As summer holidays loom, the ACCC warns of a deadly fault in RVs and caravans

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Water heaters by Suburban recalled over fears they may produce unsafe levels of carbon monoxide when used in gas mode

A campervan and RV park in Australia.
A campervan and RV park in Australia. People who have a Suburban hot water system that was bought between 1 May 2018 and 25 September 2019 are being notified that the heaters are faulty. Photograph: Martin Berry/Alamy Stock Photo
A campervan and RV park in Australia. People who have a Suburban hot water system that was bought between 1 May 2018 and 25 September 2019 are being notified that the heaters are faulty. Photograph: Martin Berry/Alamy Stock Photo

Last modified on Mon 14 Dec 2020 21.08 EST

The ACCC has warned that thousands of Australian RV and caravan owners are at risk due to a potentially “deadly” fault in their water heaters.

Suburban-branded water heaters sold between 1 May 2018 and 25 September 2019 have been recalled as they may produce unsafe levels of carbon monoxide when used in gas mode. However the ACCC has “concerns about the recall rate … particularly with summer and Christmas coming up”.

“We want to get people to check immediately and make sure they’re not using them,” the ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said, as carbon monoxide “has no smell, you can’t detect it, it’s highly flammable – it’s potentially very dangerous”.

The ACCC explained that RV and caravan owners can check to see if their water heaters are affected by “opening the exterior access door to the hot water service and checking the model and serial number located on the right-hand side. They should then enter the serial number at the Coast to Coast website.”

Rickard said that “to the best of my knowledge” no one has been injured by the faulty water heaters so far, but “the biggest threat is complacency” and “it’s a serious threat”.

It is not just caravan and RV owners who need to check their water heaters, Rickard said, “We are concerned about rental vehicles as well.”

She said if you rent a vehicle and check the serial number and find its heater has been affected by the recall then you shouldn’t use it, and you should be able to return it and get a replacement vehicle.

A total of 18,139 water heaters have been affected by the recall. Coast to Coast Caravan and Leisure, who are responsible for the recall, told Guardian Australia “more than 3,500 units were taken out of circulation prior to the announcement, which means these units were never sold and didn’t make it into the hands of the consumer”.

However, it said only 272 water heater inspections have been completed so far.

While the water heaters were first recalled on 15 November 2019, the ACCC noted the recall process has been complicated by the fact Coast to Coast is a wholesale distributor.

Coast to Coast said they have “been able to directly reach 11,014 consumers who have purchased a Suburban hot water system”. These consumers were contacted via email, however, Coast to Coast said there are 3,469 owners who “are unaccounted for”.

“We are making preparations to advertise within various private Facebook caravan owners’ groups, caravan and motorhome clubs, state caravan industry associations, NRMA, RACV and other state bodies as well as Australian Pensioners Insurance Agency to ensure we leave no stone unturned,” Coast to Coast said in a statement.

Justin Hales, CEO of peer-to-peer RV rental service Camplify, said his company was aware of the recall and “alerted our owner community to this specific product recall at the time it was announced”. He said “this information has since been included within our van owner on-boarding course”.

Rickard said that for affected vehicle owners, “The cost of the replacement will be free of charge. The cost of taking out the unit, putting in a new unit will be free of charge.”

But for now, she said, “The most important challenge is to notify everyone who has purchased one … because as I said, they can be fatal.”