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Old 02-16-2016, 04:56 PM   #1
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Continuing saga of my water heater

My first weekend out with the new trailer several months ago, the first thing I did as a total newbie was to burn out the electric heating element for the water heater. I figured it wasn't too big a deal since I could still heat with gas, so I'd get around to fixing it in the spring or maybe if I needed to bring the trailer in for warranty work at some point.

Well, I took my daughter and the trailer to Rock Springs Wyoming for a week (got back yesterday). Everything went very well until 2 days ago, when the gas water heater stopped working. So now all we get is cold water.

Today I took a look at it and the igniter is not creating a spark, and even when you light the gas manually, it only stays lit for a few seconds then shuts the gas off. Since the electronic ignition and flame sensor are the same part, I figure that's the problem.

Went to Camping World today to buy a new electric element and a new "spark and sense electrode"... they wanted twice the price of amazon for each part.

I guess their retail store business model must be "gouge-you-when-you-have-no-other-options".

Fortunately, I'm home and not taking out the trailer again until Friday, so Amazon is an option. I placed the order on my phone the moment I left the store.

I guess mostly this post is to vent. But also wondering... why would the electronic ignition fail so soon?

The ceramic does not appear cracked, but there is definitely no spark coming off the thing. Lights up fine when I stick a grill lighter in there and spark it off at the right moment (then shuts itself off from not sensing a flame).

No idea how this part burned out, I don't think it was me, though?

Any tips? Am I doing something wrong?

We did stay a night in a place that was around 15 degrees F outside (but that was a few days before it broke)... Any correlation to that temperature?
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Old 02-16-2016, 05:38 PM   #2
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First question is the trailer new to you or could it it still under warranty? It may be as simple as the thermocoupling. What brand of water heater do you have.
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Old 02-16-2016, 05:55 PM   #3
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I would change out the electric element at the same time. That won't be a warranty repair,if it is in warranty.
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Old 02-16-2016, 06:00 PM   #4
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I'd do the same as you. Not quite sure the new parts you ordered will correct the problem though. I'd replace a few parts too until it worked... Still cheaper than paying full price for parts and the shop fee!
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Old 02-16-2016, 06:41 PM   #5
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First question is the trailer new to you or could it it still under warranty? It may be as simple as the thermocoupling. What brand of water heater do you have.
It's an Atwood. And under warranty, but I have no intention of waiting for the dealer to get around to fixing it, going out again this weekend.
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Old 02-16-2016, 09:06 PM   #6
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There is a copy of the Atwood water heater service manual on this forum; here is a link. The manual may help you figure out what is going on.
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Old 02-17-2016, 11:44 AM   #7
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There is a copy of the Atwood water heater service manual on this forum; here is a link. The manual may help you figure out what is going on.
Thanks. I couldn't get the file to download, but a google search turned up a similar document (looks like it's from 2004). It does have a lot of useful information.

The new parts should be arriving tonight, so I will go out (in the dark, sigh) and see if replacing the parts does the trick.

I really think it's probably a case of perhaps a small fracture in the ceramic sensor/spark element. I can't find a crack, but the fact that there is no spark, and then no sense that a flame is started (when I light it manually) tells me that is a likely cause of the problem. I hope I'm right (fingers crossed).
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Old 02-17-2016, 08:46 PM   #8
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It's an Atwood. And under warranty, but I have no intention of waiting for the dealer to get around to fixing it, going out again this weekend.
Agreed, no sense taking it to a dealership for a 15 minute replacement for a $25 part. The ignitor on our Atwood went out after the first year. Replaced it and haven't had a problem since. Also, make sure the Thermal Cut-off wire hasn't been compromised, if so, nothing will work.
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Old 02-17-2016, 08:58 PM   #9
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Replaced the ingiter... no joy.

Checking all the wires, but the manual has some specifics about "no spark", and about the only option left is to replace the $130 circuit board.

Seriously considering how badly I need hot water this weekend.

Perhaps the electric portion will work after replacing the element and save me for the short term.

In the meantime, I have an extra igniter should I ever need one.

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Old 02-17-2016, 11:49 PM   #10
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Well, I drained the tank, got down under the bunks and squeezed in like a sardine, then opened the plastic cover to replace the electric water heater element.

The power connection to the element was loose. Like completely loose. Like someone had poked around in there and yanked it off and didn't realize it.

I think I understand the story now.

The day I did the PDI to pick up the trailer, the water heater worked fine, but the flow was low. So they went back there and tinkered for a while, then the water flow worked better, and no reason (or so I thought) to re-check the water heater because it had already been checked. Little did I know, when they were playing with the valves, they must have yanked the cover off the water heater and a loose connection came apart.

The next weekend I took my first trip and turned on the electric water heater and it did nothing. I figured I must have forgot to fill the tank and burned it out, but the gas worked fine, so I'd work on it in the spring.

Now that the gas isn't working, I had impetus to get it fixed and started working on it. And now, presto... electric water heater works... just had to re-attach the power lead.

For heaven's sake, this really is becoming a saga!!!
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