After the first fridge set the van on fire I had to replace it. I swore blind I was not going to buy another Thetford so I found a well priced and not too old Dometic RM7400 3 way fridge on eBay. When I first installed it everything worked as it should but as time went on it became increasingly difficult to keep the pilot light on. After a bit of research and deduction I concluded (hoped) the issue lay with the thermocouple.
First things first, inspect the thermocouple, this means taking the fridge out of the nice space it’s in under the worktop as you can’t get to the right bits with ease from the vents.
The thermocouple sits in the burner at the bottom of the fridge chimney and looks like this once it’s been removed.
It’s the black bit to the right and should be well within the pilot light which comes from the jet you can see just below it, the white thing to the right is the Piezo ignition.
The thermocouple was covered in crud so I scraped all that off, cleaned up the jet area, refitted the whole thing and gave it a blast, hey presto it worked first time..
A couple of trips later and the fridge again failed to light so at the earliest opportunity I took everything apart again and found I had not tightened the torx bolt tight enough so the thermocouple had moved out of place.
I realigned the thermocouple and tightened up the torx bolt so now it shouldn’t go anywhere, next time we were out I tried the fridge again and it fired first time. I’ve also learnt that when we stop to park up, switch the fridge to gas, leave it for about 10 mins and then light it, works first time every time. Don’t know why but if I try to light it any sooner than the 10 mins I give it the thing is a pain to light
When I was building new Bumblebee I decided on investing in a 3 way fridge as the 12v compressor fridge drained the battery on old Bumblebee, was noisy and wasn’t very big either.
After a good deal of research I settled on an N4100 3 way auto selector fridge which I ordered from Jacksons Leisure. I spoke to Jacksons for considerable time to ensure I bought everything I needed including the correct vents, I was advised by Jackson that the Dometic vents were perfectly fine for the Thetford Fridge install, you’ll see why this is important later.
The vents and fridge were installed in France by Simon, the Fridge had to be raised to meet where the vents were cut (due to the van structure) and the fridge was surrounded by fire retardant insulation, all electrical and gas connections were made as they should be, the Fridge was briefly tested on 12v and 240v but not on gas as there was no LPG in the cylinder. I returned back to the UK assuming all was well with the Fridge.
Covid reached our shores in March 2020 and we all got locked down and for a time I was working from the van as a make shift office, I had the fridge hooked up to 240v to store food that wouldn’t fit in our house fridge, all working as it should do for a good few months. As the lockdown measures eased slightly we decided to head off to some land a friend owns to stay in the van and escape the house, I’d filled the tank with LPG so thought I should test the Fridge before we left to make sure there was no Carbon Monoxide issues when running on gas. I double checked all the connections for gas leakage, no issues there so was confident in firing up the fridge on gas which I did, hung about for ten minutes to make sure there were no immediate issues and then headed off into the house to grab some food, a short time later there was furious banging on my door, my neighbour enlightened me that the van was on fire, luckily we extinguished the fire relatively quickly, the culprit was the 3 way fridge.
To this day I do not know what caused the fridge to go up in flames, we were very lucky nobody was in it and thanks to the fire retardant insulation the damage to the van wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.
I immediately tried to contact Thetford who had shut down their UK operation due to Covid, I managed to report it to their US counterparts who took down my details and then sat on it for a good month or so. Eventually after much chasing on my part a member of the UK team, Paul McNulty got in touch asking for more photos of the damage and the fridge.
What then followed was essentially Thetford’s representative telling me that there were flaws in the installation such as the fridge cavity not being fully sealed, the exhaust pipe not being something he recognised and the vents used being incorrect. None of these things would cause a fire. He then went on to question whether something else in the area where the fridge was installed caused the fire, there is only a water pipe running underneath the fridge so not likely to have caused a fire. The fridge was returned to Thetford who concluded there was no evidence they could see that the fridge caused the fire despite it being the only thing on in the van at the time, the only thing in the cavity where the fire started and the only thing in that area that had a naked flame.
The customer service from Thetford was appalling and consisted solely of them pointing out how they were not responsible and would no way be replacing the fridge. I contacted trading standards and they advised me to take it up with Jacksons as per consumer law, they were just as bad and offered to sell me the same fridge at a reduced cost!
Since this incident I bought a second hand Dometic fridge, myself and my mate Adam installed it ourselves in the same cavity using the same vents, gas pipes and wired the same way, it works exactly how it should, I’ve used it countless times on gas with no issue whatsoever which leads me to believe even more so that the fridge from Thetford was faulty.
If you are thinking of installing a Thetford fridge in your van build please bear my experience in mind, I hope never to have to deal with Thetford again for anything, I do have one of their toilets however and thats great for taking a dump in, it least it won’t go up in flames…