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How Do RV Electric Steps Work?

How Do RV Electric Steps Work?

Electric RV steps. They’re a great invention (as long as they’re working properly), and we use ours pretty much daily. But how do they work, and what should we be doing to maintain them well so they continue to work properly?

It’s important to keep our RV electric steps in good working condition for safety reasons and convenience. But what if they stop working? Can we repair or replace them ourselves?

Even if your RV electric steps are functioning perfectly well, these are important questions to answer. Maintaining them properly will ensure that they continue to work as well as possible, and if your RV steps should require repair or fail at some point, you’ll be well prepared.

For all of these reasons, today’s post is all about RV electric steps. So, let’s get to it!

How Do RV Electric Steps Work?

Our Class A motorhome has automatic electric steps. If your RV has electric steps, they’ll be either automatic or manual. Let’s take a look at both types and how they work.

RV electric steps extended

The steps on our Newmar automatically extend/retract automatically with the opening/closing of the entry door.

Automatic RV Steps

Automatic RV steps deploy and retract with the opening and closing of the door, and typically will also close when you fire up the engine (if the door is closed). This all happens with a motor and control unit (brain) and magnetic switches at the bottom of the door and door frame.

RV steps that close when the ignition is started do so as a safety measure so that you don’t inadvertently drive away with your steps still deployed. Similarly, when the door is opened, they open automatically to both allow entry, and to prevent anyone exiting the RV from falling out the door where they expect the steps to be.

There’s typically also an on/off switch for the steps. That way you can shut them “off” in the extended position once you’re settled into your campsite. After all, there’s no reason to have RV steps extend and retract each time the door is opened or closed once you’re all set up for camping.

Manual Electric Steps

Manual electric RV steps are operated by a manual switch that extends and retracts the steps. Unfortunately, this type of RV step typically doesn’t have an ignition switch to retract the steps when the engine fires up – so this failsafe isn’t available.

How to Maintain Your Electric RV Steps

One of the best ways to keep your RV steps in good working condition is to keep them clean and free of debris that can get caught up in the mechanism.

Another important step in maintaining working RV electric steps is to lubricate the joints with a quality dry lube that won’t attract dust, dirt, and other debris. We like P-Blaster Chain Lube for this purpose but check your manual in case specific lubricants are recommended due to the components used by the manufacturer of your RV’s steps.

B'laster 16-CCL Long-Lasting Chain and Cable Lubricant, 11 oz, Multi
  • Teflon Fluoropolymer Helps Reduce Friction and Wear
  • Repels Dirt

And finally, be sure to cycle your steps periodically, even when your RV is not being used regularly, to ensure that the parts are working properly and keep them from rusting in place.

Can You Repair Your Steps Yourself?

Yes, you can! The parts involved are fairly simple – there’s a motor, a control unit (the brain), and the steps themselves. These parts are fairly easy to replace, and owners’ manuals usually have good troubleshooting guides for identifying what’s wrong and how to fix it.

You might encounter a few common issues when troubleshooting an issue with RV steps, the most common being that the steps won’t extend or retract when you expect them to.

automatic RV electric steps extending with door opening

Automatic RV electric steps should extend with the door’s opening and retract with the closing of the door (unless the override switch is on).

What to Do if Your Powered RV Steps Won’t Extend or Retract Properly

If your RV electric steps aren’t extending or retracting normally, a few things could be contributing to the problem, and it’s possible that it could be something very simple.

For automatic RV electric steps, try these troubleshooting tips to see if you might have an easy fix on your hands.

NOTE: Always use caution when working around your RV steps. If you’re cleaning or checking for debris, etc., shut off the power to the steps to prevent accidental retraction while you’re working on them, as this could cause serious injury.

Check the Override Switch

One simple thing to check if your steps won’t retract is the override switch. The override switch is there to command the steps to remain extended when the rig is parked.

The automatic override switch for our electric RV steps

The electric step override switch in our Newmar Mountain Aire. In the up/on position, the steps extend/retract when the door opens/closes. In the down/off position, they will extend when the door opens, but stay that way even when the door closes.

But if the switch isn’t in the “auto” or “on” position, the steps won’t function automatically when the door switch is engaged. So you’ll close the door and the steps will remain extended. Flip the switch to “auto/on,” and you’ll be set. Easy fix!

Check the Alignment of the Door and Door Frame Magnets

Another possibility if your steps aren’t retracting properly is that the magnets on the door and door frame may not be aligned. A properly working automatic RV electric step will retract immediately when you close the door and the magnets on the door and door frame align.

Is Your Engine Running?

If your engine is running and your steps won’t retract/extend, turn your ignition key to the off position and try again. It’s possible that the electronics that sense if the engine is running have failed and the safety override (designed to ensure the steps retract when the engine is running and the door is closed) is preventing the steps from working properly. If they operate as expected with the RV’s ignition turned off, you now know it’s an ignition-related problem you need to troubleshoot.

Check for Debris Caught in or Around the Linkage

If your steps sound like they’re moving, but they’re not, you’ll need to check all around them for any obstruction that might be caught in the linkage, preventing the steps from operating. The sound of the motor is telling you that you’ve got power, but there’s something else preventing the steps from working. Check to be sure there’s nothing obvious blocking the steps, thoroughly clean the step mechanism, and re-lubricate all of the joints to see if that gets it working again.

Unusual Noise? Check the Gear and Motor

If you hear an unusually loud noise when you attempt to extend or retract the steps, then you may have a gear or motor issue. Removing the parts isn’t difficult, and inspecting them may give you a clue as to what the problem is and whether a part needs to be replaced. Check your owner’s manual for guidance related to your particular RV electric steps!

