If your RV water heater stops working unexpectedly, you could be in for an unpleasant surprise. There’s nothing worse than hopping in the shower and discovering there’s no hot water! 🥶 There are some common reasons for water heater problems. We’ll tell you how to deal with each of them so you can be an RV water heater troubleshooting pro!
Is Your RV Water Heater Not Heating Water?
Of course, the most common issue you’ll encounter when RV water heater troubleshooting is cold water that’s not being heated. There could be a few reasons why your water isn’t getting hot.
One possibility is that your propane supply valve is off. Another possibility is that an electric fuse has blown. If at some point you turned off your propane and forgot to turn it back on (i.e. when de-winterizing your RV for the season), the fix is simple – turn the propane back on! Similarly, if you blew a fuse, replace it, and hopefully, you’ll have hot water in no time.
Another possible reason why your RV’s water isn’t heating is that you may have bypassed your water heater when winterizing your RV, and you’ve forgotten to turn the supply valve back to the “normal” or “open” position. If you don’t remember to re-open that valve in the de-winterizing process, your water will be hot… but none of it will make it out of the water heater’s tank!
RV Water Heater Troubleshooting Tips
Here are some reasonable steps to follow if you find that your RV’s water isn’t getting hot (starting with the simplest options and working our way up from there):
Refer to Your Water Heater Manual
You knew we were going to tell you this, didn’t you? “Refer to your owner’s manual” is ALWAYS step #1 for any troubleshooting problem, so we had to include it here. If you don’t have the manual for your specific water heater, you should be able to find it online. It will have troubleshooting tips specific to your make and model of RV water heater.
Pro Tip: we highly recommend downloading electronic/PDF copies of all the manuals for your RV’s equipment and appliances… because you may have trouble when you’re remote enough that you don’t have internet access. Trust us. You’ll thank us later. 😉
Not all water heaters are the same, and what works for one may not work for another. That’s why having your water heater manual handy is so helpful. You’ll see where each part is located, and that will make the process of checking and possibly replacing parts much more straightforward. Go ahead and find yours… we’ll wait. <hold music plays…🎶>
Check Bypass Valves
If you’ve filled your fresh water tank, sanitized your water lines, or winterized your RV for the season, you may have turned off the water heater bypass valves. When troubleshooting your RV water heater, we recommend always checking your bypass valve first. The bypass valves are easy to forget about, but it’s also one of the most straightforward fixes. It would be a drag to spend hours on RV water heater troubleshooting only to discover that the bypass valves are closed! 🤦♀️
Check Your Outdoor Shower
Yup! You read that right. Your outdoor shower. Especially if it has a shower handle/wand that has the shutoff valve that you can rotate to stop the water flow. Normally, it should continue to drip from the wand, but if it doesn’t, you may not realize that the valves on the faucet are still turned on. With them open but the shut-off closed on the handle/wand, the hot water can mix with the cold. And the whole rest of your RV will only ever get lukewarm water, even if you only turn the hot valve on at the faucet you’re using. Again, the water heater is working, but it’s mixing with cold water at the outdoor faucet, so you can’t get hot water to the rest of the RV.
We had this happen to us (very early on in our RVing life), and it had us running around all over the RV trying to troubleshoot everything else we could think of. So trust us. If you’re not getting hot water at any faucet inside your RV, take a short walk outside and double-check that both hot and cold knobs on your outdoor faucet are completely turned off.
Check Your Propane Levels
Checking your propane levels is another simple process that’s easy to forget when dealing with a lack of hot water. If your propane tank is empty (or even very low), you’ll have no hot water if you’re trying to heat on propane. If your tank is low on propane, fill your propane tank, and you should be all set to heat water again.
If your propane tank doesn’t have a gauge, there are two simple ways to check if you have propane in your tank:
- Try lighting your stovetop burner and let it run for a short time. If the burner stays lit (and the flame seems as large as it normally does), you know there’s still propane in the tank (and that the propane tank valve is open). Just don’t leave it running too long… or walk away without turning it off.
- Watch our tutorial showing you How To Check Your Propane Tank Level… Without A Gauge! It’s easy.
If you’ve determined that your tank has plenty of propane, but your water heater STILL won’t fire up, there’s another possibility. The OPD (Overfill Protection Device) inside the tank may have detected a sudden, high-flow release of propane. When this happens, it shuts the flow off… so even though the tank’s valve is open, no propane is released. This can happen if a propane-powered device was left on when the tank was shut off or if it’s been long enough since you last ran propane that all of the lines de-pressurized. When you re-open the valve, the sudden rush of propane into the system can trigger the safety mechanism.
