Summer 2015, Airstream style

It’s that time of year.  While most of the country is celebrating the appearance of spring, it’s already getting kind of “warm” here in Tucson (meaning we had our first 90 degree day already) and we’ve working on our annual trip north to Alumapalooza. By mid-May, when Tucson tends to hit 100 for the first time, we’ve got to be on the road with our Airstream.

I look forward to that day with a combination of apprehension and excitement. It’s nice to get back out in the Airstream, but the prep is incredible. Every house project, Airstream project, and work project needs to be settled (if not finished), and that’s a ton of work. I always advocate to people that they try not to go out on their adventure of a lifetime with a pile of unfinished business, personal issues, or money problems—because those things tend to drag you back to home sooner than you’d like—and I try to take my own advice.

It’s not always possible, of course, to put a “hard stop” on everything in life, so the other side of it is to try to find ways to continue the necessities of life even as you roll down the road. I could write a book about that … and maybe someday I will.

The Airstream has been getting its seasonal maintenance.  Being a lady of a certain age and having many miles behind her, I do have to try to get ahead of problems before we head out. So far this spring I have:

  • replaced the failed refrigerator cooling unit (and the replacement has been running continuously for a month with no problems)
  • replaced the converter/charger with a Xantrex TrueCharge 2
  • replaced the dump valves
  • stripped off the rest of the old “Tour of America” decals
  • added some aluminum sheet to the belly pan to replace corroded metal (galvanic corrosion is slowly eating the pan, as it unavoidably will wherever steel meets aluminum, and I expect that some large sections will need replacement in a few years)
  • removed, wire brushed, and repainted the spare tire carrier. I scuffed it pretty badly coming out of a parking lot back in January.
  • touched up paint on the Hensley hitch (but it needs a total strip & powder coat)
  • disassembled the center Fantastic Vent, cleaned thoroughly, and re-assembled
  • flushed the hot water tank & replaced the drain plug
  • replaced the Pressure/Temperature valve on the water heater
  • upgraded the propane tanks to aluminum Worthingtons
  • installed new LED lights in the refrigerator and range vent

And on the tow vehicle, a bunch more stuff including the new dash cam, GPS, tires, rear shocks, front air struts … I think I’d rather not list the rest of it right now. The memory is a bit painful.

If you wonder why I go through all this trouble when I could just buy plane tickets and hotel rooms, well, you aren’t an Airstreamer. Yes, it’s a lot of stuff, but when I compare it to the life we’ve had, the things we’ve seen, and the people we’ve met, a few repairs and maintenance seem like a very small price to pay.

There’s more to do on the Airstream but it just won’t all get done before we go, so I’ll bring a few tools and parts along and give Super Terry something to do when I see him at Alumapalooza. For Super Terry’s benefit, that list includes:

  • installing a replacement entry door lock, because the one we have has jammed a few times
  • sealing a small leak somewhere near the front vent fan
  • lubricating the seals on the vent fans
  • updating the Parbond sealant around a few spots on the exterior

The big project I had planned, to add a fancy water filtration system, is just going to have to wait until fall, I’m afraid.  All the parts are here but the time to do it has gone.

Now it’s time to clean out whatever is left from last year that we no longer need, and stock the Airstream with the ingredients for fun for Summer 2015. Both Eleanor and I have been at it for a while and we’ll be finishing the job over the next two weeks.

So here’s the trip plan for the first half of the summer:

late May: Arizona to Ohio, and then Alumapalooza!

June: tow east to Vermont for a few weeks, and another week-long BMW motorcycle adventure (destination TBD)

late June: I’ll fly back west while the rest of the family remain in the northeast.  Brett & I will hike in Navajo National Monument, and then drop in on the WBCCI International Rally in Farmington NM for a couple of days.

July: Temporary Bachelor Man returns!

There’s much more planned through October but my head would explode if I laid it all out right now. I figure we’ll cover about 8,000 miles of Airstream travel and at least 12 states, depending on how we head back. I want to do some exploring in parts of Arkansas and Missouri, especially around the Ozarks, where we’ve never been before.

