Welcome to RV Mishaps, a content series written by RVers about problems they’ve encountered on the road, how they solved them, and lessons learned. Have a mishap story of your own that you’d like to tell? Send us an email at email@example.com.
Our family of five was heading west from Ohio in our motorhome for a 2-week trip through 15 states. This was the first voyage in our new rig where we were going farther than 100 miles from our house. It was July and in a few days our family would be staying in Nevada.
What Went Wrong
Nevada weather calls for full-time air conditioning with temperatures upwards of 100 degrees in July. And with no wind or air flow, opening the windows to cool down wasn’t an option—but that’s when our air conditioner stopped being reliable.
Somewhere in Wyoming, the air unit above our heads began to drip. When it didn’t stop, we began our investigation into the world of RV air conditioning units.
Keep the Interior Filter Clean
The easiest place to begin with RV A/C maintenance is keeping the interior filter on the unit clean—no air flow equals no air. This tip is relatively easy; there should be a plastic cover on the ceiling (other units might have a different variation of this cover) that opens and reveals a foam filter. Remove the filter, run it under water until it’s clean and the water flows through, allow it to dry, and then return it to the housing. This is a basic maintenance chore you should do every couple of months (depending on your usage). We hadn’t done this in our new RV so we began with this step.
After cleaning the filter we assumed this would take care of the dripping problem, so we tried to finish our meal. But it didn’t solve our problem, so we turned off the air and continued investigating.
After some more interior housing removal we noticed that the copper coil froze and then produced condensation. That condensation was what was dripping on us on the inside, so my husband went to the roof to investigate further.
Unclog the Weeping Holes
After removing the exterior A/C shroud, we were able to remove the screws and the cover to expose the front evaporator coil. The coil rests in a tray that contains small holes where the condensation should drip onto the RV roof. The condensation is where the hot exterior air hits the cold copper tubing and makes water droplets. These condensation weeping holes need to be clog free or the air conditioner can’t expel the excess condensation and may overheat.
We saw that we had small leaves and bugs in ours. We cleaned out these holes to help ensure proper drainage. My husband eventually drilled out these holes, so they were slightly bigger, to hopefully solve the problem more permanently—this is optional, but our results have been optimal from this enlargement. However, the potential for insect entry is higher with larger holes.
Now the unit was cooling and not dripping on us. But as soon as we settled in, the unit kicked off. We tripped a breaker. Then it happened again—and again—but there was no reason behind what was tripping the breaker. Eventually, we learned the most important tip when it comes to RV air conditioners…
Don’t Run More Amps Than Your Rig Can Receive
After talking to camping neighbors to pinpoint our issue, we received a suggestion from a seasoned owner that solved the problem. He explained that the items that use the most amperage are your RV’s air conditioner, water heater, and microwave when running on electric power. The air conditioner uses a lot because it’s a major system, and the water heater because it needs to heat hotter and quicker than a household heater.
Our RV only has 30 amps and that’s not enough to run both utilities at the same time. We don’t use our water heater very often unless for a shower. Generally it’s easier to go to the showerhouse, but during this trip we took a few RV showers. Sure enough, shortly after we turned the water heater on, the air conditioning unit tripped.
It didn’t always happen immediately, so we hadn’t deducted that as the problem, but the solution was simple. Now when someone wants to shower, we turn off the unit long enough to heat the water and shower. Then, we turn the air conditioning unit back on without worrying about overheating the A/C in the middle of the night. We’ve since found that running the water heater on gas instead of electric power will also eliminate the problem.
Sometimes it’s the little maintenance tricks that fix the problem, other times it’s learning from an experienced RVer. Try these solutions if you find yourself without A/C in warmer months.