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If you walk past your fridge compartment and see this yellow stain, what should you think?

I’ll give you a hint. The yellow stuff is the refrigerant that normally circulates through the refrigerator’s cooling unit like blood through your veins. So if you saw someone bleeding like this, what would you think?

You’d probably think what I thought: “Uh-oh,” followed by several other unpleasant things. Because this is not a Band-Aid type of injury. This yellow liquid pouring from the refrigerator compartment is more akin to a major chest wound. For the refrigerator, it is fatal.

This morning I left around 10 a.m. to pick up Brett at the airport. He’s staying with us a few days before we head off to the Vintage Trailer Jam next week. We spent the day picking up supplies we’ll need at the Jam, had a nice lunch out at Henry’s Diner (a Burlington Vermont fixture for 80 years), and also picked up the wood for the Caravel project.

When we returned, I glanced at the refrigerator compartment and found the grim sign above. Our refrigerator had suddenly blown an artery and died while we were away.

It didn’t just spring a little leak like most refrigerators do when they are beginning to lose it. Those leaks leave a little residue of yellow powder, which is the dried residue of the coolant. Ours failed catastrophically with a big leak all at once.

I know it happened suddenly because I’ve been checking our refrigerator compartment weekly. I’ve known for a few weeks that our refrigerator was included in a recall by Dometic, for a problem that which is said to affect 0.1% of refrigerators in the recall. The issue is that a fatigue crack can form in a coolant tube near the burner. When running on propane, it is possible for a fire to start, and apparently this happened to a few refrigerators. Dometic’s website advised us to shut off the refrigerator (not an option for us), or at least run it exclusively on electric until the recall service could be performed.

vermont-fridge-leak2.jpgWe’ve been running our refrigerator only on electric since we arrived in Vermont, but to be safer I have been checking the refrigerator weekly for tell-tale yellow signs of a leak. Up until today, I saw nothing. And then this.

My plan was to have the recall service done at Colin Hyde’s shop immediately after the Trailer Jam. But time was against me on this one. Interestingly, if I had gotten the recall done, it would have made little difference. The recall doesn’t prevent the crack from forming (nor prevent a leak from occurring). It simply contains any leak that might occur, to prevent a fire.

At this point the refrigerator is officially dead. We got three years of full-time use out of it, which is less than I would have liked, but still quite a lot of use. We almost never turned it off. It can be brought back to life with an expensive repair, probably in the form of a replacement cooling unit. But instead of fixing it, we are going to install our spare refrigerator. (Yes, we own a spare refrigerator. Doesn’t everybody?)

Honestly, it just happens that through a series of events far too complex to explain here, we happen to own a brand-new Dometic NDR1062 refrigerator and it has been sitting up in Plattsburgh waiting for us. It’s the same size as our existing refrigerator, but has more interior space due to an advanced insulation design. We had one in our 1977 Argosy (“Vintage Thunder”) and loved it. I had been planning to upgrade our refrigerator eventually and just never got around to it.

We are lucky that our dear friend Colin is willing to take an hour or two out of his extremely busy pre-Jam schedule and install the new fridge on short notice. So we’ve mopped up all the leaking coolant, off-loaded all the food, and of course shut down the refrigator. Tomorrow Brett and I will tow the Airstream up to Plattsburgh and help Colin do the swap. If all goes well, we’ll be back in Vermont in the afternoon, with a couple of cold cans chilling in the new refrigerator.

10 Responses to “Meltdown”

  1. Bobby Says:

    Are you sure that’s not just a bad mustard spill? We’ve had those before. Better taste that yellow stuff to make sure.

  2. Terry & Greg Says:

    Well, if it had to happen this is the right time. And the good news is that you had another refrigerator…and not too far away! So at least it’s not as bad as it could have been…if it had happened out in the middle of nowhere with your replacement frig half-way across the country! There’s that silver lining thing again! Good luck with the trade-out… And won’t it be nice to have new one?

  3. Kathy and Tex Marler Says:

    Hi Rich and Eleanor,

    Our 22 year old fridge died a slow death over the last 3 years and we finally declared it a goner over Memorial Day weekend. We had the replacement put in yesterday which is one of the larger capacity fridges also. Wow, What a difference in useable space and just in time. We need to keep those pie baking supplies cold for the JAM! See you there!