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Old 11-07-2007, 11:09   #1
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All in one Inverter/charger head ache

During the past few months I had my Gemini completely re-fitted from top to bottom.
We shook the boat down several times before going out on our first 200 mile journey, as with any boat we had some issues to adjust.
Here is something I have learned that may be wrong.
We installed a Freedom Marine 20 inverter/charging system on the boat the unit is an all in one, a little on the pricy side but appeared to be the way to go. The boat was completely re-wired by a ABYC Marine Electronic technician during our dry dock time. We beleive that while in dry dock we had bad power go into the boat and cook the inverter.. Ouch The cost was just over $400 for the repair from a technician that was givent o us by the company. At that time I was a little upset that it cost $200 for the part and over $200 for the tech's five minutes of labour to change out a board. I sent off an email letting the company know that the cost of a snap in repair was a bit much. The reply I got fromt he company that the unit had to be tested and that is where the extra cost was..
I was at the repair shop with two other people and we did not see any testing what so ever take place just a snap in and out service with a few screws.
We just chalked it up as a road bump and continued on. During out cruise down we hit a few good storms with high seas and during one of the storms the inverter/charger gave out again leaving us without power, nor the ability to charge the batteries.
I called another ABYC Marine techy who came down and did a complete test on the electrical system in the boat looking for some kind of short. $$ later and no short to be found, a borrowed freedom marine 15 was plugged in and has been working fine now for about a week with no issues.
I called the company and was on the phone for hours with them. I went from one person to another and all they could offer was for me to pay to ship the 50lb plus item or drive it five hours to the repair shop to have repaired all out of my pocket again. I asked them to just send me the board and I would have a technician install the board, they gave me the whole "It may be done but you will not have warranty" I was amazed as from what I have been through their idea of warranty involved in spending 1/4 of the unit's price for repair. The day was coming to an end and I let the company know how urgent it was for me and the crew to be underway.. They promised a call back the following day and that was last Friday.
Today I went into the West Marine and ended up purchasing a separate inverter and a stand alone charger.
The techy installed the items and now we are ready to go. I had the techy open the burnt out unit and he found that the board had not been fastened properly. We photographed the entire process and am thinking of seeking legal resolution as a matter of principal.
The company does make some great products, however a company is only good if they stand by thier products.
This company was horrible to deal with and if I ever am forced to purchase another one of thier products I will spend the extra and buy it from west marine so I can purchase the no hassle exchange.
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Old 11-07-2007, 16:22   #2
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Starting from "while in dry dock", I could predict what was coming. An intermittent Neutral connection in the shore power is a big killer of these units, and it often happens when they go to put you back in and a yard laborer yanks the plug out. Boatyard outlets are generally horrible to begin with anyway.

The components that fry are on the main power board, and the whole board must be replaced. There's one cable tie that anchors two boards at a connector to insure that the connection won't vibrate lose, and that little Ty-Rap (that's actually the brand that should be used) is a very important part. The tech that did the repair did a sloppy job for a poor value. I can tell you, it takes about 30 min, knowing what you're doing and doing it carefully, to do this repair. That's having done a few, having a proper work area, etc. It should then be tested with a full load for a few minutes each charging and inverting.

It's unfortunate that someone at Xantrex, knowing the repair history and subsequent trouble, didn't suggest opening the unit and looking to see if that little tie was in place. Chances are good that by now you've found that fixes the problem. Heart held dealer training sessions before Xantrex bought them, and I think kept tighter control over who they set up to repair them. I think they are currently not as well made as then, but still a pretty rugged unit, but, as you said, support when something goes wrong can make or break the product.

