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General Information:

The refrigerator used on the Rialta probably accounts for the most customer complaints of all appliances and devices installed in the vehicle. Lots of these complaints are caused by "operator error" or not really knowing how the thing works.

Winnebago installs a Norcold refrigerator in every Rialta and every model is capable of running on three different power sources: propane (LPG), 12 VDC, or 110 VAC.

The Model 22QD and 22FD both get the Norcold 3163 series which is a single door model with 1.8 cubic foot interior volume.
The Rialta Model 22HD get a slightly larger model with a freezer, the Norcold N300.3 which has 2.7 cubic foot interior volume.

Although you have 3-way power to choose from, each one has its intended purposes while traveling.

  1. The AC Mode of operation should be chosen when you have a shoreline connection either at home or at campsites that can provide 110 VAC power. If the vehicle is in motion and for some reason the 12 VDC mode is not functioning, then running the generator to maintain refrigerator operation may be needed.

  2. The LP Mode of operation should be chosen while the vehicle is stationary and there is no source for continued 110 VAC operation. The amount of LP consumed by the refrigerator is miniscule compared to the consumption by the furnace during cold weather. You should not use LP operation while the vehicle is in motion because most local, state, and Federal regulations prohibit its use, and usually the air currents generated by the motion usually prevent proper heating action. Although some people report that they have been able to accomplish the feat.

  3. The DC Mode is intended only for use while driving. While in this mode, the unit operates without thermostatic control. For those willing to modify the internal wiring (and void any existing warranty), there is a modification available which will allow for thermostatic control in this mode.

When preparing for a trip, do NOT use the DC mode for the initial cool down of the refrigerator but instead use either AC or propane. It should normally take at least three hours or more to cool down the refrigerator BEFORE any food is placed into it.

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Operator's Manuals:

All links to files in Adobe PDF format.

Norcold Model N300 (Rialta HD):

  •  Installation & Owner's Manual (990k)
  •  Parts List (632k)
  •  Service Manual (830k)
  •   Service Bulletin - Checking for problems in LP mode  (101k)
  • Norcold Model 3163 (EuroVan Camper and Rialta FD and QD)

  •  Installation & Owner's Manual (596k)
  •  Parts List  (136k)
  •  Service Manual  (752k)
  • Note: There is an error in this manual on page 19.  Level limits are 3° side-to-side and 6° front-to-back, verified by Norcold.

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    Refrigerator FAQs:

    General information and may not apply to all models.

    Do I have to manually start a pilot light for LP operation?

    Technically speaking, yes. But you don't need a match. The initial spark is provided by the piezo igniter that occurs when you push the button repeated on the front control panel. (N300 only)

    How level must my refrigerator be?

    The refrigerator is made to operate within 3 degrees off level side-to-side and 6 degrees off level front-to-back (looking at the front of the refrigerator). For an informative and complete description of what this looks like in the real world, read "How Level Is Level?"

    Why is frost on the interior cooling fins only on the right side?

    It is normal to accumulate frost on the right side of the bank of cooling fins. The coldest part of the cooling fins are those on the right side of the refrigerator as viewed from the front. Gas/Electric refrigerators will build frost of varying amounts depending upon the environmental conditions (temperature and humidity), how often the doors are opened, and what is stored in them. Defrosting is not required until a decline in performance is noted. Refer to your operator's guide: "Defrosting and Cleaning the Refrigerator Interior."

    Does the refrigerator perform better on gas or electric?

    The refrigerator is designed to operate efficiently on both gas and AC electric. The AC electric is dependent upon the AC input voltage to the refrigerator. Be sure that the input voltage is between 108 volts AC and 132 volts AC. The efficiency of the refrigerator while operating in the gas mode is dependent upon the correct burner flame. The burner flame requires correct input gas supply pressure, air input, and burner and burner orifice cleanliness. Refer to the refrigerator's operators guide: "Refrigerator Maintenance and Care List."

    Does a fan installed on the back of the refrigerator help performance?

    A DC fan may help improve refrigerator performance when the refrigerator is not installed in accordance with Norcold's installation requirements or when operating the refrigerator in high ambient temperatures (see "Refrigerator Installation Manual.") A DC fan will assist in providing the necessary amount of airflow. Be sure the fan is controlled by a thermostat and begins to operate when the area behind the refrigerator reaches approximately 95 degrees F. The fan should run until the temperature lowers to about 80 degrees F. Consult with your RV dealer for the correct fan and specifications.

    What maintenance should be performed on my refrigerator and how often?

    Your refrigerator will give you years of trouble free service if you do the following simple checks every three to six months. Refer to the operator's guide provided with your refrigerator for more details:

    Keep the food compartment and the freezer clean. See "Defrosting and Cleaning."

