Living in a van requires that things work well most, if not all, of the time. Luckily, Zak and I built our van by ourselves, so we know how to fix most things that break… but so far, we do not know how to fix our broken fridge. I am confident that we will figure it out, but the fridge breaking has also been such a huge, overwhelming, stressful, and annoying pain in the butt. So let me take you back to the beginning, where this all started…
About 2 weeks ago, Zak and I were in Great Falls, MT in a beautiful Walmart parking lot (you may think this is an oxymoron, but it’s not, this Walmart parking lot was actually beautiful!) and we had just gotten a ton of groceries before we were going to meet our friend Nurse. We met Nurse on the Appalachian Trail back in 2018, and we have stayed close since. Nurse started the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) back in April, and he was set to finish in Glacier National Park. Also, for those of you who aren’t familiar with long trails, Nurse LITERALLY walked from Mexico to Canada. Depending on the route that you take, the CDT can be 2800-3100 miles long.
Okay, so back to the story: Zak and I have been trying to eat less meat, and thus, we have been getting more frozen veggie patties, etc. (We can argue about the healthfulness of frozen veggie patties and other soy based foods at a later date, but I digress…) So basically, we were trying to fit these many frozen things into our freezer, which is the size of the Oxford Latin Dictionary. Big for a dictionary, small for a freezer. On top of our freezer being tiny, half of its volume had been filled up slowly with ice and snow.
Unfortunately, I had seen an instagram video about people chipping the ice out of their fridges with various implements, and I thought: “What the heck, we need the room!” (Bad, bad, bad.) So, my misguided brain told my misguided hands to take a butter knife and a mini hammer and chip, chip, chip away at our freezer ice without evening knowing the anatomy of a freezer! (Bad, bad, bad!) And lo and behold, I tapped one too many times and PSSSSSSSSSSSST! A big gust of gas came out at my face for a good 20 seconds. Highly toxic? I’m sure, but I’m still kickin’ right now.
Immediately, in shock and denial that anything was wrong, my misguided brain thought: “Well, a lot of our food has been kind of bubbly recently (another issue we can debate later), maybe some of those bubbles just got trapped in the ice?” HAH! I just wasn’t ready to believe that I had broken the fridge. Honestly, I can’t believe that I could have tricked myself into thinking that ice can hold that much pressurized gas… I hopped on a Reddit forum or something similar, just to make sure, and yes, I had punctured a coil in the evaporator plate. The coil held pressurized refrigerant, which was the stuff that shot out at my face. Luckily, we were at a Walmart, so I went inside, bought us a cheap cooler and some ice, and we’ve been (sort of) keeping our food cold in that ever since. While the cooler has been a decent temporary fix, it’s also totally been a pain because when the ice melts, it’s almost inevitable that at least one food thing gets waterlogged… yuck.
So, we’ve been using the cooler for about 2 weeks, and on our way to Bozeman, MT, we decided that it was time to call the refrigerator repair people. We figured: “Bigger town, more refrigerator repair people.” In the car, I called 8 of them on the phone.
“Sorry, we don’t work on RV fridges.”
“Sorry, we don’t work on 12 volt fridges.”
“You should check out the RV repair places.” — So I called the 3 RV repair places in Bozeman.
“Sorry, we don’t do that, you should call the refrigerator repair places.”
Finally, I called Isotherm again, and they gave me a list of people near Bozeman who supposedly worked on their products. I finally got ahold of a guy named Lou who told us that he also does not work on 12V fridges, but we should go in person to beg someone to take a look. He also provided us with a lot of other very useful information, and I am very appreciative that he entertained so many of my questions… Thank you, Lou!
So, Zak went to all 8 refrigerator repair places in person to no avail, all while I was attending a medical school conference in the local library. About 3 people told Zak that our refrigerator is a lost cause and we should just throw it out and get a new one. But, for such a seemingly simple problem, I am not prepared to believe that! Luckily, there is the almighty YouTube, and there do seem to be some very knowledgable people on there. We also are very lucky to have met a great couple over Instagram who have offered to help in whatever way they can. Maybe it is just me, but the fix itself seems simple-ish. Patch the hole, evacuate the system, recharge with refrigerant. Are we missing something? Why is everyone talking about our punctured evaporator plate like it’s voodoo?!
If you know anything about 12V Isotherm fridges, please, shed your knowledge and wisdom upon us. Also, if you’re interested in more updates, we will be posting them in our Van Journal.
Zak, Fal, and Melting Food
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