Luckily, the fix for this one is super simple. With the valve on the propane tank closed, make sure all propane-powered appliances are turned off. Then, open the propane tank’s valve again! Easy peasy! 😉
Check The Anode Rod (If Your RV Water Heater Has One)
OK. So this one doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not you have hot water coming from your water heater. But while you’re busy checking things over, why not consider doing a little preventative maintenance?
Not all RV water heaters have an anode rod. You’ll typically find them in water heaters with a steel tank (Suburban brand) because the anode rod provides corrosion protection for the tank. But even a water heater with an aluminum tank (Atwood brand) could have had one installed by a previous owner (for several reasons).
The anode rod essentially sacrifices itself to prevent corrosion in your water heater. It’s made of metals that will corrode before steel will, thus saving your tank. The anode rod needs to be checked at least once a year. They often last longer than that (based on how often you use your RV and whether or not you remember to drain the water heater tank when storing your RV for the winter) but checking them annually is a good habit. Additionally, you may find it necessary to check the anode rod in the process of RV water heater troubleshooting.
Once an anode rod has lost about 80% of its initial mass, it’s time to replace it. Replacing the anode rod is simple and affordable. Just watch our video all about checking and replacing an anode rod.
If Electric, Check The Heating Element
If you have an electric water heater, another thing you need to assess is the heating element. Over time, these elements can become corroded and go bad. And if you make the mistake of turning on your water heater with no water in it, the heating element can even melt.
To fix your water heater troubles, you may need to replace the heating element. Most likely, you’ll access this from outside your RV. You will also need some special tools such as a heating element wrench. You can find one at most hardware stores or on Amazon, and they’re not expensive:
- ✅Product size:One end size 1-1/2" hex and Another end size 1-1/16" hex compatible removing all Anode Rod 3/4" NPT.
- ✅Fit Brands:Camco, GE, Rheem, Rudd, Richmond, Montgomery Ward, Sears/ Ken more, State, Norge, Westinghouse, Reliance, Noland, A.O. Smith, Bradford...
Other Common RV Water Heater Issues:
A more hidden problem you might run into is an issue with the thermostat. Your water heater’s thermostat controls the water temperature. Many of the previous issues were easy to see. But a faulty thermostat may not appear any different on the outside. The best way to determine if it needs replacing is to check your thermostat with a multimeter.
If your thermostat fails the test, you need to replace it. Make sure you turn off all the power before taking on this task! Then, remove the wiring clips, pull out the old thermostat switch, and replace it with a new one. Finally, reattach everything and check for power.
RV Water Heater Check Valve Malfunction
Our last RV water heater troubleshooting tip is often related to low water pressure. If your hot water comes out at a trickle, the check valve may be to blame. The check valve prevents water backflow, so cold water doesn’t flow back into the water heater. If it fails, you’ll often know it because you’ll have low/no water pressure when running the hot water.
If this is your issue, you may need to replace your check valve. From the inside of your RV, you need to unscrew the check valve. Then pull it off and replace it with a new check valve. Make sure you drain your water heater’s tank before doing this! Otherwise, you might flood your RV. There are many great resources on YouTube with instructions for your particular water heater brand.
Still No Hot Water? Hire a Mobile RV Tech or Head to a Service Center
Unfortunately, some RV water heater troubles require professional expertise. When dealing with propane and electricity, there are a host of other things that can go wrong. If you’ve tried all the tips noted above and your water heater still isn’t working, it may be time to call in the pros.
Having a mobile tech come out to your site or bringing your RV in for service is never fun. But these professionals are trained to handle all kinds of issues. If you’ve completed your RV water heater troubleshooting and you still don’t have hot water, a professional technician should be able to remedy the problem in no time, especially since you’ve already checked off several possibilities.
In the worst-case scenario, you may need a new water heater. But that’s generally only required when the tank has rusted out, and the heater is leaking water from the bottom.
Having an RV provides a luxurious camping experience—most of the time. But like a house or a car, an RV will need regular and (sometimes) unexpected maintenance. Maintaining your rig ensures things continue to run smoothly. If you run into cold water in your RV, don’t panic. Give these RV water heater troubleshooting tips a try. And when in doubt, call in a pro.
Looking for more information? Read our post for a more in-depth look at some very informative RV water heater tips!
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