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Part of the fun of owning an RV is the ability to be on the road without being tied to formal accommodations such as resorts, campsites, or hotels. However, an RV road trip can quickly become miserable if all of a sudden you don’t have access to running water. It’s vital to take proper care of your water pump so it will keep working properly on all your RVing excursions.
So, how should you care for an RV water pump? RV water pumps require routine maintenance a few times per year. Simple checks like inspecting for leaks, and cleaning the filter will help keep your pump running smoothly. Caring for your pump before a trip, while on the road, and before storing the RV will prolong the pump’s life.
Unfortunately, many RV owners overlook regular maintenance when it comes to water pumps. This can result in expensive repairs, replacement, and lack of access to potable water when needed on the road. However, caring for an RV water pump before and during travel, when in storage, and with an annual inspection will ensure the health of the RV’s water system and pump.
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Basic Water Pump Care for RV Owners
RVs are fitted with freshwater tanks ranging from 50-200 gallon to provide a safe water supply when traveling or camping without hookups. The RV water pump moves the water from the tank through the plumbing system of the vehicle so water is available for use. RV owners will quickly learn that these vehicles, though excellent for road travel, require care and maintenance.
Even if it is only used occasionally or intermittently, proper care and maintenance are required to make sure that your RV water pump works properly when needed.
Aside from maintenance, the way you run your water pump will also lead to it living a long and healthy life or to an untimely death.
Running Dry Will Cause Damage
When it comes to a water pump, running dry is running the pump without liquid. This would happen in the case of an RV pump remaining on without water in the freshwater tank, which could result in serious damage to the unit depending on the type of water pump attached to the vehicle.
Until recently, most RV water pumps that were run dry would end up drastically overheating. This would cause the impeller to melt along the shaft (“seizing”) and prevent it from rotating. In addition, dry running could lead to holes or deformities in the rear housing of the pump, causing the shaft to move rather than remaining secure and stationary.
Of course, RV water pumps will run dry while priming the pump. In this case, the pump should only be dry for a few seconds while water is brought from the tank to the pump which is only a short distance. It might take a little longer to prime during the first use of the season. If water pumps run dry for more than a minute, they could suffer damage which would most likely not be covered by your warranty.
Newer water pump models are being built with automatic overheating protection. Manufacturers claim that these pumps can run dry without damage due to this feature. However, it’s best to care for your pump by not allowing it to run dry for long periods of time, just in case.
How Long Can an RV Water Pump Run?
RV water pumps work on an on-demand basis. When the water pressure drops below the pumps preset limit it will turn on to compensate. Due to the design of an RV water pump, they are designed for intermittent use and will not run constantly even when the tap is open for an extended period of time.
The pump will actually pulsate as it provides water pressure when you open the tap. This is common and simply means that the system is fluctuating between high and low pressure. You can learn more in my article about Why Your RV Water Pump Pulses.
But if your question is how long can an RV pump run for consecutively? You’ll be fine to take a shower and perform normal household tasks with your water pump. If your water pump is running then you are pulling from your freshwater tank and only have a finite amount of water you can pump.
Can You Leave an RV Water Pump On?
Most RVer’s would agree that it’s fine to leave your water pump on when you are pulling water from your freshwater tank. Some, like us, turn our pump off at night or when we are away from the RV for the day. This is both a safety precaution and for comfort.
If there is no demand for water, the pump will not turn on and use any power. When away from our RV we turn the pump off in the unlikely event of a pipe burst. We also turn it off at night to prevent it from coming on for middle of the night toilet flushes.
However, the water pump should be turned off if the RV is connected to city water. If left on, the water for the RV will still be pumped out of the freshwater holding tank for faucet or toilet use.
In addition, if an RV’s water pump is left on when hooked up to city water, the water lines in the RV can be damaged. This is due to variations in water pressure at campgrounds and RV resorts. If the connected water pressure is too high and the pump is on, significant damage may occur. A water pressure regulator can help prevent this damage from occurring, see our recommended products page, Best RV Essentials
Battery Operated Water Pump
All RV water pumps are 12V and will draw only the amount of power from the battery that is required for use. Since RV water pumps are designed for on-demand usage, they do not consistently drain the power from the battery. Therefore, these water pumps can run for many hours on battery power.
The water pump uses a specific amount of amperage provided by the battery, which indicates how much power it draws when in use. Head over to our article for a better understanding of How RV Water Pumps Work.
