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I’m an RV Mechanic, Here’s What Breaks First on Your RV

One fact every RV owner knows – things are bound to break! Today we’ve teamed up with RV Mechanic, Ed Wilcox, to learn what fails first.

Not only is Wilcox an RV Tech, he also created a course to teach RVers how to fix their own systems. These easier-than-you-expect fixes can save you time (RV shops are slow) and money (RV shops are super expensive)!

Without any further ado, here’s Ed Wilcox!

Advice from an RV Mechanic

Owning an RV is awesome…until it’s not. 

There are lots of systems that are different from a house. And when you purchase, the dealer might walk you through them to make sure they’re working. But they definitely don’t tell you they might not always be in tip-top shape. Or how often they could “hiccup” and stop working.

As an RV mechanic, I’ve seen my fair share of broken RV systems. Here are the ones that give people the most headaches. 

Water Heater

The water heater is hands down the most worked on piece of RV equipment. 

When I took delivery of my first rig, the water heater didn’t work at all. I was frustrated and annoyed. 

After breaking out the manual, I realized this system is actually pretty easy. 

I had a 6 gallon Atwood. After just a few minutes, I realized that the water heater simply had a bad connection on a thermal fuse. 

This means all I had to do was wiggle the wires to get it working again.

Trouble shooting your RV water heater.

If you’re having trouble with your water heater, here’s what you do:

Unplug and replug wire connections one at a time to get any corrosion off the connection. 

Next, check the inside fuse and circuit breaker. Check to see if it works on electricity, if one operation works you could at least heat water. 

While you are checking the area take the time to drain and flush your tank. If you have a suburban, check the anode rod condition. Then flush any water or sediment that may be in the bottom of the tank. 

PRO TIP: Ed’s course walks you through the entire process.

RV Furnace

The next most common repair is anything furnace related. If you have had your coach in hibernation all winter, chances are that it may give you some issues. This also goes for the beginning of the fall season when switching from ac to heat. 

Your furnace needs 3 things to light:

Spark: if the electrode is not sparking and the system seems to start like normal, shut off power at the furnace. Then check the connection on the circuit card. Remove the connection and look at the pins, wipe with a soft cloth, then reinstall. Once that’s done, restart the furnace. 

Air: if the fan will not spin, it may need a little push. If the motor sits for a long period of time it can become stuck, there could be critters, or a nest of some kind. 

Fuel: you have to remember to turn on the propane. If you run it out of propane and it seems to be broken after refilling, light the burners on the stove. Get the propane moving in the system. 

FYI: Is the Mr. Buddy heater deadly in an RV?

Air conditioning 

The third most common RV system fail is the Air Conditioning. 

While there are many parts of the AC system that can fail:

  • capacitor not working properly
  • Not enough “juice” to start the fan or compressor
  • Loose connection on the board

There’s usually one reason for all these failures: a dirty AC unit.

Try cleaning the circuit board or the entire unit itself.

If that doesn’t work and you’re sure the AC is shot, the best thing to do is get a new one.

Fortunately, as long as the unit is in the roof, it’s not too hard to swap out.

If you have a dometic, get one that is compatible with your electronics. 

If you have a Coleman, get the one that will be compatible with what you already have. 

Too easy, right?

Now if you have a Carrier (like me) some parts can be hard to come by. There are a couple of companies who have made conversion kits. 

Basement AC is a whole different animal, my suggestion would be to call someone who knows how to work on them. 

RV Generators

Gettin’ that ole green beast started up after sitting all winter is sometimes a bit of a chore. Not gonna lie on this one.

The best way to combat this is to run your generator every month for at least an hour, while under load. Under load means you are running quite a bit of electricity. Turn your AC and water heater on, flip on the lights, and maybe even watch some TV.  

If you’re past that point and you’ve let it sit much longer than it should, here are a couple tips to get ‘er goin.

  • Check the oil- the generators have an oil level indicator, and it will not start if the oil is low.
  • Check fuel level- the generator will not start if the coach fuel level is not above a quarter tank.
  • Drain old fuel from the carburetor. There is a screw on the bottom that will allow you to get new fuel into the carb. Trying to start on old fuel does not usually work out too well. 

Push that button inside your rig. If it starts, great!

If not? Try the button on the generator. 

I’ve found for whatever reason, if the generator doesn’t want to start with the inside button, it understands you are getting serious when you go outside and hit the other button. 

It’s like “alright, you win!”

RV Generators can be a serious headache!

If your RV doesn’t have a built in generator, you’re not out of the woods. 30 and 50 amp, portable gennys still have their fair share of problems.

We usually recommend the Honda brand for generators. But, may others lately are being build with similar quality.

Here are the best 30amp generators for your RV.

Other things to check on your RV motorhome or camper trailer

Tire pressure– odds are it is lower than when you left it. Blowouts suck. Check your tires.

Battery water level– check the condition of all your batteries. Getting stranded because your batteries are all dried up and dead is no fun. Check before you go. If they aren’t full, get some distilled water and fill those babies up!