Prevention: Install inverter/chargers with an AC bypass switch and don't have it powered up while in the yard, also keep your shore power cord ends in good shape and avoid outlets that look bad. At your slip, if your plug doesn't fit snugly, or if it has been, or needs to be, replaced because of arcing, get the dockmaster to replace the receptacle.
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Old 12-07-2007, 13:35   #3
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Interesting reply from EN. I just ordered a Freedom 10. How can something be so fragile? I normally switch AC off before unplugging the cord but are you tell me that if someone else just unplugs the AC we risk frying the unit? Is it when it's plugged back in? Would a surge protector help?
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Old 12-07-2007, 14:17   #4
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Thanks for the reply, and it sounds like you are dead on right to the part of the faulty repair job. We are getting ready to leave the Keys For Mexico and have this 50++ pound busted unit that needs the 200$ board againa nd the 200$ labour charge. If anyone wants to come by and pick it up before we disgard it let me know ASAP
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Old 12-07-2007, 16:31   #5
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Surge protection won't help, it's the interruption of the neutral before the hot line that does it, and somewhere in the design of the thing should be a solution. It could occur on plugging in as well as unplugging, and could occur at random from boat motion if the cord end(s), receptacle or inlet is in poor condition. There is no substitution for maintenance of things that need to be maintained.

In any case - Always switch off power - it doesn't matter at which end, panel main or dock outlet - before plugging or unplugging the shore cord. Not doing so is a prime cause of burned contacts on the plug and inside the receptacle. You can also have refrigeration and a/c units damaged this way.

The Neutral contact will always suffer from corrosion before the hot contacts. I confess I do not know why, but the grounded current-carrying conductor of a circuit always corrodes much faster than the ungrounded conductor.

The inverter and it's internal transfer relays should not supply the whole boat, even if it has the capacity. The AC power supply to it should be from a dedicated circuit breaker on your panel.

Ativa, I'll be happy to send a UPS call tag if you or nobody else wants it, but first I'd suggest, if you haven done so, you take the cover off (DISCONNECT AC AND DC POWER) and look for the connector between the pc boards and secure them. There should not likely have been any damage to components from this cause.

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Old 12-07-2007, 20:06   #6
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Nate,
"Surge protection won't help, it's the interruption of the neutral before the hot line that does it, and somewhere in the design of the thing should be a solution."
If Freedom is building inverter/chargers designed to be plugged into mains power, and designing them in such a way that simply unplugging or shutting that power can cause product failure, I would suggest that is a defective design. After all, anything with a power plug eventually can and will be unplugged, or the power line will fail in a blackout. That's normal and anticipatable. (Ask any systems administrator how may tales they have heard of servers or phone systems going down when some minimum wage guy decides he needs to plug a vacuum in to the socket that the server WAS plugged into.<G>)

After all, this is why breaker panels have tabs for lockouts on them--we know that power can and will be interrupted, or connected, when it is least appreciated.

Ativa, I would suggest going a little reading on the FTC's web site about mandatory warranty laws and how they affect companies in the US--they have a page advising companies of what must be expected for compliance to the Uniform Commercial Code and the Magnusson-Moss Act. Look those up too, they provide *statutory* warranty protections in the US, some of which normally cannot be waived.

Check that out, check out your written warranty card, and then give Freedom a gentle call. Remind that them the first instance of damage appears to come from a product defect which they should have anticipated and probably have known about, and if they do know about it (as Nate seems to think) then it is a concealed defect and they are liable for that, as well as the consequential damages. Same thing for the workmanship of the authorized agent that they sent you to, who apparently was negligent in failing to test the unit, and negligent in failing to fasten down the board.

Add it all up...and there's a good chance they would have to pay a substantial amount in small claims court, perhaps for the statutory warranty issues, perhaps for the faulty design and concealment, which open the door to the question (gently!) of whether they want to go to small claims and start making a large issue of this, possibly a recall and possibly treble damages if they are found to have known about the problem (of AC disconnects) and concealed it.

