Been Awhile

It’s been awhile since I posted any tips about living in and maintaining a house on wheels, probably because I lack technical talent and expertise.  But I suspect there are a fair number of travelers out there in a similar boat so, for whatever it’s worth, here are some of my latest tips and experiences from RV-Noobville.

What should you do when your air conditioner rains on you?  Well, yes, after frantically turning it off and mopping things up, get its manual and read it (hopefully you’ve already read it through at least once after taking delivery of your rig).  That’s how I found out that when operating the A/C in high humidity (most days the air is quite soupy here, even under a sunny sky), you should run the fan on high all the time.  This allows the unit to more effectively rid the air (and itself) of humidity and condensation.  I had the fan on auto, so it would only run when the A/C turned on, and the condensation built up inside the unit to the point that it eventually started raining on me.

What should you do when your refrigerator gets wonky?  Yes!  Run back to that stash of manuals and read.  If it is still under warranty, as mine barely was, call the customer support number and pick their brains.  Unfortunately, the refrigerator company (Norcold/Thetford) would not talk to a mere customer about such things.  They only speak to an approved RV technician who will be doing the work.  On the other hand, customer service for my Surge Guard unit was very helpful and gave me information that even the experts on the ground did not know, which I will share in case it is helpful to someone else.

A little background on the problem, first.  In late April I was unable to hook up to electrical power at the campground post.  This happened regardless of where I was.  My built-in Surge Guard is designed to detect faulty electrical input from the electrical post.  The error screen will show if there is a faulty ground or reverse polarity situation.  In my case, the screen went totally blank.  It would not give an error message, and if I changed to a different post, the problem still occurred.  Over and over again.

First suspecting the problem was with the Surge Guard unit, I referred to their manual.  Finding nothing helpful, I called their customer service number and lucked into a terrific technician who gave me great information.  It turns out that the unit also will detect something fishy going on within the RV’s electrical system.  It will detect any feedback, such as an open ground or open neutral somewhere within the RV and then not allow the connection.  Nothing showed up on the error screen because the problem was not at the post.  Armed with this information, I turned the refrigerator entirely off before trying to hook up.  Success.  Then I turned the refrigerator on to electrical (vs. propane) mode manually.

Assured by both the Surge Guard technician and the builder of my rig (Phoenix Cruiser, whom I had also called for help) that it was not a dangerous situation, I figured I would just continue to operate that way. Keep the refrigerator on manual mode, switch it to propane for travel, turn it off when hooking up to electric or firing up the generator, then manually setting it to electric mode.

Things escalated, though, a few weeks later when the refrigerator stopped working on propane entirely.  This is a problem when you have a refrigerator full of food and it is a travel day.  I was able to prevent spoilage by running my generator while driving, which provided A/C power to the frig, but I really preferred to be able to use the propane.  Besides, at this rate, who knew when the electrical side of things would stop working, too, and I would be totally out of luck (and milk and cheese and frozen burritos and fruit cups and cottage cheese…).

So, after arriving at my summer park, I found an approved warranty shop to look at the refrigerator.  They weren’t terribly interested in what I had learned about the Surge Guard and feedback from within the coach.  They simply determined it needed a new circuit board, and the following week installed one.  Everything worked on automatic mode–switching from propane to electric and back again–when they tested it using the generator.  Yay.  But when I got back to the campground, I sadly encountered a blank Surge Guard screen and no power unless I turned the refrigerator off prior to hooking up to the electrical post.

Now that the one-year warranty is up on most of my appliances and systems in the coach, I am reluctant to pay $125 per hour to have this shop try to figure out what is really wrong, because I suspect the problem is not originating in the refrigerator.  Instead I will probably swing by Phoenix Cruiser this Fall and have them thoroughly check things out.  They only charge $50 per hour to work on their rigs and they know best how everything works and what to do when it doesn’t.  Hopefully everything continues to work on manual switchover, or at least on electric mode, until then.

Final point, don’t be afraid to ask.  Ask questions.  And ask for what you need.  While searching the RV forums (two of the best for me have been the Escapees’ forum at and Phoenix Cruiser’s forum at, I found that Norcold refrigerators have a fairly bleak reputation for reliability.  One of its problems is the door, which can break at the hinge and fall off.  Norcold sells an after-market kit to reinforce the hinge, but that does no good if the door is already broken, in which case you have to buy a whole new door.  So, while the shop was on the phone with Norcold to order a new circuit board, I asked them to request a hinge reinforcement kit at no charge.  Norcold obliged and sent one along with the circuit board.  I’ll put that on myself.

I also discovered that the seat belts in my dinette are only long enough to secure a child or skinny adult.  I contacted Phoenix Cruiser and asked if they would reimburse me for seatbelt extenders.  Being the reputable company that they are, they agreed.  Again, don’t be shy about asking, especially when it makes sense!

Well, that’s more than enough techie talk for one day.  Apologies to any readers who have fallen asleep by now, but hopefully the information and my experiences will be useful to someone.  As for the rest of you, I hope you needed a good nap!

(Photo shows Dawny performing tricks with her tongue rather than helping me out with RV maintenance tasks.)

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