Annual Inspection for RV Water Pump
To ensure the longevity, functioning, and proper operation of your RV water pump whether you are on the road or not, it’s a good idea to have an annual inspection. Reputable service providers can perform annual RV inspections for a fee, benefiting RV owners with their experience and knowledge of the vehicle and its water system.
Some RV owners may prefer to complete their own annual inspection of the vehicle. In this case, owners should make sure that they have a thorough understanding of what to look for and what is required for their personal RV. Owners should also consult the vehicle’s manual for any pertinent information and suggestions.
During an annual inspection for your RV water pump, technicians or do-it-yourself RV owners should pay special attention to the water pump filter and the sanitization of the water system as well as perform a full inspection of the water lines.
The perfect time for your annual inspection is when you “summerize” your RV. This way you know everything is in working order before you set out on your first trip of the year.
Water Line Inspection
Checking your water lines is pretty straight forward. You are performing a visual inspection for any sort of damage to your water lines. Look for kinks and cracks as well as check all mounting brackets are secure with a gentle jiggle of the water lines.
Use a high powered flashlight to follow the water lines prior to turning on the water. This will help you focus on the lines themselves. Once the water is on do another quick check for wet spots since cracks might not be visible until the lines are pressurized.
In areas that are hard to see, use a small hand mirror to have a look. For really tricky spots you might have to do the feel check with your hand to ensure nothing feels wet.
You’ll be checking for the following:
- Check supply line from freshwater holding tank to RV water pump for blocks or punctures.
- Check for system leaks in pump connectors, plumbing, or faucets.
- Check connections to the pump for any necessary repairs.
Filter maintenance is an integral part of an annual RV water pump inspection. RV water pump filters are designed to keep any debris present in the freshwater tank from affecting the water that runs through the RV or from damaging the pump itself. This filter is also referred to as a pump strainer and is installed between the pump and tank. Not to be confused with a water filter that is connected between the city water and RV.
To clean the filter
- Remove the filter on the intake side of the water pump. It should twist apart and you can access the mesh inside.
- Clean the screen with a small brush like an old toothbrush and rinse it well.
- Reassemble the filter and reinstall.
An inexpensive filter installed between the city water supply and your RV will protect your system for particles and sediment that may be present in the local water supply. See our Recommended Products for the water filter we use in our RV.
Sanitizing your RV’s fresh-water system is also an essential part of the annual inspection. While often overlooked, sanitizing your water system will help keep your pump running longer. Premature pump failure and poor performance are frequently caused by a lack of sanitizing.
RVs are subject to algae accumulation in their water systems since they often go unused for long periods of time. Unfortunately, algae build-up in an RV water pump can damage its internal valves.
Scale build up on the diaphragm and valves can also cause low flow and leak back issues. Sanitizing your water system before storing your RV and before the first use of the season will help keep your pump running for a long time.
Some RV owners and/or servicers commonly use household bleach to disinfect RV water systems. The risk of using bleach is that it may not be flushed properly and can leave an aftertaste in the water. If RV owners wish to use products other than bleach for sanitizing their water systems, they are available but tend to cost a bit more.
How to Sanitize Your RV Water System
Overall sanitizing your water system is a fairly easy task but it does take some time since the bleach needs to sit in order to sanitize the system. I’ll cover how to sanitize your system with standard household bleach. You’ll need 1/4 cup of bleach for every fifteen gallons of water.
- Combine bleach with water in a separate bucket, NEVER add bleach directly into your water system. Undiluted bleach can damage your water pipes.
- Add diluted bleach to the freshwater holding tank. Depending on your RV this may be easier said than done. For many RVs, a funnel into your freshwater tank and gallon container with your diluted bleach will be sufficient. Our RV was not so straight forward since it needed water pressure to fill the holding tank. We used an old but clean Miracle-Gro garden feeder that you connect to your hose.
- Fill your water tank till almost full of clean water.
- Turn on your water pump and open all faucets until you can smell bleach. Don’t forget to flush the toilet too.
- Close the faucet and let sit for 12 hours. If possible take your rig for a drive so the water in the tank can slosh around cleaning the tank.
- Drain your system then refill with fresh water.
- Run your taps until you no longer smell any bleach. You may have to repeat this process if you still detect any signs of bleach.