Yes, it looks like another great summer coming up, Airstream-style.

Scrap metal

I got an email from a friend today who was asking on behalf of her friend about a vintage Airstream she wanted to purchase. The 1960s trailer was listed for $4,500.  The prospective buyer knows nothing about Airstreams except that they’re cool. That has become the number one qualification of vintage owners lately. I don’t like saying it, but that’s a problem.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I bought my first 1960s Airstream because it was cool too. But I took a lot of time to learn about them, and shop as carefully as I could, and eventually I scored a usable model that became my learning platform. We still have it; it’s the 1968 Airstream Caravel that we no longer use but lavish attention on nonetheless.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a money pit, the Caravel certainly hasn’t been an awesome investment.  Even with my attempt to learn as much as possible before buying, I still had a lot of painful lessons ahead, and they cost me plenty. As I mentioned in my prior blog, vintage trailer owners tend to sink more money into their trailers than they are ultimately worth on the open market.

The person who wanted to buy the Airstream had dreams of turning it into a rental unit, using it herself occasionally, and decorating the interior herself. That’s all good, but if you don’t have a broad set of skills, lots of time, and a well-equipped workshop, the road from a “basket case” trailer to glamping heaven is paved with glue and cactus spines.  This buyer didn’t have any of the right qualifications.

So even before I looked at the trailer in question, I could say with confidence that a vintage project probably wasn’t right for her. But to be fair, I took a look at the online photos of the trailer too.

Colin Hyde in Airstream
Colin Hyde demonstrates a slight problem with this Airstream. This one was actually restorable, although at considerable expense.

Define “disaster”: an Airstream shell that has no interior, no windows, body damage, and a rotten wood floor. That’s what most people call scrap metal. There’s hardly any value in that, even if it is a very old Airstream (and 1960s-era is not considered very old in the Airstream world).

To get started on a project like this you would first need to find a way to transport it, since with no interior and a structurally deficient floor it would be unsafe to tow.  Then you’d need a good work space for two or three years, plus a long list of skills—or a really fat wallet to pay someone else to do all the dirty work.  $50,000-100,000 could disappear easily.

And yet, this buyer was ready to plunk down 45 hundred simoleons to acquire this decaying shell of an Airstream.  That’s the power of desire, triumphing over good sense.

Airstreams are enticing, no question. So I am writing this blog to warn those who don’t know what they are getting into. If you want to get into a project, fine, but don’t buy scrap metal. When you see an Airstream with no windows or with missing roof vents, it means it has been suffering water damage for years, not to mention the ravages of rodents and insects.

Junk AirstreamThe floor will be rotten.  The frame will probably be rusted. The insulation will be compacted and riddled with rodent trails. In short, the trailer is garbage. Junk. Restorable only at a ridiculous cost.

If you want a project, buy something that is at least intact, meaning with no major body damage, still sealed against the elements, and complete with all the doors and windows. If you don’t care about the interior because you’re going to strip it out and replace it anyway, at least make sure the structure underneath is still viable.  Don’t trust the seller on this—check it out yourself or find someone to check it out for you.

If you want to go camping in the next year, or you have a tighter budget, or you are utterly clueless about anything mechanical—buy a nice used Airstream that someone has recently camped in. There are plenty of good ones on the market.  They really aren’t rare, and Airstream keeps making more of them.  Most people will be happier without the horrible learning curve of buying a junker.

To those who make a sideline business out of selling scrap Airstreams to clueless buyers for outrageous prices: you should be ashamed of yourselves. Yes, if they are willing to pay and you don’t hide anything, it’s ultimately the buyer’s responsibility. But really, do you sleep well at night? Do something positive and help people by selling worthwhile trailers. Take the junk where it belongs: the recycling center.

Are you ready for a vintage project?

I got a call today from a good friend who is considering whether to plunge into an Airstream project. He’s got an older Airstream Classic 310 motorhome, which is one of the early models with an aluminum body. Those old Classics are basically an Airstream trailers mounted on a bread truck chassis, and the only major difference is the length.

