When you’re on the road, anything’s possible –including some equipment failure, plumbing problems, and insulation issues. While you’ve done everything you can to make your RV or camper as livable and comfortable as possible, there are just some days when you need to unleash your inner handyman.
Dealing with RV Problems
The first thing to do? Don’t panic. The moment you notice something wrong, calm yourself down. Most RV or camper problems we encounter aren’t urgent, such as air conditioning failure or sink leaks. You have more than enough time to get things fixed yourself, or to call a repair service to fix it up for you.
Common RV Problems
We might not have the same RV in terms of size and build, age, or amenities, but I can give several tips that can work for anyone. Campers, regardless of the model or quality, will eventually run into the same problems that need repair or replacement.
In this post, I’ll talk about some of the common things that can go wrong with a camper or RV, as well as some of the steps you can take to repair them yourself. If you find that you don’t have the time or talent to follow my guide, then schedule a repair service as soon as you can.
You might experience any number of problems, or you might have several years of smooth sailing. Or you might be the lucky (and mythical) 1 in 10 million RV owners who never encounters an issue. Whatever the case is, here are some common problems people with mobile homes encounter:
- RV water line, pump, sink and toilet system issues
- Camper roof, window and seam leakages
- Electrical shortages and damages
- Heating, ventilation and air conditioning system failures
- Tire and brake problems
- Damaged slide out mechanism
- Custom RV accessories
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#1 – RV Water Line, Pump, Sink and Toilet System Issues
One of the best comforts that an RV or camper provides is the water and toilet system. Having access to a private space when you need to go is a big privilege outdoors. Majority of RV owners secretly take pride in how comfortable and functional their toilet is (myself included). But when the system is broken, you’re left with an uncomfortable experience.
Most problems I’ve personally encountered in the toilet or drainage were easy to fix. The troubleshooting is a lot similar to what you have to do in your bathroom at home. If you are dealing with a very basic bucket toilet, you probably just need to replace your system.
But even if there’s an easy fix, no one wants to worry about the water, sink and toilet system while on vacation.
Let’s go through the most common issues in an RV or camper water, toilet and drainage system.
Blocked Toilet and Sink
Do you have a clogged RV toilet? Or does the water keep backing up? It’s a common experience that can happen to anyone. Aside from being inconvenient, a malfunctioning toilet can be unhealthy. This plumbing issue is usually caused by a blockage.
For example, there may be too much toilet paper inside the pipes. Alternatively, your system may be suffering from too little water. If your RV is parked and hooked up to a sewer connection, keeping the drain open constantly can lead to a sludgy clog. With all the water draining out first, you’re left with a sticky mess in your sewer drain pipe.
In traditional homes, blockages can be rarer. Toilets for traditional homes are built to last a long time, even with the wear and tear of heavy usage. However, toilets in RVs and campers are built for a mobile home and for travel. They are made with lighter materials. In fact, not all RV or camper toilets come with the full flushing system. The bumping across the road and rough terrain can shorten the lifespan of toilets.
Clogs in both the toilet and the sink can be a big headache. They prevent water from draining properly to their holding tank, and the overflow can range from inconvenient to outright disgusting. The drain can be clogged by grease, hair and all sorts of debris.
Dealing with Plumbing Clogs
How do you deal with an RV or camper clog? One of the first things you do is try the same troubleshooting steps that you do at home. Clean the trap to encourage the flow of water for more superficial clogs. You can use a regular bathroom plunger to try and dislodge the clog and make it flow to the tank or sewage.
Another solution is to use a drain cleaner that is plastic and eco-friendly. Personally, I don’t believe in commercially-available chemicals to “dissolve” clogs or to loosen them. I’ve never seen them work as well as a manual declogging. Worse, most of the things sold in stores can have negative effects on RV toilet chemicals and piping.
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However, I’ve heard from other campers that using hot water can also help loosen clogs. This is especially true for RVs which don’t use a lot of water. Because there’s less water running through the system, the sinks and pipes are more prone to grease plugs. Boiling water with soap can loosen or dissolve the plugs.
If none of these solutions work for a clogged sink, you can disconnect and then manually clean the P-Trap. While it can be messy, you just need some rubber glove and a bucket to catch all the water.
For a clogged toilet or a really stubborn clogged pipe, the best solution is to snake the line. You can use a drain auger or snake, which is a ¼-inch coil that can pull the obstruction out. From the exterior of your RV, snake the line through the black tank drainage valve. This is better and less messy than going through the toilet seat or the sink.
