Tips for Repairing Simple RV Problems on the Road

Updated on April 20, 2018
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I have traveled extensively throughout the US for many years and enjoy helping people to enjoy their own vacations.

Anybody who owns a recreational vehicle will tell you that as they travel, sooner or later, one or more pieces of equipment is going to become a problem.

Dealing with such issues is easy to do at home, but when you're on the road, this becomes difficult because you

  • may not be close to a good repair shop,
  • don't know of one you can trust or
  • may not even totally understand the cause of the problem.

For these reasons, it's always a good idea to educate yourself as much as possible about the basic functions of your coach's equipment before leaving ever home.

For example, a good thing for you to know is that if your refrigerator is giving of an ammonia smell, you'll likely have to replace it!

Advice to help people deal with repair problems while RVing.
Advice to help people deal with repair problems while RVing. | Source

Educating Yourself Is Important

Those who educate themselves about the various functions of RV systems can avoid having many problems simply because they'll recognize them for what they are before running off to repair shops.

An example of this is a young couple who purchased a used motor home and set off on a vacation without first taking time to learn their RV.

They were driving in mid afternoon, heading West in Georgia, and could not understand why their AC was not keeping them cool!

Had they taken the time to learn how AC units work, they would have known that on extremely hot days it's important to

  1. cover side windows with insulated aluminum sheets,
  2. place insulated covers into ceiling vents,
  3. shut the sliding door that divides the front of the unit from the back section and
  4. drive in the early morning or evening instead of during the hottest part of the day.

They also would have purchased a roll of Reflectix insulated foil and then cut it to size so that it would fit their windows.

My husband and I have used this brand of insulated foil for years and have always been surprised about the huge difference doing so makes in our comfort level. This product has many uses and while costly, only has to be purchased one time. Our roll has lasted for many years, and we have even found good uses for it in our home.

The couple also would have known to purchase a few internal RV vent covers. Those made by Camco are easy to use, inexpensive and very durable, as are most Camco products, which is why my husband and I always use them.

Our vent covers do a great job of keeping heat and cold out (or in) depending on exterior temperatures because they are specifically sized to fit right up into the opening beneath ceiling vent fans. They slide in and out easily as needed and stay put until it's time to remove them.

Packing the tools for dealing with specific problems (as in this example) makes traveling so much more comfortable, but recognizing issues for what they are and dealing with them appropriately is important, too.

Below is a brief guide that will help you to manage some of the most common problems you are likely to encounter when you're RVing.

AC Stops Blowing Cold Air

Another problem that often occurs is when an AC unit stops blowing cold air.

In this situation, many people assume that they will be facing repair or replacement costs, but before panicking travelers should check a few things:

Have the filters become clogged with dust, dirt and debris? If so, it’s very easy to remove, wash, dry and replace them.

If the unit is working but is not producing enough cold air, it may be that it is unable to handle the load it has been given. In this case, they should follow the directions noted above.

Also, if the coach is parked they should lower the awnings to deflect the sun’s heat.

On very hot days, it is best to travel in the early morning, late afternoon or evening in order to keep an RV comfortable.

When possible, drive from east to west in the morning and from west to east in the afternoon. When not driving into the sun, a coach remains much cooler.

Front Door Won’t Open

Unless your RV’s door has become warped due to age or misuse, the problem here most likely is that your unit is not level.

You should always make sure to park as level as possible so that you can enter and leave your coach easily and so that closet and refrigerator doors will do the same.

The attached videos show you how to level both a camper and a motor home. Take the time to watch them as they will help you immensely in avoiding this type of problem.

It is much easier to do this if you choose a campsite that is flat. In fact, one that is configured this way may help you to avoid having to do any leveling at all.

However, you'll still need to stabilize the coach with your manual or hydraulic jacks and then use wheel chocks to keep it from rolling. There are a number of types and brands, but the ones I show here are very easy to use and store because they are light weight and stack easily.