Last night I met another friend at a doughnut shop to talk about a possible 1965 Airstream Safari project. Very different from the motorhome, but the basic issues were the same. Both of my friends wanted to get my opinion on the projects, and some insight as to whether the Airstreams were worth the effort.

After these conversations I began to think about all the times I’ve been asked by people about their vintage projects. Since starting the magazine in 2004, and working on a couple of my own vintage projects, I’ve probably seen several hundred vintage trailer restorations, refurbishments, and customizations. I have no idea how many we’ve published in Airstream Life but certainly dozens.

Vintage Airstream projects are always happening. Some never stop, and many never are finished. There’s always someone who wants to decide whether it makes sense to tackle a project, and I guess that’s why it’s common that I get asked about it regularly.

Vintage Airstream
Vintage Airstream at Region 1 WBCCI rally, Connecticut

I’ve come to realize that it’s not the trailer or motorhome you start with that really matters. Certainly you can make your life a lot easier if you start with something that’s not a total wreck, but the real determinant of a successful restoration is the person who takes on the challenge.

Not only do you need to have (or acquire) some skills and knowledge, but you also need to have a commitment to the project. A full restoration takes a lot of time. Sure, you can do a shabby job in 100 hours, but I’m not talking about those sorts of “eBay restorations” where someone makes over a vintage trailer cosmetically for quick re-sale (hint: look for a quickie polish job that looks swirly in bright sun, black-and-white checked floor, and Coca-Cola memorabilia) or ignores serious structural problems, or dumps a bunch of household cabinetry and appliances into it (thus turning a lightweight travel trailer into an unbalanced and crippled condo on wheels).

A more sensitive and attentive vintage restoration or customization (the difference being whether you try to match the original intent or modernize it) will go deep into the Airstream and take hundreds of hours, at least. How deep?  As deep as it takes. Typically this means gutting the interior (saving re-usable interior appliances and woodwork), dealing with frame rust and floor rot, and replacing lots of parts that won’t be noticed by the average person but which really matter.

I’m talking about parts like under-floor insulation, wiring, and plumbing. You work on these things because you don’t plan to flip the end product for a quick buck. You work on these things because you want to end up with something that respects the intent of the original Airstream: light weight, structurally strong, travel-worthy on any road and in all weather, and efficient with resources (water, propane, electricity). That’s how the Airstreams were designed, and it pains me to see vintage “restorations” which eviscerate that intent.

Caravel aluminum replacement

Of course, there’s no law that says you have to keep an Airstream true to its original design. Many cool and creative new uses have been found for old Airstreams, and I respect that because it’s a great example of adaptive re-use. Unlike just about every “white box” travel trailer or motorhome made in the last sixty years, Airstreams have an amazing capacity to be re-used as pop-up stores, promotional trailers, coffee shops and cafés, toy haulers, meeting rooms, and art. Make an Airstream into anything you want, but if you are going to make it back into a travel trailer, at least be sure it’s a good one.

Sometimes people go a little crazy on their restorations. I have seen friends lavish so much attention on every detail that they’ve spent 2,000 hours or more, working night after night in their garage to produce a museum-perfect restoration. Others I know have spent well over $200,000 on a personalized vintage Airstream.  I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with that. Like concours-quality automotive restorations, those Airstreams are inspirational. Here’s to the crazy ones; we need them to show us the ultimate standard, even if we aren’t going to achieve that level ourselves.

Gail Buck vintage Airstream
Gail Buck and her vintage Airstream

To the friends I spoke with this week, I gave the same basic advice: don’t look so much at the trailer you’re starting with. Look at yourself. Guaranteed: the project will take more money and more time than you expected, and you will definitely “invest” more money than the outcome is worth on the open market. Those things don’t matter.

Vintage Airstream at VTJ 08What really matters is whether a vintage restoration is how you want to spend your time and money. If you just want a trailer to go camping, there are easier and quicker routes. A full-blown vintage restoration is not a practical thing, it’s a commitment to the point almost of being a lifestyle. If you sell the project after you’ve started, you will lose money. Do it not because it makes any sense, but rather because you really want to do it.

