Cold-weather campers know the sinking feeling when an RV heater just won’t work. The panic sets in as you think about how you and your family will stay warm for the night, and the family camping trip ends too early. No one wants to get stuck in the cold, so it’s essential to prepare for any malfunction your RV heater can throw at you.
The answer as to why your RV heater isn’t working depends on the type of furnace and the type of issue. There are a variety of circumstances that will determine where you search for the problem. For example, if the system is running, but no heat is escaping, you will want to check the propane tank first.
We put together an essential guide for DIY gurus and replacers alike to ensure their winter camping trips don’t end in a freezing night spent huddled together. Our guide comes complete with troubleshooting info, top replacement models for every buyer, and prices to keep your budget intact.
Aspects To Check For Problems In Your RV Heater
Not all RVs are the same, but if these essential components make up your heating system, one of them is most likely causing the problem. Educating yourself on the parts and functions of an RV heater will allow you to fix most issues expertly. We will list where to look in the heating system based on each circumstance.
- Propane tank
- Propane line
- Pilot light
Propane Tank Problems
If the system is running but no heat is escaping, check if the propane tank is turned on. If it is, check if the rest of the RV receives propane by test lighting a gas stove burner or another gas-powered appliance. If the appliance lights, you know the problem is with the ignition. If it doesn’t light, you will see the problem is with the propane line.
Cold weather can often lower the pressure in the propane tank, so if the propane line and connections are intact and the tank isn’t low, try bringing the tank inside to warm up for a bit and reconnect it later. Getting a frozen tank inside should unthaw it if the inside of your RV is still warm enough.
Propane Line Problems
Propane lines can get damaged by pets, wildlife, weather, and more. Although these should be easy fixes, tighten loose connectors and patch leaks in the line.
The thermocouple is a bimetallic sensor in the RV heater. Its electrical resistance changes with the temperature. The control system detects temperature change in the thermocouple, which signals the gas valve to open and ignites the furnace.
Check to make sure the thermocouple is positioned correctly in the burner and that any bugs or debris do not hinder it. If the thermocouple is burned out, you will need to replace it. The average price is around $10, so this repair won’t break the bank.
Pilot Light Problems
The pilot light is a small flame that allows for quick ignition. Pilot lights used to burn constantly, but most systems don’t have a constant light to save gas. If the pilot light doesn’t light, it could be a low propane level or a leak in the propane line.
Electrical problems include:
- Voltage issues
An RV heater usually needs 10.5V to ignite the furnace and 12V to run the fan. First, check your battery voltage to see if it is giving off enough power. You may need a new battery if yours isn’t providing enough power.
- Damaged or disconnected wiring
Like the propane lines, electrical wires can face many different damage problems. Make sure the wiring is connected and that nothing is frayed or split.
- Battery corrosion
Battery corrosion can seem daunting, but it has an easy fix:
- Mix water and baking soda
- Disconnect everything from the corroded battery terminal
- Scrub the mixture into the corroded battery terminal with a toothbrush
- Wipe the mixture off with a clean paper towel until the battery terminal is dry
- Reconnect everything back to the battery terminal
- A tripped circuit breaker or blown fuse
If a circuit is tripped, you can reset it. But if a fuse is blown, you will have to replace it.
If the pilot light and thermocouple are intact, but the furnace still won’t ignite, check the sail switch. The sail switch is an internal flow switch that flips when a change in the thermostat occurs. It looks like a basic on-off switch. If there is not enough airflow, the furnace will not be able to ignite. If the switch is broken, bad, or sticky, it may need to be replaced or thoroughly cleaned.
How Much Is A New RV Heater?
The cost of heating your RV will depend on the size of your RV. Smaller RVs and trailers can usually use space heaters instead of complete thermostat heating systems. RV space heater can range from $30 to $300 depending on the features you need. Some people even purchase multiple space heaters instead of a complete thermostat heating system.
Although it is harder to install and fix a complete heating system in your RV, having one allows a more homey feel to your travels. RV thermostats should cost between $60 and $200, but this is only for the thermostat. You will most likely need a professional to install the system, and you must keep propane stocked in your RV.