Rheinstrom Y3 Aluminium Toilet review

L1009986

The Rheinstrom Y3. The lever makes pumping very easy and keeps the shaft straight minimising seal wear.

Normally I wouldn’t write about a boat toilet but when I tried to research this toilet I could find no reviews or any comments of any kind. This is very strange because Rheinstrom obviously make a very nice product and they have been doing so for over 50 years. No company that lasts that long can be selling rubbish. Then consider that Rheinstrom is a German company and it looks like being a quality bit of kit.

The toilet on Doolittle was a Grocco HF. It is certainly a better toilet than most of the offerings on the market today and a new one will set you back about 600€ and because it is made in America it’s not the easiest toilet to service and get bits for. It has a bronze base which is something but it is let down by the plastic pump assembly which either breaks or becomes unreliable and needs constant attention. To be fair it has done ok. It coped for eight years of two people living aboard.

I almost missed Rheinstrom during my research for a better toilet than I already had. At first glance these toilets don’t look pretty having a very functional and practical look. However in place it is a great improvement over the Grocco. There is something about solid trustworthy well considered engineering. That in itself is enough to make such a mundane object almost attractive.

There’s a lot to like about the Y3. The pump can be fitted on either side which could be helpful if you were left handed or short on space. The entire toilet (apart from the bowl) is made from metal. They do two versions of the same toilet, a bronze one and an aluminium one. The alloy version is half the weight of the bronze one at 8 kilos it’s surprisingly light.

It’s made from high quality aluminium and then deeply coated with an easy to clean protective hard white plastic finish. It’s been very well considered and is very nicely engineered. Unlike the Grocco which needs a whole host of screwdrivers and different sized spanners to dismantle, the Y3 uses the same size stainless Allen key for most of its fastenings.

L1009977

Quality castings. I like way it is possible to remove the pump without disturbing the big outlet. Stainless Allen key heads for most of the fastenings keep things simple.

The pump action is very smooth. It has a relatively short stroke but a wide pump body. Even the main base piece has a large internal diameter making this a hard toilet to block. Not only that but it should not need such regular servicing as the Grocco did as it has been designed to minimise wear in all areas. The piston pump rod has a machined guide to keep the rod from wearing the top seal. To help this, the pump uses a lever rather than a handle connected directly to the rod as most toilets do.

Even the dry/flush lever on the side has been well thought out. It is made from a cast piece of stainless and is very elegant but the sealing system is very thorough and a vast improvement on the Grocco which often leaked at this spot. The required O ring is NOT supplied in the toilet rebuild kit which is ridiculous. I called Grocco and they told me to just go to the nearest hardware shop and buy one, they only cost pennies. Well, if they only cost pennies, WHY DON’T YOU SUPPLY ONE IN YOUR REBUILD KIT?

Despite the short stroke, the toilet requires less pumps than the Grocco. The Y3 requires 7 full pumps for every one metre of piping. The Y3 is available with two bowl sizes, small and large. I chose the small version which is about the same size as the Grocco one. One of the things that was good about the Grocco was its small size. The head in Doolittle is not massive and I didn’t want to fit a large toilet and the small Y3 is not much bigger than the Grocco so it fits in very nicely. I was even able to get it to sit a bit further back too so actually there is more space in the head than before.

L1009985

The Y3 in place on ‘Doolittle’ Of course the mounting holes were different and the aft outboard coach screw needed cutting down a bit but otherwise it was a straightforward swap. None of the hoses needed moving or cutting.

The toilet lid is a standard plastic covered MDF affair with plastic hinges. It’s not beautiful but neither is it offensive. It is at least easy to clean. If the Y3 has one failing it’s that it’s not going to be the easiest toilet to clean with all those bits and pieces on it. I also question the wisdom of using Allen key heads because they can fill with liquid. Maybe it is possible to get plastic caps for them. But these are issues that might be applied to almost any toilet with a pump.

I bought a rebuild kit which cost about 80€ which is expensive but even the seals and O rings are of excellent quality. It’s not much more than most other kits from other toilet manufacturers. The toilet itself cost about 800€ which is a lot but it is a good product and if you want quality then you usually have to pay for it.

L1009981

Update 26/12/2013

Sometimes looks can be deceptive. The quality engineering and well thought out design that I saw in the Y3 when I first installed it has now been seen for what it is. Basically the toilet is well designed but it is let down by some details that render the toilet unusable and worse than that the company are as useless as a chocolate fireguard. They either do not understand what I am trying to tell them or they do not care. Either scenario is not good.

Soon after I got the toilet the dry/flush lever would spring back and the toilet would lock. The only way to flush to toilet was to hold the lever down with one hand while pumping with the other. You can imagine that this soon got so boring I decided to take the thing apart and try and improve it.