And, I should mention, because you really want to be seen in it.  Let’s face it, a big part of the reward for spending countless nights and weekends painstakingly re-building and installing parts is the praise and admiration the vintage rig  generates once it is on the road.  People love to see cool vintage trailers and motorhomes. You’ll get invited to be in vintage shows, and random people in campgrounds and parking lots will ask for tours. A really good restoration makes you a celebrity—or to be entirely accurate, it makes you the manager for a celebrity.

Likewise, if you really need the finished product because your life-long dream is to operate a mobile coffee shop or kettle corn popper or pop-up store, you might have good motivation to do a good job and actually finish it.

But don’t look solely to the reward. You have to enjoy the process. If you see the project as a chance to learn new skills, demonstrate your chops as a woodworker/ plumber/ electrician/ interior designer/ upholsterer/ polisher/ metalworker (and all those skills do usually come in to play at some point), or just have an excuse to buy lots of new tools and set up a cool workshop, you’ve probably got a good motivation to tackle and finish a vintage Airstream project.

Having done a couple of projects, I feel I’ve learned a lot that I could apply to another vintage trailer. The third one, I’m certain, would be much easier. Once in a while the temptation arises, but I’ve been able to quash it on the grounds that I don’t have the working space or the time to devote. (The fact that I have absolutely no need for a third Airstream in my life hardly enters into it. As I said, you do these things for no practical reason.) Someday perhaps I will have that free time and working space, and then I’ll have to fight hard against the Siren call of aluminum.

In the meantime, I wish my friends well as they consider their projects. If they take the plunge, I hope they commit to the fullest because that’s how they’ll get the best result. And I’ll be happy to pitch in when I can or provide long-distance advice. If you can’t do a project yourself, it’s almost as gratifying to see someone else do a good job on one.  We’ll have more projects in future issues of Airstream Life magazine, too.

Fridge and charger upgrades

I don’t have to look at the calendar to know that time is running out to get my annual Airstream repairs and upgrades done. I lost a lot of time this winter with other projects, plus Alumafiesta and Alumaflamingo, and now I can feel the looming deadline of mid-May. That’s when we have to hit the road to go to Alumapalooza, and begin our summer of travel, and so that’s when the Airstream must be in top shape.

Some of the projects just aren’t going to get done this year, but one that could not be passed by is the replacement refrigerator cooling unit. It arrived on time (from the second vendor I chose, one that performed reliably) but then I was too busy to get to installing it until just last weekend.

Replacing the cooling unit isn’t too bad of a job for two people, but doing it solo it would be a giant pain. First, you’ve got to get the entire thing out of the Airstream, and my fridge weighs about 120 pounds, plus it had to be lifted over the countertops. I called on my friend Patrick to come over and help out with the job, which he was kind enough to do. Fortunately, he’s also quite strong, so while it wasn’t a picnic to hoist the refrigerator, it wasn’t too awful either.

I set up a nice little work space in the carport behind the Caravel to do the actual surgery. The “operating table” is a painter’s tarp, so we could lay the patient face down and not scuff the doors. (That’s the new cooling unit in the box.)

New cooling unit and work spaceAlthough the new cooling unit came with directions that did point out a few handy tips, I wouldn’t say it was a slam-dunk sort of job. There are lots of small differences between models, and the directions could only give general advice. A few parts ended up being unneeded on the new unit, such as the Dometic “recall box,” and we had to slightly modify the mount for the burner assembly, and drill a hole for the thermistor wire … and drill a few other holes as well. You definitely need to have a good toolkit to do this one. Moral support from a friend helps, too.

We ended up getting it done in about six hours. I would expect that if I had to do the job again it would take about half as long, now that I know how it goes. Overall, I’m glad to have tried this. The repair shop was going to charge $1,500 for this job, whereas my cost was about $600 plus six hours of labor. So I basically paid myself $150/hour to do it. (Patrick got paid with some of Eleanor’s fresh cannolis.)

