5 Most Common RV Air Conditioner Problems and How to Repair Them

RV Air Conditioner Troubleshooting

Millions of Americans take their RVs across the country each year. These recreational vehicles can be outfitted with a wide variety of creature comforts from satellite dishes to saunas, but even the thriftiest of adventurers will have a solid AC system and heater in their RV.

Unfortunately, these small HVAC units are something that can cause a lot of issues.  In this guide, we’re going to touch on some of the most common issues consumers have with RV air conditioners. We’ve also compiled a list of quick maintenance tips to ensure your system will be ready when you hit the road.

Common Problems with RV Air Conditioners

As with any electrical device, you can experience a variety of problems with an RV air conditioning unit. While we can’t help you address every noise or problem that may arise, we are going to discuss the most common issues people face, which include leaks, noise, and non-functioning units.  

RV Air Conditioner Won’t Turn On

There are plenty of things to worry about while you’re on the road in the middle of summer, and an RV air conditioner that’ won’t turn on is at the top of the list. There’s only so much airflow you can get from an open window, and when your rooftop AC unit goes on the fritz, you could be in for a rough time or an expensive repair job.

When the unit doesn’t turn on, the first thing you should do is check for power. Make sure no breakers have been tripped and that any fuses are intact. You should also ensure you have enough power to actually run the AC unit, especially if you are sharing power between several appliances in your recreational vehicle.

If everything checks out, you’ll want to try and reset your AC unit. This process will vary, so it’s best to consult the user manual for your air conditioner before proceeding. After resetting your system, if it still doesn’t turn on and has power, you could have an issue with the circuit board or possibly the thermostat inside the system.

Unless you are comfortable climbing on top of your RV and taking the unit apart, this is where it’s time to take a hard look at your warranty and consider bringing in a professional. If your AC unit is still covered, don’t try to repair it, or you will void the warranty.

RV Air Conditioner Turns on and Off Repeatedly

Having an air conditioner constantly cycle on or off isn’t ideal, and something plenty of road warriors experience each year. It’s an issue that can be challenging to diagnose as well, although the first place you’ll want to start is with the coils.

If the coils on your rooftop AC system become frozen over, it can cause the RV air conditioner to turn on and off repeatedly. Thankfully, this is a quick fix as you simply need to leave the unit off until they thaw out or keep in it Fan mode. It can happen from a dirty air filter, and during humid days depending on the temperature your AC unit is set on.

Having frozen coils may sound terrible, but it’s easier to deal with than the other potential culprits. A control board inside the unit can cause the system to short cycle when it begins to fail, or it could be a bad thermostat. In either case, you’ll need to call in a technician to diagnose and fix the problem with your RV air conditioner.

RV Air Conditioner Leaks 

Next to RV air conditioners that have power issues, the biggest problem most folks face is a leaky system. We’re not talking about the refrigerant either, although that can certainly cause problems. If your RV air conditioner leaks when it rains or when it’s dry, it can damage the unit itself along with anything inside your recreational vehicle.

Air conditioners that leak when it rains…

When the RV air conditioner leaks when raining, it usually boils down to a handful of issues. The first and easiest fix is when the unit is loose. This can happen over time if the AC system shifts or gets bumped on top of your recreational vehicle. If that’s the case, you can tighten the bolts holding the system in place to remedy the issue.

If it isn’t loose, the gasket that sits between the system and your RV could need to be replaced. It’s the first line of defense against water getting inside, but that rubber gasket will eventually break down when exposed to the elements. This is also a quick fix, as you can see from the video below, although you may need some assistance removing and reseating the AC unit.

The other reason consumers get water leaks inside their RV is from a damaged roof. This is something that can be harder to discern, but you can look for visible damage to the exterior, including any vents or mounts on top. Worn caulk can also be a major issue and will definitely allow water to find a way into your recreational vehicle.

Air conditioners that leak when it’s dry outside…

When you see water dripping in your RV during dry weather, it can be very concerning. A slow trickle down the exterior of your recreational vehicle isn’t unusual for units with a drain pan, but that water should stay outside and not run indoors.

A poorly handled caulk or silicone job can cause water to run back into your RV. Condensation from the system needs to go somewhere, and if the passage becomes blocked with silicone, water can potentially find its way inside. If the AC unit has a drain pan, you’ll want to check it as well. Small debris and dirt can quickly clog up the small hole in the pan, which can also lead to a leaky RV.

RV Air Conditioners not blowing cold air 

Recreational vehicles with air conditioners that function but don’t produce cold air is a problem most RV owners experience at least once. While it may lead you to believe that your AC unit is on its last legs, it could something a thorough cleaning will fix.

