RV Air Conditioner Troubleshooting Tips

There are a few simple pleasures in life: waking up several hours before your alarm goes off, sitting down to relax after a long day, and turning on your air conditioner when the humidity starts to creep up.

There’s just one problem. Lately, you’ve been depriving yourself of one of life’s best summertime pleasures: the envelope of artificial cold air your AC wraps you up in as you explore the world behind the wheel of your RV.

This isn’t on purpose, of course. You’d love to feel cool air blasting from your AC vents, but lately the air is lukewarm at best, and sometimes it’s just warm. Not only that, but you can hear the unit chugging, clunking, and straining every time you run it. You may even have fluid leakage.

You’re starting to get worried. Your vehicle isn’t that old, but if your air conditioning doesn’t work, the RV is as good as useless, right? Rolling down the windows to catch a breeze can only work for so long. Once you stop and park for a while, the vehicle becomes a stifling metal box.

Don’t panic yet. You probably won’t have to get rid your beloved RV. You might not even have to take it to a professional. Many issues that afflict your air conditioning unit can be fixed with a little bit of patience and expertise.

If you don’t have that expertise yet, you will after reading these handy troubleshooting tips.

The issue: You left your air conditioner exposed during the winter.

Whoops! In the rush of dropping off your RV at the motorhome park for the off-season, you totally goofed and forgot to cover your air conditioning unit. Now that you’re seeing it again for the first time in a few months, it’s looking worse for wear. That’s actually kind of an understatement. What can you do?

Troubleshooting method: Clean up and then call a pro for maintenance and potential repairs.

It’s hard to assess the state of damage to your air conditioner, if any. It all depends on how long you left the unit out, what kind of weather it was exposed to, its age, and its overall condition.

The first thing you should do is clean out all the dust, dirt, and other debris that’s gathered on the unit when sitting in the motorhome park. Once the exterior is clean, you may want to call a professional to check out the intricate parts within the interior, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve done any maintenance on the air conditioner.

Hopefully, the technician will only have to clean out the unit and there won’t be any further damage. If there is, you’ll probably have to pay for the repairs.

In the future, invest in an air conditioner cover. This should keep the unit safe from the elements as well as dirt and debris. Browse this list to get started.

The issue: Your air conditioner keeps chugging along, even when you turn it off.

Okay, so this one is strange. You turned your air conditioner off a good while ago, yet it’s still blowing cold air. You double-check and then triple-check the thermostat. You definitely turned the AC off, so why’s it still running?

Troubleshooting method: The circuit board or thermostat may have malfunctioned.

We hope you have the number of your air conditioner technician handy, because you’re going to need it again. When it’s an issue with the circuit board or thermostat, it’s not recommended you try to fix it yourself. There’s a risk of electrocution, so don’t do any tinkering. Instead, let a trained technician do the work.

That said, you can take a look at both of these components and see if they’re working.  Look for any loose or bare wires on the circuit board. See if anything’s unplugged, too, as that may happen. Then let your technician know what’s wrong.

If there’s no issue with the circuit board, then the thermostat is more likely to blame. If the thermostat is giving an incorrect reading, the AC unit will continue to run even when you’d prefer it didn’t. This is easily repaired by a pro.

The issue: The air conditioner strains and chugs a lot when running.

You can’t remember the last time your air conditioner has run quietly. This can make it difficult to relax and have conversations with your fellow passengers or even enjoy some tunes on the road.

What can you do to get rid of this annoying noise?

Troubleshooting method: Wipe down the fan and its motor.

Although chugging and other AC sounds aren’t always attributed to fan issues, keeping the fan and its motor clean is a good goal to aspire to. This will keep your air conditioner running at its best.

To get to the fan and its motor for cleaning, find the bearings near the fan motor on either side. Sometimes these come with sheet metal screws as well as a layer of metal sheeting, so make sure you take all this off and then unscrew the bearings.

Beneath the bearings are oil ports, at least for most motorhomes. Otherwise, look for oil sleeves. If there’s not enough oil in either the ports or the sleeves, fill these up and then reattach the metal sheeting and the screws. The air conditioner should make a lot less noise.

The issue: There’s a rather unpleasant odor coming from your air conditioner.

Whew! What’s that smell? Admittedly, you did scour the rest of your RV, cleaning and throwing almost everything out just to narrow down the culprit. With a spotless interior and an empty fridge (and freezer!), you’re now sure the terrible smell emanating from your vehicle is indeed an air conditioner issue.

Troubleshooting method: Replace air conditioner filters and wipe down the radiator.

You won’t have to do too much work to clean out the stinky odors that are ruining your road trip.

First, you should find your air conditioner’s radiator, which is the front grille attached to the unit. As you can imagine, if you don’t clean this often, then layers of dust and grime are going to form over it. Not only does that stink, but grime plus moisture often equals bacteria. It’s probably the spread of bacteria you’re smelling.

Give the radiator a cursory wipe-down, making sure you get all the nooks and crannies. Then, just to be on the safe side, replace your air conditioner filters. The purpose of the filter is to catch and trap dirt and dust, but they only work for so long. Without being replaced, they will start to reek.

Once you’ve done all that, you may want to throw an air freshener in the RV just to get everything smelling nice again.

The issue: Your air conditioner is getting too hot. It may also be dripping.

Your air conditioner is running fine, but if you get anywhere near it, you notice it’s very warm, sometimes even hot. This is disconcerting. In some instances, there may also be dripping fluid on or around the unit. This adds to your concern.

Troubleshooting method: Clean the condenser and evaporator coils in the unit.