In the photo below, you can see the old cooling unit, complete with the yellow stains of refrigerant that leaked out when it died. That residue sticks to the metal and corrodes it. We chucked most of the contaminated metal and cleaned the burner tube.

Refrigerator ready to gut

Re-installing the refrigerator includes four screws on the front, two large screws on the back, an AC plug, two 12v wires, and a gas line. Not too bad after you’ve pried the guts off the fridge and replaced them.

We were careful, so I was pretty confident the refrigerator would work when we finally re-installed it, but still it was nice to stick my hand in the freezer door a couple of hours later and find it already cold.

Alas, it was around that time (long after Patrick had gone home) that I discovered my mistake. During re-assembly we had noticed that the condensate drain was too old to use. It kept breaking apart, so we finally removed it and made a note to get a replacement drain later. This seemed like a fine plan until later that evening when I realized that it is impossible to install a new drain tube while the refrigerator is installed—at least on my particular trailer.

So sometime next week, Eleanor and I will disconnect (four screws, two large screws, AC plug, 12v wires, gas line again) and pull the refrigerator out partially so she can skinny her way into the fridge compartment from the outside and try to attach the new condensate tube. I hope she can do it, otherwise we’ll have to remove the refrigerator entirely.

Xantrex remote panel installed

While the refrigerator was out, I took the opportunity to run a final line for the Xantrex TrueCharge 2 that I had installed the week before. The TrueCharge 2 was my answer to some battery charging issues I’ve encountered, which I’ve discussed in prior blog entries. The Xantrex TrueCharge has an AGM mode, ideal for the giant Lifeline 4D battery we are using. Since it came with a remote panel, I decided to install that on the wall by the refrigerator, since having the fridge out made it easy. The remote panel doesn’t really do anything that I need, or provide much information that I can’t get from the Trimetric right next to it, but it looks cool.

I’ve written a full review on the TrueCharge 2 which will appear in an upcoming issue of Outside Interests. If you are wondering about that, go to the Outside Interests site and subscribe (free). We’ll send you an email when the next issue comes out.  But if you want the bottom line, I like the TrueCharge 2 a lot and would definitely recommend it.

Xantrex ready to install

The TrueCharge 2, by the way, fits with room to spare in the space of the factory charger. I did a little surgery to remove the heavy metal tray of the old charger, and then just slipped the Xantrex unit in and screwed it down to the floor.

It’s a great unit but I’m not sure if it’s in time to save the battery. The battery doesn’t seem to want to take a full charge anymore, and if it doesn’t start acting normally after a few charge/discharge cycles this summer, I’ll be shopping for a new one. We’ve gotten five years out of it, which is less than I would expect from an AGM even in fairly heavy use, so it’s a little disappointing.. I suspect the chargers we had installed before the Xantrex had something to do with the short life—they weren’t giving the battery a full charge sometimes.

Oh, one other thing: I ordered a set of aluminum Worthington propane tanks, and they finally arrived after months of backorder. They have replaced the original steel tanks that were starting to get rusty.  I like the aluminum tanks even though they cost a lot more, for their lighter weight, and their long lifespan. The propane tank hold-down required some slight modification to accommodate the tanks, but otherwise it was a simple upgrade. The old tanks got sold on Craigslist for $30 each.

With the mandatory repairs out of the way, I can concentrate on the little things and the “nice to have” stuff over the next four weeks. I’d get into some bigger projects, that’s all the time I’ve got to get the Airstream ready for the road. Come mid-May, we are outta here and the Airstream won’t come back home until September, maybe October.  We’ve got some big travel plans this year. You’re invited along, of course.

I got a little heated about a cooling unit

It was well before dawn when I started searching with my laptop on the dinette table. The day before, in the midst of Alumafiesta, the Airstream’s refrigerator had packed up, leaving behind only a trace of greenish-yellow coolant spilled at its base–a sure sign of complete failure. I was in a bind with no refrigeration while running an event with over 100 Airstreams.

