Why Doesn’t My RV Water Heater Work?

This is the face of a suburban water heater, available at Westland Camping

This is the face of a suburban water heater, available at Westland Camping

RV water heaters are fairly simple appliances.  they are basically a large metal bucket that has a burner chamber running through it, that when the water heater is… well… heating, the lp flame jets into the chamber and the water in the tank heats up.

Fancier water heaters also run on 110v electric as well, which is nice because it doesn’t use any of your lp, and the cost of electric is already in the cost of your site. I want to discuss some common water heater problems and solutions that we see on a weekly basis, to help you get on the road faster and cheaper.

The most common reason water heaters don’t work on gas is a plugged gas supply tube. Small insect like spiders love the smell of propane and build little nests inside the tube. This can be a problem because if there are any obstructions, the gas won’t make it to the pilot assembly and could cause a fire,

The best way to prevent this is to clean out the tube at least a couple of times per year, especially first thing in the spring when you bring it out of storage. This is a handy tool to clean out the burner tube, and it is handy to do the same thing on your barbecue grills and other lp appliances at home too.


When an electric water heater isn’t working, the most common thing we see is the electric heating element being burned out. The electric heating element sticks directly into the tank and heats the water directly. The most common mistake is that people turn on the electric heating element without making sure that water has filled the tank which makes the electric heating element burn up and stop working. Always make sure that you verify there is water inside the tank before turning on the electric water heater. The electric element relies on the water to draw the heat away from the rod to prevent it from burning up. Fortunately electric heating elements are simple enough to change out as long as you have a few specific tools to help you do the job. The first thing you need is obviously a replacement water heater element, and also a socket to fit.  The most common size is 1 1/2″, and a couple of screwdrivers and nut drivers depending on exactly what you need on your water heater to expose the element. Usually the electric heating element has some sort of cover to protected from the elements and keep the electrical connections from being corroded. 2 things to remember when starting this job are 2 empty the water heater completely and disconnect the trailer from your power source to prevent electrical shock. Make sure you referred to your water heater’s manual owners manual and or specific instructions on the water heater element itself.

This summer it seems that for almost every question we have been asked the truth is the water heater element has burned out almost every time.  This is more common in the spring because people may not have taken their water heater out of the winterization bypass.


This summer it seems that another common question we are getting has to do with not getting any hot water after the heater has already cycled and shut off, or it starts hot, and then turns cool very quickly.  Most have checked the pressure relief valve on the outside and know that the water is hot, it just isn’t coming through.  The answer to this one is probably that the bypass valves aren’t all in the correct position.  If the valve for the hot water is still shut off, then no water will flow through, and if you are only getting a little hot water but then turning cold, the water is probably mixing with cold water because the actual bypass hose isn’t shut off.

These common problems and fairly easy solutions can solve 8 out of 10 of the customer questions we have over the phone so do yourself a favor and make water heater maintenance part of your regular routine getting ready for a camping trip for pulling your trailer out for the first time in the spring.

And as always feel free to email us or call us and we will be happy to help you out.