Be gentle, don't threaten, and do your homework. If you can be certain of where you are coming from...and if you are right on this...I expect they will reimburse the faulty repairs and perhaps refund your purchase of the unit. That probably will be cheaper for them than sending an attorney to small claims court and gambling on the outcome. IF things are what they appear to be.
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Old 13-07-2007, 09:09   #7
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I just got mine yesterday after reading this thread and the first thing I did is take the cover off for inspection. Toward the front of the unit I see two circuit boards where the top one is horizontal and the one below it is vertical. There is a ribbon cable connecting the two boards. I assume this is the point Nate is referring to about becoming disconnected. To my surprise there is no cable tie (Ty-Rap) but the connectors are glued to the board with what looks like a silicone sealant. They look solidly connected to me.
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Old 13-07-2007, 18:50   #8
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I wish you the very best with your unit and now that you opened it your warranty most probably is void. I wish I had a glue holing this cable in place.. The unit worked well but I will never rely on an all in one unit again.. Once you are at sea miles from land..... Well who knows I do know I loved the unit prior to both times it broke down.
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Old 14-07-2007, 07:00   #9
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"I wish you the very best with your unit and now that you opened it your warranty most probably is void. "
A common corporate extortion of the consumer--but not true. Bear in mind that for many years Detroit said "if anyone but an authorized dealer changes your oil, the entire warranty on your engine is voided" and that went up to the federal courts in the 60's or early 70's, and was ruled illegal as a restraint against competition. The carmakers (all of them) now must prove that your "tampering" caused the damages--before they can waive the rest of the warranty.

If any other business thinks that just opening the cover can void the warranty, they'd better think twice. Odds are that extortion won't stand up in any court, even if it does scare away a lot of customers who could change their own fuses.

Kinda like the US cell phone companies, all using little seals and "moisture dots" to reveal if a phone has been exposed to too much moisture, supposedly one of the largest reasons they reject warranty claims and phones get scrapped. They've started using the dots to prove moisture is the problem, and gotten smacked by lawsuits counterclaiming the phones can't withstand normal moisture exposure--as proven by their own dots.
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Old 14-07-2007, 07:18   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ativa
We photographed the entire process and am thinking of seeking legal resolution as a matter of principal.
That would require spending more good money after bad and a loss of several cruising days.
The company will feel it more if you "vote" with your wallet.
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Old 14-07-2007, 07:46   #11
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Dunno, Pat. It's very easy to say walk away and write off the losses, but from my point of view, every time you let a corporation get away with that kind of nonsense, you only encourage them (AND all the rest) to do it more, more often, and harder. So next time you go looking for a piece of equipment, you find you'll be screwed faster & harder.

Why? Because you let the first guy get away with it, so everyone else followed suit.

Screwing the customer and playing the churn is actually a common and intentional business practice, it's been discussed in a number of trade magazines and business columns. It makes for great short-term profits when there's a large market to churn, the bottom line validates the practice.

As long as--and only as long as--customers are willing to sit back and get screwed. Sometimes you just have to say "No, this is my planet too, and I'm not going to let you behave that way on it."

aka, "Not On My Watch".
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Old 18-07-2007, 07:39   #12
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I think it would depend on the complexity of the device. Pulling an oil plug and draining the oil is something that anyone with a wrench could do. But an argument can, and has been made that complex electronics need to have service only through a base of qualified engineers as only their technicians are trained on their products, that the product is complex enough and easily damaged though simply touching a circuit board without being properly grounded through antistatic bands, that bulletins and ongoing education on new issues and product updates is necessary for anyone opening the box and that this training involves education in proprietary information which could damage their companies competitiveness. It also protects the manufacturer, if they allowed someone who was't trained to go in and repair their device and then that device malfunctioned and damaged the rest of the boat, caused a fire, gave a fatal shock, etc potentially the customer could sue the manufacturer saying you didn't warn me that tampering with this device could cause severe consequences.
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Old 18-07-2007, 10:26   #13
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An argument can be made.<G> That's why there are too many lawyers and juries, just when you think you've made something idiot-proof, the good lord invents a better idiot.

Even in the 60's Detroit was using "ENGINE" lights to warn the driver about low oil pressure, and the manual said very clearly SHUT ENGINE AT ONCE TO AVOID PERMANENT DAMAGE. I know a car dealer who was ordered by a court to replace a man's engine, after the customer "just drive another couple of miles" after he saw the red light come on, because the judge thought it was unreasonable that you couldn't drive just a few more miles without any oil. (sigh.)

If a manufacturer is going to argue that only a qualified tech can break that seal, then I'd give them a double burden to make sure the tech they sent me to FIXED IT RIGHT.

Sadly I've seen too many certified techs in too many fields who were either incompetent or thieves, or both. Certifications don't impress me.
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Old 18-07-2007, 10:58   #14
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