Rialta RV Problems: Overheating, Dead Batteries, Rust, Engine Shutdowns

Buying a used motorhome RV is sort of like buying an old house. You get a great discount price, but who knows what kind of problems will happen down the road. And trust me, there will definitely be unforeseen issues. I want to run through some of the unexpected surprises I’ve had since purchasing my RV.

Problem: Engine Overheating Warning

Imagine that pass the H mark and the light constantly blinking red during a snowstorm

I drove the Rialta from South Carolina back to Delaware. Along the way, the engine overheating light kept turning on randomly. But I would slow down, and it would go away. However, after a few hours, the light just kept turning on no matter how slow I was moving. Also, it was snowing that day so there’s no reason why the engine should be overheating.

As I crawled on the side of the highway, I seriously thought I purchased a lemon and might burn out the engine before ever returning home. I eventually checked into a hotel and later talked to the original owner who told me that she had specifically fixed this problem. So, I talked to the mechanic who said they had replaced the cooling fan, and it is definitely not overheating despite the warning signs.

Resolution: The next day I took the RV to a VW Dealership in Virginia where they informed me that the coolant sensor was bad. The engine wasn’t overheating, and everything was fine. It would take a few days to order the sensor so I held off for later. Disaster averted.

Problem: Constant Dead Engine and House Batteries

The Rialta can actually take two group size 27 batteries, the main one is out in this picture

This hard to find detector is always ON which is good since LP Gas is highly combustible and odorless

A few months later, I went to drive the RV, and it wouldn’t start. I assumed that the cold weather and lack of use had killed the batteries. I got the engine battery tested, and it came back fine after a recharge. But, a few weeks later, again, the battery died. Something was draining the batteries over the span of several days. This freaked me out, and I even took it to a mechanic who said it would take hours to figure out where the power was draining from.

Resolution: Turns out the problem was twofold. First, the house battery (the house part of the RV uses its own deep cycle battery, separate from the engine battery) was over 5 year old and didn’t seem able to hold a charge for a long time. The engine and house batteries are connected so that when driving, the engine alternator will recharge the house battery too. However, if the house battery is dead then it would drain energy from the engine battery and kill it.  So, I replaced the house battery.

The second piece was that there are numerous electronics in the RV that take up a phantom, electric load even when everything’s turned off. Specifically, there’s a propane LP gas leak detector that draws a constant 5 amp/day or so. There’s absolutely no way to turn this off short of cutting the wire or installing a switch. So, most likely, this detector along with other pieces was killing the couch battery.

Problem: Rust

those are straight up holes where metal once existed

Rust is a problem with anything made of metal. A lot of the underbody of the RV is rusted but still functional. Where I am really worried though is the propane tank cover which is screwed on to the underbody by a single metal piece that’s completely rusted. If the entire piece rusts and falls apart then the cover would fly off and leave the propane tank exposed which is a very, very bad situation.

Resolution: I haven’t fixed this yet. I finally found out today that Lowe’s sells thin, long strips of sheet metal. So, I’ll need to figure out a way to drill holes into it and replace the existing piece. It doesn’t help that the existing screws are rusted shut so I’m still figuring this one out.

Problem: Engine Shutdown on Incline Hill

I drove the RV a few weeks ago, and it almost immediately shut down when I drove up a steep hill. Repeated attempts at restarting the engine and driving up the hill proved futile. I finally made it up the hill and back home, but I was deeply worried that there might be a fatal flaw. I don’t know of any RV mechanics in the surrounding 50 mile radius so it’s nearly impossible to get this thing fixed without a very, very expensive tow job.

Resolution: I’ve driven the RV a few times since then without any problems. I re-attached all the battery terminals, filled the tank with gas, and let the engine warm up before driving. The engine hasn’t cut off again thankfully. However, the transmission is skittish around 30mph when it’s trying to shift gears. It lasts only a short time if the engine is warmed up, and I’m not driving uphill. But, I still need to get this checked out by a professional in the near future. I know the transmission has had work on it by a previous owner so it might be covered under warranty.

Tomorrow, I’ll finally remove the roof A/C unit and install the solar panels.

That picture at the top is when I dissembled my laptop to replace the system fan and install some memory. It works like new now. Total cost? ~$80. I was actually thinking of buying a new laptop before I fixed it. Despite all the problems, there is a satisfaction from learning how to do things yourself that you can’t ever buy. We spend so much of our lives trying to eliminate risk from our lives when in fact the greatest rewards are reserved only for those willing to take good risks.


7 thoughts on “Rialta RV Problems: Overheating, Dead Batteries, Rust, Engine Shutdowns”

  1. Hey Pete, glad to read you’re making progress. For future reference, you can easily turn off the propane detector by taking out its fuse in the breaker panel. 🙂

  2. Thanks Pete and John I just purchased a 2002 Realta, 40,000 miles, to tour the states on my own. Any thing else you have experience or suggest. I would appreciate.

  3. Hi!! Sooo my batteries keeeeep dying and I know it is because of that propane detector. You say NO way to disconnect? no fuses, CBS??? what if I unscrew the plate. I will gladly cut the wire..which wire??

    sleep with window open and take chances. I have had to jump this rig sooo often…ridiculous!
    best and thanks…motor on…

  4. For the jumpy transmission use a quart of Lucas tarns additive. I have personally fixed an 87 Audi and to 95 Saabs. If no results in a few days then go to your dealer

  5. I am considering purchasing a 2000 Rialta.
    The asking price is $17,500.00 and the owner says the generator [for the cabin, not the motor] does not work. It’s an expensive fix [2K$ or thereabouts]. He says he just travels with a separate generator.
    Any comments?

  6. I recently purchased a ’98 Rialta with just 23000 miles. On the way home it suddenly cut out acter driving almost 150 miles. Innitial attempts to restart failed but after a 5minute break, I de died to give it one more try. BINGO! She fired up. After several minutes of pumping thegaspexal a few hi as and then allowing it to idle another minute, I decided to test her out On the busy freeway. She drove for about 5minutes but then, the same sudden snutdown. Once again, I waited for several minutes and the tried to start her again. This time, she drove for another 7 miles but then shut down again. Repeating the earlier processes, I restarted and managed to drive the remaining 6miles to home. Today, she fired up as she should but I do worry that she’s got an ongoing problem……
    Anyone got any ideas???…….Howard….

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