For a manually operated or an electrical drain auger, you can rent them for a few bucks, or you can invest and buy one for yourself. In any case, be sure to check how to operate the auger.
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After using the snake and pulling out the clog, run water through the pipes for a few minutes to check for leftover clogs.
If the clogging is so bad that your handyman skills can’t measure up, it’s time to call for professional help.
Leaky Pipes and Malfunctioning Valves
Additional toilet problems may be rubber seal issues or valve problems. For example, the rubber seal may be loose or leaky, and the water valve may not be closing completely anymore.
Leaky pipes are another big problem. Your flexible PVC piping may be over-tightened. Metal fixtures can also become corroded over time. If you have experience in changing pipe fixtures at home, then you can do the same things in your RV or camper. However, there may be piping parts that were specially made to fit with your RV, so you need to order the correct replacement parts.
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Fortunately, leaky water valves are relatively cheap. Unfortunately, replacing the valves can require you to remove the entire toilet to fix it. There isn’t much else to do because you need access to the water valve in order to fix the problem.
Ways to Prevent Water System Problems
It’s a common rule that the best defense against water system issues and toilet clogging is to avoid them from happening to begin with.
For your galley or kitchen, you can make your life easier by having a sink strainer. Try not to dump materials down your drain. Now that you understand what makes clogs tick, you can actively avoid them in the future.
Lastly, keep in mind that you need to prepare your rig for cooler climates if you’re travelling during the winter time. There are specially-made RV antifreeze products to keep the pipes from freezing.
#2 – RV Roof, Windows and Seam Leakages
Your RV is a second home. Like a house, it’s meant to protect you from the dangers of the elements. One of the key parts of the RV is the roof. The moment it leaks or dents, you’ll be facing a whole host of problems. Unfortunately, you can’t avoid your roof leaking. In fact, many RV campers I know consider roof problems to be inevitable.
Causes of Roof and Window Damage
Roof and window problems are unavoidable even if you paid out for the best and most technologically-advanced finish. Exposure to the elements, even just for a few weeks each year, will affect the integrity of the sealants. Exposure to direct sunlight can damage the roof. Striking low hanging debris such as tree branches can damage both your roof and your windows.
The material of your roof will probably be reinforced, but they’ll still be similar to the material of the sides of the RV. They will naturally crack with age and motion. Plus, I’ve heard of thick tree limbs literally tearing off part of an RV roof.
Windows also face exposure to wind and rain. Damaged window seals will let water damage and all sorts of problems through. A random stone getting pushed by the wind or debris falling from trees can already crack your window.
Camper windows tend to be sealed with rubberized sealants designed to absorb the shock of travelling through bumpy roads. They aren’t designed to be as leak and element-proof as the windows of traditional homes.
You can’t expect the RV roof or window to perform as well as the ones in a stationary house. Of course, investing in a well-designed roof and window system will guarantee you more years and less repair costs in the long run.
Water Leakage in Roof and Windows
What are the consequences of roof and window problems? You can expect some serious problems due to water damage. First of all, leakages lead to unsightly water stains. It’s the same sight you see in old homes and badly-maintained bathrooms.
Aside from this cosmetic issue, water affects the structural integrity of the different internal parts of your camper. You might be surprised one day to see molds growing inside your cupboards, right where you store your food. You can also see metal fixtures getting rusted and weak. As a result of corrosion, your camper becomes inefficient and prone to breakages.
Another dangerous consequence is electrical damage. Your RV’s internal electrical system can short-circuit and leave you without power when you need it.
Dealing with Roof and Window Damage
There are three things you can do about sources of water damage: repair, replace, and reseal. As long as the leakage is small, it can be easy to stop the entry of water with some good sealant.
Replacing a cracked RV window glass is also pretty easy with a screwdriver and regular tools. The only thing you need to do is to purchase the correct windows. Make sure you have the correct measurements.
Ways to Prevent Water Damage
Honestly, the more important thing to do is to prevent roof leakages whenever possible. Though they can be inevitable, especially after an especially hard storm or if your RV is an old model, you can still try your best. There are tried and tested ways to prevent water leakage, or at least to mitigate the damage.
First of all, don’t store your RV out and exposed in the open, unless you’re using the RV as a permanent mobile home. This may be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at the number of seasonal campers who don’t have a garage or cover ready.
Having no garage is understandable because renting a covered storage facility can get costly. On the other hand, anyone can and should buy a high-quality RV cover that is waterproof and UV-resistant. Though it may cost you a couple hundred dollars to buy, it is a good investment.
