Having an appliance fail during an outing is bad, it’s even worse when you’re full-timing it in cold weather. We’ve been living in our truck camper rig for seven weeks now and it’s been quite an adventure. We’ve spent most of our time looking for a new home here in Arizona, but we’ve also taken some time to explore new roads and places and taken some time to revisit some old familiar ones. When you spend as much time exploring off-road as we do, you’re bound to encounter problems from all of the vibrations, moisture, bugs, and dirt encountered along the way. That’s why it was no surprise when our Atwood G6A-8E water heater recently failed to light.
Our Atwood water heater has the direct spark igniter (DSI) with the remote start switch. The water heater would activate and release a small amount of propane each time we flipped the switch, but each time the water heater would go into lock-out after three failed attempts to light (during a lock-out condition the red light on the switch panel stays illuminated, letting you know that there’s a problem). Normally, you can hear several rapid-fire clicks from the electrode (spark and sensor probe) when the switch is activated, but we weren’t hearing those or seeing any sparks.
It’s been awhile since we’ve experienced a problem with a water heater, so I had to refresh my memory by referring to the troubleshooting guide provided by Atwood and to some YouTube videos. When propane is present and the water heater fails to light, the issue can be one of several things. These include a bad thermostat (ECO/T’Stat), a blown thermal cut-off diode on the thermostat (T’Stat) power lead, a dirty or shorted electrode, an electrode with improper gapping, a blown fuse in the water heater’s circuit card or at the main fuse panel, or a faulty ignitor board. Dirty or corroded electrical connections can also cause this problem.
Most of these issues are quick and easy to fix and are pretty cheap. Unfortunately, a blown OEM ignitor board is easy to replace, but it isn’t cheap. An Atwood potted OEM ignitor board will cost you about $125 dollars on Amazon.com and more if you purchase one at an RV parts store. Going with an OEM ignitor board is certainly the cheapest route, but it isn’t necessarily the best. The only time I would go with an OEM board is if your water heater is still under warranty.
If your water heater is out of warranty and you’re in need of a new ignitor board, a “Dinosaur Board” by Dinosaur Electronics is a much better way to go. These aftermarket ignitor boards are far superior to OEM boards. They often cost less than OEM boards and are better made. They also come with a three-year warranty. This is much better than what the original manufacturer’s provide. Dinosaur Electronics has been around since 1993, when they started designing and manufacturing high-reliability circuit boards for RV furnaces, water heaters, refrigerators, and generators. Today, Dinosaur Electronics makes 46 different kinds of replacement boards and 15 different testers. Their products are carried by over 1,600 dealers and services centers nationwide. Unfortunately, the company doesn’t sell their products online, they can only be purchased through one of their authorized dealers. The best thing to do is to call around to see if a store carries them.
At this point, you’re probably wondering what it was that caused our water heater to fail. It was a bad ignitor board. Everything else we checked was good. Fortunately, we were able to get a dinosaur board at a local RV parts store, Hi Country Rec-V-Center, in Prescott Valley, Arizona. The particular board we bought was the UIB 64, a specially made ignitor board for all Atwood water heaters. We don’t give a lot of shout-outs to local brick and mortar stores on this website, but this particular store is worth it. The owner, J.D. Campbell, was a lot of help. He answered all of our questions and even took a voltage reading on the T’Stat connection to confirm that the ignitor board was the problem (12 volts on the T’Stat connection indicates that the thermostat is good). How many places take the time to do this for customers? Not many. Anyhow, fixing the problem ourselves saved us big bucks. Having a Dinosaur board gives us peace of mind knowing that we have a high-quality ignitor board in our water heater that has a three-year warranty. With all the off-roading we do, this peace of mind is priceless.
People who can help you out by troubleshooting are a lot better than “parts changers” and they deserve a shout out.