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You don't need complicated electronics in the bush.

Electronics have crept into the camper fridge market. Our experience with one such fridge wasn’t great, but a fix was easy.

Kez and Allan W had just started on their annual winter trip to Australia’s glorious desert regions and got only 500km from home when ‘she who must be obeyed’ said: “I don’t think the camper fridge is working”.

“It must be,” I said, hopefully. “We had the wiring redone the other day and the ‘sparky’ and I heard it fire up.”

“Well it’s not working now and, from the feel of the once-frozen stuff I put in the freezer section, it hasn’t worked since I loaded it last night,” Keryn said, with the authority of one who knows, by finger touch, the temperature of a frozen chop.

“Also, I’m used to hearing it cut in and out during the night and it didn’t.”

Sure enough, the light was on but there was nobody home – well, nobody who did any cooling work. And this from a three-year-old Isotherm 85-litre fridge, with low operating hours.

So, it was off to the local auto-electrician, who confirmed what Allan’s multimeter had revealed: power to the fridge, but no compressor operation.

A ‘blue box’, called a Smart Energy Control, with multiple wires going in and a different number of terminals coming out, seemed to be the culprit; given that it emitted tell-tale fried-electronics odour.

A quick flick through Google on the mobile phone showed that the fridge in question, an Isotherm CR85EL that came with our Tray Tek slide-on camper, was handled by an agent only 100km away.

An hour later a very helpful service technician was scratching his head and telling us that he didn’t carry any repair items for this fridge, but he connected us through to the people who did: Webasto.

Webasto hasn’t been the Isotherm distributor for very long, so our problem was a new one for them. We could have had a replacement blue box sent to us, for around $380, with GST and freight, but what we really wanted was to bypass it completely.

Where the OTA Team goes we don’t want complicated, unfixable electronics if we can avoid them.

Faced with the prospect of no fridge on Day One of a planned two-month trip we abandoned Plan A and returned home. Plan B involved getting the fridge fixed and heading off on a shortened trip two weeks later.

Could the ‘blue box’ be bypassed? Possibly, but the Webasto/Isotherm service people didn’t have any experience of that operation.

Fitting the original thermostat might be the answer, without any electronic interface, but there were no guarantees. Webasto sent us an original-model thermostat as a goodwill exercise. OTA spoke with several Isotherm owners who were unhappy with the blue box technology that meant their fridges were either too cold or too hot. They wished us well with our experiment and said they’d do the same if ours proved successful.

We spoke with a very helpful fridge mechanic in Wollongong, Peter, at Farmborough Electrics and so we took the fridge and replacement thermostat to him.

He fitted it, trialled the fridge for four days on a 12V supply and pronounced the unit fit for duty.

We picked it up, plugged it in and it’s been working perfectly. Whereas it used to need the control turned up to ‘six’ it now runs happily on ‘3.5’ and contents of the freezer section remain frozen indefinitely.

It’s possible that it uses more power than before, cycling more often, but we have plenty of solar and battery power, so that’s not an issue. Fridge reliability is paramount, as we all know.





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