RV Water Heater Keeps Shutting Off—What To Do?

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You're relaxing in your RV, having the time of your life with your human or furry family. Moments later, your RV water heater shuts off and won't work no matter how many times you try to turn it on. Your holiday shouldn't turn into an exhausting travel nightmare because of this issue. We've researched the problem for you! 

There are several reasons why your RV water heater keeps on turning off. Considering the type of RV water heater you might have, you need to check for any of the following:

  • A faulty or damaged thermocouple
  • Dirt build-up
  • Poor propane supply
  • Bad gas valve
  • Electrical glitch
  • Faulty thermostat
  • Broken switch

Ideally, experts do this, but knowing the troubleshooting tips wouldn't hurt. We'll discuss them more in-depth in the following sections. We also prepared for the possible questions you might have, like how long RV water heaters last and how to maintain them, so keep reading! 

Hands young women set the temperature of the RV water heater, RV Water Heater Keeps Shutting Off—What To Do?

RV Water Heater Keeps Shutting Off—What To Do?

Motor home parked at beach during day

RV water heaters are essential for your ease and pleasure during travels or camping. Basically, they function similarly to your household's water heater. An RV water heater will allow you to have comfortable showers or warm water when washing your hands or dishes.

You may have one of these heaters: gas or electric. Gas water heaters either use propane or natural gas. Both heaters offer the same heating performance though natural gas is more cost-effective than propane.

Electric water heaters generally work with a 120-volt power source like shore power or a generator. These heaters use an electric thermostat that controls the power needed for heating.

Additionally, there are also hybrid water heaters. These heaters can run on gas, 120-volt electricity, or both simultaneously. 

Gas RV water heater keeps turning off

The solutions could be repairing or replacing the malfunctioning parts below or the RV water heater itself.

Faulty/damaged thermocouple

Most likely, the problem lies with the thermocouple. It detects when the pilot light is lit and allows gas to flow to the burner. If the thermocouple is faulty, it will shut off gas to the burner and the pilot. A bent or damaged thermocouple would also prevent the pilot light from heating it. It is best to ask a technician to repair this component. 

Dirt buildup

The buildup of dirt and grime may also be the cause. This can interfere with the effectiveness of your water heater. If you encounter this, flushing your unit would be the best answer. Completely drain it to remove any unwanted floating particles. Make sure to shut off the unit before the flushing. 

You can also consider investing in a water softening system. This works by removing the ions that cause the hardening of sediments in your water. Water softening systems can be a costly solution, but it will be beneficial in the long run. 

Click here to see this portable water softener on Amazon

Poor gas/propane supply 

Ensure that you filled up the propane tank and that the valve is on. This sounds simple, but often, due to a tight schedule or stress, we may forget these steps. If the tank is full and the valve is on, but the system still doesn't work, proceed to the next step. 

Check the excess flow valve. If there is a leak anywhere in your system, turn it off immediately, extinguish any nearby fire or cigarette, and get to the nearest RV shop. 

Bad gas valve

The gas valve brings the gas supply to the RV or trailer heater. The gas is then given to the pilot light to burn the main burner and heat the water. A damaged or dirty valve won't supply the gas so the heater will switch on and off. Replace the valve to prevent this problem.

Electric RV water heater keeps turning off

Watch out for these issues:

Electrical glitch

Check if the breaker is live. If it is, the problem most likely is an electrical short in the breaker. Reset any tripped circuit breaker or replace any blown fuse. 

Electrical fuse box

Faulty thermostat

If there's no problem with the electricity supply, the problem could lie with the heating coils or thermostat. Test for proper voltage, and if it's faulty, replace the thermostat.

Reminder: Be careful when handling the parts. Call a technician for your safety.

Faulty water heat switch

If the voltage is good and there's no fault in the thermostat, check the toggle switch in front of the water heater. The connectors may be fried or damaged. If so, cut off and replace the damaged connector, then reinsert the switch. 

If you have a hybrid RV water heater, you may still follow the tips mentioned above and see which best applies. 

Should I leave my water heater on all the time?

Female hand puts thermostat of electric water heater (boiler) in economy mode. Household enegry saving equipment

If you're using propane RV water heaters, you should not leave your water heater on all the time. If there's a leak or damaged parts in the propane tank, it only takes a tiny spark to ignite the highly combustible propane gas. This could result in an explosion or fire. 

Meanwhile, if you have an electric RV water heater, it's safe to leave it on. However, its downsides include being costly and not too environmentally friendly. 

So if you're concerned about safety or saving energy, it's best to turn your water heater on only when needed. 

control panel of Water heater

How long does the RV water heater last?

An RV water heater's life expectancy may depend on the tank (or lack of), brand, usage, and even good or bad luck. 

RV water heaters powered by electricity or gas can either have a tank or not. A  tank or storage RV water heater can last approximately 10-15 years, while most tankless water heaters can last for 20 years.

Also, brands could be a signifier of quality. Suburban and Girard are among the popular manufacturers of RV water heaters. While no brand can guarantee a product's longevity, having a quality one will put you at ease. 

Click here to see this Suburban RV water heater on Amazon. 

Check out this Girard Tankless RV water heater on Amazon. 

If your heater keeps on malfunctioning, even if you've done all the troubleshooting and parts repair, it's best to let go and just purchase a new water heater. 

Again, how long your RV water heater will last depends on several factors. We mentioned the kinds and brands of water heaters; now proceed to the next section to learn more about proper usage and maintenance! 

How do you maintain an RV water heater?

Safety first! Since RV water heaters use electricity or gas, please be mindful of the safety precautions. Get a certified technician if you're uncomfortable doing these yourself. Before checking or opening any parts, shut off or unplug all power cords. 

Gas RV water heater maintenance

  • Keep the RV water heater tank full.
  • Regularly check the water heater and look for any leaks.
  • See if all the connections are sure and free of any rust or dirt build-up.
  • Check inside the burner tube and chamber if there is debris. Consider blowing any blockage or particles using compressed air.
  • Check the valve and vents regularly; see if there's any leak. 
  • Drain and flush your tank once or twice a year. Built-up debris will sink to the bottom of your tank, and this will cause contamination, overheating, and burnout. 
  • Install or replace the anode rod annually. This will prevent your water tank from eroding.

Electric RV water heater maintenance

Aside from the power supply source, the main difference between other heaters and electric water heaters is that they have an electric heating element inside their tanks. Aside from the steps mentioned before, consider the following for electric water heaters:

  • Inspect the thermostat for possible cracks, damage, or loose crews.
  • Check the heating element and look for rust, holes or sediment build-up.
  • Clean or sanitize the tank and element using these methods: a 50/50 water-to-vinegar solution or bleach (1 cup for every 4 gallons of water).

Here's a detailed video on how to sanitize your RV water system. It also demonstrates using the vinegar and bleach solutions:

  • If you hear a strange noise in your water heater and your water smells funny, that's a sign that tank cleaning and draining are needed. 

Final Takeaways

Suppose you experience any of the above problems with your RV water heater. In any case, remember to identify the human error and faulty parts that may have occurred. Then repair or replace the parts with issues. 

Still, the best way to solve all these problems is through proper maintenance. By doing so, you'll prevent future issues with your RV water heater. You'll save money and time, making your camping trips more peaceful and enjoyable. 

If you find this article helpful, check out these posts below about RVs. Happy camping! 

How Much Propane Does An RV Furnace Use?

How Do You Reset An RV Air Conditioner?

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