    Defrost the refrigerator as necessary. See "Defrosting and Cleaning."

    Make sure the door seals correctly. See "Door Sealing."

    Be aware of any cooling changes that are not because of weather, loading, or gas control changes. If changes occur, contact your dealer or service center.

    Make sure the gas supply is LP gas only and not butane or a butane mixture.

    When in LP gas operation, examine the appearance of the flame. See "Gas Flame Appearance."

    Make sure the air flow in the lower intake vent, through the refrigerator coils and condenser, and out the upper exhaust vent is not blocked or decreased.

    Make sure the area behind the refrigerator is clear. Do not use the area behind the refrigerator for storage of any combustible materials, especially gasoline and other flammable vapors and liquids.

    How do I remove the wire shelves inside the cabinet?

    The refrigerator shelves are secured with either clips or shelf retainer strips. Refer to your refrigerator's operator's guide, provided with the refrigerator, for removal procedures.

    Why does it require 12vdc to operate when using LP gas?

    A 12-volt DC supply voltage is required to maintain the refrigerator's operating control function on some models, such as the 3163, and the refrigerator's interior light. It is NOT needed for the model N300.3

    How long should it take to get cold after it is started?

    On initial start-up, allow the refrigerator to cool between 8-12 hours before loading it with food. Warm foods, high ambient temperatures and frequent door openings will increase the cool down time.

    What is the cause of my refrigerator having an ammonia smell?

    An ammonia odor detected inside the refrigerator cabinet or at the rear of the refrigerator indicates the cooling unit has developed a leak and requires replacement by your dealer or an authorized Norcold service center. Remember, you are dealing with a complex appliance that operates on both LP gas and electrical power. Servicing this unit should only be done by a trained technician to avoid potential dangerous consequences!

    Is my refrigerator self-defrosting?

    No. Your refrigerator, unlike a home refrigerator, is not equipped with a heater that automatically eliminates the need for defrosting.

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    Leveling the Refrigerator:


    Winnebago's Rialta Operator's Manual for the Norcold Refrigerator says "operational limits of 3 degrees off-level side-to-side and 6 degrees off-level front-to-back". Are they describing the vehicle or the refrigerator?

    Its not immediately clear but an additional paragraph farther down the page states "6 degrees front-to-rear (such as steep driveways...)" which sounds as if they mean that "front-to-back" relates only to the vehicle. At best, this is misleading; at worst, it is incorrect. It actually depends upon which model of Rialta you own, but the language in the Winnebago manual does not make that clear.


    The Norcold manual itself is very clear and definitive: it defines the condition "as looking at the front of the refrigerator". This makes a difference because in two Rialta models, the refrigerator is mounted sideways inside the vehicle (HD and FD) while the third model (QD) has it mounted facing straight forward.

    The Real World:

    OK, now that we know just how much out-of-level tolerance is allowed and in which direction it is measures, what does this look like in the real world when you are parked on uneven surfaces? There are two places where you can visualize or measure this tolerance:

    1. At the wheels themselves, since this is where you actually shim to make things level. You don't shim the refrigerator, or if you do, then you're doing things the hard way.

    2. At the flat counter-top immediately above the refrigerator using a small 24" long bubble-spirit level.

    Notice that I did not include that miniature round bubble-in-a-circle level that is given free from a lot of RV dealers or comes free with the refrigerator. Using such a small level, it is difficult to determine which wheel needs to be shimmed and furthermore, it is in-expensively made and not very accurate.

    Let's first take a look at the wheels and visualize the maximum allowed variances which would still allow the refrigerator to operate properly. We need to look at two scenarios because the HD and FD are mounted sideways, while the QD is facing straight forward.

    Please select which model you own:
      Model HD or FD Wheel Variance
      Model QD Wheel Variance

    After viewing the sketches, it is apparent that the refrigerator is supposed to work properly well beyond what we all thought were the limits for out-of-level condition. And after viewing those sketches, you are probably asking yourself "Why bother leveling at all?" Well, the answer is simple and Winnebago has its entirely correct with this statement from the Rialta's Operator's Manual, "Normal vehicle leveling to provide comfort for the occupants is satisfactory for refrigerator operation".


    It's apparent that you seldom really need to level the vehicle in order to make the refrigerator operational. In fact, most of the time the reason to level the vehicle is so that the occupants feel more comfortable. I, for one, can not sleep in a bed that is tilted sideways even the smallest amount. Somehow my internal "human level" will tell me if its within tolerance.

