Electric Step Motor

Disclaimer: This page describes repairs I have made to various RVs in the hope that it will help others with similar problems. I am not a professional RV technician and I make no claims about the correctness, efficacy, or side-effects of the repairs described here. I won't be responsible for the results of any attempt to use the information on this page.

Kwikee Step Motor Problems

Used properly and lubricated often, I think these steps will work for a long, long time. Unfortunately, not all of us are so careful. I know people who never lubricate their electric steps and I know many more who lubricate them, but miss a number of critical lube points or don't lubricate them often enough.

You'll often hear the recommendation of using WD-40 as a lubricant of the steps. I've never been fond of WD-40 for this. It's formulated to penetrate and loosen frozen threads. In my experience, it doesn't last very long and it's messy. A much better choice, in my opinion, is KwikLube aerosol grease. It sprays on as a penetrating liquid, but turns to a long-lasting solid grease. Less expensive versions are available at Ace hardware from Liquid Wrench, Dupont, and CRC.

Other users have recommended Teflon spray lube (also available at Ace hardware), but I think the grease lasts longer.

Have the steps moving in and out as you spray, and be sure to lube every pivot point and the friction points where the arms cross one another. When you're done spraying, let the grease solidify for a few minutes, then wipe off any excess. Don't forget to lubricate the mounts and ends of the long rotating rod that runs from side to side under the top step.

There's a great video on lubricating the steps here.

Another hard lesson I've learned about these steps is that you don't want to be stepping on them while they're still moving — especially if you weigh over 200 pounds. It's easy to do. You're driving down the road after filling the tank, for example, and you remember that you forgot to put the gas cap back on. You pull over and dash out the door, landing on the steps before they are fully extended. Or you're lining up the RV in a campsite and need to jump out to see just how close you are to that tree and do the same thing.

If you listen closely, you might hear the motor groaning as it tries to move both you and the steps at the same time. Unfortunately, the gears in the motor are plastic and it doesn't take much extra weight to strip them. Once that happens, the motor will make all kinds of weird noises and the steps may only go out part of the way or may move in an out in confusion. At that point, it's time for a new motor. If you're on the road when it happens, the steps may not lock in their retracted position and you'll need to put a bungee around them before going any further.

Diagnosis

First, try opening and closing the door with the RV motor running. If that solves the problem, you may just have old or discharged coach batteries. Make sure that you have 12V power in the coach — if not, you may just have the 12V power in storage mode (turned off). That's controlled by a rocker switch somewhere in the coach. It may be above the door or in a nearby cabinet, or it may be near your gauges.

If the steps don't move at all, ever, you have 12V power in the coach, and you hear no noise from the step motor, the first thing to check is the reed switch and magnet on the door. The steps know to open or close because a magnet on the door opens or closes the reed switch on the door frame. If the magnet has fallen off or moved significantly, that's your problem. If that's not it, you may need a new reed switch, a stronger magnet, or a new controller, though these are not a common problems. Make sure the power plug at the step motor is plugged in and making good contact (wiggle it a little to see if that makes a difference, but keep your body parts away from the steps when you do this!). If none of that helps, you can pull the plug and check the power in the plug with a voltmeter while opening and closing the door. If there's no power, the problem may be with the reed switch or the step controller.

If steps move, but don't extend fully with the RV motor running, it's probably *not* a low battery. It could be that the gears are stripped on the motor (they're plastic), so it only extends to where the bad spot is on the gears. If you can hear the motor spinning when the steps are stopped, that's likely the problem. You could still have a bad controller, but in my experience, that's the least likely possibility.

Before messing with the motor or the controller, the first thing to check is the steps themselves. The motor stops when there's too much strain on it (that's how it knows to stop at full in or out). Try lubricating the steps well (see above) at all the moving joints and see if they move in and out if you help them — if so, they may be binding

It's not unusual for the steps to hit a curb or some other object and get bent to one side. That makes them bind and stop. Sometimes, with a little muscle, you can bend them back so they're perpendicular to the RV and they work again.


Many rigs with Kwikee steps have a lighted switch near the door. When the light is off, the steps will open and close with the door. When the light is on and the RV's engine is off, they will stay open all the time once extended. In theory, they are always in when the RV's engine is running but don't count on it. I've heard many reports of steps hitting curbs, cars, rocks, and most often, traffic cones.

On my rig, if you close the door with the red light on (and the steps out), then start the engine, then turn off the light, the steps stay out. Always check your steps before driving off.


The next logical move is to check the freedom of movement of the steps.

The best way to check is to pull the pin out on the gear linkage (you'll have to do that anyway to pull the motor) and see if the steps move freely in and out with the motor unattached (disconnect the power plug at the motor first and watch out when you pull the pin because the steps can move quickly and it's easy to get a finger caught). Make a note of which way the pin goes because it's not symmetrical.

