Nowadays, the trouble is, when things start getting “buggy,” it can be difficult to track down the problem. Not long ago one of our three-way refrigerators, which had been a straight-A student, suddenly went rebellious on us. Sitting on a hot parking lot just outside of Old Mexico, our refrigerator stopped being a chill box, and the threat of global warming parked itself right in the middle of our kitchen. Only by turning on the generator and resorting to “shore power” would we get any chill in the box. Gas didn’t light, and DC simply knocked all the low voltage power out throughout the rig. We cut our time in the field short and headed back to base camp.
Dino to the Rescue
In a safe harbor with another working fridge available, we started down through the diagnostics process. The whole works pointed to a control board failure—or so it seemed. We contacted an RV refrigeration supplier who opined that it sounded like a board too, but he couldn’t really be sure without running tests on it. Too bad he was 1,500 miles away. Finally, we called the horse’s mouth—or should we say, the Dinosaur’s mouth.
Yep, when campfire talk comes around to appliance control board problems, the name that probably gets mentioned the most is Dinosaur. Built by a seemingly obscure company, in an equally obscure town (OK, maybe not real obscure, Lincoln City, Oregon), Dinosaur boards are the leading replacement boards. The Dino-folks build replacement boards for just about every RV appliance (and generator) application there is. We called in and immediately tied into one of Dinosaur’s tech fellows. After an initial discussion of the problem, the technician asked if we wouldn’t mind checking a couple of things on the back of the refrigerator. Thanks to cell phone portability, the Dino-tech walked us through a series of tests with a digital multi-tester that soon assured us that, in fact, our refrigerator control board was ready for the scrap pile.
To his credit, in addition to making a suggestion for a given Dinosaur board, the technician did suggest we could try an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) replacement board. Maybe there was a bit of tongue-in-cheek here, because the old “pudding covered” board out of the back of our fridge was out of production from the reefer maker. That’s a common complaint among RVers: Seems like a lot of the control boards aren’t replaceable with OEM boards—it’s a case of “Well, we’d be happy to direct you to a dealer where you can buy a new refrigerator, furnace, water heater, etc.”
Look at it this way: As tough as it is to shell out money for a replacement board, it’s still a whale of a lot less expensive than replacing an otherwise good refrigerator. In our case, too, the Dino-made after-market board is really superior to the OEM. We peeled back the old epoxy “pudding” that covered our dead board and discovered components that had actually come unsoldered. The problem is this: A circuit board is basically a plastic plate over which circuits between components are etched out of copper. Where components were soldered into our circuit board, the component “lives” on one side of the board, and its electronic wire leads were pushed through the plastic board and soldered onto these “traces” on the underside. With heat and vibration, the solder joints are subject to stress, and often break. In Dino’s replacement boards, the leads go through a hole in the board that is copper-plated from front to back. As a result, a much more skookum solder joint is possible.
Long story short, we bought a Dinosaur replacement board. When it turned up, we found full instructions on how to replace the old board with the new. Let’s walk through it:
Putting in a New Board
First, the disclaimer: Dinosaur’s Web site plainly tells visitors that RV appliances use LP, an explosive gas, and recommend that trained technicians do replacement work. In fact, Dinosaur will only sell to retailers, rather than to end-users. If you decide to proceed on replacing your own board, make sure you understand the risks. If you decide to leave replacement work to paid technicians, don’t throw away Dinosaur’s phone number—its staff can still help you sort out problems that can save you money, and point you to a nearby Dinosaur retailer if the need arises.
Since not all control boards are alike, we’ll give you some tips to follow on replacements. Be sure to follow the instructions that come with replacement boards to the letter if you decide to do your own work.
First, turn off the power! Unless the instructions otherwise state, having the juice off—both shore power and the RV “house” battery—is just a smart safety issue. And remember, when working with electrical stuff, take your jewelry off!
Next, if there’s any question about the wires coming off your existing control board, mark them. We had several of the same colored wires on our board, three of the same color right next to each other. Tagging them with tape is one option. Count the number of pins on your existing board, and note the colors (or other identifying marks) of their associated wires.
If there is enough room in the appliance compartment, detach each lead, one at a time, and put that lead in place on the new board before proceeding to the next. If not, here’s where the importance of identifying each wire comes into play. You’ll find it much easier to use needle-nose pliers to disconnect and reconnect terminal leads.
After you’ve completed the job, double check your wiring connections before turning the power back on.
For us, we were thoroughly gratified that within a couple of seconds of pushing the “power on” button, the popping sound of the gas burner lighting came to our ears. Sure enough, all it took was a new board, and our reefer was back in business.
Getting Help from Dinosaur
Dinosaur Electronics has both a full Web site, and a telephone support staff. Before you call to ask for troubleshooting assistance or an application, have this information at hand:
• The specific problem. Be as detailed as possible, with a step-by-step rundown of what happens (or doesn’t happen) with your appliance.
• The manufacturer, and specific model number of the appliance. You may have to hunt around for this information for some appliances, but without it, your help will be limited.
• You may be asked for certain information to help troubleshoot. Having a cordless telephone or cell phone handy really helps. If you have a digital voltmeter, make sure it’s at hand, and have the cover off the appliance to facilitate getting at your control board.
Dinosaur Electronics can be reached by phone at (541) 994-4344 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m, Monday through Friday, Pacific time. The company also maintains a Web-based “customer help form,” where you can enter and e-mail technical help requests. That page is found at www.dinosaurelectronics.com/Ask_Us_Page.htm. Or visit the Dinosaur home page at www.dinosaurelectronics.com.
Russ and Tiña De Maris are authors of RV Boondocking Basics—A Guide to Living Without Hookups, which covers a full range of dry camping topics. They also provide great resources in their book, Camp Hosting USA—Your Guide to State Park Volunteering. Visit www.icanrv.com for more information.