Significant growth in the automatic pool cover market means that you’ll likely encounter them more often on the route.

Because covers keep dirt and debris out of the pool and allow chlorine residuals to last longer — thereby making your job easier — you’ll want to do all you can to keep these service allies in tip-top condition.

Here are some repair tips from experts to help you keep your customers’ automatic covers in peak operating condition, and help grow your bottom line as well.

1. Cover won’t open/close.

The most common problem with automatic covers is that they won’t open or close. When this happens, cover experts say the first thing to check is the motor and all its connections.

Often these issues can be settled over the phone by asking clients a few questions and having them perform a few simple tasks. A common culprit could be a tripped GFCI or breaker. Some of the motors have reset buttons on them that need to be checked as well.

Having customers inspect these while you’re on the phone with them could save you a house call and save the client some money. Many times, it’s simply a matter of pushing a button.

If the breakers or reset button don’t start the motor, techs should make a house call and look over the motor’s internal connections.

The first thing to do is disconnect the key switch and then touch its wires together to jump-start it, experts say. If it turns on, then it’s getting power. Next, follow the line up to see if there is a bad wire.

If the key switch doesn’t turn on, then it’s time to check the amperage with a multimeter to see if power is even getting to the motor. If not, the problem may be with the power lines, and the electric company may need to be notified. However, if power is getting through and the motor still won’t operate, it’s time to replace the motor.

One test that techs can attempt is to try to turn the motor shaft by hand. If you can’t turn it by hand, electricity won’t be able to turn it either. It may be seized up from water damage, which is typically caused by drain-pit flooding. Flooding occurs when the owner fails to clean off the cover before opening it, dumping all the debris in the pit and clogging the drains.

More recently, manufacturers have been making submersible motors that won’t break down if they get wet. But even that can’t save every motor from water damage.

Experts recommend letting the motor dry out before attempting to work it again. If it has been dried and still doesn’t work, it probably needs to be replaced.

Another possibility for a stubborn automatic cover may be a broken shear pin or, for newer covers, a slipped clutch. Both are used to prevent a cover from putting pressure on the system if it malfunctions. A shear pin is designed to break if the gearing system, which engages the rope reels, has too much pressure as it works back and forth.

It’s important to find out what caused the shear pin to break, or it’s likely to happen again and again. Sometimes the pin breaks just from normal wear and tear. But a broken pin also is a sign that something else could be problematic. Excess water on the cover, dirt in the tracks and pulleys, or the cover being forced in some way will make a pin snap.

Another cause could be the cover itself. It could just be old and there may not be enough slack to operate it anymore due to shrinkage.

A slipped clutch performs a function similar to that of a shear pin. But rather than breaking, it slips and prevents the cover from operating farther. A broken pin or a slipped clutch also can cause a motor to make loud grinding noises.

Sometimes a cover opens in a jerky manner. This may eventually lead to it not working at all. The culprit behind the unsteady movement is dirty tracks. To clear them, take a hose with a high-pressure nozzle and flush the debris from the tracks.

Another reason an automatic cover won’t move could be a problem with its pulley and/or ropes. If you discover one of the ropes has broken, repairing it isn’t that difficult, especially if you have some basic sewing skills.

To repair a broken rope, remove the cover from the pool. Then, 1 foot from the front edge of the cover, pull out the stitches that hold in the rope. Seam rippers and box cutters work well for this job. Cut off the rope at that point. Insert the new rope and resew the stitches back together.

When the rope isn’t the troublemaker, it’s often the pulley. The bearings frequently wear out — and bad pulleys can result in broken ropes.

2. Out of alignment.  

If the motor, ropes and pulleys seem to be in good working order, alignment may be to blame. Ropes can expand over time. Or they can get tweaked slightly and fall out of alignment.

To fix the problem, techs suggest loosening or applying more brake on the rope wheels depending on the situation, or tying or freeing up a tension spring. This helps adjust the ropes to the wheels, so they pull on both at the same time.

Another reason for a cover “running out of square” is a buildup of dirt and grime in the cover’s tracks. To solve this problem,  flush the debris from the tracks. Techs recommend that this should be done at least twice a year, especially in areas with high winds or where the landscape is not complete.

If the cover is in good shape and its tracks are clear, the problem may be something more ominous: a bad installation. A slightly misshapen rectangular pool, for example, will cause the cover to operate irregularly.

Techs should recheck all the track measurements; it must be a perfect rectangle. If you don’t have one, you can never make the cover run completely straight. In an underdeck system in which the tracks are mounted on a large rectangle, the pool walls need to be similar in size as well.

How can that problem be fixed? The pool itself needs to be corrected. Otherwise, you’re trying to make it work in a situation that it’s not designed for.

3. Tears and holes. 

Ripping and tearing are some of the most common cover problems. This is usually due to unnecessary stress from water weight, or people walking across the surface.

Holes also can be caused by chemical damage. A lower pH level not only bleaches the underside of the cover, but it also can take the elasticity out of the fabric and shorten its life.

If you’re going to work on automatic covers — any kind of cover, for that matter — it’s important to keep a patch kit on your truck. While big tears likely mean having to replace the cover, small and modest-sized holes are easily fixed. Smaller rips can be repaired by applying a glue patch. You just clean the surface, put the glue on the cover, some glue on the patch, and push it down.

A couple of other options: Sew the patch on or do a vinyl weld. If the cover fabric is appropriate for a welding repair, it will require a heat gun, handled by a trained technician. The fabric around the tear is heated until it turns to a gel-like substance. A liquid vinyl is applied to the area until the hole is gone. It can then be air-brushed with an opaque pigment to blend in with the original fabric color. Vinyl welds usually are requested by high-end clients or owners of relatively new covers.

4. Lack of knowledge.

Educating pool owners about the proper ways to maintain and operate automatic covers is the key to avoiding many problems. Experts advise instructing customers about the do’s and don’ts of automatic cover operation after installation. Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Maintain pool water at a proper level. Low levels may prevent the cover from operating.
  • Pump excess water off the cover before opening it. Extra weight may cause a strain or rips in the ropes.
  • Clear debris off the pump and out of the drains. Do not flood the drain or motor damage may occur.
  • Do not force an automatic cover to open if it won’t.
  • A cover is not designed to be a walkway from one side of the pool to another. The product is strong enough to withstand the weight in an emergency situation, but extra pressure may cause strain.

Service techs should check on automatic covers about twice a year. They need to make sure that the systems are running smoothly and properly, the ropes aren’t frayed and the pulleys are turning. A drain should be monitored regularly as well.
Installations also should be serviced for strength and durability as they age.