Electric RV Steps have a motor and wiring underneath

Electric RV steps have a motor and gears that may be the cause of a failure.

Check Wires

It may be important to check the wiring of RV electric steps that aren’t functioning properly. Wires need to make solid connections, and dirt, dust, debris, and even rust can stop that from happening. Make sure all wires are clean and secured properly. If you hear the steps trying to operate, you have power coming in, so the problem is likely at the steps themselves.

Check Power and Voltage at the Motor and Control Unit

If all else fails, you may need to use a digital multimeter to check for power or voltage at the motor or the control unit. These parts aren’t difficult to replace if necessary.

Uni-T UT204 Auto-Ranging AC DC Ture RMS Auto/Manual Range Digital Handheld Clamp Meter Multimeter Test Tool
  • Measures both ac & dc current up to 400 amps, ideal for vehicles, rvs, marine boats & etc
  • Ac/dc voltage, current, resistance, frequency, continuity, duty cycle & diode check

Manually-Operated Electric RV Steps Not Working?

If you have manual RV electric steps that appear to be clean and free of debris, you may need to check for power at the switch.

Check Wiring and Power Supply

With manual RV electric steps, the only way to extend and retract them is to flip the switch to the correct position. If they won’t operate, there may be a problem with the switch itself, or the wiring connecting to it.

In this case, you’ll need to look at the switch to make sure the wiring isn’t compromised. If the wiring looks good, use your digital multimeter to ensure there is power going to & from the switch. If not, you may need to replace the switch.

Are RV Steps Replaceable?

Yes! RV electric steps are replaceable, and the job isn’t all that difficult. In some cases replacing the whole assembly may be easier than figuring out what’s wrong with the old set! The steps are only held in place with a few bolts, and they’re connected using some simple wiring which often uses a single connector.

It’s worth repeating that when working on your RV electric steps, you’ll want to be sure to shut down the power to the steps as your first order of caution!


Regular maintenance of your RV electric steps, whether automatic or manual, should keep them in fine working order for many years.

But, if your RV electric steps are malfunctioning or need replacing, taking the time to do some troubleshooting could find you accomplishing a good DIY project that has you stepping in and out of your RV safely for years to come!

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Saturday 20th of May 2023

My steps try to open going down the road with the step switch on or off can the magnet be realigned


Monday 22nd of May 2023

Oh boy, Lacy. Sorry to hear. Yes... sometimes it can be a mis-aligned magnet (either in the door or the door frame). But it could also be a frayed/fraying wire that's causing the brain in the steps to think the door is open because the sensor that matches up with the magnet is being shorted to ground. Try to find the magnet and sensor and start tracing from there. Friends of ours just had a similar situation happen in their RV... and it was due to a bad wire.

Mary Miner

Friday 31st of March 2023

Hi there I do enjoy your website! Our steps stop working. We also noticed the fan is not working and the lights above are not working. Could it possibly be a fuse? If so, where would the fuse be?


Friday 31st of March 2023

Hi Mary. If multiple items in your RV all stopped working at the same time, a fuse is most likely the culprit. The hard part will definitely be finding it, though, as each manufacturer has their own place to put fuses... and they often put them in more than one spot! You know, just to make things easy. ???? If this is a motorhome, common places for the fuse panel can be in a cabinet in the bathroom, in a closet, or in an outside compartment. If you're not sure where to look, a call to a dealer or a post asking that question in the appropriate brand group on the forums would likely be your best bet.


Saturday 27th of August 2022

Is there a way to put my Rv step in up position for winter storage , without climbing out the drivers door . Thank you for a reply


Saturday 27th of August 2022

Hi Raye! The answer to this may depend on what year, make, and model of RV you have. In our '05 Newmar Mountain Aire (likely along with most RVs), there's a toggle switch in the control panel above the driver's area that turns the power steps "on" or "off" as desired. In the "on" position, the steps automatically retract when the door closes. When in the "off" position, they stay out all the time. Hopefully, you have a switch like that somewhere that does the same thing.


Tuesday 7th of September 2021

Just a little tip… wait for full deployment before stepping onto the power step!!! It’s one of the most common cause of failure.( yes, I have replaced a few drive motors due to individuals being in a hurry)


Tuesday 7th of September 2021

Excellent tip, Mike! Thanks so much!

Tom Gorman

Saturday 4th of September 2021

Great article from one of the best resources a MH user could find. I have always enjoyed your informative tips and it’s been a life saver. Maybe if I had followed your maintenance ideas ours steps might have not failed. While returning home to AZ our steps would not retract. So, I removed the lower step so we could continue our trek home. I contacted Kwikee steps who was bought out my Lippert Components. They gave me the direct number Kwikee step total replacement steps for my 2008 Newmar Kountry Star MH. Unfortunately, it was the wrong unit. I recommend this PDF and do your own research… For safety reasons do not plug in the steps while any part of your body is under the steps. Fortunately, I had raised up the front end with my leveling jacks far enough to not get squished under the last step once it extended fully. If you are replacing your steps completely in an older MH the door magnet works in reverse and MUST be changed out in order for the steps to work properly. A surface mounted magnetic switch was included. I drilled a small hole in the door frame to get the wires to the control unit. If I had to do it over again, I would have ordered round flush mount switch and replaced the original one.


Saturday 4th of September 2021

Thanks so much for the comment, and all the helpful information, Tom!

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