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RV Air Conditioners: Everything You’ll Ever Need to Know


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When people purchase an RV, they might not worry about what kind of RV AC comes standard with their rig. What most people want to know is if the RV comes with an air conditioner, and if it does, what’s the best way to operate the unit. 

Since all RVs, motorhomes, and travel trailers equipped with an air conditioner operate differently, it’s always best to consult your owner’s manual on how to operate or troubleshoot your system without voiding a warranty or causing damage to your AC. Most newer RV manufacturers place their manuals online, making it easy for owners to find the most common RV AC questions.

Are you a curious RVer who wants to know what type of air conditioner comes standard with your rig?  Are you in the market for a new RV AC? Regardless of your situation, you are probably reading this article to find out more about RV air conditioner units. Hopefully, we can provide you with a simple way to understand some of the RV AC basics so that you can better understand how RV air conditioner units work. 

How to Choose RV Air Conditioners

RVers don’t always have a choice when it comes to picking a fifth-wheel air conditioner, travel-trailer air conditioner, or any type of RV air conditioner unit. Generally, manufacturers choose the style of the AC unit based on the layout and price point of the rig. Owners who want something different than what comes standard have to talk with the dealership or an RV service department to determine how to replace, remove, or upgrade an RV AC. 

If you have the option to choose an RV AC, here are a few things to consider before starting your search for the perfect air conditioner unit. Keep in mind that RV AC units have limitations. The general RV AC rule of thumb is that most RV air conditioners are only capable of cooling the inside of an RV no more than twenty degrees from the outside temperature. 

  • Do you need a ducted or a ductless system?
  • Would the size of the unit impact your rig’s aerodynamics?
  • Would the size of the AC unit fit allow your rig to still fit inside your garage or storage space?
  • Do you have the space for an AC unit on your rig?
  • What RV electricity source will operate your AC?
  • What’s the baseline amount of energy (British thermal units — BTUs) needed to operate your RV AC efficiently? 
  • Do you want a dual-purpose unit with a heat pump?

Types of RV Air Conditioners

Once you’ve determined what parameters you might need to work around, the next step is to decide what type of unit will work best for your rig. The main types of RV AC units installed on most rigs are either ducted and ductless, but don’t forget about modern technology — the portable AC unit is a small RV air conditioner creeping into the RV scene as a viable option for some rigs. 

Ducted

Ducted air conditioning systems allow a rig to operate with more than one air conditioning unit and move air through the ceiling, walls, and floor, controlling the temperature in more than one RV room. Ducted RV AC units usually sit on the roof of an RV.

Ductless

Ductless units sit somewhere, usually the top of an RV, under a bench, or inside a window or wall opening. Ductless units force the air from the AC through vents or multiple vents. Vents are usually directional and easy to open or close, and they force air into smaller areas of an RV. Ductless units have a compressor, condenser, and blower housed inside an aerodynamic casing, and in some cases, ductless units also operate as heat pumps. Types of ductless units include the rooftop, window, and under-bench air conditioning system.

The Best Brands in RV Air Conditioners

RV air conditioners vary in price, and each brand has differing price points. Price varies depending on your space and intended usage. What might be a perfect travel trailer air conditioner might not be the best choice for a Class A motorhome or a truck camper. 

Some of the best brands on the market today include:

  • Dometic
  • Airxcel
  • Advent
  • Atwood

Maintenance and Troubleshooting Tips

Before attempting to work on an air conditioning unit, it’s best to review your warranty and RV maintenance plans. If your RV AC is under warranty, contact the warranty center to determine which steps you should take to get help with your air conditioning unit. Use your RV AC manual for instructions on how to operate, maintain, and troubleshoot your air conditioning unit. Also, remember when working with anything electric, take the proper precautions to prevent injury. 

Periodic Maintenance

  • Inspect the exterior of the AC for damage.
  • Check for coolant leaks. If you have a leak, don’t operate your air conditioner and contact a Certified or Master Certified RV Technician.
  • Remove debris that might have collected in the air-conditioner pan like sticks, twigs, or leaves.
  • Check the condenser and evaporator coils. If either looks dirty, follow the instruction manual’s suggestions on cleaning.
  • Check the drain hole for debris and remove anything that might block the hole.
  • Check for loose wiring.
  • Clean or replace the AC filters.

Troubleshooting

Cooling

  • Remember the temperature differential of 20 degrees. An RV AC won’t cool an interior temperature more than 20 degrees cooler than the temperature outdoors.
  • Check the thermostat’s settings and ensure nothing is blocking the temperature sensors.
  • Use a digital thermometer to check the temperature of the air coming from the vents. If the air registers hot or is not cooling as expected, there might be a slow coolant leak or a faulty component. Note the temperature when the RV AC runs on high for about 15 minutes. Coolant and component repairs should be done by a professional, but it’s good practice to give the technician details such as temperature ratings. 

Power Issues

  • Check the breaker box for tripped breakers. If the breaker is in the off position, reset the switch to on.
  • Check and replace blown fuses.
  • Check your shore power source (connection and breakers). Use a multimeter to check the voltage coming into your RV.

No one can predict unexpected RV problems or unplanned repairs. However, maintaining your systems according to the manufacturer’s suggestions will help keep your systems running smoothly for longer. If you need RV maintenance during your road trip, we’ve put together some tips to help RVers find places to repair their rigs while on the road.

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