A Basic Guide to RV Air Conditioner Repair

RV Owners

What’s the most powerful item in your RV?

Your first thought might be the engine, or maybe the leveling jacks — and if you’re talking about the ability to move sheer weight, you’re probably right.

But when it comes to the power to make or break your camping trip, few RV components have as much influence as your RV’s rooftop air conditioner unit. Even the most exciting itinerary through the most beautiful parts of the country will be ruined if you spend it too hot and sweaty to sleep or have any fun.

That’s why it’s important to have a good grasp of your air conditioner’s general layout, parts, and functions — being knowledgeable can help you diagnose and fix any mechanical issues you may run into early on. Furthermore, being able to perform these repairs yourself might help you save a ton of cash on hefty mechanic’s fees. I don’t know about you, but if I’m way too hot, my frugality goes out the window. When I’m sweaty, I’m willing to pay just about anything for access to air conditioning!

Let’s avoid that messy fate, shall we?

Here’s a basic guide to what you need to know about your RV’s air conditioner.

RV Air Conditioner Parts

You’re probably already familiar with at least a few of your RV air conditioner’s parts — for instance, the intake and output vents you see inside the main cabin of your rig, and the filters in place just behind each vent cover. You’ll also be familiar with your AC’s control unit or thermostat, which you use to control the output of chilled, and sometimes heated, air.

On the exterior of your RV, you’ll notice the actual rooftop apparatus, which sits on top of the coach and houses all the internal workings that create and pump out cool air. Depending on your rig, you may have one or two of these rooftop units. Your air conditioner may also have a freeze sensor to keep it from overworking itself.

Inside those units, your AC has a series of evaporator and condenser coils, as well as a fan motor and compressor. All of these parts have the potential to go awry, causing your RV air conditioner to work less efficiently or to give up the ghost altogether. Even if you invest in the best RV air conditioner on the market, aging naturally degrades the performance of mechanical components.

A quick note: Many adventurous, boondocking campers wonder, can you run an RV air conditioner with solar power?

While it’s technically possible to do so, your air conditioning unit is one of the largest and appliances in your RV, and the one that likely draws the most amperage. For that reason, it would take a lot of solar power to effectively run it — likely many more than you can fit on your RV’s roof alone. Purchasing enough panels to create that amount of electricity would be a very expensive venture, and one that would also require a decent amount of physical setup… and still might not work. (Check out this post from Gone with the Wynns, where they experiment with running their RV air conditioner off solar power. It’s not as simple as it sounds!)

Finally, keep in mind that if you do seek an alternative power source for your RV’s air conditioning unit, you’ll need to invest in a power inverter for it. This device would allow your RV’s air conditioner to utilize the electricity generated, which would actually be powering your set of auxiliary batteries rather than the AC unit itself.

An RV air conditioner

RV Air Conditioner Maintenance

One of the best ways to avoid mechanical issues with your RV air conditioning unit is to properly take care of and maintain it.

Of course, you’ll want to clean and replace the filters regularly. Doing so improves not only the air conditioner’s life span but also the quality of the air you breathe!

However, if you really want to keep up with air conditioning maintenance, you’ll have to do some slightly deeper cleaning. Specifically, your AC’s evaporator and condenser coils will naturally accumulate dirt and grime over time, which can restrict airflow and degrade cooling efficiency.

To clean them, you’ll need to unscrew the white AC shroud encasement on top of your RV. Be sure all electricity to the unit is completely shut off before you do so!

You can utilize an industrial wet/dry ShopVac to perform the cleaning without making a big mess, and you may also want to invest in a product specifically made to clean AC coils. You can also clean, service, and oil the AC fan motor while you’re up there.

RV Air Conditioner Problems

Even with a regular schedule of quality maintenance, you may encounter some problems with your RV air conditioner — and if your luck is anything like this Floridian’s, it’ll go out at the exact wrong time (read: the middle of July while you’re boondocking in the desert).

A few common troubleshooting issues include a noisy RV air conditioner, the unit not blowing cold air, or, worst of all, the RV AC not turning on at all.

Without a thorough understanding of your specific AC unit’s layout, it can be difficult to diagnose and fix the problem. However, it’s always a good idea to start by purchasing a new filter for the unit, as these get clogged up regularly — and even if it isn’t your problem, you can’t go wrong with having cleaner air once you do discover the issue’s source. You can also consider adding freon to your RV air conditioner if it’s still working, but the air it’s blowing is no longer chilled.

How to Fix an RV Air Conditioner

The very best way to “repair” an RV air conditioner is to avoid needing repairs at all by keeping it clean and well-oiled. However, from time to time, you’ll encounter an issue that must be solved professionally — or will require a decent amount of mechanical know-how to take on alone. And unfortunately, issues with certain parts can be dealbreakers. For instance, if your compressor goes, it might ultimately be more affordable to simply junk your unit and buy a new one.

Ultimately, it’s always safest to get a professional opinion, although you may be willing to perform some troubleshooting and repairs yourself depending on your skill level. But since you’re such a pro at maintaining your unit, hopefully, issues like these won’t come up very often at all.

Stay cool out there!