    There are some owners that will use jacks stands to help stabilize the vehicle from rocking and at the same time help bring the vehicle into level without using blocks underneath the wheels. This makes lots of sense especially if the vehicle is going to be in the same position for more than just overnight. However, given the fact that the refrigerator can operate properly at angles we thought prohibitive, those people who are using the plastic or wood blocks to raise one or more wheels by only an inch or two are hopefully doing so for their own personal comfort, and not for the refrigerator.

    The bottom line is this: "Just how sensitive are YOU to being slightly out of level?" If it doesn't bother you, than you may never have to level the vehicle unless you are parked on some extreme gradient.

    Now that you've read all of this and practice it a few times in a campground or out in the boondocks, you'll probably find out just what works and what doesn't work. You'll end up taking a glance at that cheap round bubble-in-a-circle level and after doing a quick check of your surroundings, you'll say "Close enough!! Let's eat!!"

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    Leveling For The Geek:

    Now let's look at a real world solution that you can use to making those adjustments in order to "feel comfortable". All you need is a 24" long level easily obtained at any hardware store for under $10. I chose the 24" length because it will provide you a measurable variance that you can easily see. And it will easily store in the nearby overhead cabinets. The use of any shorter level means that an error in measuring of 1/16" can easily translate into one full inch at the wheels.

    Here's how to determine you vehicle's level from inside the vehicle. Stand facing the front of your refrigerator and place the 24" long level on the flat counter above the refrigerator. You will need to check straight forward and sideways. It's as easy as 1-2-3:

    1. Lift one end of the level until the bubble is centered.
    2. Measure how far you had to raise that one end of the level.
    3. Compare that measurement to these sketches.
    1. Side-to-Side Level
    1. Front-to-Back Level

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    Maintenance & Cleaning

    Very little maintenance is required of the refrigerator. Other than the cosmetic cleaning of the interior plastic, there is little else required for the normal operation of the refrigerator. The operator's manual notes that the unit is NOT self-defrosting so if over an extended period of constant usage you find frost build-up to be a problem (rare for the average RVer), then you will need to manually defrost the unit by simply turning it off, removing all food, and waiting for all accumulated ice to melt. In the meanwhile, you will need to soak up the water with towels. The operator's manual also suggests the use of a solution of liquid dish detergent and warm water to clean the refrigerator right after defrosting. Do not use abrasive cleaners, chemicals, or scouring pads because they can damage the interior of the refrigerator.

    If you are considering doing a thorough cleaning of the entire heating portion of the system, then refer to the "Replacing The Thermocouple" section on this page as this details the steps necessary to remove the refrigerator and shows the additional cleaning of the heating elements and other related parts.

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    Model N300 shown. 3163 is similar, but has different parts.  For additional information on removing the 3163, please see Model 3163

    The Norcold Operator's and Installation Manuals recommend that any of the following service procedures on the refrigerator should be performed by a qualified RV dealer or a Norcold authorized service center.

    With that being said, I've usually heard that many RVers have had to take their rig back several times because the problem with the refrigerator was not fixed right the first time. And I've seen the caliber of many workers at these RV dealers and quite frankly, I'm surprised that they manage to fix anything at all. Even when my Rialta was brand new, it would not run on propane and it required three trips to the dealership until they finally got it right. On the last trip to the dealer, I told the service manager to fix the problem and leave the unit running on propane so that when I went back to pick it up, I could then immediately verify if it was going to work or not.

    I must also state that if your problem includes the smell of leaking propane or ammonia gas, that you immediately shut off the propane tank and seek out qualified help in determining the cause of the leak. Do not travel in or occupy a coach when you can smell propane or ammonia gas.

    Electrical Operation (12 VDC & 120 VAC):

    Usually either of the two electrical modes of running the refrigeration unit are problem free. The unit either gets power to heat up the ammonia gases to work properly, or it doesn't. Norcold stipulates the requirement for AC voltage as between 108-132 volts. The requirement for DC voltage is between 11.5-15.4 volts. These voltages should be measured at the refrigerator's power terminal block on the back of the refrigerator. There are two fuses located near the electrical terminal block in the wires that run to either of the 150W DC heater or the 180W AC heater. The AC holds a 3 AMP fuse while the DC line holds a 20 AMP fuse. These are glass fuses so a visual check or a continuity tester can verify the integrity of the fuse element. Make sure that the propane tank valve is closed while doing any checking of electrical contacts.

    Propane Gas Operation:

    This is the mode of operation that causes almost all of the problems associated with the function of the refrigerator. There is one rule to remember about troubleshooting any propane related issues with the refrigerator: "cleanliness is next to godliness". Nearly all of the problems will generally occur within the burner box area. My information presented here also assumes that the gas control valve and safety valve function normally. There have been very few reports of any problems with these items.