The fan should evaporate excess liquid, but sometimes this doesn’t happen. Instead, the air conditioner’s pan gets overfilled and cannot contain all the liquid, which then travels to the coils.

Make it a habit to clean the air conditioning unit coils and you should have no more dripping. This cleaning job is a bit tricky to do the first time, but you’ll get more used to it the more you do it.

First, you want to find the shroud that covers the unit and take it off. Now you should be able to see the condenser and evaporator coils.

Instead of using good, old-fashioned soap and water for the job, you should buy a specialized coil cleaner, like this one. These products are made to clean air conditioner coils more efficiently.

You might also need a wet/dry vacuum to suck up any leftover water. Be careful and thorough with this job, as too much moisture can rust the coils.

The issue: There’s leaking fluid around the air conditioning unit.

You may be sweating when your air conditioner doesn’t work, but the unit itself isn’t supposed to sweat with you. As you sop up the liquid mess only to see it happen again and again, you’re starting to get concerned that your AC unit may have become a safety hazard.

Troubleshooting method: Tighten up the gasket. Barring that, get a new one.

The gasket is located near the roof of the air conditioning unit. This little component works hard, and sometimes all that work leads to its screws loosening. If that’s the case, then be sure to tighten all bolts in and around the gasket.

Close the roof of the unit and run the AC on low for a while so as not to overload it. Are you still seeing puddles of water after an hour or so? If so, the gasket may be old or just faulty, so you’ll need to get a new one right away.

The issue: The air conditioner makes a lot of noise while it runs.

Remember how we said a dirty motor fan isn’t the only reason the air conditioner might whine, chug, or clunk? Well, it isn’t. Sometimes certain components move when they shouldn’t, which either causes or contributes to the noise from your AC unit.

Troubleshooting method: Reposition the shock absorbers.

As the name suggests, shock absorbers are designed to mute the impact of the air conditioner while it runs. Most ACs will come with rubber shock absorbers, which are somewhat more flexible. That said, sometimes these can move due to use, and if that happens, they no longer block all the noise.

Not only that, but they may get in the way of other components, which is why you’re hearing that annoying whirring or clunking. To address this issue, open your air conditioning shroud via the roof. Look at the rubber shock absorbers and see if they seem askew.

If they do, reposition them. Close the unit and run it again, and it should be much quieter now.

The issue: Your air conditioner seems to be running so cold it’s making ice.

What gives? You bought an air conditioner, not an icemaker, so why is there so much frosty coldness around your AC unit? You shouldn’t be able to break off icicles from the radiator no matter how chilly you like your RV temps.

Troubleshooting method: Check your Freon levels and make sure these are full.

Okay, first, let’s clear up a misconception. It’s not like your air conditioner is running colder than usual to the point where it’s making ice. Most of the time, when RV owners report this issue, they actually note that the unit is quite warm. The air that comes out of the vents is often the same temperature.

That’s because the air conditioner has not become an icemaker overnight. Instead, there’s an issue with the Freon in the unit. Sometimes, this liquid spills out of the unit, which causes the formation of ice. In other instances, there’s just not enough Freon, which also causes problems with the air conditioner.

First, you should see if your Freon is full. If it isn’t, pour in more until the levels are maxed.

If you’re still having issues with ice and freezing around the air conditioner, then there could be a Freon leak somewhere in the unit. If this is the case, you may want to call a professional to patch up the source of the leak. That should solve the problem.

The issue: You may have turned the temperatures too low, and now the AC won’t work at all.

Perhaps it was a blisteringly hot day or maybe you just wanted to know if you could. Either way, you turned your air conditioner’s thermostat way too low. Now it’s not running at all.

Troubleshooting method: Repair (via a professional) or replace the generator.

The generator that powers the air conditioning unit can only handle so much. Generally, you shouldn’t drop your air conditioner’s thermostat to 50 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, as it will almost certainly blow out the generator.

Keep the AC thermostat firmly set between 60 and 70 degrees and you should have no further problems. Of course, you’ll probably have to replace your generator first. Be sure to call a repair technician and see if it’s salvageable before making any big decisions, though.

The issue: You used the microwave or the oven while the air conditioner was running, and now it won’t work anymore.

Again, remember that the generator in your vehicle can only take so much before it just stops working. It’s using most of its wattage to power the air conditioner to your desired temperature (which shouldn’t be below 60 degrees, just as a friendly reminder). If you decide to use the microwave, the oven, or any other amenity which requires a lot of extra electricity, you could accidentally break the generator.

Troubleshooting method: Again, replace the generator.

Sadly, when this happens, there’s very little else you can do except buy a replacement. A fried generator is practically impossible to fix, and even if you could, the money you would spend on repairs is better off being used for a new generator.

In the future, be careful. You should also double-check that your next generator is 3,100 watts or higher so it can run without failing even when your air conditioner has to chug along for hours.

Conclusion

You don’t necessarily have to be a handyperson to fix a broken or damaged air conditioning unit in your RV. Many of the troubleshooting tips we discussed involved cleaning or topping off the various components inside the unit.

If you want to avoid having to deal with these issues in the future, there’s one reliable way to do so: maintenance. Whether you’d prefer to do it yourself or call a professional for the job, by giving your AC the once-over and cleaning it at least every six months, you can ensure that each time you switch on the air conditioning in your RV, you can enjoy that sweet, sweet cold air.

Of course, remember, if any of these jobs make you uncomfortable, it’s okay to call a professional. You may end up spending a bit of extra money, but you’ll get the peace of mind that the issue is truly fixed. Have fun out there!

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