Water Pump Care Before Hitting the Road
An RV’s water pump should be tested before each road trip. Since the water pump is one of the most vital RV components, RV owners need to be sure that it is properly operating and functioning at all times. Testing the water pump before each RV trip should be a checklist priority. That way, if you find yourself without hook-ups, you will not be without access to water.
If testing your RV’s water pump reveals that it is not working properly, it’s best to have it serviced by a professional to assess whether it needs repair or replacement. Campers should not hit the road unless they are confident that their RV water pump is operating and functioning at its best.
By doing a functional check of the RV you’ve also confirmed the fuses are good, the pump switch is functioning normally, and there are no blocks in the lines. You should also do a quick line inspection for any leaks. You don’t want to be on the road and realize your water pump is leaking! Oh and make sure you have spare fuses on hand just in case something goes awry on the road.
It’s also important to confirm your water tank gauges are working correctly. While your RV is on level ground confirm the tank level matches the gauge level. Your tanks gauges aren’t going to be totally accurate but as long as they are more or less correct then you can have confidence that when they say you have water you do actually have water.
On-the-Road Water Pump Care
Once your water pump has been tested, and your RV is ready, you can hit the road. There isn’t much in the way of maintenance while you are on the road but you should be aware of how your pump “normally” operates.
By this, I mean how loud it normally is and how often it turns on. If you notice your pump is all of a sudden louder than normal you should have a look to see if something has come loose. If your water pump turns on randomly or runs for longer than expected, perform an inspection of your pumps water lines. This is an indication there is a leak somewhere or could just be a leaky faucet.
Since traveling on the road with an RV can cause jostling and bumps, it’s essential to keep an eye on your water pump in case something has rattled loose or sprung a leak.
Winter Storage Water Pump Care
If you live in a colder climate that has temperatures below freezing for extended periods of time you will need to “winterize” your RV to prevent damage, especially to your water system. Unfortunately, some RV owners overlook essential maintenance steps before putting their vehicles in storage, which can result in major damage to your RV.
Any water that is left in the plumbing system during winter is subject to freezing, which can break pipe fittings and lines. This damage leads to costly repairs and can interfere with getting back on the road when spring finally arrives.
One way to ensure that the water pump and RV plumbing system are correctly winterized is to have it done by a trained professional at a reputable RV service center. If RV owners prefer to do the winterizing themselves, it’s essential that they carefully follow the steps and checklist in the owner’s manual for draining the water system.
Each RV’s plumbing system varies, and some are quite complex. However, the overall winterization process involves the following:
- Drain the freshwater tank
- Open all faucets and flush the toilet
- Empty the hot water tank (ensure the element is off to prevent damage)
- Drain all water out of the RV pipes
- Dump and rinse your grey and black water tanks
At this point, you have two options to finalize the winterizing of your water system. You can pump nontoxic RV antifreeze through the entire system to prevent freezing. Or you can use a small air compressor to push any linger water out of the system.
We prefer to use an air compressor since we don’t need to worry about antifreeze in the system come spring. Just make sure you have your faucets open during this step or water will come back out in your face (true story).
Properly caring for your water pump prior to storing your RV for the winter will reduce the risk of damage, prolong the life of the pump, and facilitate getting back on the road once the cold weather is finally done.
How Long Do RV Water Pumps Last?
Generally, RV water pumps that are properly cared for and well maintained can last for about 10 years. This is especially true for newer RV pumps that feature high performance and reliability. Some of the factors that affect longevity for RV water pumps are cold weather storage, corrosion or build-up, and running the pump with no water in the RV tank.
There are a few key signs that your water pump does need to be repaired or replaced:
- Excessive or unusual noise: Most RV water pumps are pretty noisy, but one of the clear signs that a water pump is breaking down is if it makes excessive or unusual noise. This beyond-normal noise level may be due to damaged, corroded, or calcified chambers within the pump or a pressure switch issue.
- Leaks: If your water pump starts to leak, this is another indication that it may need to be replaced. It’s important to determine the source of the leak to ensure that it’s due to the water pump and not a different issue. This can be done by checking the fittings, connections, and pump housing.
- Won’t turn on: If your water pump won’t turn on, it may be time to replace it. However, RV owners should first check the fuse panel, electrical connections, and pump switch to be sure that it won’t turn on for a separate reason that can be easily addressed.
Understanding the basic operation of your RV water pump and how to care for it will prolong its use and function. This will also allow you to enjoy being on the road and the freedom from relying on RV parks while traveling.