There was no hope of fixing the refrigerator during the event, so I moved all my food to a drink cooler located in the main event area, and my frozen stuff went into Brett’s freezer for the duration. But when I woke up early the next morning I resolved that I would buy a replacement cooling unit and learn how to swap it out myself.

The cooling unit is the guts of your refrigerator; basically a sealed unit that includes all the machinery that actually produces coldness. It’s everything except the refrigerator box and the control panel.  After a few minutes of searching, I found several companies that specialized in making or rebuilding cooling units, and one company in particular stood out for its aggressive pricing, by the name of RV Fridge House.

I picked up the phone and called them, and was impressed that on a Saturday morning someone answered, took my order and answered basic questions. Not only that, but for an additional $25 they’d extend their two year warranty to six years.

I bit. When I said I was ready to order, I was switched over to another person who said they didn’t take credit cards, but would do an “e-check.”  An e-check is somewhat like a debit card payment, except that you provide your checking account and bank routing number, and authorize the seller to debit your account for that amount, for one time only. This made me pause, and it should have been a warning sign. Looking back on it now, I should have hung up and thought some more, but I was eager to get this task done so I could move forward with the business of running an event.

The question I should have asked myself was, “Why doesn’t this vendor take credit cards?” In this era, anyone can accept a credit card thanks to services like PayPal, Square, and others. You don’t need to go through the background checks and hoops that were the norm just a decade ago. The fees that a merchant pays to accept an e-check aren’t much different from the fees of credit card processing, so the excuse that “credit card fees are too high” doesn’t hold up.

There’s a very good reason why some vendors don’t take credit cards: they’ve had a terrible history in dealing with customer complaints, and they’ve been effectively blacklisted by the credit card processors.

What happened next followed a pattern that I’ve seen before in businesses that have long experience at scamming customers. I received no receipt, no tracking information, and no followup except for a line on my checking account statement indicating that NuCold Refrigeration Inc debited my account for $524.00.  A week later I called to find out what happened to my cooling unit, and got a very personable and cooperative man who said it had been shipped via FedEx, and that he’d look into it and call back.

You can guess what happened after that if you read up on this business. Their local news station KATV has done two stories on RV Fridge House, one back in October 2, 2013, and a followup on December 14, 2015.  There is a Better Business Bureau alert out about NuCold aka RV Fridge House aka Tate Welding advising of “a pattern of complaints concerning non-delivery of products that ordered and paid for. Consumers typically complain that they order and pay for cooling units from the business, but that the units are never delivered or money returned, and that the business will not answer or return phone calls.

How many complaints?  The BBB currently lists over 100.

A competitor notes that they have operated under the names RV Cool Fridge, Freez-It, and RVIceBox, and warns in no uncertain terms that they aren’t the only ones in the industry who follow the pattern of promising cooling units and not delivering.

I’ve seen businesses like this before. The lead operator, who I think I was dealing with on the phone, is usually smooth and convincing. At first I bought his line about FedEx “losing” my cooling unit, and even felt sympathetic as he explained how much the loss of that newly-rebuilt unit would hurt his business. He politely and calmly promised that as soon as they could rebuild another one, they’d ship it to me, even going to the extent of “checking records” to see how many rebuildable units they had in stock while I waited on the phone.

When I called back on other days to follow up—since the promised callbacks never happened—he mentioned how it was an inconvenient time to talk because (a) they were on their way to a parent-teacher conference; (b) he was driving to another location and was 100 miles away from the office; (c) the staff were busy unloading a truck and so he couldn’t get an answer right away. It’s much more convincing to go into unnecessary details when you’re weaving a story.

And he was still polite, thanking me for my patience, and saying “Have a blessed day.” (Using religious or patriotic phrases is also a good way to build trust with some folks, although personally I always get a little more suspicious when people do that in a customer service situation.)

When I had to leave for Alumaflamingo in mid-February, I thought I had this worked out. I was still drinking RV Fridge House’s Kool-Aid. I was told that my second cooling unit was ready for shipment. (The one FedEx “lost” never materialized for some reason, but I did hear about how “this has never happened before,” and “they don’t even have it in their system, so they are going to have to do a search,” and “I don’t know how it happened—it’s a big box.”)