    Photo #1

    If you are experiencing problems running under propane, then some housecleaning of the burner box will be needed. Many people have reported that simply cleaning out accumulated dirt, soot, spider webs, etc, was all that was necessary to remedy their problems. I personally find this a little implausible because I believe that most of the problems are related to a dirty, contaminated thermocouple or a clogged and dirty burner orifice. These items can not be cleaned without removing them from the burner box area.

    If the gas seems to ignite with no problems but the flame extinguishes as soon as your release the button on the control panel, then that signifies a dirty thermocouple. If you have problems even getting the flame to initially ignite, then that signifies a problem with the burner orifice or maybe the igniter.

    So how does one tell for sure if the gas is igniting or if the flame extinguishes? The answer is simple: you need two people. One to operate the controls on the inside of the coach while the other observes the action of the flame. First remove the outside lower vent cover. In order to fully see the flame, one needs to remove the burner box cover. It is held in place with one screw. It also helps if this work is done in the shade or in a well ventilated covered area otherwise bright sunlight will hamper one from seeing the flame. Remember, this is a VERY SMALL flame, much like nothing more than a pilot light. This is NOT a wide, large flame that you'd see on a furnace or stove. See Photos #3 and #6 below for examples.

    Troubleshooting Steps:

    1. Remove the one screw that holds burner box cover in place. Photo #2 below shows the complete burner box with the cover removed. Note the dirt and debris laying at the bottom of and all around the burner box. Actually this one is fairly clean; yours may be much worse. The red wire is the igniter lead; the thin copper tube is the thermocouple; and the brass fittings are part of the propane gas line and burner orifice tube. These are the three items to be checked and cleaned.

    Photo #2

    1. Open the valve on the propane tank.
    2. Turn the thermostat to its coldest or highest setting.
    3. Turn the selector switch on the control panel to the gas position
    4. Push and hold the safety valve button in the fully depressed position.
      (NOTE - This "safety valve" only allows gas to flow when there is a flame present or when the button is pressed. Any loss of flame as sensed by the thermocouple closes the safety valve and stops the flow of gas. The button that you push in and hold from the control panel actually bypasses this safety function and causes gas to flow as long as you hold in on the button.)

    5. In rapid succession, push the igniter button several times for about 5 seconds.
    6. While the person on the inside continues to hold in the safety valve button, the second person who is trying to observe the flame inside the burner box should be able to see a bright blue flame at the end of the burner orifice tube.

    1. No flame at all: double check to make sure the valve on the propane tank is open and that the manual valve on the back of the refrigerator is also open. This manual valve should always remain in the ON position. If you can smell propane but there still is no flame, then you probably have a faulty igniter or else the burner orifice can be fully clogged.

    2. Flame present but it is yellow instead of blue or else the flame flickers erratically: you probably have a clogged burner orifice tube which needs to be removed and cleaned. Follow the steps as detailed below under "Specific Cleaning Steps".

    3. Flame is deep blue in color: The burner orifice seems to be OK. So far, so good. Continue on to the next step. Photo #3 shows the deep blue flame touching the tip of the thermocouple and the end of the thermocouple is glowing red.

    Photo #3

    1. Once you see a flame present, have the person on the inside continue to hold the button on the safety valve for about 30 seconds. On a properly adjusted burner assembly, you would normally need to hold the safety valve in for only a few seconds. The purpose of this extra time during this troubleshooting procedure is to ensure that the thermocouple is being brought up to full temperature. A thermocouple that is improperly positioned may require this extra time. After 30 seconds, the person on the inside should release the safety valve button while the person on the outside watches to see what happens to the flame.

      1. Flame slowly goes out or goes out immediately: you probably have a dirty or faulty thermocouple. First try cleaning the tip before buying a new one. Follow the tasks listed below under "Specific Cleaning Steps".

      2. Flame remains lit: appears to me that everything is running perfectly. Enjoy your RV.

    Specific Cleaning Steps:

    At this point, you may have determined that you need to remove some items, clean them, and reinstall them to check for proper action. Even if you think that you may have a problem with only one item, I still recommend that you remove and clean the thermocouple, the igniter, and the burner orifice tube. Once you get one item removed, it is much easier to get to the remaining two. So while you're in there, why not check and clean all three items.

    Your task is simple: first, shut off the propane tank valve! Step number two: double check to make sure that you have shut off the propane tank valve! Then, remove all three items from the burner box, clean out any and all dirt or debris that remain in the burner box area, and then re-assemble everything. Photo #14 below shows all three items reattached to the burner box with only the gas line fittings remaining to be installed. Once complete, follow the Troubleshooting Steps listed above to confirm that everything works properly. Compare the cleanliness of this photo to photo #1 above.

