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Old 09-02-2013, 10:19 AM   #1
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1974 29' Ambassador
CONCORD , North Carolina
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Labor Day Gremlins

Camping this weekend was quite the adventure! Had to pull up camp after a large rainstorm upstream forced us to evacuate camp alongside the river.

Before things got wet, I was already experiencing some problems with electrics. The camp hookup was 30 amp power on a post with no breaker at the outlet. There was a breaker panel across the road that had breakers for multiple sites.

The MagnaTek seemed to be working okay but we noticed that the reverse light was on as we sat by the campfire. I woke up to the smell of ammonia in the middle of the night and turned off the air conditioner.

We woke up the next morning to discover the refrigerator, also running on mains was no longer cooling. This is the original 1974 Royal Dometic. We fiddled with that for a while both at the front panel and the back panel, metering power, and finally gave up to go enjoy some camping.

We spoke with the camp owner who told me that they had "had ground problems on the lower sites" where we were staying "in the past". But that he had never experienced a reverse polarity problem.

Return later and once again smelled ammonia, this time escaping from the top of the freezer area on the refrigerator. Turned refrigerator power off at this point. Normally this refrigerator cooled to the point of freezing unsetting four, so this is a first where we had trouble getting it running properly. I am assuming that the refrigerator is baked at this point.

Of course, I was making repeated trips into the closet to check the Magnetek during this time. Suddenly, a single 15 amp fuse would continually blow. As far as I could tell the fuse was associated with the lighting over the galley and forward center roof light over the living room area, the one with six bulbs in it.

Now that I am back home, running on a single 20 amp circuit with good known ground and proper polarity to the trailer, I am showing 13+ volts charging the single deep cell battery. The original central control center shows battery "good." Metering the battery during the trip, when we were having problems, would show between 9V and 12V going to the battery at the terminals and at the breakaway wiring position, where we also metered.

Needless to say I am shopping an in-line surge and phase protector, to the tune of $250, so that we never experience these problems again.

Perhaps, I have also discovered, I may not need to purchase a new rooftop air conditioner! Running the AC on my household power, I am no longer getting the ammonia smell. I wonder if the refrigerator was venting up through the insulation and being drawn in to the air conditioner unit?


Erik Olson
1974 Ambassador 29' Ohana
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Old 09-02-2013, 10:58 AM   #2
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1975 25' Tradewind
Dewey , Arizona
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The smell of ammonia indicates that the cooling unit is leaking. You need a new fridge or a rebuilt cooling unit (hard to find).



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Old 09-02-2013, 02:40 PM   #3
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1974 29' Ambassador
CONCORD , North Carolina
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I understand that. I'm wondering if the phase issue is a contributing factor. Aside from asking the campsite owner to check the phase and short of just boondocking, I'm not sure about what I'm supposed to do when I see the phase reverse light on or what ramifications it might have on the electrical systems.
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1974 Ambassador 29' Ohana
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Old 09-02-2013, 07:57 PM   #4
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1987 32' Excella
Nepean , Ontario
Join Date: Mar 2006
Posts: 1,009
Never trust campground electrics. Get an outboard surge protector - I use this one Portable Surge Guards With LCD Display - 30 Amp - TRC 34730-001-LCD - Surge Protectors - Camping World and it also checks polarity. When I changed my inverter-charger, the Xantrex dealer told me that if I didn't use a surge protector my warranty would be void, so I use it at all times.

As for the refrigerator, I suggest you contact Trailer & RV Refrigeration - Sales and Service Gas RV Refrigerators - these folks rebuild the cooling units, and he likely will have a rebuilt one ready to ship to you as an exchange for your old one. One of my friends dealt with him and he was very pleased - good quality and competence.

BTW, you can get a simple polarity checker that plugs into a 15-amp socket (you can use the 15-to-30 amp adapter) which will instantly tell you if the circuit is properly wired. If it isn't then you don't hook up.

Sometimes the campground wiring checks out but then I found that my a/c wouldn't work. I had just left a municipal campground and driven 6 hours to get to one in the boonies where we were attending a wedding and everything worked just fine at the municipal c/g. Having the control panel for the Xantrex solved the problem - I was plugged into a 30-amp circuit (at least it required a 30-amp plug), and when connected the control panel showed the input voltage at 119 volts. When I just switched on the fan only on the a/c, the voltage dropped to 114 volts and stayed there. When I switched it on cool, the a/c just turned off instantly. It seems that the voltage draw was such that the protection circuit in the a/c kicked in. When we got home and plugged into my own 30-amp circuit, the a/c ran well. - All this shows that strange shore connections can have wildly varying results.
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Old 09-03-2013, 05:11 AM   #5

2003 25' Classic
Zanadude Nebula , WNY
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This has worked well for us when not boondocking...(not often).

Quality unit with good customer service.

Can be had cheaper online. (Amazon?)

AF #1

"Sticks & stones can break your bones...and hail will dent your Airstream"

So when is this..."old enough to know better" supposed to kick in?
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