If the steps move freely with the linkage disconnected, you probably need a new motor, though some people have reported success with just rotating the white plastic gear 180 degrees inside the motor so that the bad spot never gets used. You will need a pair of snap ring pliers to get at the white plastic gear. Look closely at the gear. One side will have a half-round indentation from being stripped — that's the bad side. If there is any visible wear on the good side, reversing it isn't going to work. I have never been able to locate the correct gear for mine. I even took it to an auto electric shop that rebuilds lift motors and they were stumped. You may be lucky enough to find one for yours.

Check the metal gear that contacts the gears inside the linkage. I've seen them with both 9 and 12 teeth. If you get a motor with the wrong number of teeth, don't panic. You can usually move the correct gears from the old motor to the new one.

Replacement Motor

The control unit for the steps is a solid-state unit that has no moving parts and very seldom fails. Almost all erratic step behavior is caused by a bad motor. The good news is that the step motor is fairly inexpensive and easy to replace. Here's a picture of the control unit on mine:


Step Motor Control Unit

On many Kwikee steps, the motor is the same as the driver's-door electric window motor on a 1996 Ford Taurus. Many of the motors are made by Dorman and if yours is a Dorman, you should be able to find it if you click here and compare yours carefully with the Dorman models to get the right one at any good auto parts store (a number of RVers reported buying them at Auto Zone — note, though, that you can't trust AutoZone's online indication of whether the part is in stock at any particular store).

The motor on my 2006 Bounder was made by AM Equipment and I found it online here. I was able to call the factory at (541) 327-1546 and they were kind enough to ship me one at a very reasonable price (more than $100 less than Camping World quoted me for the same part).

There is a really handy guide to identify your steps Here. This will help you identify not only your steps, but the motor they require. I'm not sure about this, but I think there are only two possibilities depending on whether your steps have an IMGL controller (triangular and made after late 2005) or not. You can often find an appropriate motor on Amazon or eBay.

Replacing the Motor

There is a fairly elaborate discussion, with photos, on removing and replacing the motor here. Frankly, I found the job much simpler than the description there suggests. I think the poster replaced just the motor without replacing the plastic gears. The parts pictured in the links above all come with the combined motor and gear unit. They probably cost a little more than the motor alone, but it is usually the gears that are causing the trouble and, IMO, you might as well change everything while you're down there.

It's worth mentioning how the steps actually work. The control unit senses, via the resistance, how much work the motor is doing at any given time. When the load increases enough, the unit assumes that the steps are fully in or out and shuts off the motor. This means that there's nothing critical about the position of any of the parts as long as the gears mesh (and you won't get the motor fully in unless they do).

Replacing the motor/gear unit is very simple. After having done it before, I can now remove or replace the motor in less than 20 minutes. There are only a few important things to remember:

  • Pull the power plug out of the motor first (with the steps extended) before doing anything else.
  • With the motor removed, the steps will swing freely, so keep your body parts out of the way.
  • Always keep the motor right-side up (the way it is when in place) because there are some parts that will fall off otherwise

Here's a picture of the motor in place. Yours may look slightly different:


Kwikee Electric Step Motor

The first step is to remove the plastic wire tie that holds the power wires in place (shown in the picture just to the left of the AM logo). I found that I could just slide mine off the end of the motor, but you may have to cut yours and replace it when the new motor is in.

Next, carefully pull out the power cord where it plugs into the motor (underneath the lower part of the plastic tie in the photo). Pull only on the plastic connector, not the wires. The plastic connector has a snap that holds it in place, your fingers or a small screwdriver can be used to release it. Once the plug is out, there is no power to the motor.

Take out the three or four bolts that hold the motor in place. They are gold-colored in the photo above. When you do the last one, be careful to keep the motor from falling. Keep it right-side up or the the gear, the gear post, and the washers under it will fall off.

Set the old motor next to the new one. If the new one doesn't have a gear, gear post, and washers, you'll have to move them from the old motor. Be sure to get everything in the same order. You may want to clean them before moving them. The two washers go between the motor and the gear.

There is a round pin that fits into the Linkage frame. This pin also goes into the gear. At the bottom of the gear goes the connector from the motor (square with rounded ends). Both Washers need to go on this motor connector. They prop up the gear and separate it from the motor (thanks to Gerhard Waterkamp for this description).

I put some white lithium grease on the parts as I put them in the new motor. I also added some grease to the plastic gears below.

Put the new motor back in the hole. You may need to move the steps slightly to get the gears to line up. Then replace the bolts, the power plug (making sure it snaps in), and the plastic wire tie.

Some people like to pull the cotter pin and the bushing it holds in place shown at the bottom the picture below. I didn't find it necessary. If you do, make a note of which way the bushing goes in because it's not symmetrical.


Step Motor Cotter Pin

That's all there is to it. I did mine in about an hour the first time and the motor has been working perfectly for almost two years.

Other Kwikee step parts

There's a site here with a lot of different Kwikee step parts. They have motors, control units, and the steps themselves — all with pictures.

Thank you for visiting BobsGuides.com

  —  Bob Ray