It looks pretty simple inside although there seems to be no actual mechanism that ‘locks’ the dry/flush in place. It seems that it is only the friction of the lever that stops it moving but this is a piss poor system. On the Grocco, there was a cam that pressed against the valve when flushing dry. It was crude and the action was rough but it never caused the toilet to not flush.

The lever on the Y3 needs to be held in place with loctite, hardly a clever engineering solution really. Well, in the end I did manage to get the toilet to work with one hand by tightening up the dry/flush lever but this made it rather stiff. This worked for a while but then it started leaking by the lever.

So I took it apart again. Or tried to. In the time since I last dismantled it the bolts had all seized. Well, no surprise really since they are stainless bolts in aluminium. Clearly Rheinstrom do not bother to put any kind of anti corrosive paste or any other kind of system. This is pretty poor really since a mix of metals like this will corrode in no time unless treated. I read on a forum that one poor sod had a problem after five years and by then the bolts had completely seized to the point that he had to throw the toilet away.

DSC00467

This should be one piece, not two. Too flimsy to last.

In taking it apart the bronze part that operates the valve in the dry/flush lever broke. So that was helpful. NOT. Fortunately I had a spare so I fitted it but the toilet would not work afterwards. I inspected the shape compared to the old one and they were similar but not the same. So some bending helped but the old problem was back. The lever would not hold in the ‘dry’ position and required two hands to flush again.

So I took it apart AGAIN. In the end I came to the conclusion that the casting that the bronze piece goes through was not the right shape and was stopping the lever from going far enough. So I had to damage the powdercoat paint to do this so no doubt it will corrode even faster now. However I did manage to get the toilet working better but it does beg the question, why the **** don’t Rheinstrom do this, or at least test their toilets before sending them out? It should not be the customers job to modify a new toilet because it has been badly machined.

DSC00468

The reason why the dry/flush lever won’t stay put is because it is not able to move enough. I had to file away a load of metal by the pointy bit so that the other end would lie in the correct position

There’s more bad news I’m afraid. Every few weeks the lever starts to rust and leaves rust stains all over the toilet pump. It is not the easiest toilet to clean so this is really annoying. It probably has something to do with the fact that the lever is not polished and has a rough finish.

DSC00796

Big bubble of paint in the base, just under where the bowl fits.

Then there’s the bubbling paint in the bottom of the base where the bowl attaches. Two nice big bubbles of paint where it has come unstuck from the alloy. This is just one year. Not good enough. So I started to have a look around and guess what? Yep, you guessed it, paint is bubbling up all over the place. Now I should mention that we shower in the head and that means that the toilet is soaked in fresh water a few times a week so should not corrode as there is no salt water anywhere near it (except inside it) and it even gets a chamois down as well. The toilet is well cared for and maintained. There is no reason for the paint to be bubbling already. That’s just rubbish.

DSC00798

Loads of paint flaking off. I believe it is because of careless casting preparation. If they just rounds the sharp edges a little before coating…This corrosion looks like it was already under the paint before it flaked off.

Yes, there’s more. Apart from the fact that the spares kit only contains one O ring for the dry/flush lever and considering the size and cost it just seems extremely stingy to not throw in a few. The larger O rings for the pump body itself are too big an make fitting the pump almost impossible. This is just bad engineering pure and simple.

DSC00471

O rings should not be a loose fit in the groove. This makes refitting the pump almost impossible without damaging the O ring. Just not good enough.

So although the Rheinstrom Y3 aluminium looked promising to start with it has been nothing but trouble and a great disappointment. Considering that it cost almost 1000€ it’s nothing short of disgraceful. A Jabsco for a third of the price would give less trouble than this.

I have written to Rheinstrom many times but their response is always very tardy and pointless, asking questions like ‘is my toilet installed under the waterline’ as if that is the reason why the dry/flush lever won’t stay in place! Really. If you want my advice, steer well clear. These toilets are rubbish. They look great, seem well engineered but are let down but poor details, bad finish and a complete lack of understanding from the manufacturers. I asked them many times to explain to me how the dry/flush lever was supposed to work because I couldn’t make any sense of it but they would always avoid answering me suggesting they don’t even understand it. Not good.

Conclusion:

Hard to clean, goes rusty, paint bubbles off, dry/flush lever won’t stay down on its own and needs two hands to flush toilet, bolts not fitted with any sort of anti corrosive paste, internals needed filing down and parts adjusted to get it to work. O rings in spares kit wrong size. Overpriced. Terrible after sales service.

On the plus side it has not yet blocked.

