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How to ruin an RV vacation in just 5 minutes

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” 

Ben Franklin: Founding Father and RV enthusiast                                     

RV Reviews: Bulldog-in-Residence

Does anyone else think the official first day of summer (June 20th) always seems a bit late? For much of the U.S. summer starts as soon as the lawn mower is wheeled out of the garage for the first time. Here in the Midwest we’ve already been mowing for well over a month and the temperatures have tipped in to the 90s several times -reaching a heat index of 113 degrees at one point. While Schatzi, the office mascot and Bulldog-in-Residence, may not have the slightest idea exactly what a heat index is, she does know that 113 degrees is uncomfortably hot and the only real remedy is to get inside where the air conditioning is working overtime to remove both heat and humidity.

Obviously the past few weeks would have been survivable without A/C, they wouldn’t have been comfortable. Fans seem to just move the heat around and shade helps a bit as long as you can lie listlessly without much in the way of movement. Only A/C really does the trick for battling heat, as anyone who has ever stepped from the dog’s breath heat of a hot summer (or spring, in this case) day in to the refrigerated chill of an artificially cooled room or RV.

Which brings us neatly to today’s topic: your RV’s A/C. When was the last time you checked that it was fully operational? Or, better yet, when will you be checking that it is operational? If you are like most RVers, your first big trip of the year hasn’t arrived yet, but is on the horizon. Chances are you’ve done some research regarding destination, routes, and campgrounds. You’ve made a checklist of things you don’t want to forget: shorts and bathing suits, bug spray, grill lighter, sun screen, and so on.

But chances are you haven’t checked your A/C yet. It worked fine last year, didn’t it? Why would you spend time on something that doesn’t need attention when you’ve got so many other things to get ready?

Well, you may be right. Chances are your compressor will whir in to action as soon as you flip the switch and all will be well. But A/C compressors can be tricky little animals and like most mechanisms they work best when they’re worked hard -and frequently. Sitting inert for six months creates a perfect breeding ground for rust and enables moving parts to become sedentary and sticky. Being asked to spring to life at a moment’s notice after a long hibernation can result in sudden failure. Aside from that there are sealed lines that contain the pressurized gas necessary to cool hot air. These lines are notoriously delicate and prone to leaks. Unfortunately, there is no way to visually confirm the integrity of an A/C system for the typical RVer. A sealed system and a leaking, compromised system will look exactly the same. In fact, most A/C leaks are so minuscule that A/C techs frequently have to introduce a dye in to a system just to find the location of a pin prick leak that is rendering a system useless.

With the pre-summer heat wave that just cut huge swaths across the continental U.S. there must have been hundreds or thousands of RVers that stumbled, sweating and red faced, in to their RV after a vigorous hike or bike ride, and hit the A/C switch for the first time of the year only to realize after a few minutes that their vents were blowing warm, noticeably un-cooled air. Imagine the groans of dismay, the muttered attempts to identify the problem in a system largely inaccessible behind walls and under floors, and the sleepless hot nights that followed.

If you can picture yourself in this situation –and chances are you can- why not take a few minutes well before hitting the road for the first trip of the summer and give your A/C system a thorough test drive?

  • Turn it on high and let it run a few minutes. Cold air should be felt within 60 seconds. If it isn’t, or if the temperature seems merely cool instead of cold you may be due for something as simple as an A/C charge.
  • With the doors and windows closed, leave the RV for 10 minutes while the A/C does its’ work. Once you step back in, the AC should have cooled the interior noticeably.
  • Once this has been done, turn off the A/C, open the doors and windows until all remnants of cooled air have dissipated, then re-seal everything and run the A/C again on high. This insures that the initial start-up didn’t damage any delicate components and that everything is fully functional going forward.

If your system performs as expected, you’re free to go and you should have reliable A/C for the entire season. If there is an issue, thank your lucky stars you’re not at a campground on a sweltering Friday evening far from home. Call your local dealer today to schedule an A/C service. Keep in mind their service departments are running at full tilt this time of year as slews of fellow RVers also discover things that have gone mysteriously wonky during the long winter. Checking your A/C well before hitting the road insures you won’t be pleading with the service department for an immediate appointment because you had plans to leave in the morning and you just realized your A/C is on the fritz. In a pinch, an automotive dealer or mechanic -or even a residential HVAC company- should be able to check and repair your system. This may require some phone work, though, so, once again, the sooner you know your A/C’s status, the better.

For most of you, this simple test will do nothing but provide some peace of mind. For a few of you, though, you’ll have saved yourself from a long, hot, sweltering vacation. And while the RV lifestyle is about getting back to nature and living the simple life, a little A/C provides a lot of relief.

As always, in closing, check those tire pressures before hitting the road. This is also a five minute, free pre-emptive move that will provide better mileage, handling, and a much safer trip.

Happy Travels,


The Team