One of the many features on an RV that has a tendency to stay “out of sight, out of mind” is the awning. One of the first things we do when we pull into a campsite is extend the awning, and one of the last things we do is retract it. We expect it to faithfully serve and generally don’t have to think about how it works, what to do to maintain it, and how to repair it. This article will present some awning tips for maintenance and repair.
There are many different makes, models, and sizes of awnings, from slide toppers to full length electric patio awnings, but they all operate on the same basic principle with similar components.
The awning material can be either fabric or nylon. Nylon is more common, as it is less expensive than cloth. It provides great protection from both sun and rain, and is more impervious to mold, mildew, rips, and tears. More expensive awnings on higher end RVs often have fabric awning material. The cloth is treated to protect it from mold and mildew, as well as to make it waterproof. Fabric awnings are lighter than their nylon counterparts. Awning fabric should always be secured to the RV awning rail using a screw at each end. This prevents the awning from sliding fore and aft, which can cause the main awning arms and rafters not to properly nest together when the awning is retracted.
The aluminum roller tube is a simple hollow extrusion with slots for holding the end of the awning fabric. At each end of the roller tube are end caps incorporating torsional springs. The front (right) spring utilizes a ratchet that allows the spring to be “locked” in the open position. The main exception to this configuration is on electric awnings, which use a motor in place of the manual ratchet to open and close the awning.
Main Arms and Rafters
The main awning arms support the roller tube and attach the awning assembly to the mounting brackets. The rafter arms stabilize the awning and span across the top of the awning fabric, between the RV gutter and the extended roller tube. Some awning configurations, such as electric ones, combine the main and rafter arms into a more complex articulated system, including gas shocks. This not only eliminates the need to separately extend the arms and rafters, but also provides additional protection from wind.
The top and bottom mounting brackets secure the awning assembly to the RV. On some awnings, the bottom brackets allow the main arms to be removed and placed on the ground for an alternate configuration.
Given the vast number of awnings on the market, consult your owner’s manual for detailed operating instructions. The most important consideration when extending an awning is the weather. Always retract the awning if it is windy, as a flapping awning is the largest contributor to damage. Wind damage can manifest as a torn awning, bent and damaged arms, or even vehicle damage. Some electric awnings have anemometers that automatically retract the awning when it’s windy. If rain is in the forecast, be sure to lower one end of the awning below the other to allow for water runoff.
About the Author:
Steve Froese, an avid RV owner, traveler, and Coach-Net member since 2013, is the principal of “A Word to the Wise Technical Communications”, a published RV author, certified RV technician, and licensed Professional Engineer. He frequently collaborates with the “RV Doctor”, Gary Bunzer, and has worked with the RVIA/RVDA as a technical and training writer and consultant. Professionally, he works as a quality engineer and musician. Watch for more of Steve’s work in upcoming Coach-Net publications.
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