Camper Air Conditioner Troubleshooting Tips: Try This First!

It may be the middle of winter, but eventually the temperatures are going to creep up and get warm again. You may be in a part of the country that isn’t bitterly cold right now (although almost everyone has been hit with some shockingly low temps already this year), so warmer weather is right around the corner.

Regardless, sooner than later, we’re all going to be reaching for our thermostats to crank up the air conditioning. When it comes to driving your RV, it’s no different: on those balmy days and nights, you want nothing more than the cool air that comes from the vents to flow throughout your vehicle.

Only when you turn on the AC this time, nothing comes out. Or maybe it does for a little while, but then the air is hotter than it is cool, which only makes things worse. You roll down the windows and you hope to generate a breeze as you drive, but this is no way to live.

You know you’re going to have to pull over soon and get your AC addressed by a professional. Or do you have to do that?

Hopefully, after reading this article, the answer will be no. I’m sharing some great troubleshooting and repair tips for your RV’s air conditioning unit. You can do almost all of these yourself. Do take heed, though: some jobs are best handled by professionals. If they are, I’ll be sure to mention that.

Let’s get started.

Problem: You fried your generator.

It wasn’t like you did it on purpose. You may have run the microwave while your AC was on. You didn’t think that would cause a problem, but it did. Yes, your food is nice and heated up, but now so is your RV because your air conditioner is no longer working.

Troubleshooting/repair: Get a new one and watch your wattage.

I hate to break it to you, but a fried generator is just that: fried. You’re going to have to toss it in the junk heap and buy another one. It’s recommended your new generator is at least 3,100 watts. That’s not enough to withstand using the microwave while the AC is running (so don’t do that again), but it should be able to power your air conditioner through those long summer days and nights.

Problem: You tested the temperatures and again killed the generator.

Here’s a pretty common issue: you wanted to make sure the thermostat in your RV works. To do so, you set the temperatures so low that they’re pretty frosty, like 50 degrees Fahrenheit frosty.

You probably won’t ever set the AC that low in your low day-to-day life, but you wanted to make sure it can run at that temperature if you ever had to set it there. It gets colder and colder in the RV, and then suddenly, nothing. The AC unit clunks off, and you no longer hear the reliable hum of the generator, either.

Troubleshooting/repair: Don’t test the thermostat (and yeah, you may need another generator).

Yes, running the temperatures this low, even for testing purposes, will indeed kill the generator. So first of all, you’ll again need another one. Second, don’t run the AC unit that low.

As mentioned, there are very, very few situations in which it’s hot enough to warrant turning your air conditioner all the way down to 50 degrees. 60 or 70 degrees? Sure. Most generators won’t be able to handle temperatures below 60, though, so be aware of that.

Problem: You didn’t maintain your AC unit.

Your air conditioner doesn’t run on magic. It needs to be cleaned (more on this in a moment) and maintained regularly to keep performing at its best.

It would be a shame if you had to spend the money on a brand-new AC unit for your RV simply because too much dust and dirt gunked up a necessary component. To prevent this, make basic maintenance a part of your RV ownership routine. You should aim to clean the unit at least every six months.

For a more thorough inspection of the unit, you should call a professional technician annually.

Troubleshooting/repair: Regular maintenance.

So how do you go about maintaining your RV’s air conditioning unit? Here are four ways you can get started today.

  1. Make sure the AC unit is adequately covered when it’s not in use. A cheap cover is enough to keep the air conditioner from developing a fine layer of dust and dirt in the off-season.
  2. Oil the AC unit’s fan. You may want to contact your RV manufacturer to make sure you have the right oil for the job. Remember, you generally get what you pay for, so cheap fan oil could degrade the unit over time.
  3. Inspect the condenser. This has coils that provide the cooling you seek in the summer. These coils as well as the rest of the condenser can get backed up with leaves, dirt, dust, and other debris, which could lead to the AC failing. Make it a bi-annual habit to wipe down the condenser.
  4. Air out the roof vent. This keeps excessive moisture at bay and also keeps the unit free of dirt and dust.

Problem: You can’t remember the last time you’ve cleaned the unit, either.

As you can see, when too much dust, dirt, and other debris builds up within the fragile parts of the air conditioning unit, it can slow down or fail altogether. While it’s true that certain parts of the AC should be cleaned by a professional, there’s plenty you can do to ensure your AC is running well.

Troubleshooting/repair: Give the AC unit a thorough cleaning.

Here are four areas you should clean.

(Do be aware, if you can unplug your air conditioning unit, always do so and then clean it. If it can’t be unplugged, then power the AC down and make sure the unit is at room temperature before attempting to clean it.)

  1. The condenser coils, which we mentioned above. These can be accessed via the roof of your RV. You’ll have to take off the top of the air conditioning unit by loosening its bolts. When cleaning the condenser coils, it’s recommended you use a specialized condenser coil cleaner as well as a handheld vacuum for the job.
  2. The evaporator coils, which are hidden beneath the AC’s filters. These can also be cleaned via a handheld vacuum or a soft bristle brush.
  3. The filters, which should be changed monthly. Some are disposable, but others can be cleaned with good ol’ soap and water. This saves a lot of money over the long run. That said, you will have to go easy on your filters, because if you see any rips, you’ll have to throw these out.

Problem: The AC unit motor is annoyingly loud.

When you first bought your RV, you couldn’t hear your air conditioning unit when it was running. Gradually, as time has gone on, the unit has become louder and louder. Now it’s annoyingly so, and you’re not sure what to do about it.

Troubleshooting/repair: Something is amiss with the rubber shock absorbers.