    Photo #4

    Gaining access to remove and re-install any of these items with a screwdriver in this cramped area may be difficult. Stubby screwdrivers are of little use because they generally have big, fat handles that prevent them from being in the correct alignment with the screw to be removed. Perhaps a ratcheting right-angle screwdriver might work best but I was able to use one of those Phillips tipped screwdriver bits with a hex shank that is normally designed to be inserted into the end of a screwdriver shank or other similar holding tool. Without using any such holding tool, I merely held the screwdriver bit in place with a finger or two of one hand, while a 1/4" open end wrench was used to turn the hex portion of the bit with the other hand. It takes a while because you can only get about a 1/4 turn with each movement of the wrench.

    You may also find that the gas line connectors tend to get in the way while trying to remove the screws, so you may wish to disconnect the gas fittings in order to gain some needed work space. Note that photo #4 above shows the gas line fittings are the last item to be re-installed. This makes for a little more maneuvering room when trying to re-install the screw to any of the hardware items.


    The thermocouple probe will probably have to be removed just to gain access to the screws that hold in the igniter and the burner orifice so start by removing the thermocouple and it holding bracket. It is all held in place with one small Phillips head screw. Once the screw is removed, the entire holding bracket and thermocouple can be removed from the burner box. Try not to disturb the position of the thermocouple relative to its holding bracket. There is no need to remove or reroute the remainder of the copper line of the thermocouple that leads up to the control panel because there should be enough slack to examine and clean the tip of the thermocouple in place. Photo #5 below shows the thermocouple and its holding bracket removed from the burner box.

    Photo #5

    The tip of the thermocouple will be discolored due to heat from the flame and this is normal. However, the tip should be uniform in shape, not distorted, and without any particles or debris clinging to the end. Use the fine emery cloth or green scratch pad to thoroughly clean and smooth the tip. I used one of those green "scratch pads" generally found in the sandpaper section of a hardware store. These scratch pads are similar to, but the not the same as the pads sold for cleaning and washing pots and pans. They have no sponge and no embedded detergent.

    Normally you should not have to re-position the thermocouple in relation to where it sits with the flame. However, repair attempts by others may have left the thermocouple holding bracket either distorted or bent. The final position of the thermocouple tip is not absolutely critical but at least 1/4" of the tip must be fully immersed in the blue flame. Photo #6 below shows the thermocouple and igniter both in the midst of the deep blue flame. A much lighter colored blue flame extends slightly over these items but it is barely discernable in the photo. Also note the holding bracket for the thermocouple and how it is slightly bent to achieve the proper position.

    Photo #6

    If the bracket is bent or distorted and the tip of the thermocouple just barely touches the flame or doesn't touch it at all, then it will not be brought up to full temperature and therefore no signal to signify the presence of a flame will get generated. And then once you release the safety valve button, it will automatically stop the flow of gas because it thinks there is no flame present. The presence of debris and burnt particles on the tip of the thermocouple form an insulating jacket or pull heat from the tip of the thermocouple and prevent it from being brought up to full temperature. Then the same shut down procedure will happen once the safety valve button is released.


    The igniter is held in place with one small Phillips head screw which is probably the most difficult screw to access as it tends to be blocked by the thermocouple which may need to be temporarily removed. There is no need to remove or re-route the wire itself as there will be enough slack to examine and clean the tip as needed. The tip should be L-shaped with the shortest portion of the L being held in the flame area just over the flame area of the burner orifice. Photo #7 below shows the igniter with it screw mounting flange being removed from the burner box.

    Photo #7

    Once the igniter is removed from the burner box, use a fine piece of emery cloth or granite sandpaper to clean the end that normally sticks into the flame. This end will normally be discolored from the heat but try to make it as clean as possible without any debris or particles being burned onto the tip. Once the igniter tip is cleaned thoroughly, simple replace it in the burner box and re-install the screw.

    The igniter should be properly positioned with the correct gap automatically unless the tip has been bent. Normally the gap between the igniter tip and the burner orifice tube should be between 1/8" and 3/16".

    Burner Orifice:

    If the flame is yellow or flickers erratically, then the burner orifice is probably plugged and/or dirty. Removal is similar to the igniter and thermocouple in that one screw holds it in place on the burner box bracket. In addition, the gas line must be disconnected so that the burner orifice can be removed for cleaning.

    Always use two wrenches on all gas line fittings: one to loosen a fitting and another to hold the mating piece stationary. Failure to do this may cause the copper gas line to bend or create a leak at another fitting. Photo #8 below shows the gas line disconnected and the retaining screw being removed from the flange around the burner orifice tube.

