Welcome to RV Mishaps, a content series written by RVers about problems they’ve encountered on the road, how they solved them, and lessons learned. Have a mishap story of your own that you’d like to tell? Send us an email at email@example.com.
We’ve been RVing for several years but had somehow managed to avoid any major breakdowns or issues with our RV while on the road. But a few weeks into our 3-month-long road trip across the western U.S. last summer, our luck ran out. As with any RV trip, we had a few minor bumps in the road, but overall our 2014 Heartland Elkridge fifth wheel was doing great. We were on our way from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Bozeman, Montana, when our fridge had a complete meltdown.
My husband Kacey and I had stopped for the night in a tiny RV park in rural Idaho. It was a small, peaceful, and quaint RV park with 30-amp hookups. While we typically use 50 amps for our larger rig, it wasn’t a hot day, so we knew we’d be ok not running the A/C and using only a small amount of power for the lights at night.
Everything was fine until a large Class A pulled into the campsite next to us. We could tell by their conversations that they were pretty new to RVing. They plugged their power cord into our shared power pedestal, flipped the breaker, and turned on their A/C unit, which promptly blew the power for the entire row of parked RVs.
Stuff like this happens, which is why we always use a surge protector. The lights turned off, the fridge switched to running on propane, and we called the park host to let them know the power was out. Thirty minutes later an electrician arrived, and the power was back up. But then it happened twice more.
The third time the power blew, we noticed our refrigerator also went out. And when the power kicked back on, the fridge didn’t. It had switched between running on shore power and propane, but the last surge was too much for it to handle. The fridge was completely off and wouldn’t turn back on.
We checked the fuse box for the trailer, but everything was normal. According to the fuse box, the fridge should have been on. We started to stress, thinking that the fridge was ruined and it would be an expensive and lengthy repair.
Due to our schedules, we couldn’t wait to try and fix it or take the rig to a repair shop. So we decided to pack the freezer and fridge with ice and move on to Bozeman. We’d figure out the situation there.
After arriving in Bozeman, we called a friend who is an RV mechanic to see if he could walk us through what to do. Based on his advice, Kacey bought a handful of fuses and a 12-volt test lamp—a tool used to diagnose electrical issues—at a nearby hardware store.
We removed the rear paneling for the fridge, located on the exterior wall of our trailer. We then tested various components to locate the point at which the power stopped traveling.
After an hour, we found a hidden fuse buried deep within the fridge’s interior, which had blown. Using a set of socket wrenches, we removed the access panels, replaced the fuse, and reinstalled the fridge.
After replacing the fuse and bleeding the propane lines, the fridge powered back on without issue. It was back up and running on both electric and propane modes, and was cooled to the correct temperature a few hours later. To be safe, we threw out the food, but the fridge was fixed and hasn’t caused a problem since.
If you’re unsure about a power source, unplug. We should have unhooked from the power pedestal while the power was going off and on. At the very least we should have changed the mode on the refrigerator to propane, so even if the power did keep shorting, the fridge wouldn’t be affected. We didn’t, and it caused us a lot of unnecessary stress.
Know and carry the tools you need. We travel with a set of socket wrenches that allowed Kacey to get inside the paneling behind the fridge, but we needed to buy other supplies. If we had already owned the fuses and 12-volt test lamp, we could have assessed the situation and fixed the fridge on the spot. A basic inventory of RV repair tools and parts can save you both time and stress.
Sometimes big problems have easy solutions, so don’t panic. The first thing we did when we realized our refrigerator wasn’t working was to assume that the entire fridge was ruined. Once we calmed down and assessed the situation (and got advice from a professional), we realized that it was an easy fix that we could do ourselves.
Of course, sometimes there are big problems that aren’t easy to fix, but panicking doesn’t help. Accepting that things are going to break or go wrong on the road will help you keep a level head when they inevitably do.
And finally, we realized that we were able to do more on our own than we thought. If this had happened in our sticks ‘n’ bricks home, we would have called an electrician or an appliance repair company. But things are more urgent on the road, and we needed a place to store food. So we had to look to ourselves to fix it out of necessity. And it’s a pretty great feeling when you realize you are capable of fixing a problem—with phone support from an RV tech.
Disclaimer: Togo RV is part of a joint venture, partially owned by Thor Industries, Inc., of which Heartland is a subsidiary.
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