Update 24/3/14

Finally got a reply from Rheinstrom. Bless them. They seem to want to help which is kind of surprising considering what a complete pain in the arse I have made myself to them. Here’s the story so far.

They decided to send me a Y2 bronze pump in the interim so that we at least had a toilet that was working. This was very nice of them although the inlet pipes are a larger diameter so I had to buy new hoses and faff about for a few hours fitting it. Pleased on the one hand that they are trying to help but pissed off on the other because here I am taking this fecking toilet apart. Again.

Anyway. The new Y2 pump in and for a while we had a nice toilet. They dry/flush lever is a far better design with a cam so that it holds the lever properly. The Y3 should have had a system like this. Much better. It also flushed well.

However. You knew that was coming didn’t you? The machined finish on the pump shaft is very rough and the noise the pump makes as the shaft rubs on the seal is really quite something. Now some might say that this isn’t really a problem and it’s true, if this was all that was wrong I might live with it. After all it should be much better in six months or so as the shaft polishes up. In the meantime we have to put up with a very noisy toilet and no doubt a seal that will wear prematurely. But I don’t really care about any of this. It’s a temporary pump until I get mine back. I mention it only because it is a good demonstration of shoddy quality control.

DSC00789

Extraordinary. This Y2 model has been installed successfully in boats for over 25 years yet look at this. After just two months of use the lever arm handle is cutting through the brass sleeves and making this mess. This is just one day’s dust. Play is getting worse.

The next thing that happened is that the lever arm started to get some play in it and now is laying down brass dust on top of the pump on a daily basis. Now this toilet is only two months old. There are only two of us and neither have bladder issues so it’s not like it gets a hiding. It gets used that’s all so it’s surprising to see this kind of thing so soon.

DSC00792

Well, now I understand the problem. This thin walled stainless handle is cutting into the bolts. See below. This is poor engineering.

On inspection I found the problem. Despite Rheinstrom telling me that the Y2 has been in production for 25 years without any problems here is a problem that smacks of yet more dodgy quality control. I think I know what has happened. No doubt it wasn’t that long ago that Rheinstrom did make really good bogs but over the years some materials have changed and perhaps they had not properly considered the implications. Clearly the people who assemble the toilets are not engineers. Any engineer worth his salt would have brought an issue like this to his boss’s attention rather than risk it going out the door with a faulty design.

DSC00794

Here is one of the brass sleeves. As you can see the lever arm has been chomping away at the soft brass. It’s a ridiculous design. If I sold a toilet with such a poor system I would die of shame. The long length of the lever arm makes this system even more hopeless.

The brass bushings in the lever arm are a classic case in point. It all looks proper, nice stainless bolts into a brass sleeve to act as a bearing. Great. But then what do they do? They fit a stainless tube lever arm with such thin walls that they soon cut into the soft brass making shavings and introducing play which will only get worse with time. This is just piss poor. I don’t really know how else to describe it other than that. I’m not a trained engineer but even I know that’s not going to work. The mad thing is, so do Rheinstrom. The Y3 does not have this problem because it uses plastic inserts in the lever arm which have sufficient bearing surface to actually work.

Soon after the toilet became hard to flush and the water would come back into the bowl. I soon found the problem when I found the weight that normally lives on the bottom seal in the bottom of the bowl! The weight is riveted on so either it corroded away, broke or was not done properly in the first place. Yet another demonstration of poor quality control. Of course I had a spare but I had to take the toilet apart yet again!!!!

So what are Rheinstrom doing? Well apparently they have redesigned the dry/flush lever so it stays in place and have addressed the issue of the undersized O ring on the lever as well. I am still waiting to see what they have come up with. To this day, despite asking repeatedly no one will tell me how the lever was supposed to work, nor what they have done to make it work. Have they done this only for me? Or did they realise the design was flawed and are doing something about it? Who knows, they just won’t tell me.

So this is not the end of the saga. At least Rheinstrom are trying and I am grateful for that but I do hate being treated like a moaning idiot when what I see is iffy design and shoddy quality control that needs addressing. I have spent enough of my valuable time taking this bloody toilet apart so I for one will be more than happy to have a working Y3 again. And if that doesn’t work I’ll have to ask for my money back and get a Jabsco like everyone else. They might be cheap and plasticy but they work and spares are easy to find and change. There’s little wonder it’s one of the most popular boat bogs in Europe.

 

Update 10/6/2014

First I have to applaud Rheinstrom for sending me yet another new toilet even if it was the wrong one. Yes, once again they have proved they do not care or are incompetent. Or both. My toilet was aluminium and they knew this yet they have sent me a bronze toilet which is twice the weight.

