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What To Do If Your RV Water Heater Won’t Turn Off

repair when an rv water heater won't turn off - feature image for RV water heater won't turn off
Don’t panic; you might not need a new water heater yet. Photo: Shutterstock

If Your RV Water Heater Won’t Turn Off, Here’s What To Do

Easy access to hot water makes RVs comfortable and home-like. But if your RV water heater won’t turn off, you might have too much of a good thing.

If that happens, don’t panic. Follow these easy water heater troubleshooting steps before buying a new water heater.

Why won’t my RV water heater turn off?

Do you think your RV water heater is staying on, even when you aren’t using hot water inside the RV?

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Put your ear next to the appliance if you suspect something is wrong. You might hear the soft hum of water heating up from the appliance. If you’re dry camping, you might hear a continuous propane ignition process happening from the outside of the RV.

The most telling sign that your RV water heater is staying on is if scalding hot water flows out of the RV kitchen or bathroom faucets. That’s when you have too much of a good thing.

RV water heater basics

RV water heaters warm water by using either electricity or propane as an ignition source. The heaters have two thermostats: one for AC power and one for DC power when you are dry camping with propane.

The RV thermostats send current to the heating element to turn it on. When the water gets to temperature, thermostats tell the heating element to turn off. 

If propane is always burning, or electricity is constantly flowing to the water heater, your RV water heater is staying on. Don’t ignore this problem. If your RV water heater is constantly trying to heat water, the heating element eventually burns itself out. 

Note: There is a limit switch added as a safety feature to both the LP gas and electric sides of the water heater to prevent runaway water heaters that won’t turn off.  

The two possible causes of an RV water heater staying on

You need shut down the water heater to keep incoming water from getting too hot. The sooner you do it, the sooner you can avoid the high cost of replacing a burned out RV water heater.

When an RV water heater won’t turn off, it’s usually because of one of these issues:

  1. There is a leak somewhere in the RV hot water heater
  2. The water heater’s AC or DC thermostat is bad

RV water heater troubleshooting

Let’s say you’re camping when the water heater starts staying on all the time. First, you need to shut it off. Here’s how to do it for troubleshooting purposes.

Step 1: Turn your RV water heater off

Your water heater runs off the 120-volt AC power when you are connected to an electrical hookup. When water is heated with propane, an igniter lights the propane. This igniter also runs on the 12-volt DC electrical system. Just flip the RV water heater breaker switch to “Off” so you can troubleshoot the problem.

Step 2: Look for RV water heater leaks

Look around for water leaks under your kitchen and bathroom sinks. Also see if there is excessive water pouring from outside your RV hot water heater compartment (not just out of the pressure relief valve).

Thankfully, a cracked RV hot water heater is pretty rare. Usually the cause of leaks come down to a bad pressure relief valve or a faulty plumbing fitting.

Here’s a great article that explains what to do if your RV hot water heater is leaking.

Step 3: Check your water heater thermostat with a multimeter

So, you didn’t find any leaks? Try checking the RV hot water heater thermostat. It’s an easy and fast job. Changing out this part is simple if you are confident with basic RV electrical repairs.

To check the thermostat, you’ll need a multimeter tool

Once you have a multmeter, it’s time to check the RV water heater thermostats. This video explains how to troubleshoot RV water heater thermostats:

Step 3: If your RV water heater thermostat is bad, here’s how to replace it

Watch this excellent video about how to replace a thermostat when your RV water heater won’t turn off.

Track your RV maintenance

There so much to know about caring for your RV. Keeping it running means you can always get on the road when you want to and camp how you want to. To get better at RV maintenance, check out RV LIFE Maintenance.

This RV LIFE tool helps you track RV maintenance, fuel use, and give you a place to document your RV repairs. You even get email alerts to stay on top of annual maintenance needs. Whether you have a motorhome, fifth wheel, or any kind of RV, Maintain My RV puts you on the way to keeping your family safe while protecting your investment.

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