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Because a big part of water damage is due to cracked windows or roof, then you need to catch these problems as soon as they arise. Every month, inspect your roof for any signs of damage. For windows, check the seals at least twice a month. As soon as you can manage it, try to repair any problems.
For overall prevention, you can also apply a new coat of RV roof sealant once a year. Since the sealants get hard and crack through time, applying a supportive coat regularly can help prolong its life. Another step you can take is to apply rubber roof coating.
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#3 – RV Electrical System: Electrical Shortages and Damages
If you’ve never handled an electrical system before, or you’re not confident about your skills in DIY repair, then your best bet is to call a professional. That’s my first advice – you don’t want to injure yourself or cause potential accidents involving your whole camper.
But if you have a grasp of electronics and you’re willing to read through plenty of resources online, like this one on how to repair a damaged electrical wire, then I can suggest a few doable steps.
Minor Electrical System Failures and Problems
Again, if you’re dealing with a major electrical problem or your RV has literally caught on fire thanks to a short, then it might be time to seek professional help. But for certain minor RV and camper electrical system problems, you can certainly brush up and use your handyman skills.
These minor malfunctions include dysfunctional switches, or unresponsive push-buttons in your circuit breaker panel. There may also be malfunctioning outlets, or you’re dealing with a dead battery. These can all be addressed with a quick fix or run to the store.
Checking for battery failure is one of the first things you can do if the lights aren’t turning on, or if none of your devices power up after plugging in.
Quick Electrical Repairs and Fixes
The first thing to do is to assess the problem. What’s the cause of the failure or damage? If it’s a case of a malfunctioning switch or push-button in a circuit breaker panel, you can just run to the store and replace the panel.
For malfunctioning outlets, you need to check whether it’s a localized problem. Some malfunctioning outlets are due to the receptacles becoming lose. The clip-together style of the receptacles are usually the default in most RV systems, and they make sure that the electrical current runs through a completed circuit. When they become lose, you can buy replacements. The same type of outlet boxes you use at home can do the job.
RV batteries are also easy to replace. To prevent getting surprised by a dead motor, regularly check the fluid levels in your battery. You can also test the charge to make sure the battery is still working properly. To prolong the life of your battery, you can also disconnect the battery cables whenever you park your RV or store it in a facility.
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There are plenty of tutorials on checking and replacing RV batteries. Even if you want to transition to a solar panel system, you can set the system up yourself with a few quick how-to videos.
Again, don’t try to save money by doing electrical repairs yourself if you really don’t know how to do it. Better safe than sorry!
#4 – RV Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Unit and Insulation System Failures
It can get unbearably hot during the summer months when you’re out on vacation. While the sun makes a good backdrop for camping, swimming and grilling outdoors, it can also turn up the heat.
When it comes to RV and camper life, your HVAC system is a necessity. It can make big trips bearable during the hot and dry season. Without a fully functioning air conditioning system, it can get really bad and uncomfortably sweaty.
Plus, the heating and ventilation of your RV can make your life easier and more comfortable all year-round.
Causes of Heating and Air Conditioning Problems
What are the problems RV owners and campers often encounter? Breakdowns in the heating and AC units are common. Because the HVAC system is usually running everyday, it can get pretty worn down over time.
You might be familiar with the problem of warm air being blown out of the vents of your air conditioning unit. The AC is running, your electrical system is okay, and there’s air coming out of the vents –but your RV isn’t cooling down. In 99% of the cases, the problem is just dirty air vent filters.
Or maybe the reason why your RV is still feeling so warm is a busted thermostat. If you’re relying on a thermostat to communicate with your AC unit, then your entire system can get confused the moment the thermostat breaks down.
Troubleshooting Your RV HVAC System
The first troubleshooting step is to replace dirty RV air vent filters. This is an incredibly simple and cheap way to make sure that your air conditioning unit will continue to blast cool air out of the vents.
Replacing the air vent filters is also a good way to regularly maintain your air conditioning unit. I keep a stock of filters on board so that I can easily and quickly change out the filters when needed.
Similarly, a broken thermostat can easily be replaced. With even the simplest handyman skills, you can install the latest digital thermostat and synchronize it with your AC.
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Keeping Your RV Insulated
Have you ever found yourself shivering in the cold summer night, despite your perfectly-functioning HVAC? The problem might not be with the system anymore. Unless you’re willing to spend even more money in commercially-available heating equipment, you might want to try some easier fixes.