Since I wasn’t going to be home for a week, we arranged that the “second” cooling unit would be shipped on February 27, so that it would be here waiting for me when I got back. Of course it wasn’t, and after two weeks, four more follow-up calls, and four more failures to call back, RV Fridge House aka NuCold Refrigeration Inc simply stopped answering my calls. (Caller ID is very handy for people who want to duck a customer.)

And there’s the pattern. Essentially, people like this are running out the clock.  They’re dragging it out until you give up, and then they’ve got your money. You can ask for a refund, but it’s hard to do that when they don’t answer your calls anymore.

Many of the reports I read online (after I realized what was happening) revealed that many people think an e-check is money forever lost; that it can’t be reversed. They think that their only recourse is to complain to the BBB, the Arkansas Attorney General, or the business itself.  When nothing happens, they bitterly give up and figure that money is gone.

The good news is that you actually can reverse an e-check, just like the way you can dispute a credit card charge. E-checks are governed by the Electronic Funds Transfer Act of 1978 and the rules are documented in “Regulation E” (which is a dense pile of financial babble that I actually took the time to download and read), and in that regulation is the provision that e-checks can be disputed and reversed if you notify your bank within 60 days of the bank statement that shows the transaction.

Best of all, it’s basically “no questions asked.” You don’t have to prove anything, just affirm that you are disputing the charge. It’s fraud if it was a transfer “initiated by a person other than the consumer without authority to initiate the transfer and from which the consumer receives no benefit.” I’m no lawyer, but to me, if you didn’t get your promised refrigerator cooling unit from someone like NuCold Refrigeration Inc, and you didn’t get your money back, that meets the definition of “without authority” and  receiving “no benefit.” They were authorized to make the transfer on the contingency that they’d deliver a product in a timely fashion. E-checks are not a license to steal.

The bank is required to investigate within 10 business days (essentially to confirm that the charge occurred), and return your money within 1 day of completing their investigation. The vendor cannot charge your account again without your express approval.

So you’re not getting away with my $524, RV Fridge House.

If you got ripped off in the last 60 days for a cooling unit that was never delivered, call your bank now and get your money back.

And I hope more people complain about NuCold aka RV Fridge House aka Tate Welding aka Freez-It aka RV Cool Fridge aka RVIceBox to the Better Business Bureau in Arkansas, the Arkansas Attorney General’s office, and in online forums.  Bringing bad actors into the spotlight of public opinion is the best way we have to identify them and warn other people.

Of course, after all this I still needed a replacement cooling unit for my Dometic refrigerator.  This time I searched more carefully, and checked references online, and looked for the little indicators that suggest a shady operator. For example, the legitimate operations don’t hide their names and addresses—they’re proud to say who they are and help their customers. If you have a problem or a warranty claim, you’re going to want to know how to reach the people in charge, and you can’t do that effectively if you only have a URL and a toll-free phone number.  I was surprised to find that several companies in this industry obscure their contact information. I won’t buy from them.

I also decided I would only work with a company that accepted credit card payments. I’m not afraid of e-checks now, but I prefer the consumer protections that come with credit cards.

After ordering, I expected (and got) a receipt within 24 hours, documenting my purchase and projected delivery date. The receipt also showed the names of the people I’m working with and their email addresses.

This week I expect to get a tracking number for the shipment.  If I don’t, I’ll follow up and demand one—and if I don’t get it promptly I’ll start a dispute via my credit card issuer so that I won’t be liable for the bill until the company resolves the problem.

The new cooling unit is going to cost me about $100 more than the one I was promised from Fridge House. But this time, I think I’ll actually get it. Once I do, and I’m satisfied, I’ll post the name of the company I bought it from here.

Postscript:  A few days after initiating a chargeback, I received a message from Jerry Collins of Fridge House, saying that my cooling unit was on the way, complete with a FedEx tracking number.  Too late.  Since I didn’t trust the vendor, already had a chargeback in process, and had already ordered a cooling unit from another vendor, I simply refused the shipment when it arrived.