Our RV awning is 11 years old now, and the canvas fabric recently tore at the top and bottom. RV awnings are a pain in every respect (except for the wonderful shade they offer), and we knew we were in for a challenging DIY repair if we tried to do it ourselves.
Fixing an RV awning is a job for at least two people, preferably three or four for certain parts of the job, and it’s easiest if someone in the group has done it before because it can be a little tricky.
We were traveling through Rapid City, South Dakota, and recent hail storms had made a mess of many RVs and RV dealerships all around the area. Only one of the local RV dealerships and repair shops could get us in within the week, so we were thrilled when we backed into a bay at Jack’s Campers.
Fortunately, they had the fabric for a 17′ Dometic Sunchaser awning in stock, an old manual model that is not installed on new RVs any more. Luckily, there must be enough oldies-but-goodies on the road these days that Jack’s Campers stocks them.
We called our RV Extended Warranty folks, Wholesale Warranties, to find out if this awning failure would qualify for reimbursement under our warranty plan.
We have had so much good luck with our extended warranty on major repairs like our refrigerator, trailer axle, suspension, toilet and window leaks and plumbing, that we were hopeful this repair would be covered too. However, only the mechanical aspects of the awning were covered, not the fabric.
In the end, the whole RV awning repair job ended up costing $444 out of pocket, most of that being for the new fabric, and it took the guys at Jack’s Campers just 45 minutes to do it.
The first step was to remove the awning arms and roller from the sidewall of our fifth wheel. They unrolled the fabric about a foot and unscrewed the mounting brackets that attached the awning arms to the side of the trailer.
There was putty in the awning fabric track where the mounting bracket had been, so this had to be removed with a flathead screwdriver.
Next, two guys slid the awning fabric off of the awning track on the RV wall and marched the whole thing into the workshop and rested it on some saw horses.
Manually operated RV awnings have a spring inside the roller mechanism (a “torsion assembly“) for rolling up the fabric. At one end of the roller there is a locking mechanism to keep the spring inside the roller tight so the fabric doesn’t unroll. This locking mechanism became important when the new fabric was installed to get the spring tensioned correctly inside the roller.
At the opposite end of the roller there was no locking mechanism. The bolt holding the awning arm to the roller at the non-locking end was removed and the arm was pulled off. The arm at the locking end of the roller remained attached throughout the job.
Then the rivets on the endcap were drilled out and the torsion assembly was pulled out.
Then the awning fabric was slid off of the roller.
The new fabric was unfolded and laid out in the workshop, and then it was slid into the track on the roller until the fabric stretched the whole length of the roller.
Spraying the track with a heavy duty silicone spray helped the fabric slide along the track smoothly.
Then the torsion assembly was placed inside the roller and new endcap rivets were installed.
The fabric was positioned so it went all the way to the locking end of the awning. At the opposite end a set screw was screwed in to prevent the fabric from sliding off the track.
The new fabric was laid out so it could be rolled onto the roller. Then a vice grip was used to turn the spring between 15 and 18 times to get the right spring tension.
Then the awning arm was reattached to the roller with a bolt.
Back at the trailer, the awning track was sprayed with heavy duty silicone.
Then the new awning fabric was loosely wrapped around the roller and the whole thing was marched outside to the trailer.
Our little project supervisor, Buddy, had been watching all the goings on through open big shop door from a safe distance out by the trailer. When the awning and its new fabric were brought out to the trailer, he backed up as far as he could into the parking lot to give the guys room to work!
Using ladders and reaching overhead, four guys maneuvered the awning fabric into the track on the trailer and slid it all the way to the front end of the track. This is where having lots of hands can help.
After installing the awning on the trailer, the mechanics noticed that the two feet that held the bottoms of the two awning arms had each developed hairline cracks. So, they replaced each foot.
The last step was to test the awning by rolling it all the way out and then all the way in again.
Ta Da!! A job well done. The whole project took 45 minutes from start to finish.
Now that we’ve seen how a manual RV awning gets installed, Mark is confident he could do it without going to an RV repair shop as long as he had some extra hands for sliding the awning fabric on/off the trailer awning track and on/off the roller track.
Side note: If you have a manual awning, it is really important that you use some kind of velcro straps or bungee cords wrapped around the awning arms as extra security to keep the awning from accidentally opening while you are traveling.
Our photo above doesn’t show them, but we have used these awning straps ever since we bought the trailer.
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