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.
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.
- 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.
What to Do if Your 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.
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.
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!
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.
- 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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