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Troubleshooting Guide: RV Propane Water Heater Won’t Light

Are you experiencing the frustrating issue of your RV propane water heater not lighting up?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone!

Many RV owners encounter this problem at some point, but the good news is that there are several troubleshooting steps you can take to resolve it.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the common reasons why your RV propane water heater won’t light and provide step-by-step solutions to help you get it up and running again.

Common Reasons Why Your RV Propane Water Heater Won’t Light

1. Insufficient Propane Supply

Is your RV propane water heater failing to light up even though you’ve tried multiple times?

One possible cause could be an insufficient propane supply.

Without an adequate amount of propane, the water heater won’t ignite.

To check if this is the issue, follow these steps:

  1. Step 1: Verify that your propane tank is not empty. Check the gauge or consult your propane supplier to ensure you have enough propane available.
  2. Step 2: Confirm that the propane tank valve is fully open. Sometimes, the valve may be partially closed, restricting the propane flow.
  3. Step 3: Inspect the propane regulator for any signs of damage or blockage. Clean or replace the regulator if necessary.

2. Pilot Light Problems

A faulty pilot light is another common culprit behind an RV propane water heater’s failure to ignite.

The pilot light is responsible for igniting the main burner, so if it’s not functioning correctly, the water heater won’t light up.

Here’s how you can troubleshoot pilot light issues:

  1. Step 1: Locate the pilot light assembly, typically located near the bottom of the water heater.
  2. Step 2: Check if the pilot light flame is present. If not, try relighting it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Step 3: Ensure that the pilot light flame is touching the thermocouple. The thermocouple is a safety device that detects the presence of the pilot flame and allows the main burner to ignite.

3. Blocked Burner Assembly

Over time, the burner assembly of your RV propane water heater may accumulate dust, debris, or rust, leading to blockages that prevent proper ignition.

Follow these steps to clean the burner assembly:

  1. Step 1: Turn off the propane supply and disconnect the gas line leading to the burner assembly.
  2. Step 2: Remove the burner assembly from the water heater, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Step 3: Inspect the burner for any blockages or signs of damage. Clean the burner using compressed air or a soft brush.

4. Faulty Igniter or Electrode

If you’ve ruled out propane supply, pilot light, and burner assembly issues, a faulty igniter or electrode might be to blame for the water heater not lighting up.

The igniter or electrode generates a spark or heat to ignite the propane, so if it’s malfunctioning, the burner won’t ignite.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Step 1: Locate the igniter or electrode near the burner assembly.
  2. Step 2: Inspect the igniter or electrode for any visible damage or wear. Clean it carefully using a soft cloth or a mild abrasive if necessary.
  3. Step 3: If the igniter or electrode is beyond repair, you may need to replace it. Consult your water heater’s manual or contact the manufacturer for specific replacement instructions.

5. Gas Pressure Issues

In some cases, your RV propane water heater may fail to light due to inadequate gas pressure reaching the burner assembly.

Insufficient gas pressure can result from various factors, such as a partially closed valve, kinks in the gas line, or clogged gas jets.

Here’s how you can address gas pressure problems:

  1. Step 1: Ensure that the propane tank valve is fully open to allow maximum gas flow.
  2. Step 2: Inspect the gas line for any kinks, bends, or blockages. Straighten or clean the gas line as necessary.
  3. Step 3: If you suspect clogged gas jets, carefully remove them and clean them using compressed air or a fine wire.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why does my RV propane water heater fail to light even when I can smell propane?

If you can smell propane but the water heater still won’t light, it could indicate a problem with the igniter or electrode. Check for damage or wear, and clean or replace them if necessary.

What should I do if my RV propane water heater keeps going out after it initially lights up?

This issue is often caused by a malfunctioning thermocouple. The thermocouple senses the presence of the pilot flame and allows the burner to stay lit. If it’s faulty, the burner will keep shutting off. Consider replacing the thermocouple to resolve the problem.

Can a low propane level in my tank affect the performance of my RV water heater?

Yes, an insufficient propane supply can prevent the water heater from lighting up. Make sure your propane tank is adequately filled and the valve is fully open.

Is it safe to attempt repairing my RV propane water heater on my own?

While some troubleshooting steps can be safely performed by RV owners, it’s essential to prioritize your safety. If you’re unsure or uncomfortable with any repair procedures, it’s best to consult a professional technician.

Are there any preventive measures I can take to avoid future issues with my RV propane water heater?

Regular maintenance, such as cleaning the burner assembly, checking the pilot light, and inspecting gas lines, can help prevent problems. Additionally, scheduling professional servicing at recommended intervals is highly recommended.

What are the benefits of using an RV propane water heater?

RV propane water heaters offer a convenient and efficient way to have hot water on the road. They are designed to heat water quickly, allowing you to enjoy hot showers and wash dishes during your travels.


Dealing with an RV propane water heater that won’t light can be frustrating, but by following the troubleshooting steps outlined in this guide, you can overcome the issue and have your water heater functioning properly again.

Remember to prioritize safety and seek professional assistance if needed. With proper maintenance and periodic inspections, you can ensure a reliable and efficient hot water supply for your RV adventures.