    Photo #8

    Photo #9 below is a close up of the gas outlet slits in the burner orifice tube once it has been removed from the burner box. Note the debris and small particles around the slits especially the slit closest to the mounting flange. This one is not particularly dirty but the slits still need to be perfectly cleaned out. The actual orifice is just off the left side of the photo and is part of a brass fitting. Just to the left of the screw mounting flange are the three air inlet holes.

    Photo #9

    Once the burner orifice assembly has been removed from the burner box, examine the tip where the gas outlet slits are cut into the metal. Soot and other debris may eventually build up here blocking one or more of the outlet slits. Use fine emery cloth or the green scratch pad to remove the debris and thoroughly clean the tip.

    Use only alcohol to clean the burner orifice; do not use gasoline or any other type of solvent. Any residual of those chemicals may burn off with excess soot and carbon build-up. Do not use a pin or wire to poke into the orifice tube. You can fill up a small drinking glass with alcohol and allow the burner orifice to soak for several hours if there is any build-up of soot or carbon. To make sure the orifice is not plugged, try holding your fingers over the three air inlet holes and blowing into the brass fitting while holding the extended portion of the orifice tube in the alcohol. You should see bubbles coming out of the gas outlet slits. If not, things are still plugged up. Photo #10 below shows the cleaned burner orifice tube ready to re-install in the burner box.

    Photo #10

    Once the burner orifice is attached, then reattach the gas line fittings using two wrenches. These are flare nuts and compression fittings and no pipe dope or Teflon tape is needed.

    There are no positional adjustments to the burner orifice and there are no provisions for adjusting the size of the orifice or air mixture. Once you go through the troubleshooting steps again, everything should work just perfectly. If a yellow flame continues to appear after cleaning the burner orifice, then the air mixture is still not correct which means something is wrong with the mechanical set-up of the burner orifice and the only remedy is to purchase a replacement burner orifice. (See the Operator's and Parts Manuals above.)

    If everything checks out and the propane lights on first try and stays lit, then pat yourself on the back for doing a good job. You just saved about $100 to $200 in charges and you have the peace of mind knowing that you did a complete and thorough job.

    If you are still have problems keeping the flame lit and you know for sure that the burner orifice is clean along with the burner box , then the thermocouple may need replacement. This page also includes a complete description of replacing the thermocouple.

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    Changing the Thermocouple on the N300.3 (Model HD)

    Many thanks to Richard Cox for providing the following description and photos of this procedure. The N300 is the larger refrigerator with a freezer compartment found only the Rialta Model HD. The other models, FD and QD, have smaller refrigerators and the procedure would be very similar. Other owners are encourage to submit their own description and photos for those models. Also, in reading the following, please remember that the HD uses a meter with a needle that points to either a red or green area on the meter face. Other models use only a green light.


    Recently, the refrigerator in our 2002HD Rialta, Norcold 300.3 stopped working in the propane mode. As it had previously worked during a recent trip on both 12 volts and 120 volts, I knew that there could not be anything wrong with the cooling unit. The problem therefore must be somewhere in the propane workings. I had nearly a full tank of propane. I lit a burner on the stove for a minute or so and I tried to start the refrigerator in the gas mode. The needle on the front panel meter moved upscale very shortly after depressing the igniter button several times rapidly but dropped back towards the low end as soon as I released the right hand red button. Apparently, the flame was starting but then going out after I released the button. To confirm this, I went outside, removed the lower vent grill and opened the cover to the combustion box. I then had my wife go through the motions of attempting to start the refrigerator once again. Sure enough, as soon as she punched the igniter button with the right red button depressed, the flame started immediately in the burner box. But as I suspected, as soon as she released the right hand button, the flame went out. Conclusion, our refrigerator had a bad thermocouple.

    A thermocouple is a device consisting of a junction of two dissimilar metals usually that will generate low levels of electrical current in the millivolt range when the junction is exposed to heat or cold. In RV refrigerators, the thermocouple is used as a safety device to shut down the flow of gas should the flame be inadvertently extinguished. The lower end of the thermocouple has a probe housing the junction. This is positioned in the combustion box directly above the flame which heats the coils. The low voltage signal thus created by the flame is transferred by the thermocouple to the interrupter. This voltage signal activates a low level magnet which will hold the interrupter and the safety valve open. The magnet itself will not pull the safety valve open but once opened, the magnet is strong enough to hold it in the open position. The valve is initially opened by pressing the right hand red button on the front panel. If the flame lights and the thermocouple sends a signal to the interrupter, the flow of gas will continue when the right red button is released. If the flame goes out when the red button is released, then the thermocouple is bad.

    Purchase of the replacement thermocouple

    Because we live in a remote rural area, I find it more convenient and less expensive in the long run, to purchase replacement parts on-line or by phone. I called Lichtsinn’s and they had a replacement Thermocouple – Norcold part number 619154 or Winnebago part number 131147-01-729. The cost was $25.95 with their summer discount of 5% [winter discount is 10%]. The part arrived a few days later via UPS to my door.

