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RVer asks RV Doctor about ammonia smell coming from fridge
By Gary Bunzer

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Dear RV Doc,
I have a 1991, 26-foot Fleetwood Class C with a Dometic refrigerator. I've just noticed a strong ammonia odor when I opened the freezer door with the refrigerator in the off position. I expect that this is NOT normal. Can you tell me what's wrong and what repairs I face? --Gary Collier

Dear Gary,
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but unfortunately you have a leaking cooling unit which renders the refrigerator inoperable. The entire cooling unit will have to be replaced.

It's not an uncommon occurrence. Cooling unit tubing can become oxidized due to moisture entrapment and a rupture or crack in the piping thereby releasing the ammonia. If the leak point is situated at or near an exposed section of tubing at the rear of the refrigerator, a bright yellow residue is usually visible.

Chances are the leak is in a section of tubing hidden by insulation and you may not actually see it, but any indication of an ammonia smell confirms a leak, indeed. Typically, service centers replace this cooling core with a refurbished unit, sending the damaged unit back to the supplier to be repaired, recharged and placed back into inventory. The entire replacement can take anywhere from two to four hours to complete.

Cooling units cannot be repaired in the field -- they must be replaced. Not an inexpensive venture, oftentimes RV owners must contemplate a complete refrigerator upgrade versus the cooling unit replacement. It depends on the age of the refrigerator and how fond you are of your existing unit. On units around eight years or older, seriously consider a complete refrigerator replacement.

You will have a new unit warranty and all new parts. With a cooling unit replacement only, the original components are still aged and non-warrantable. It just may be time to visit your nearest Camping World or other RV repair store to peruse new models. I sure wish I had better news, but ammonia leaks do happen.

Gary Bunzer, The RV Doctor, is a well known RV author and the host of RV Roadtrips, the DIY Network cable television show. He is one of the RV industry's most sought after speakers and the host of the popular DVD titled Do It Yourself RV Care.

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