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How to Troubleshoot and Repair Your RV Air Conditioner

How to Troubleshoot and Repair Your RV Air Conditioner

If you plan on camping in warmer weather, you’ll want to do some maintenance to avoid an RV air conditioner repair. If it’s warm outside, it’ll be even warmer inside your RV. So, you don’t just want your RV air conditioner to blow cool air; you want it to blow cold air. Let’s take a look at a few tips for troubleshooting and repairing your RV air conditioner so you stay cool while in your RV. 

How Do RV Air Conditioners Work?

An RV air conditioner sucks in warm air, and a condenser removes the heat before directing it outside your RV. Hot air travels over the air conditioner’s chilled coils to quickly cool the air. A fan system then pushes the cooler air back into the RV through a vent system.

An RV air conditioner requires massive amounts of power, and some RVs have two, or even three, air conditioners. Unless you do some modifications, you’ll typically need a 30-amp or 50-amp electrical connection to make use of an air conditioner while in your RV.

How to Properly Use The Air Conditioner (AC) in Your Camper | Pete's RV Quick Tips (CC)

The Benefits of RV Air Conditioners

While summer is a great time to enjoy a camping trip to the lake, you’ll likely be sweating unless you’re in the lake from sun-up to sundown. Having an RV air conditioner means you can escape to the comfort of your rig when the heat becomes unbearable.

If you’ve ever tried to sleep while sweating, it’s not easy. It can be frustratingly difficult to try to fall asleep as sweat drips from your brow. Your RV AC can help you get a restful night’s sleep on the hottest nights. 

Tom from Mortons on the Move repairing air conditioner.
Don’t get stuck without a properly working RV air conditioner to keep you cool.

Why Your RV Air Conditioner Is Not Working Well

If your RV air conditioner is not blowing cool air, you might need an RV air conditioner repair. You want your unit, or units, to blow cold air and run efficiently. Anything less than efficiency likely won’t cut it in the summer heat.

RV’s can be very challenging to cool due to their construction. RVs have less insulation and many times are painted with darker colors. In the direct sun, this can cause the inside of an RV to act like a greenhouse trapping even more heat. Many times RV manufacturers only install just enough AC to keep the unit cool at max operation. If the AC starts operating less efficiently even a little can seriously affect your comfort.

Air conditioners need some maintenance to operate most efficiently and if this is neglected it may not work at peak performance. The AC may quit working altogether as well.

Pro Tip: There’s a lot to learn when it comes to RV air conditioners, but we’ve got you covered! This is our Complete Guide To RV Air Conditioners.

RV exterior with AC units.
Keep your filters and AC unit clean to help maintain the performance quality.

How to Troubleshoot and Repair Your RV Air Conditioner

Before we get into problems you should first understand what a properly operating AC looks like. Most RV air conditioners are designed to be able to drop the air temperature 20 degrees. This means that if the air inside your RV is 80 degrees you should be measuring 60 degree air exiting the vents.

If your air conditioner is dropping the air temp by this amount and is still not keeping the RV cool then other measures may need to be taken to help out. Parking in shade, covering windows in reflectors, and keeping all doors and windows closed will help.

If the Air conditioner is clearly not working or performing as such there are a few categories that problems fall into.

Electrical Power

The first area that can cause problems with an Air conditioner is the power itself. Power problems tend to cause complete failures instead of poor operation. If your AC is not coming on first check the power.

Check electrical breakers and make sure they are on. Also, make sure the coach is plugged in or the generator is running. You may need to get an electrical meter and make sure the circuit for the AC has power if you are unsure.

Keep in mind that the thermostat may still appear to be on even if the AC does not have power. This is because the thermostat is powered by 12V DC coming from the RV batteries. If the thermostat is not displaying any information make sure the DC fuses for the AC are not blown.

RV thermostat with power
Keep in mind that if the thermosat has power the AC may not

If all circuits have power and the AC is still not running it’s possible that the control circuit is having problems. If the thermostat is not displaying anything it may need to be replaced. Also, check inside the air conditioner itself at the power connections to make sure they are ok and not burned or damaged.