There are some ways to make your RV more livable and comfortable. One of the easiest ways to deal with a lack of insulation is to use insulated fabrics. You can start out with thermal curtains and rugs to better insulate the windows and floors. Bubble wrap or foam insulation boards can fit right against your windows. With the right cloth and material, you can help trap heat inside your camper. If you really want to keep things simple, you can invest in personal thermal sleeping bags and even an electric blanket for those cold nights.
Another inexpensive DIY solution you can do is to purchase insulated skirting. Many people don’t think about it, but a lot of the heat of your RV gets dissipated around the wheel wells. With a vinyl skirting, you can reduce the internal heat loss. Plus, the skirting reduces the impact of wind rocking your RV. It will feel less like an earthquake inside the summer.
Attaching insulated skirting is pretty easy, either with heavy duty Velcro or with a splice. They can easily be removed for storage if you no longer need them. However, there is always a risk of the skirt being peeled off or even ripped off in stronger wind conditions. If that’s the case, you may want a more secure and cemented application. It’s best to buy a high-quality insulated skirting. Think of it as an investment.
#5 – RV Tires and Brake System Problems
The beauty of any RV or camper is that it’s half an automobile, and half a home. But the perks of a mobile place also come with a few downsides, such as all the common problems of your average car. That includes problems with the tires and the brake system.
Unlike your average car, your RV is considered an extremely heavy vehicle. It’s loaded with furniture, a small kitchen, a functioning toilet, and more facilities than your 4×4. This heavy weight is why you need to drive safely all throughout your trip. You need to be able to stop smoothly whenever you need to.
The heavy weight of the RV or camper unfortunately means more strain and pressure on the different car components. While the brake and tires of most RVs are specially-designed to last longer than their normal automobile counterparts, they will definitely still break down over time.
Dealing with a Faulty Brake System
First of all, you need to regularly inspect your tires and your brake system for any problems. The last thing you want to do is be surprised by these mechanical errors while you’re in the middle of a winding road. Whenever you have the chance to stop and inspect your RV, take that opportunity.
I can’t stress this enough: always check your RV tires before you drive off on your trip. It takes only a minute.
The moment you get a problem with your brake system, you need to stop somewhere safe and repair it if you can. If you’ve done the same work with your car or other vehicles, I’m confident you can do the same for your RV. Brake repair can range from replacing the brake shoes or the rotors and other components. Just make sure you have a strong jack to lift your camper up.
If you don’t have experience in repairing your brake system, it’s best to call for help from roadside assistance.
Other things you can do for your brake system is to top off the break fluid when needed. If you’re ever in doubt, you can check out articles and how-to videos. There’s even an Auto Repair for Dummies article.
Replacing a Flat Tire
Bumpy rides, heavy weight, and long drives are all recipes for an inevitable tire blowout. Because tires are highly vulnerable to the wear and tear of constant road use, it’s best to be prepared. Also, try to balance the axles so that the heavy weight of your RV is distributed evenly.
Most people have experience when it comes to changing the flat tire of any land-based car; the process is really not that different. Just make sure to always check the wheel inflation levels, tread wear, and whether or not you’re still carrying a spare tire in good condition.
Camper Slide Out Maintenance
Does your camper have a slide out section? If your RV is outfitted with this great technology for extra space, don’t be surprised by problems in the future.
No matter how top-of-the-line or expensive your RV model is, all of these moving parts will wear and tear over time. The effects of rust and corrosion will play a role in damaging the slide out.
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#6 – Damaged Slide out Mechanism
Maintaining Your RV Slide out
If your RV slide out mechanism becomes stuck or difficult to deal with, your best bet is to get a professional to look at the problem. However, what you can do to prolong the life of your RV is to conduct regular maintenance.
As often as possible, lubricate the RV slide out arms. There are commercially-available products which are affordable and easy to apply for the different moving parts of your RV.
Reapplying and reinforcing the sealants of the slide out section will also help prevent leakages. Not only does it extend the lifespan of the slide out section, but it will prolong the integrity of your entire RV.
Finally, regularly check and double-check for disrepair in the slide out section, as well as for water damage throughout the entire RV.
#7 – Custom RV Accessories
There are some accessories and integral RV components that would be difficult to find in your average handyman store. After all, there are some parts like plumbing that are specially designed for RVs or campers. In fact, you may need to go back to your dealer or to the manufacturer to repair or replace some other parts.
On the other hand, there are some accessories that can be easily repaired or replaced with the same things you use in the house.
The light bulbs in your RV can be the replaced with a standard 100-watt bulb you buy in big stores, or you may have specifically-sized light bulbs fit for your RV. If your RV accessories aren’t easy to find in most stores, you need to have a stock of the ones you commonly use. With your own supply at hand, you can easily replace burned out bulbs.
