Most RV Water Pumps Can Run Dry Without Damage, Can Yours?

Off-the-grid living is one of the most freeing feelings a person can experience. While it provides a sense of adventure to live untethered to a static location, we still need and appreciate the luxuries we often take for granted. Access to running water via an RV water pump is a vital comfort we all appreciate when living on the road. 

The most common type of water pump in RVs or motorhomes are diaphragm water pumps, which can run dry without causing damage to the pump, just like a piston and peristaltic pumps. On the other hand, centrifugal, rotary vane, and gear pumps will be damaged if you run them dry.

Understanding your water pump is crucial to remote living. This article will explore the side effects of letting your pump run dry, the various types of pumps, and how to tell if your water pump is operating without water. 

If you know that you have a diaphragm water pump you won’t need to worry if it runs dry

What Happens if My RV Water Pumps Run Dry?

Water pumps enable wanderers to go entirely off the grid and not have to worry about having access to water. It distributes water to any faucet or toilet you have in your RV.

If the water flow in a faucet is getting worse and making noises or puffing out a lot of air instead of steady water flow, you most likely are running out of water, and when the water tank is empty, your water pump will try to pump up air and “run dry.”

Unless your RV pump is built to run without any water, you should shut it off and troubleshoot the issue. If you let your pump run dry for too long, you risk causing irreversible damage or diminishing the pump’s efficiency. 

Even if you have a water pump that is made to be able to run dry, it is still not advisable to run it dry for an extended time since, after a while, that could cause tears to those types of pumps as well.

Since all RV water pumps will run dry when you are out of water most RVs have diaphragm waterpumps that can handle it and you won’t need to worry.

What Does It Mean When My Pump Runs Dry? 

If your pump is running without a sufficient amount of liquid in the pump, it’s considered to be “running dry.” If you let your RV pump run dry for too long, it can lead to overheating, surges in pressure, and overall damage to the pump. 

How To Tell Your RV Pump Needs Water

If you experience any of these signs, your RV pump is likely running dry. 

  • The pump is noisier than usual.
  • The water pump is leaking.
  • The water pressure is weaker than usual or fluctuates. 
  • Water is not being distributed to your faucets.

The Consequences of Letting Your RV Pump Operate With No Water 

While it’s true that letting your pump run without water running through it for a short time is generally not damaging, you should avoid making a habit of this or letting it run dry for too long. 

Over time, allowing your RV pump to operate without any water can lead to considerable damage and poor performance. The lack of liquid puts undue stress on the rest of the pump and can damage the components. The water acts as a temperature moderator and dampens the force of the operation of the pump. When you take water out of this equation, it can exacerbate these factors. 

The lack of liquid running through the pump means your RV water pump is just pushing around the air inside the system. This can lead to a build-up of friction and add to the wear and tear on your pump. Here’s an overview of the types of damage that can occur from dry running your pump: 

  • Housing damage: Due to the force and friction generated heat, the casing on your pump will become damaged over time. This will manifest as pressure leaks or housing deformation due to excessive heat. 
  • Impeller damage: The impeller is a rotor component that facilitates the flow of water through your RV pump. Heat and force can cause this part to melt, leading to diminished performance and damage to the internal system. 
  • System contamination: This type of damage will accrue over time and includes a few factors. The source of this issue is the heat and wear on the system put forth by the extra force generated by a dry pump. The wear and tear can break small metal particles loose that can clog your pump system and cause even more damage. 

My Water Pump Is Dry: What Do I Do?

Your water tank is likely empty if your water pump is running dry. You’ll need to find a rest stop or a campsite where you can refill your water tank.

The cost and place of refilling your tanks will depend on where you’re located. For example, many water refill stations are free in Europe. In contrast, a campsite or pump station may charge you a fixed price for a certain amount of water in both the United States and Europe.

When the water tank is filled up again, you should be able to open up your faucets. The pump will begin to pump water through the system again; if you, on the other hand, would have a pump that cannot run dry, you would need to manually fill up the pump with water first for it to be able to start pumping water again.

How To Tell if Your RV Pump Operates With or Without Water

Whether or not it’s safe for your RV water pump to run dry depends on the style of the pump. For example, diaphragm, piston, and peristaltic pumps can work without water running through them

On the other hand, centrifugal, rotary vane, and gear pumps will be easily damaged if you run them dry. They are susceptible to damage from heat build-up and higher than-normal force. 

How To Prevent Your RV Pump From Running Dry

The best way to prevent this is to regularly check your water tank levels to ensure they aren’t low on water. But since most RV water pumps can handle running dry, it is not that big of an issue.

You can also keep a few gallons of reserve water just in case you get stuck on the road with a low water supply. It’s a good idea to be aware of where the next water refill station is located and how much of a supply of water you have before you make it to that stop. 

Final Thoughts

A water pump can be a lifesaver when you don’t have access to other water sources. Still, most people don’t know the basics of caring for their pumps. Look up what type of water pump you have; most likely, it will not be damaged when it runs dry.

If you want to be successful living on the road, always be aware of your water levels, the next refill station, and how to tell if your pump is running dry. 

Rikard Adamsson

Hello! My name is Rikard Adamsson; I am the creator of I live full-time in my motorhome, and right now, I am traveling through Europe the right way, without campsites; yes, wild camping and being off the grid works excellent even in a real beauty from 1996. I have done a lot of rebuilding and upgrades. I am happy to share my experiences with everything regarding motorhomes, RVs, or caravans with you here at

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