Niagara Replacement Refrigerator

Our camper came with a Dometic 7401L 3-way (12 volt, 110 volt, LPG) refrigerator. At a height of almost 33 inches, it filled the space below our residential height counter top nicely. Unfortunately this is a European sourced appliance, meaning that service parts are next to impossible to get, and diagnostic information even rarer. Even the Dometic authorized service facilities have trouble getting information about the refrigerator.

If one never had a problem with this refrigerator, the lack of parts or information would be a mute point. However, in the six and a half years we have owned ours, we have needed repairs about once every couple years. Parts replaced have included an igniter, gas valve, burner jet, and main circuit board. This is in spite of completing the required maintenance each year.

After the last failure, which pointed to another bad gas valve, I decided to quit throwing good money at this beast. I could not find a same size direct replacement the, and the only source for a new 7401L I could find was in Australia, with a price close to $2,000 before shipping – and I didn’t bother to check if it could be shipped.
So I searched for a similarly sized RV refrigerator, and the closest I could find was a Dometic RM2354 model, which was a tiny bit deeper and wider but about 3 inches shorter (actual compartment). The volume of the 7401 is 3.3 cu ft, versus 3.0 cubic feet for the 2354. I really hated to go with less volume, but there was no other choice other than spend more money on the old one. Other than size, the other downside to the RM2354 was it lacked an internal light like our 7401. Oh well, you can’t have everything in life.

Once I decided to get a new unit, I began an Internet search. It has been quite a while since I bought anything for our camper, and the lowest price available was from a company named American RV Company, a company I had never heard of in the past. But they now have quite an Internet presence. Although shipping would be expensive, I noticed that they are located about 90 miles from me in Azusa, California and the Website says they have will-call pickup. Giving them a call, they had a unit in stock, and yes I could pick it up. Perfect. Price before taxes was under $800.

When arrived at American RV, I was met by a friendly guy who seemed to be the manager. He introduced me to the lady who completed the paperwork, while a gentleman from the warehouse brought the packaged fridge to the front of the building and then loaded it into my SUV. Outstanding service and I highly recommend American RV Company.

INSTALLATION

fridge 01
Fridge opening after the original was removed. Notice the brown strip on the floor at the front of the cutout. This is a sealing strip to keep potential fumes out of the living area.

After removing the old unit, I needed to construct a top trim piece at the top of the opening because the new refrigerator is shorter.

Upper trim piece installed.
Upper trim piece installed.

We decided to use a piece of black wood so it would match the trim of the refrigerator. I cut and then secured the board with bracing and then sealed the mating surfaces.

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Unpacking the new unit (left). As you can see in the picture above, the new unit is shorter. But the condensing and absorption units are larger.

fridge 11One thing that needed to be done was to insert a decorative panel in the front of the door. I couldn’t find one online, and a search of our local hardware stores didn’t turn up a suitable replacement. But up in the rafters of our garage was some of the paneling we had used 10 years ago to remodel our old 1992 Starcraft Meteorite and the panel exactly matched the picture on the Dometic Website. Good thing I am a pack rat!!

PLUMBING

Once the fridge was installed and secured, it was time for the gas and electrical connections. The electrical was easy, but the gas connection took a little time and specialty tools.

fridge 06I purchased the needed copper tubing and new fitting at our local True Value… forget going to Home Depot or Lowes, they only carry thin water tubing.

The next step was to cut and bend the tubing, insert the new fittings and form a double flare at each end of the tubing. A double flare is the safest and strongest method, but it requires a special tool.

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Above: Bending the tubing and sliding the fittings over the tubing.

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Above: Flaring kit, tube bender and two sizes of tube cutters.

fridge 08To form a double flare, you start by inserting an adapter into the tubing. Then using the yoke, the first flare is completed. See above.

fridge 09Now the adapter is removed and the yoke is used to create the second flare, which rolls the tubing to create a double-walled flare.

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Double flare shown above.

VENTS

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Drilled hole in vent.
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Pin in vent frame.

We had problems with the original vents (two pictures above) – they would just fall off while driving. I finally fixed that problem after losing a couple vents, but drilling a hole in each vent and then inserting a pin in the frame, so the vent was secured with the pin. But over time, I found these vents to be inconvenient when servicing the refrigerator and eventually replaced them with a pair of NorCold hinged vents. Picture is below.

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FINAL CONNECTIONS

I still need to do some sealing, re-route wires, and replace the temporary electrical butt connectors by soldering the wires. But everything test out.

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Upper section. I installed 6″ of insulation. It is glued to the top of the fridge.
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Lower section.
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I installed the non-factory cooling fan near the middle of the rear compartment, just above the blocking plate. This is the location recommended by Dometic.

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The ON/OFF switch for the cooling fan is next to the refrigerator door.

TESTING

The best way to cool down a RV absorption refrigerator to to fill it with cold food. The longest way to cool it is to leave it empty. So I left it empty and turned it on. The night time low was 75F, and after 12 hours the temperature was down to 27.6F with an ambient temperature of 81.F.fridge 12

5 hours later, with the back of the refrigerator facing full sun and an ambient temperature of 96.6F, the interior of the fridge was only 35.6F, well under the recommended 38F for storing food in a conventional household refrigerator. The 7401 never, ever worked this well!!

fridge 12a