There are a few reasons the air conditioner may be humming, whining, or chugging louder than usual. It could be that the rubber shock absorbers are not where they should be. If these are making contact with the fan or the compressor coils, your AC will rumble when in use.

The best way to fix this issue is to remove the cover on the unit, find the rubber shock absorbers, and make sure they’re not brushing up against any other components.

Problem: There’s ice around your air conditioner!

Yes, this can seem scary the first time it happens. After all, you want your AC to be cold, but not so cold that it forms ice! So what gives?

Troubleshooting/repair: It’s time to replace your Freon.

Don’t worry. Your air conditioning unit can’t suddenly make ice. In fact, sometimes, even though the unit is producing ice, it’s surprisingly warm and not cooling the RV.

This all has to do with the Freon levels in your AC unit. Freon leaks are possible, and if they occur, you could have the aforementioned freezing issue.

The first thing you should do then is check your air conditioner and look for liquid leaks. Can’t find any? That’s probably to your benefit. That means you just need to top off your AC’s Freon. Once you do that, the unit should run colder and stop making ice.

Problem: Your AC unit is leaking, and you’re not sure if it’s Freon or what.

In other instances, you may notice the AC is dripping liquid. You clean the liquid and yet a few minutes later hear that drip-drip-dripping sound again.

Troubleshooting/repair: Wipe down your condenser coils.

The air condtioner’s condenser coils are responsible for keeping water condensation to a minimum. When these get dirty or dusty, they can no longer evaporate the water. That gives you the dripping.

If you haven’t yet, it’s time to clean your condenser coils.

Problem: Now your AC unit is leaking.

The dripping is taken care of, but now you’re seeing pools of water surrounding your AC unit. You clean these up and wonder if they’re an electrical risk.  More so, where is the water coming from? This can’t be good, right?

Troubleshooting/repair: The gasket needs to be replaced or tightened.

It’s important to note that just because your air condtioner is sitting in a pool of water doesn’t always mean it’s leaking. Sometimes, the water can come from external or internal components.

Most often, leaks like this are attributed to the gasket. You can find this near the unit’s roof. To start, make sure all the bolts are secure on the gasket.

Now, give it some time. If you still notice the air conditioner is leaking water, the gasket needs to be switched out with a fresh one.

Problem: The AC unit gets very hot and even overheats.

While I don’t recommend touching your air conditioner when it’s running (and really, you shouldn’t generally touch it unless you’re cleaning it), if it seems hot or is giving off warmth when you get near it, something is wrong.

In fact, you may have noticed that your AC will often overheat and power itself down.

Troubleshooting/repair: Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance.

If you’ve maintaining your air conditioner, then you shouldn’t have this issue at all. Overheating is typically a problem with the condenser coil. If the coils have too much dust and dirt because they haven’t been cleaned in a while, your whole unit will often get hot and stop working. You know what to do.

Problem: Your AC unit only blows warm or hot air.

If you wanted warm air in your RV, you’d turn on your heater. In the sweltering weather, though, the last thing you want is more hot air circulating through. Is it time for your AC unit to be junked?

Troubleshooting/repair: Test the motor voltage and/or get a new one.

In this case, maybe. Before you make that decision though, look at the motor and test whether it’s getting voltage. If it isn’t, you’ll have to repair this issue by contacting a professional. If it is and the unit still isn’t working, now you’re going to have to buy a new air conditioner.

Problem: The air conditioner is kind of stinky.

You go to great lengths to ensure your RV smells its best, but lately, it has this terrible, earthy stench has been wafting through. You’ve gone through your fridge and freezer and tossed out old food.  You’ve cleaned the bathroom and kitchen and washed all the laundry, but no to avail.

What’s causing such a sad scent? Your air conditioner.

Troubleshooting/repair: Clean the radiator/change the AC unit’s filters.

When was the last time you’ve changed out the filters in your air conditioner? These can contribute to the smell, but it often comes from the radiator. By wiping it down and clearing it of all dirt and dust, the radiator should run without any odors. To be on the safe side, change out your filters, since these can trap the smell and keep it lingering.

Problem: The AC doesn’t stop running.

Everyone can appreciate a hard-working machine, but your AC should not always be on unless you set it that way (and you really shouldn’t). This can significantly lessen the longevity of the machine, making it so you’ll have to get a new air conditioner in the next few years.

Troubleshooting/repair: Check your thermostat and/or circuit board.

It could be that your thermostat is busted, keeping the AC unit running even though you’d prefer it didn’t. The circuit board may also be affecting your unit. Either way, once you diagnose the issue , it’s time to call in a professional and let them take over from there.

Conclusion

Your air conditioning unit is an important component of your RV, but it won’t work on its own forever. Many of issues you’re having with your AC unit can often be solved with regular cleaning and maintenance. As long as you stick to a cleaning schedule of every six months (sometimes more often than that), you should be able to avoid many of the above-mentioned issues.

If it’s been a while since you’ve done maintenance, some of these issues may seem familiar to you. Luckily, many of them are easy fixes that are as simple as unscrewing the machine and cleaning out a few parts.

That said, as a reminder, never handle the AC unit when it’s plugged in or running. If you have an issue with the thermostat, circuit breaker, or any other electrical component, it’s recommended you contact your RV manufacturer or call a professional HVAC technician to take over the issue.

Otherwise, next time you run into one of these common RV air conditioning issues, you’ll be able to fix it yourself. Good luck and happy travels!

About the Author

Nicole Malczan

Nicole Malczan is a content marketing writer and freelancer. She's applied her knowledge of marketing and SEO to many clients over the years, ranging from foodservice to facilities management and currency exchange. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, baking, and music.

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