Another accessory to watch out for are awnings and canopies. These external accessories definitely get exposed to sunlight, rain and other elements. They give additional shade during the hot months, and they keep you cool even without cracking up the AC. Plus, awnings with LED lights make your nighttime camp brighter and even safer.
If you have these accessories for that ideal outdoor patio, you need to be prepared to do some maintenance and repair. The best way to prevent any issues from happening is to clean the material regularly. Remove dirt and debris before you store the canopy or roll it back up.
If your RV awning or canopy is beyond repair, it’s easy enough to replace it with the latest and most upgraded model. You can go the extra mile and get an automatically-unrolling LED model. But you’ll save more if you take proper preventive measures.
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Preparing for Common RV Problems
There are several ways you can prepare against these common RV and camper problems. Whether it’s dealing with electrical systems, water damage from roof and window leakages, or plumbing maintenance, you need to be prepared. With enough preparation and regular maintenance, you can reduce a lot of costs. More importantly, you’ll get to enjoy a worry-free holiday trip in the outdoors.
RV Accessories for Maintenance
Having a water pressure regulator with an attached gauge can help you quickly spot any problems with your RV plumbing system. Knowing that the piping pressure is at the right level can help you relax, and spotting danger signs can protect you from bigger problems down the road.
For your wheels, you can try installing X-Chock wheel stabilizers. Decent RV wheel chocks will help you secure your RV when it’s parked somewhere. But they also give more stability to your rig. You’ll experience less movement when you’re walking around inside your RV. When it come to maintenance and repair, having wheel stabilizers can make it easier for you to work with your leveling jacks.
A power line monitor is another RV accessory that can help you diagnose a problem quickly. This monitor displays information about the wiring, polarity and voltage of your shore power hookup. By using a power line monitor, you can protect your RV wires from a potential surge. To prevent electrical surges even better, you should use surge protectors on your RV interior electric system.
Winterize Your RV
From what I’ve seen, a lot of first time seasonal RV campers come back the next year with a burst water line or a broken water pump. It’s simply one of the most common RV problems, even for old timers.
What is the best thing to do to prevent this type of costly problem? Prepare your RV or camper to withstand cold winter conditions. This includes preparing your RV plumbing system from freezing temperatures which can freeze, expand and crack the lines.
First of all, always ensure the water tanks are emptied before you park your RV for the winter season. Leftover water will freeze in below zero temperatures and expand, leading to damages and burst lines. Always be mindful of the weather forecast! Though if you don’t like to track the weather, make it a habit to empty your tank every time your RV goes into storage.
Just applying a non-toxic RV antifreeze can go a long way. Personally, I use up two to three gallons. Something as simple as this can prevent the need for repair work in the following season.
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Other things you may need to winterize your RV includes a water heater by-pass kit (if you don’t have one already), a tank cleaning wand for holding tanks (unless you have a flushing system in your RV) and a water pump converter kit. Most of these tools come with their own guidelines and operating instructions.
We’re all human. No matter how much your prepare or Google your way through RV maintenance and problem prevention, there will always be bumps in the road. I can’t remember the number of times I almost forgot to bring back my slide-out from the out position. Other problems I’ve seen (and maybe caused myself) include forgetting the awning, and keeping hoses attached to the vehicle. (If you keep leaving the awning down, you’ll come back to your RV one day to see it torn apart by the wind).
The fact that these problems made it to this list means that there are plenty of people in the camping community that has experienced the same problems. If you feel like you’ll be the kind of camper who may run into most of these problems, or any of these problems repeatedly, I recommend making a list.
A checklist that you can easily see before you drive off can help you go through all of these do’s and don’ts. Check off things like checking the tires, the circuit breaker panel, and all of the accessories one at a time. With this kind of proactive prevention, you can safely and confidently drive to your next adventure.
Camping out in an RV during the summer or living in your camper to escape from reality is an amazing and incredibly freeing lifestyle. But it comes with its own challenges and downturns. Lucky for you and for me, there have been thousands of RV campers who have gone through the same problems.
In the age of the Internet, it’s become really easy to pull up a step-by-step article or even a YouTube video on how to repair a broken sink or how to change a flat tire. I hope that the article I just wrote gave you a better clue on where to get started, and what resources to look at.
What RV and camper problems are you dreading? If you’re still not sure what to do, feel free to ask for help! Or maybe you have troubleshooting tips of your own? Share your solutions with the entire camping community down below.
Product data was last updated on 2019-10-23 at 16:16.