Refrigerator Stops Working

An RV refrigerator won’t work if the unit is not level, but that is only one issue.

If the vent is clogged with debris and dead bugs, you’ll have the same problem.

The fix for a non-working refrigerator is either to park it correctly or use an air compressor to blow the trash out of the refrigerator vent which is located directly behind the refrigerator and can be reached through the protective outside door.

If these fixes don't work, and especially if you smell ammonia in the area of your refrigerator, you most likely will have to replace it.

This is expensive to do, but you'll have no choice since you need to be able to protect your food supply when you're on the road.

If you level your RV, doors and windows will open and close without any problems.
If you level your RV, doors and windows will open and close without any problems. | Source

Generator Stops Working

If your coach has a generator that suddenly stops working, it is possible that the oil level in it is too low. Most generators turn off when their oil is down to one quart, so doing a refill often fixes the problem.

It may also stop because your coach is sitting on a slant. Generators are supplied with the gas or diesel fuel from a coach’s main engine. They have a shut off valve that is built in and will turn off once the energy source goes below 25%. This is a safety feature.

So, if your coach is not sitting level, and the main gas or fuel supply is low, it is possible that this will make your generator shut off.

The key to dealing with this problem, in most instances, is to check the oil levels regularly and fill as need and also keep plenty of gasoline or diesel fuel in your tank.

Having said that let me add that there may well be something wrong with the generator, itself. So, if taking the steps noted above does not work, let the generator rest until you can get it to a repair shop.

One word of warning here is that not all RV repair shops know how to repair generators. Find the dealer that manufactured yours and take it to them if you want to get the best results.

You should also change your oil regularly so that it is free of debris and various types of materials that break down over time. This will keep clogs from stopping up your generator engine and will keep it functioning correctly.

Batteries Die

If you have the type of batteries that require water to function, you need to check them regularly.

When you see lights starting to dim or battery accessories working too slowly, it's a sure sign that you've got a problem.

Without an adequate water supply, these types of batteries won’t work correctly and may stop working completely. For this reason it's important to check them regularly and fill them only with distilled water.

Another thing to remember is that the older batteries get, the more poorly they function. So in addition to checking for water loss, be sure to check age as well.

You can avoid problems by replacing the ones you have with sealed batteries because they work well, do not need water added and can stand up to the rigors of road travel.

However, they are more costly to own.

I have attached a video that shows you how to maintain standard batteries. Lots of good info here for you, so take the time to watch!

TV Reception Is Poor

If you have an older coach that came with an analog TV, you likely will find that even if you use a converter, your reception is poor.

There are two things that can cause this problem.

First, if you did not exchange your analog antenna for a digital one, your reception of digital TV will be poor.

Furthermore, even with a digital antenna, if you don’t lubricate the antenna regularly and properly, you’ll still have TV viewing problems.

I’m attaching a video that shows how to lubricate a digital TV antenna, so that you can see how this is done.

Some people don't want to fool with this as it's a bit tricky to do, but any RV repairman can handle this job for you.

Gas Detectors Stop Working

By law, all recreational vehicles must have propane and carbon monoxide gas detectors installed before they can be sold to the public.

However, it is up to owners to make sure that they are the correct type to have and also work appropriately.

If yours stop working for some reason, you will need to address this issue as soon as possible.

  • If the ones you own are hardwired, you’ll have to have a repair shop install new ones.
  • If not, you may only have to replace the batteries. However, to be safe, you would be better off to simply purchase new detectors.

Depending on the type and brand you have, the average life span of a unit runs between five and ten years. The manual that comes with your detector will provide this information and will help you to know if it’s time to make some upgrades.

If you keep track of when batteries were installed, you’ll know when it’s time to replace them.

Smoke Detectors Sound Off

If your smoke detectors start sounding off loudly, it’s time to replace the batteries. This is easy to do, but should be done immediately as installing new batteries can be a life saver.