If the unit begins to start but then stops or makes a loud buzzing sound its possible that the starter capacitor needs to be replaced. This is a unit that helps the AC compressor motor startup. The video below is for a washing machine motor but most AC units have similar capacitors that can be checked.

how to test a RUN or START CAPACITOR the CORRECT way

Air Flow

If the AC is running but not cooling well air flow issues could be to blame. Air flow needs to be adequate both inside and outside the air conditioner for it to work well.

One of the most obvious things to check is the filters inside the RV. Pull the filter out and check/clean it. If airflow improves the unit may start working again.

If airflow is adequate inside the RV the problem could still be airflow in the exterior heat exchanger part of the air conditioner. Dust and debris and clog up the fins of the unit and make it much less efficient. Remove the shroud on top of the air conditioner and check for dust and debris on the exterior heat exchanger. Many times you can run water through these fins to clean them out well.

Some AC units need to be disassembled even further to see the interior air exchange radiator but it too could be clogged with dust. If the filters were not kept clean or not used the exchanger itself may be dirty and need cleaning. Cleaning both the interior and exterior radiators can significantly help with AC performance.

Mechanical

If power and airflow are good but the unit is still not cooling its possible there is a mechanical issue with the compressor, fan or refrigerant system. Unless you are an experienced mechanic these issues may need to be handled by a professional.

Over time it’s possible that the system developed a leak and the refrigerant is low. Having the unit recharged is sometimes a solution but if the leak is too bad it may be only a temporary fix.

Both the fan motor and compressor also need to be functioning properly and can sometimes be replaced or repaired if they are not. If the air conditioner is older it may need to be replaced if either of these is bad.

How to Keep Your RV Air Conditioner in Good Condition

Routine maintenance is one of the best ways to keep your RV air conditioner in good condition. This can help prevent a situation where your RV air conditioner doesn’t work when you need it the most. Let’s look at a handful of tips for keeping it in good condition.

Keep Covered When Not in Use

One of the best ways to keep dirt and debris out of your AC unit is to keep it covered when you’re not using it. Your RV likely sits unused for months at a time, and it’s during these times that debris finds its way into the AC unit’s sensitive components. 

Keep it covered, and each time you climb up to inspect your RV’s roof, sweep away any debris from your AC unit.

Pro Tip: Keep your AC unit in good condition by covering it when it’s not in use! These are the 5 Best RV Air Conditioner Covers and Why You Should Use One.

Internal RV AC unit.
Keep your AC unit debris free by covering it when it’s not in use.

Clean the Air Filter Regularly

The air filters in your RV air conditioner help filter out dust and other particles. However, you need to clean them regularly if you want them to work properly. Dirty air filters also cause inefficiencies in your unit.  

The more you use the AC, the more you’ll need to clean the filters. If you’re running it regularly, clean it every couple of weeks. However, you can likely get by cleaning it once a month if you’re only using it occasionally. 

Make Sure the Fan Motor Doesn’t Need Oil

Depending on the model of your RV, your fan motor may need oil. Check the documentation for your AC unit to determine if your specific model needs oil. If it does, you can easily find SAE 20, the most typical oil for this purpose, on Amazon or at an auto parts store.

External AC unit on top of RV.
Don’t put off maintenance on your RV air conditioner!

Take a Look at the Insides

Every season, remove the cover from your RV, and look at the insides of your AC unit. Clean the coils, check for leaks, and take note of items needing your attention.

This is a simple task that can help you catch small issues before they become huge. You’ll not only avoid damaging your unit, but you’ll also reduce the costs in labor if you need a technician to check out your unit. Problems don’t fix themselves, so they’ll only get worse over time.

Best RV Air Conditioners ❄: 2020 Buyer’s Guide | RV Expertise

Keep Your RV Air Conditioner from Needing Repairs

Don’t put off maintenance on your RV air conditioner; it’ll come back to bite you. A repair that should be simple can quickly become serious if you wait too long. You don’t want to find yourself sweating through your next camping adventure because your AC died. 

Have you ever had to sweat through a camping trip? What AC troubleshooting techniques worked for you? Drop a comment below!

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