You were packing up after a night of camping to head to your next destination when you realize your awning is broken. You’re not sure how or when it happened, but it’s considerably damaged. Now you’re feeling wary about taking your camper anywhere. Is towing your camper with a broken awning a bad idea?
You shouldn’t tow your camper with a broken awning because the awning could unfurl while you’re driving. The entire awning could also fall off your camper if it’s only hanging on by a thread, creating a road hazard that other motorists would have to try to avoid.
If you have questions about your camper awning, we’ve got the answers in today’s post. We’ll explore why camper awnings break and how to fix them. We’ll also talk more about why you shouldn’t tow your camper when your awning is broken. Make sure you keep reading, as you won’t want to miss it!
What Causes a Broken Camper Awning?
Let’s take it from the top. If your camper awning is on its last leg, it had to have gotten here for a reason. Here are the most common causes of broken camper awnings.
When bad weather strikes, you do your best to protect your camper from the brunt of the impact. Sometimes though, depending on where you’re driving or camping when the weather occurs, that just isn’t possible.
If your camper has seen its fair share of rainstorms, heavy winds, thunderstorms, or even hail and/or snowstorms, then of course, the awning might not be in such great shape anymore.
It only takes one really good storm to pull the awning partially down from your camper. Perhaps the awning has even fully detached.
Camper awnings are not meant to last forever. Depending on the quality of yours and how well you care for it (more on this in a moment), the average lifespan of a camper awning is as little as five years and as many as 15 years.
If your awning is closer to a decade old, then it won’t take as much wear and tear for it to fall apart compared to a brand-new awning.
Besides inclement weather, you must be careful about the kind of debris you kick up (or that other motorists kick up) when you’re towing your camper. If the debris has sharp edges such as sticks, stones, and rocks do, then all that debris has to do is connect with the awning fabric and voila, it’s ruined.
Lack of Maintenance
Campers, like RVs, need a lot of maintenance season after season. You must commit to all parts of the maintenance routine, including caring for your awning. At least twice per season, you’re supposed to clean your awning.
You should also check all the components, especially the locks, and lubricate any dry parts if necessary.
By failing to do these few maintenance steps per active camping season, you’re going to miss small issues with your awning that will later become critical.
For instance, maybe there’s a tiny tear that becomes a gaping hole, or perhaps the locking mechanism stopped working and won’t stay secure, especially when you’re on the road.
Wear and Tear
It doesn’t matter what kind of camper component we’re talking about here. If you use it, it’s going to wear down, end of story. Wear and tear is a classic cause of awning damage, and it’s inevitable as well.
Look, owning a camper can be costly. Maybe, to shave a few bucks here and there, you decided to buy a cheap awning for your camper. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the awning fell apart less than a year after you bought it.
Higher-quality awnings won’t last forever either, but you’re much likelier to get close to 15 years out of a good awning than you are a cheap one.
Should You Tow Your Camper If the Awning Is Broken?
Let’s say your awning has a little more than a few holes or tears throughout. The thing doesn’t want to stay connected to your camper. Well, the awning is partially attached, but it could certainly be more secure.
You’re not sure what to do. You can’t get your awning to stay in place manually, so you figure you’re at least heading to your next camping destination and maybe picking up some Super Glue on the way.
We would not recommend traveling with your awning in this condition, and here’s why.
Your camper awning uses spring pressure to keep all the components intact. Now that the awning is dangling halfway off your camper, that spring pressure can send the awning flying off your camper and into the road.
If you’re not on a crowded road, then the damage would be minor (hopefully). Imagine such a situation occurring on a packed three-lane highway, though. There are drivers all around you who could be injured by your spring-loaded flying awning.
An awning flying at any speed could break car glass or dent a vehicle. The unsuspecting motorist who receives your awning could be hurt, experiencing lacerations, bruising, and possibly even fractures and/or broken bones.
Could a flying awning be deadly? Absolutely! You never can say never in these kinds of situations.