    I subsequently checked a local hardware store for any thermocouples that might fit but the only ones that they had were for domestic gas hot water heaters. The probe length was too short, the upper connection was the wrong size and the maximum overall length was too short. I also looked on-line. I saw one site that was selling used Norcold thermocouples for $10. The site did not say if they had any available for the Norcold 300.3. They listed a phone number to call for additional information. I thought that if I was going to make the effort to remove the refrigerator, it would be much better to purchase a new Thermocouple rather than a used one.

    Removing the refrigerator

    I decided that it would be easier to replace the thermocouple, if I removed the refrigerator from the Rialta. This would provide unlimited physical access to the parts involved in the replacement. The thermocouple, or TC for short, [a 54” long copper tube] has its probe positioned inside the burner box at the lower left rear of the cabinet. From there the tubing goes horizontally across the rear of the cabinet to the right side and then up to the top of the cabinet, where it follows across the top to the center of the cabinet to the interrupter. The interrupter is directly behind the right red button on the control panel. The upper end has a brass fitting which threads into a mating hole in the interrupter.

    I began by turning off the gas supply at the tank making sure that the valve was tight. I removed the lower outside vent grille to gain access to the rear portion of the refrigerator. I unplugged the 120 volt supply cord from the receptacle on the left. The 12 volt wires were removed from the terminal block (yellow and white wires). I turned the gas valve that is part of the refrigerator to the “OFF” position. I removed the two lock nuts on the bolts that fasten the refrigerator to the hold down brackets. The bolts are positioned with the heads down, the threads up and the nut on top. Some bending of the brackets was necessary to remove the bolts. I disconnected the gas supply line at the junction of the copper supply tube and the gas line that goes to the refrigerator. I used two wrenches, one on each side of the connection to avoid damage to the fitting. I went inside the coach and removed the refrigerator door by removing the top screw on the hinge, noting the position of a plastic washer. I also took out the six Phillips head screws from the side of the refrigerator case and it was ready to be removed. I initially pushed on the back of the refrigerator case from the outside until I moved it inward about 4 -6 inches. Working from inside the coach, I pulled it out of the cabinet the rest of the way. It is not particularly heavy but its bulk makes it a bit cumbersome. I tried not to grab the piping in the back for use as a handle to avoid any possible damage to the cooling portion. With the door off, I could position one hand partially inside the box in order to lift the refrigerator. Once it was out if the cabinet, I carried it out the side door of the coach. I positioned it on two saw horses which gave me easy access to all of the parts.

    Old thermocouple removal

    I made mental notes on how the TC was routed before actually taking it out. There are three nylon cable ties holding it in position along the vertical run along the right side of the box. I snipped those loose, pulled the probe end out of the burner box, unthreaded the brass fitting from the interrupter and pulled the TC out of its position. I was then ready for the installation of the replacement TC.

    New thermocouple installation

    I uncoiled the new Thermocouple and straightened it out to its full length….54”. I inserted the probe end into the burner box and routed the rest of it similarly to the old one and positioned the upper end near the interrupter so that I could thread it into the interrupter opening. I snugged the fitting gently but firmly. I installed three new cable ties in approximately the same position as the old ones and the refrigerator was ready to go back into the coach. I would like to have tested the refrigerator operation before reinstalling it. However, I did not have any means of supplying gas to the refrigerator while it was out of the Rialta.

    Conside a complete cleaning of the heating elements

    At this point, you have installed the new thermocouple and are ready to re-install the refrigerator. However, take a good look at the back side. As long as you have the entire thing out and sitting on the bench, why not consider doing a complete maintenance of the burner and heating tube assemblies and at the same time, cleaning up some of that rust so the thing will look new again.

    If you'd like to consider this option, just continue on. On the other hand, if you think everything is clean enough and you just want to put the thing back together, then jump ahead to the next section entitled "Putting the refrigerator back in the Rialta".


    Take a good look at these two pictures.


    This is the same identical refrigerator but only one day later, after the black metal parts were cleaned of the surface rust and a new coat of paint applied.

    If you want, you can click on either picture to see a high resolution image but be prepared for a very close up look. If your web browser resizes the picture to all fit in the window, look for the resize gadget in the lower left such as found in Internet Explorer v6 to resize the image to its full resolution.

    OK, what's so important about having a nice black shiny paint job on the parts of the refrigerator that you don't even see? These parts are painted black for a reason: heat transfer. Technically, your refrigerator makes things cool by first heating up some of its parts. After some magic is done with the ammonia gas to create the cooling inside the refrigerator, these black painted parts must now shed some of that heat. Take a look towards the top of the refrigerator and notice one tube with a bunch of cooling fins on it just like a radiator. Metal finishes that are smooth and black will transfer away more heat energy than a metal finish that is rusty and covered with dirt.

