Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and author of the “RV Handbook” as well as the Managing Editor of the RV Repair Club. Today he discusses an RV water heater.
I have a 2019 GD Imagine 2500RL which we bought in October 2020. The Atwood water heater only works on the gas mode. From what I have read and viewed online, it sounds as if my heating element has gone bad. How do you change the heating element?
Unfortunately, to get to the rear of the water heater, I have to work through the kitchen cabinet framework after drawers are removed. The dealer gave us spare fuses and they were installed, but there was no change. If the circuit board was bad, would gas also fail? —Steve
It is either a 120-volt issue, ECO/Tstat, or a bad heating element. And, unfortunately, two of the three need to be diagnosed from the back of the water heater. It might be easier to remove the water heater and bench test, if possible.
This is the Atwood water heater I have in the shop that is for a Winnebago. It has the two “motor aid” connections on the side. The model is GCH10A-4E. The heating element goes in the large hole in the center and is covered by the black plastic box. To test the 120-volt operation, you will probably need to remove the box and have access to the heating element.
Checking the RV water heater element
Turn the 120-volt power off and remove the black plastic box to access the lugs of the heating element. Turn the power back on and verify the switch is in the on position. Next verify 120-volt power to the unit with a multimeter on the black and white wire coming from the romex wire. If there is no voltage, trace the wire back to the connection.
Turn the power off and check for continuity at the element, thermostat, and ECO switch. The thermostat and ECO switch are typically located on the front of the unit. The thermostat has a thermal cutoff fuse that you need to check first. Older models will have a reset button on the ECO.
Check continuity between the two pins of the thermostat and the ECO. If there is no continuity between either one, they need to be replaced.
Next, check continuity at the heating element probes. If there is none, replace the heating element.
One tip I got from my assistant, Steve Albright, at the RV Repair Club is to use a clamp-on amp meter at the distribution center to verify if the heating element is drawing amps. There will be a 20-amp circuit breaker in the distribution center specifically for the water heater. Identify the circuit breaker and the black wire coming out of it. Clamp the meter around the wire and set the dial to the amp setting.
This model is fairly inexpensive at Amazon.
Turn on the RV water heater on the 120-volt mode and it should register 11 amps. Make sure you have water in the tank or don’t let it run too long or it will ruin the element if it is good!
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