Secondarily and much less severely, if your camper awning doesn’t out and out fly off your vehicle, it could always unfurl when you’re driving.
Since you’re towing your camper, you might not realize this right away until you look in your side view or rearview mirror and see the awning dragging along the hot asphalt.
Even if your awning is very good quality, it will not survive a trip like that!
How to Remove a Broken Camper Awning
Now that you know you shouldn’t drive with a broken awning, how do you remove the offending awning from your camper so you can head home or continue your travels? Here are the steps to follow.
Consider snapping photos of the broken awning first, especially if your camper is covered under insurance or a warranty and the awning is quite new. You might be able to make an insurance claim to reduce the out-of-pocket costs for awning repair or replacement.
We recommend having at least one other person help you with removing your awning. The first step is to take a wrench and loosen the sides of the awning. The other person should hold the awning so the thing doesn’t tumble halfway off your camper as soon as you release it.
Remove the awning fabric from the metal base. This is as easy as sliding the fabric right off the top edge. Keep in mind that if the awning top edge has been damaged, you might have to work a bit harder to detach the fabric.
If it just doesn’t want to come off, then you’ll have no choice but to use fabric scissors to slice the awning material from the top edge. Obviously, you’ll have to replace your awning after this.
Take the rest of the awning down from your camper and store it somewhere secure. Maybe that’s in the trunk of your towing vehicle or perhaps you keep the awning somewhere in your camper.
When you get back to your neighborhood, you might visit a mechanic who specializes in campers to see what, if anything, they can do. You can always repair the awning yourself if you’d rather.
How to Fix Ripped Camper Awning Fabric
You should never attempt to fix other awning components outside of the ripped or damaged fabric. Since they’re spring-loaded, finagling with the awning bars could cause the springs to come flying loose, leading to severe injury for yourself and anyone around you.
If you want to fix the camper awning material only, here’s how.
Camper awning fabric tears and holes usually start small but will become bigger without intervention. The first step then is to identify where the tear or hole is and its size, as the latter will determine how you go about repairing the awning fabric.
If the hole or tear is three feet or smaller, then it’s considered small. By fixing the hole at this size, it won’t become any bigger. You’ll have an easy time repairing a small rip or tear, and it won’t be very expensive either.
If your awning has a hole or gouge that’s larger than three feet, you can consider the hole large. Usually, holes this big are attributed to negligence and extreme weather events.
Rather than a hole, your awning fabric could also have a large rip or tear. Again, the tear must outsize three feet to be considered large. The tear will flap on a windy day, and it lets in a lot more sun as well. That makes this awning damage hard to miss.
You can’t fix your awning if it’s still attached to your camper, so your next order of business is to take it down. Follow the instructions from the last section to do that, and remember, please have another person available to help you!
Your awning is down, but how do you open it? You’ll have to release the cotter pins from the awning’s end caps. Each end cap has holes that the inner awning tube passes through.
You need to push the cotter pin through the awning tube. Then you must open the tag bolts and your awning is free.
Leave the end caps alone though, as they have springs inside. You already know how dangerous those are!
Find a stretch of lawn or concrete where you can unfurl your awning. You might have to use stones or weights to secure the sides of the awning flat.
Let’s begin by discussing how to repair small holes in your awning fabric. With a water-based cleaning solution and some awning tape, you can get the hole patched up and your awning fabric looking brand new. Here’s how it’s done.
First, use the water-based cleaning solution on the area where the hole or tear is.
The cleaner must be non-abrasive, as otherwise, the cleaning solution will weaken the fabric further. More holes could follow in the original hole’s wake.
Clean the other side of the awning fabric as well, as the hole goes through to that side too. Then give the awning time to air-dry.
Rip off a piece of awning repair tape and apply it to the front of the awning fabric. You want to pinch the two parts of the awning where the rip or hole occurred and adhere them together with the tape in a way that looks natural.
When you’re happy with how the front side of the awning fabric looks, flip it over and repeat the same steps on the other side. Flatten air bubbles and pockets in the tape using your hand.