Your roof– a ton can happen to your roof since you last used your rig. Get up there and look at it. Please. You can catch water damage before it becomes anything major. Use self-leveling dicor on flat surfaces. Use a nonself-leveling dicor on any edge that isn’t horizontal.

Wash that RV – A good car wash should work just fine.  And a boat wax works well on fiberglass. Then use automotive wax on anything painted. Wax the front cap too if it’s painted. I’ve seen too many faded caps and people asking how to fix it… prevent it with wax because the answer on how to fix it is expensive!

Check any towing equipment– If you bring a car with you, there is a whole slew of equipment that comes with that. Check over all those straps, chains, couplers, plugs, wires and grease points. Also, tire pressure too. 

Inside smells– I’ve found that running a dehumidifier in your rig while it sits is the best prevention technique for any funky smells. There are many kinds that have self draining tubes that can dump directly into the grey tank. 

Don’t feel intimidated – sign up for Ed’s DIY RV Repair Course and he’ll walk you through the primary issues on your RV!

Get to Know Ed Wilcox

After 12 years in the Army, Ed Wilcox wanted more to life. Together with his wife Liz and their daughter, they hit the road. Now he owns Ed’s RV Repair. Certified by the RVSA, he serves not only local campgrounds, but the online community through consult calls.

With knowledge and experience only a full-time RVer would have, he created a course to help keep your dream moving, Fix it Yourself RV. 

Once You Repair Your RV – Take Advantage of FREE Camping in the USA!

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy). You should give it a try! A matter of fact, these free campsites are yours.

Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Here’s our list of the 20 Best Free Campsites in the USA.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers that love to score the best site! Simply enter your email below.

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  1. Kevin Kuemper says:

    I have a doggy too and do not like to leave him alone inside the mh. in my case, last summer on a very hot day the air-con stopped working. it stopped working because the breaker switch flipped off inside the converter unit, it got too hot. the converter unit builds up heat when in use, so it uses a small fan to keep the unit cool but the fan was very dirty (hairs around the fan shaft) so fan stopped spinning. I replaced that fan, I also replaced weak breaker switch … there was enough room for another little laptop fan inside the unit so that’s what I did, installed yet another fan to keep converter/inverter unit cool, thus giving me a little more peace and confidence my doggy will be ok by himself for short periods of time.

  2. Roadtirement says:

    A great post for a bookmark for future reference. So far we’ve been lucky, only have had to replace the furnace thermostat and fresh water pump after 4 1/2 years on the road. Knock on wood…..

  3. Clara Pierce says:

    We have a 40 ft mh and have a water leak in the undercarriage how do we find it

  4. LeighAnn says:

    My batteries drain while driving. Have replaced everything possible. And two new batteries. Help!!!

  5. Bud says:

    Great video guys. I heard you mention at the end of the video about somehow you could tell if your AC quit or it got to hot inside your rig while you were gone, is that an app or what devise is that as we have 3 little dogs we will be traveling with and I worried about how I would know if the AC quit working while we were out exploring. Hope you can get back to us on this important issue. Thank you and keep the Vibes coming, love your video’s.

  6. Dora (Dorie) Muttart says:

    Good information.
    Please tell me how I can get a list of free Boondocking from AZ to Mich both I 40 and I 80 as I will be traveling one of them next summer to Mich. I have a dog but other than that I travel alone. I love nature and for overnight I can take care of wastes and dump it in dumpsters at rest areas or gas stations when I get gas.

  7. Cindy Lou says:

    @Kevin Kuemper, I work at state campgrounds and it is against the rules to leave your pet inside of your RV while you are gone. We get many complaints about barking dogs. Some folks aren’t even aware of how much their dogs bark while they are away. It is often quite stressful for a pet to be left in a strange area surrounded by unfamiliar sites, sounds and scents. Many pets that are even accustomed to being left alone at home can react very differently when left alone in different situations.
    Also, yes, there is the chance of over heating or freezing in a closed up RV if the air conditioner or heater malfunction or the power source fails. Do the responsible thing fir yourself, your pet and your neighbors and fi not leave your pet unattended.

  8. Wayne Freiesleben says:

    Reviewed the October 2022 newsletter. Good information & review of RV maintenance. I am fortunate to have only replaced ignitor & circuit board on 4 year old Atwood water heater. Look forward to future updates. Thank you!

  9. Jack says:

    I have a imagine grand design. I received a recall on the propane regulator. The dealer is 3 hours away. Can get the part from grand design and change it it myself

  10. David A Moore says:

    Sounds like to me he needs to start his own RV repair school, he could make a lot of money teaching people how to fix their rigs.

  11. Jean Roen says:

    We have a problem with the fresh water. It is just a dribble unless we use the pump. The pressure is fine coming in to our coach. No one can tell us how to fix this. I feel it’s the lever that goes from city to the fresh water tank. No idea how to fix this