If the coils on your system are dirty, which is common, it can cause your system to lose efficiency. Dirt and debris can get between fins, and those fins are very easy to damage. You can clean and straighten them out with a fin comb and some elbow grease. The process will vary depending on the brand and model of the AC unit, but this video will give you a good idea of what to expect.

Cleaning your system is an important part of keeping it running efficiently, but it may not solve this particular issue. Compressor-based systems that rely on Freon for cooling can experience slow leaks or run low on Freon over time. They can be recharged, but it’s something we recommend having a professional handle given the dangers of Freon itself.

RV Air Conditioners that are Noisy 

Recreational vehicles are supposed to be places you can enjoy yourself and take a break from the rigors of life. Well, that’s hard to do in the middle of summer when your AC unit sounds like an aircraft overhead. A noisy AC unit is a common problem, but there are a variety of ways to address this particular issue.

Check to see if anything is loose on the unit itself. If you hear something rattling about overhead as you roll down the highway with the unit off, something could have been jostled loose. Those mounting bolts that help hold the AC unit in place can be the cause of the noise, or it could be something as simple as a loose screw or nut.

Did you install the unit yourself, or was it put in by a professional? These systems come with anti-vibration pads, and it’s something easy to forget if you’re in a rush when installing a new RV air conditioner.

They can also become worn over time but are cheap and relatively simple to replace.  Fan motors can be noisy as well, along with systems that have clogged air filters. You may need to call in a pro to address a bad fan, but you simply need to clean or replace a dirty air filter.

RV Air Conditioners Maintenance Tips

Many of the problems we’ve addressed are common, and several can be prevented with routine maintenance. It’s something the user manual for your RV air conditioning system will stress as well. While we highly recommend following those tips, here are a few quick things to keep in mind when considering your air conditioner's maintenance schedule.

Before you attempt to clean or unclog anything on your RV, remember to keep safety in mind. Many homeowners have spent time in the hospital after falling from the top of a recreational vehicle. Have a sturdy ladder on hand, and assistant, and take your time before climbing on top of your RV to inspect the air conditioner.

Check the shroud or cover for damage, which can occur from road debris, low hanging branches, or random acts from Mother Nature. It’s something you can’t really see from the ground, and you should be a replacement cover to prevent leaks and other issues if yours is damaged. It’s also a good idea to look over the radiator fins, clean those out, and use a fin comb to straighten out any that are bent.

This can help increase the efficiency of your air conditioner and will also save you from a number of headaches down the line. Check any filters on a regular basis and replace or wash them as needed. We also highly recommend keeping track of your maintenance records the old-fashioned way or through a mobile app. Doing so can help you with your RV's resale value while ensuring you stay on a regular schedule with maintenance.

Conclusion

An air conditioner for a recreational vehicle can be an investment, so it pays to take care of your unit, and service is as needed. With that in mind, eventually, every AC unit reaches the point of no return or isn’t cost-effective to have fixed. If your RV air conditioner is on its last legs, check out our picks for the best RV air conditioners.  

RV Air Conditioner FAQ

Q: How often should I check the refrigerant levels in an RV air conditioning system?

A: With any sealed air conditioner, you shouldn’t have to check the levels at any time. If you’re concerned that your system has a leak or isn’t cooling, you’ll want to have it serviced by a qualified professional.

Q: Why does my rooftop air conditioner trip breakers in my RV when it’s on?

A: The most common reason for this to occur is that the voltage is too low or you’re running too many appliances at once. Obstructions can also cause your system to fail or overheat, resulting in tripped breakers and blown fuses.

Q: When should I clean the air filter in my air conditioner?

A: The frequency in which you clean your filter depends on how often you use the system. Manufacturers often recommend once every few months with regular use or semiannually.

Q: How can I keep my RV AC system from freezing up?

A: While this can happen when the temperatures get too low, the most common reasons are dirty coils and filters, obstructions that impede the airflow, or a bad thermostat.

Q: Are rooftop RV air conditioners easy to repair?

A: It all depends on the issue. Most people won’t have problems changing a damaged shroud or unclogging a drain pan. Electrical problems are a different story; however, and trying to repair the system yourself could potentially void your warranty.

Q: Can you repair a compressor in an RV air conditioner, or do they need to be replaced?

A: While you can technically repair almost any part of any HVAC system, compressors are usually replaced – not repaired.

Q: How should I treat an RV air conditioner when it won’t be used for an extended period of time?

A: As long as you’ve performed proper maintenance throughout the year, your AC system should fire right back up after an off-season. You will want to keep it covered, however, so invest in a high-quality waterproof cover for rooftop air conditioners.

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