What if your awning fabric hole is three feet or bigger? You can no longer use awning repair tape, as it won’t suffice for your purposes.
Instead, we’d recommend contacting your awning manufacturer (or camper manufacturer if your vehicle has original parts) and requesting they send you some replacement awning material. This will ensure a perfect match when patching up the awning.
You can always buy replacement awning online if your awning color is an easy enough match, such as a tan or beige awning with no patterns.
Now you want to take a measuring tape or ruler to determine the height and width of the tear. With fabric scissors or a knife, carefully cut your replacement awning material.
You don’t want to trim to just the height and width you measured. Add two inches to both the height and width.
This gives you a bit of extra material to work with. It’s always better to have too much material than too little. After all, you can trim down excess awning material, but you can’t make extra material appear out of thin air.
You could use awning repair tape to adhere the awning patch to the rest of the awning material, but we’d recommend glue instead, as it will make a stronger bond. A canopy glue is ideal, but Super Glue or a product like it will suffice as well.
If you’re working with glue, take your time. Heavy-duty glue like Super Glue is very tacky, so you do not want it on your skin. You also don’t want excess blobs on your awning, as the stuff will dry unappealingly.
If you’re handy with a needle and thread, your third option is to sew the awning patch onto the rest of the awning material.
After all the glue has dried, you’re ready to put your patched-up awning fabric back onto your camper.
To do this, remove the weights that were holding down the awning fabric. With a second person, roll the awning fabric up. Reattach the tag bolts and the cotter pins. Replace the awning on your camper and try it out. Is it working?
If the awning opens and closes correctly, you can consider it fixed. Now you can take your awning on your camper travels without worry!
Camper Awning Care Tips to Help Yours Last Longer
A new camper awning might set you back more than $2,500, so you want to do what you can to keep yours intact for as long as possible. Here are some best practices to help you do just that.
Follow a Regular Maintenance Routine
We really can’t stress the importance of maintenance enough.
You must inspect your camper awning at least twice per year, ideally once before the active camping season and again before you winterize your camper.
Don’t just give the awning a quick once-over, either. That doesn’t help anyone.
Don’t Use Harsh Cleaners
As your camping season wraps up for the year, it’s always a good idea to detach your awning and clean it. Just as we recommended using a simple cleaner before when patching up awning holes, that logic should apply when degreasing and de-griming the awning with other products.
If the chemicals in the cleaner are too harsh, you could degrade the fabric. Maybe it doesn’t rip right away, but over continued use, that’s exactly what it will do.
Always Allow Your Awning to Fully Dry
Here’s a very important tip for the long-term care of your awning. Whether you’re cleaning it, or the awning sat out on the rain, you must allow the entire thing to dry before you roll it back up.
If you don’t, then the hot, dark, wet conditions will create the perfect environment for mold and/or mildew to thrive. The next time you unfurl your camper awning, you’ll notice black or white streaks across the once-appealing canvas.
Sure, you can scrub mold or mildew off your awning, but this often requires exposing the canvas to harsh chemicals. We just mentioned how that’s not the best idea for the long-term care of your awning.
Patch Up Holes When They’re Small
You only have 24 hours in a day, and that often means prioritizing certain camper tasks over others.
One task you should not put off is repairing holes in the awning material when they’re still under three feet in size.
As we discussed earlier, repairing small holes is a lot less time-intensive. You don’t need extra awning material, just some repair tape. This tape is cheap enough too, so it’s benefitting your wallet.
Take the time to fix those holes while they’re still just a few inches or feet in diameter. Once they grow, you’re in for a much bigger investment of time and money to patch up your awning.
Towing your camper anywhere when the awning is broken is a poor idea. The awning can unfurl or even fly off your camper and hit another motorist (the awning is spring-loaded!). What you should do is detach the awning from your vehicle and patch it up if you’re comfortable. If not, then let a mechanic repair your awning.
Stay safe out there!