You can also test them randomly to see if they're working by creating a "smoke" situation with a product called CRC Smoke Simulator . My husband and I have tried other brands of smoke simulators, but this one seems to us to work the best for our needs.

To use it you simply open the container, stand near the detector with your arm up, and press the on button of the product. It will shoot out something that is a smoke emulator. If the alarm goes off, your detector is working.

My husband and I use this product before every vacation to make sure our smoke detectors are working. It's a small price to pay to have advance warning of any fires that may occur in our travel unit.

Water Tastes Bad

Not all RVs have water filtration systems, but if yours does and your water starts getting a bad taste to it, it is time to replace the filters.

You will need to do this whether your coach uses built-in or add on filtering systems.

Replacement is easy to do if you keep a few extras on board. If not, you’ll have to get to an RV parts store and buy some.

If you don’t use water filters, I suggest that you start doing so because having them protects your health and makes your drinking water taste better.

How to Protect and Purify Your RV's Drinking Water Supply provides detailed information about this issue that is important for all RV owners to read and understand.

Fixing Refrigerator Gaskets

Over time the door gaskets in RV refrigerators become loose or fill with mildew or mold. This can affect food safety, which in turn, can negatively affect your health.

  1. In the first instance, you should have the gaskets removed and replaced because loose gaskets cause air to escape and don’t hold cold temperatures correctly.
  2. In the second situation, you can easily get rid of mildew or mold by washing down all of the gasket crevasses with bleach and water. Just make sure to rinse the gaskets thoroughly with fresh and dry thoroughly when you finish.

You should also thoroughly sanitize the interior of your refrigerator as an added protection.

If you are handy, you can buy gaskets from an RV parts store and install them yourself. Otherwise, you'll have to ask a repairman to do the job for you.

This has to be done correctly in order to maintain the proper temperature in your refrigerator, so if you're not sure about how to do this job, hire a pro.

Avoiding Tire Caused Accidents

Although the tires on your recreational vehicle may look good and seem to have a good deal of tread left on them, the truth is that any tire older than five years is not safe to use for travel.

The Best Ways to Buy, Maintain and Safely Use RV Tires explains, among other things, how to determine tire age and why five years is the safe limit for using them.

More accidents are caused by tire blowouts than for any other reason. They cause roll overs, fires and all sorts of coach damage, some of which can be life threatening.

For these reasons it’s important to check your tires regularly and replace them as needed.

Normally you'll need to have a pro do this job for you, but even though it will cost a few dollars, the money you spend is worth the cost because having safe tires on your travel unit can save your life.

Driving Becomes Difficult

It is extremely important to have brakes on your RV that work correctly and also to make sure it is properly aligned.

If your coach seems to "pull" one way or the other when you are driving or if you have to push really hard on your brake pedal to stop your unit, you need to immediately take your vehicle into a shop to have these items checked and repaired.

This is not a job you can do yourself unless you have the training and equipment to do it, so don't hesitate to seek professional help.

Good brakes and correct alignment can go a long way towards preventing accidents.

They also make driving much easier.

Stovetop Burners Won’t Light

If the burners on your stove top won’t light, you may not have opened your propane tanks!

Conversely, you may also be out of propane or have a propane leak.

  1. In the first instance, you can fix the problem by simply turning your tanks on.
  2. In the second, finding a place that will fill your propane tank for you will solve the problem.
  3. In the third situation, you need to turn off your propane tanks, open all RV windows, get out of the coach and let it air out. Then you need to call a repairman to find and fix the leak!

Leaks are very dangerous, so never try to fix one on your own!

Stop Travel Troubles Before They Begin

Many problem fixes are nothing more than common sense, some require a little elbow grease and others may need the assistance of a pro.

However, if you learn the best ways of dealing with equipment failures that may occur while you're traveling, you are more likely to have less stressful and more enjoyable recreational vehicle vacations.

Have you ever had any of the problems mentioned in this article?

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    © 2017 Sondra Rochelle


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