I took the toilet apart keen to see what modifications they had made and was not really surprised to see that they had done practically nothing. The bronze part of the dry flush lever had one edge very slightly rounded off. I couldn’t imagine what that would do except stop the seal from closing properly.

So yet ANOTHER day of my life spent fitting the new toilet which of course has exactly the same problem as before. The dry’/flush lever springs back immediately and locks the pump so you still have to hold it in position. But now it’s worse because as suspected the seal no longer works and even when flushing dry some water still enters the bowl.

Then the screw that holds the dry/flush lever came unscrewed. At this point I had not even used the toilet in anger. On inspection there was no trace of Loctite which simply means they didn’t put any on the screw so of course it came loose.

They have done nothing about the O ring being too small. I waited months for this toilet only to discover that they have done practically nothing and what they have done doesn’t even come close to solving the problem, if anything it has made it worse.

It’s a real shame as there is so much that is good about the toilet. It is well cast, well painted (except that they don’t round off sharp edges on the castings before coating) has a nice action and works well as a toilet. But it all amounts to nothing with the other faults it has. It is just pathetic. Every other toilet I have ever seen (including the Y2 they sent me) has a locking dry/flush lever and so they should have because if a toilet is left with the lever on the flush setting, water could syphon back into the bowl and sink the boat!

No doubt they tested the toilet before they shipped it but only on their completely unrealistic test rig. Without the correct resistance that a normal set up provides they will never get a proper idea of the forces acting on the toilet.

They have told me that they have sold thousands of these toilets and have never had any trouble before. They seemed to think that the reason the handle had play in it was because of the excess force that my system has. What excess force? There are no restrictions in the system other than the usual slight bends and syphon break. There can’t be more than 1.5 metres of pipework and that is considerably less than some boats I have seen. What’s more the toilet action is very smooth, hardly any resistance at all.

So after over a year of being messed around, I still don’t have a properly working toilet and this one is twice the weight. Rheinstrom are ignoring me. They clearly blame me for the wear on the handle on the Y2 although anyone can see that sharp edged stainless steel will destroy brass in no time. They clearly do not understand the problem with the dry/flush lever on the Y3 or maybe they understand all this perfectly well but are incapable of solving the problem. So I have now given up on Rheinstrom. They are as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle.

I will come up with a system myself to hold the dry/flush lever in the dry position. Then I will be able to loosen the screw that holds the lever and that will take the strain off the tiny O ring and that might mean that it doesn’t start leaking in a few weeks as the others have done. Then, maybe just maybe I will have a toilet I can use without being annoyed every time.

 

Update: 14/6/2014

DSC01017

Here is the solution I came up with to stop the dry/flush lever from popping back when pumping the bowl dry.

Two tabs are held by two of the mounting screws and a 2.5 mm stainless wire is bent to have a kink in it. It is spring loaded so always pushes against the lever.

Perhaps not the most elegant solution but at least you no longer need two hands to pump out the toilet. Ridiculous that it is left to the customer to come up with a working solution. Perhaps others with a Y3 don’t mind that the lever needs holding but this is the first toilet I have ever seen which does not have a mechanism in place to lock the lever in the ‘dry’ position. It is possible to screw up the lever so tight that friction alone holds it but this leads to premature O ring wear and as the O ring is ridiculously small it just gets ripped to pieces in no time.

The spring system allows less force to be used on the lever making the toilet easier to use and hopefully allowing the O ring to last a reasonable amount of time. At least now I don’t have to be reminded of this stupid fault every time I use the toilet. Now if I can just stop the lever from rusting and if the paint doesn’t flake off or bubble like it did before I will have a nice toilet on my boat.

As I said before, there is much to like about the Y3. I like that the pump can be removed without taking the outlet pipe off. The O ring sealing system for the pump is clever so long as the replacement O rings are not too large. The pump lever has plastic bearings so is unlikely to wear like on the Y2. So long as the weight doesn’t drop off the pump flap like it did before it pumps very well and tackles anything you throw at it.

It’s a shame that Rheinstrom don’t care about all these issues. Maybe I have been unlucky but everything I have seen smacks of a poor understanding of basic engineering principles. I find it hard to believe that I am the only one to have had these issues and if I am the only one then Rheinstrom should have been able to sort them out for me instead they have chosen to bury their heads in the sand.

One Response to “Rheinstrom Y3 Aluminium Toilet review”

  1. Nice. I find the pump handle a bit ugly and it’s a shame about the MDF seat. I always wanted a nice teak seat for Caraway but nobody sells one. Perhaps you could make one when the MDF one starts to look tatty?
    Its a step up from the Groco. I look forward to blocking it for you one day!