    To accomplish this refurbishment, a lot depends on just how detailed you want to get. To be done thoroughly, you will need to remove the insulation around the heat pipes and chimney. There you will also see the actual 12V heat element and the 110V heat element. Both can be removed and a little emery cloth used to shine up the working end of the heat elements.

    You can begin by carefully cutting the aluminized foil wrap around the insulation. Look at the next photo and you will see that this insulation is really two half round pieces that are held together by nothing more than the aluminized foil. You can see or feel exactly where the pieces join together. Use a razor blade or sharp knife to cut right along this joint. Remove the two halves of insulation to expose the heat pipe area.

    With the insulation removed, you can see where the two heating elements are attached to the heat pipe. Now the design of the entire heating area becomes obvious. Either the propane flame or one of the electrical heating elements are used to heat up the gas inside the large tube. The two electrical heating elements merely sit in a round tube of their own. All of these vertical heat tubes are welded to the main tube that contains the ammonia gas. The idea here is simple: whatever form of energy is used, it's only function is to apply heat to this area of the tube with the ammonia gas. The insulation is only used to concentrate the heat in one area and to keep ambient air from cooling off this area.

    You can remove the electrical heating elements and used some emery cloth to remove surface rust. With the entire heating area now exposed, its clear that a lot of rust forms in this area. Use a stiff wire brush wheel on an electric drill to remove as much of the surface rust as possible. Use sandpaper or emery cloth to get into the areas the wire wheel can't reach. Continue to clean up as much of the black painted areas of the refrigerator as you determine to be necessary.


    When you are satisfied (you won't get everything down to bare smooth metal), you are now ready to apply a new coat of black paint. Try to be neat here as you don't want black overspray all over the other areas of the refrigerator covering wires and other gas tubing parts. Use newspaper to cover those areas and mask off with tape. It only takes a few minutes where you can protect everything. Here's a tip: it will take three or more light coats of a gloss black enamel to get a good looking coat. Use a fast drying paint so that you don't have to wait a day between coats. With a little patience, you finished product should look something like the photo on the right. And when you first use your thoroughly cleaned refrigerator, it'll bake the new paint as it heats up so it sort of smells just like a new one.

    More Cleaning

    Here's a tip from another Rialta owner whose fridge did not work at all on gas and barely got cool on electric:

    These old absorption units can be real troublesome if not kept clean and mine was full of rust so I removed the burner and cleaned it. Now for an old trick from my days as a refer repair man. Go to Wally World and purchase a 12 gage shotgun cleaning kit. It will contain a round wire brush on a metal pole. Attach the brush to an electric drill and polish out the heat riser tube in the fridge. Be sure to remove the spiral heat deflector inside the tube it hangs on a wire that is attached to the top of the tube. Polish out all the rust in the tube also remove any rust from the heat deflector. Now put it all back together and then turn the refrigerator upside down and let it set over night. This causes the fluids to circulate in the system and dissolve any of the solids that may have formed due to the refrigerator being run unleveled. It is not as much of a problem in these small fridges but the larger ones can get “vapor locked “if run unleveled. Turn the unit right side up and let it set for another 12 hrs then it is ready to reinstall.

    Cleaning Tool Burner Assembly




    Putting the refrigerator back in the Rialta

    This was basically the reverse procedure of removing it. After it was positioned in the cabinet, I connected the two tie down bolts in the back first and then reinstalled the screws around the front of the cabinet. I did not install the door until after I had checked operation of the refrigerator. After making the electrical connections (the white wire is -12 volts while the yellow wire is +12 volts; there are + and – markings on the terminal strip where the 12 volts connections attach), I reconnected the gas supply line. I opened the refrigerator valve, then the tank valve and went inside for a test. As the tank had been off for a bit, I first lit a range burner to allow the gas to refill the supply lines. I set the mode switch to gas, held the right red button down and then pressed the igniter button repeatedly until I saw the meter read upscale. After I was sure that it was well upscale, I released the right red button and the meter held its position. As a further check, I went outside, peeked in the inspection hole in the burner box and sure enough the gas flame was burner merrily. It was a nice blue flame and properly positioned. I repeated the startup process several more times. Each time the refrigerator started quickly and the flame stayed lit. I went back inside the coach and reinstalled the refrigerator door.

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    Repair Facilities

    Etters R.V
    Greenwood, Indiana
    317-881-3273. All types of models, and he even has some new, and rebuilt models

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    Page Updated: 5 July 2018