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While campers love RV parks and campgrounds with an abundance of trees, that’s not always possible, especially if you’re camping in the American Southwest. That’s why RV awnings are a great addition to motorhomes and towable RVs.
Awnings are great for providing shade and protection from light rain. They’re easy to operate, but a few important safety precautions must be considered. As a note on safety, RV awnings are NOT meant to withstand high winds and heavy rain. If the forecast calls for either, retract your awning to be safe.
Types of RV Awnings
There are two basic types of RV awnings: manual and power. The video above contains directions for both awning types, but here are the main differences:
Power awnings feature a motor connected to a switch inside the coach, which is used for extending and retracting the awning.
Manual awnings require an extension rod that either pulls the awning open or cranks an internal cylinder to extend or retract the awning.
What to Do Before Extending RV Awnings
Regardless of your awning type, you must level and stabilize your RV properly before extending an RV awning. Here are some helpful resources to help you set up your RV in a campsite:
Once your recreational vehicle is leveled and stabilized, perform an RV walkaround to ensure all awnings have enough clearance to extend completely. Also, ensure your RV door isn’t in the way of your awning’s extension path.
It’s good to watch power awnings as they extend, but their switches aren’t always reachable from your RV’s door. You may need to keep the door partly ajar to monitor your awning’s progress, especially if you’re a solo RVer.
If you have a partner with you, you’ll have extra help monitoring the awning as it extends. The main things your spotter should look for are (1) obstructions and (2) that you don’t overextend your awning.
How To Open RV Power Awnings
When your RV is parked, leveled, stabilized, and you’ve ensured proper clearance, here are the basic steps for extending RV power awnings:
- Locate the awning switch inside RV on your control panel.
- Push the ‘Extend’ side of the switch to roll the awning out.
- Watch the awning to ensure it extends evenly and doesn’t make contact with obstructions.
- This is when it’s helpful to have a spotter outside your RV.
- Extend until the awning fabric is completely rolled out and you can see the awning tube (also known as the barrel).
- Don’t overextend! Overextending could cause the awning to start winding up backward, which creates issues you want to avoid.
How To Retract RV Power Awnings
When a storm is rolling in, or it’s time to pack up camp, follow these steps to retract RV power awnings:
- Ensure no obstructions are in the way of your awning and its components.
- I.e. entry door, pine cones, recreation equipment, other passengers, etc.
- Push the ‘Retract’ side of the awning switch.
- Visually confirm awning is retracting evenly.
- Retract until the awning makes contact with the exterior wall of the RV.
- Don’t continue to push the switch once the awning is retracted.
- It can damage the awning’s electric motor.
How To Open RV Manual Awnings
Manual RV awnings with pull-straps are more common on older RVs, but these steps will help you extend yours if you have one:
- Make sure the awning has clearance and the door is closed
- Loosen knobs on awning arms (2-3 turns is enough)
- Open tabs to separate the inner arm from the outer arm
- Use the awning rod to engage Roll up/Roll down switch to the ‘Roll Down’ position
- This switch looks like a small lever on the forward end of the awning tube/barrel.
- Use an awning rod to pull the awning strap and extend the awning.
- You may need to pull one side 1-2 feet out and then pull out the awning arm on the opposite end to even the awning up before pulling the strap to extend completely.
- Extend completely until the flap at the front edge of the awning fabric unfurls.
- Slide vertical arm pieces forward to the ends of the horizontal arms.
- Make sure they are latched in place.
- Tighten the knobs that you loosened to begin.
- Open the handle on one end to extend the awning upward.
- Located on the horizontal arm at the end closest to your RV
- Move to the other end and extend the opposite arm until the awning is even.
- You may need to go back and forth until your awning is at the height you want it.
- Make sure both arms are extended evenly.
How to Retract Manual RV Awnings
Simply reverse the steps above to roll your awning back into place. Pay extra attention to ensure the tabs holding the awning arms together are closed, and the knobs are tightened before driving.
Remember that manual RV awnings are spring-loaded, so make sure to hold the strap and slowly let the awning roll up. If the lever is flipped into the roll-up position and the awning strap is not held tightly, the awning could slam against the coach, possibly causing damage to the awning, the roller tube, or the coach itself.
A Note on Newer Manual RV Awnings
Some newer RVs also have manual awnings. These are more common over the entry door on class A RVs, and brands like Oasis and Thule are some of the best-sellers in this category. These newer manual camper awnings feature a crank handle, making operating them even easier than traditional manual awnings.
Their main benefit is not worrying about the electric motor on a power awning failing. If you have this type of awning, ensure your crank handle is onboard before setting off on your RV road trip. You should also consult your owner’s manual for model-specific operation procedures.
For more tips on troubleshooting RV patio awnings, slideouts, and other components, subscribe to Camping World’s YouTube channel for the latest RV service and maintenance content.
There are also other accessories like screen rooms that you can add to your manual or electrical awning to provide more bug protection outside of your RV.
Do you have any questions about RV awnings? Let us know in the comments below!
My instructions are that the first thing to do before extending the awning is to loosen the 2 knobs, one on either side, that tighten and loosen the awning arms. Once the awning is extended, the knobs are tightened to add extra tension to the awning rods. My instructions also say to tilt one side a bit to allow any wetness if it’s misting or rainy to roll off. Loosen the knobs when rolling the awning back up, and then tighten the knobs to provide extra tension to keep the awning from extending during travel. Perhaps some awning don’t have any additional support like mine does.
Thanks for sharing your awning experience! It is important to note that awnings made by different manufacturers may have slightly different instructions. And your point about tilting the awning is a good one, especially for manual awnings!
You forgot to mention keeping one end of the awning slightly lower than the other to avoid damage from the weight of rain water collecting on it.
This is a great point and most pertinent to manual awnings. Many of the newer power awnings remain slanted from the roof line to shed moisture, but not all offer the ability to lower one side. It’s also good to bring your awning in if you encounter anything heavier than a light mist, as heavier rainfall significantly increases the chances of water accumulation that leads to awning damage.