carry those bits and pieces around everywhere I went and couldn’t justify the weight and space.

      Never heard of those mods, there’s always something huh?



      • Reine in Plano on February 3, 2016 at 5:01 pm

        Check the LHC store. The hinge plate reinforces the hinge so it doesn’t break. The button guard keeps you from accidentally turning your fridge off.



        • Becky on February 4, 2016 at 6:33 pm

          I’ll look into it Reine, thanks.



  17. Jim@HiTek on February 3, 2016 at 7:32 am

    Another excellent post, Becky!

    Great advice too. And it was right, no, smart, to replace the entire unit in your case. When something’s not right in a rig and you have to look at it every day, like you had to look at the front of the old refer, it kind of pulls some of the enjoyment out of the lifestyle.

    Glad to hear the work was performed to your satisfaction. If you could help us other travelers out, perhaps give that shop a review at RVServiceReviews.com. My first place to check when I need some work done.
    Jim@HiTek recently posted..More from San Felipe…My Profile



    • Becky on February 3, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      Never heard of that site Jim but I’ll check it out later and leave a review.

      Glad you enjoyed this post!



  18. Jerry Minchey on February 3, 2016 at 5:37 am

    Becky, I know the feeling. I replaced my 13-year old refrigerator last year. Like you, I decided to spend the extra money to put in a new one instead of just changing out the cooling unit. It’s just one of the things we have to when we are RVing.

    In your book and in several of your articles, you stress the importance of having an emergency fund. The way I look at it is that when I’m driving down the road, I am using up the gas in my tank, but I’m also using up the refrigerator, the tires and a lot of other things. That’s why every month I put money in the emergency/repair fund to pay for what I have “used” that month.

    Now with the rallies over with and your repair work done, maybe you can find time to write your next book. I’m looking forward to it.



    • Becky on February 3, 2016 at 2:43 pm

      That’s a good idea Jerry, putting money into the emergency fund proactively to cover maintenance instead of retroactively after depleting it. Luckily I had enough money around from Amazon overtime where I didn’t need to dip into my emergency fund for this, as I said before the timing couldn’t have been better since this time of the year is when my bank account looks happiest.

      I still have one more rally to go, the Fiberglass Egg rally on the 8th, and that’ll be it. But I have been working on the new book here at my new boondocking site outside of Phoenix and am making good progress. By the end of this month I should be ready to release more details.



  19. Sandy on February 3, 2016 at 5:11 am

    Love your attitude. When you think about it, how many home refrigerators last 17 years….especially in an environment that is like an earthquake when you are traveling. Yep…Cas and her more expensive parts have been watching out for you as much as you are watching out for her.



    • Becky on February 3, 2016 at 2:37 pm

      Yeah Sandy, I’m very satisfied with the time I got out of the old fridge. I’ve always been very picky about being level when I’m parked for more than a half-hour and I feel like that’s helped. Apparently Dometic brand fridges have less slope to the tubing the ammonia runs through, so they use less power/gas to operate but require more levelness. Norcold brand is the opposite.



  20. marty chambers on February 3, 2016 at 4:46 am

    Good investment, congratulations.



    • Becky on February 3, 2016 at 2:34 pm

      Thanks Marty.



  21. Dawn on February 2, 2016 at 8:12 pm

    Glad you found somewhere that was willing to do the work, and then turned out to be so responsible.



    • Becky on February 3, 2016 at 2:34 pm

      Me too Dawn!



  22. RGupnorth on February 2, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    When something is over 5 years old – changes/replacements/repairs can be a challenge. Good to hear things did work out.



    • Becky on February 3, 2016 at 2:33 pm

      Thanks RG.



  23. Gary (Retired Vagabond) on February 2, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    I’m excited for you. It’s always nice to get something fixed or in this case replaced that you use so much. It probably feels like it even pulls better.:-) those refrigerators are expensive. I have an Atwood that lists for $1,600. Also glad you found some good guys to work on it.



    • Becky on February 3, 2016 at 2:32 pm

      I’ve been monitoring it since this morning and it seems to be holding steady at a good temp so I’m about to evacuate the cooler for the very last time. Next time I go get groceries I’m going to pick up a bunch of food that needs refrigeration to make up for the lack, haha.



  24. Ron on February 2, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    What an ordeal. Hope it lasts a long time.



    • Becky on February 3, 2016 at 2:30 pm

      Me too Ron! Least it’s over now.



  25. Marilyn D. on February 2, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    I guess there was a reason you made a lot more than you spent last year. What a nice cushion to have. If it lasts 17 years that is around $125 a year. Job well done. It looks beautiful.



    • Becky on February 3, 2016 at 2:30 pm

      Thanks Marilyn. For a while I was worried that the black trim wouldn’t work well with the interior (old one was sort of dark beige/tan) but I actually think I like it better.



      • Lacy on February 11, 2016 at 8:25 pm

        “They” say that every room needs a touch of black – to make all the other colors pop! There ya go, Cas is now well-decorated!



  26. John Bruce on February 2, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    Yaaayyy!!! (From a member of your cheering squad.)



    • Becky on February 3, 2016 at 2:27 pm

      I’m cheering right along with you John! Fridge temp appears to be holding steady at 35 degrees (colder on the top shelf next to the fins) and the back of the freezer compartment was down to 9 degrees, which seems remarkably cold for an RV freezer! The fact that it’s a cool day probably helps. I think I’ll update the post with these numbers and the final cost for the project which was actually a bit less than I expected (the shop charged only 4.5 hours for labor).



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