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How RV Entrance Steps Work

Don has been an avid traveler and motorhome owner for most of his life. He shares his experiences along with valuable tips for RV owners.

RV steps: A standard two-step powered entrance step assembly.

RV steps: A standard two-step powered entrance step assembly.

Sometimes RV Steps Quit Working

Most RVs today have powered entrance steps, whether you own a big motorhome, a fiver, or a travel trailer. For several decades, there was one major manufacturer of powered RV steps: Kwikee.

As an RV owner, you need to understand the unique way these powered entrance step operate and the most common problems you might have with them.

My wife and I had been camping in a Florida campground for a couple of weeks when a neighbor struck up a conversation with me. He said he had been in his campsite for over three weeks, and just that morning, he had opened his door to go outside and the steps did not open out for him as they were supposed to do. He flipped the stair switch next to the door as usual, but this morning nothing happened.

Power for Entrance Steps

The first question that came to my mind was about the main cut-off switch. Most motorhome owners will turn this switch off once they are settled in a campsite to conserve their engine battery while they are camping.

I asked him if he had set his main cutoff switch to off when he had set up his motorhome in his campsite. Well, he thought for a minute and admitted that he really didn’t remember.

So, I explained to him that with a motorhome the entrance steps were powered by the engine battery and not by the coach battery. The motorhome manufacturers wired the entrance steps to the engine battery for several reasons, but the main reason is that the entrance steps may need to operate when you are driving down the road and making temporary stopovers at rest areas, gas stations, and such places.

Setting the Stair Switch When Camped in a Motorhome

Normally, you would just open the door and set the stair switch to the appropriate position where the step stays locked in the extended position; but then each time you turn your ignition switch on, the step circuit will be reset and you will need to go through this process over and over as you use your door.

One of the things many motorhome owners forget to do once they are at a campsite, or especially when they put their motorhome in storage, is to open the door and let the steps extend, then set the cut-off switch to off, so that the steps will stay extended regardless of whether the door is open or closed and regardless of the position your stair switch might be in.

By setting these two switches the way I mention here, the steps will be extended for use while you are parked at your campsite. They won't continually operate whenever you open and close the door, and so they won't draw down the engine battery.

So, when you are running around the country in your motorhome, camping here and there, when you finally set up in a campsite, you should keep your engine battery from being discharged and use your cut-off switch to lock your entrance steps in the right position.

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Entrance Steps on a Camper Trailer

The entrance steps on camper trailers are wired differently than on a motorhome. Because camper-trailers have no engine, their entrance steps are wired to the AUX (or coach) battery.

Because of this difference, the owner simply needs to use the stair (or step) switch to extend the entrance steps and then set the switch to the position where the steps stay open regardless of whether the entrance door is open or closed.

How Entrance Steps Work

As I described, the 12-volt DC current that powers your entrance steps comes from either the engine battery (in a motorhome), or by the AUX battery (in RV trailers).

The entrance steps themselves are either pushed out or pushed in by the controlling equipment that is mounted below the steps.

The controlling equipment consists of three main parts; the logic control box, the gear box, and the push arm.

The actual operation is simple:

  1. When voltage is applied to the logic control box, it then applies power to the motor in the gear box.
  2. The gear box then pushes the push arm for a specific distance and stops. The distance is adequate to open or close the step assembly before it stops.
  3. Then the logic box turns off the power to the gear box motor.

The push arm stays in its position until voltage is applied to the logic box and the gear box pushes the push arm back to its previous position.

Common Entrance Step Problems

1. The most common problem is not having 12-VDC to the step switch (usually inside the entrance door) and thus not having any to the logic control box. So make sure your main cutoff switch is on when you want the door to stay in a certain position (usually open) and then turned off when you are done.

2. On older RV entrance step assemblies, there is a large plastic gear in the top of the gear box that can often become stripped. Because only about 20% of this gear is in use and subject to stripping, many people pull the plastic gear, turn it 180 degrees, and keep using it.

3. Most people forget to lubricate the “hinge pins” in the step mechanical assembly. The step hinge pins can rust and jam, or they can simply wear out. Regular lubrication can help avoid this potential problem.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Don Bobbitt

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