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I was having similar problems. I created a table and tweaked it until I knew it was working, then copied the code out of the TrueCode pane and into a text file. Now every time I put a table in my help, I use the same table template (it helps that I have a standard look-and-feel for tables I have to use).
The only way I have found to reliably fix tables once they're broken is to delete them completely and replace them with working table code.
RH has some built in tables and how to add to those is described on my site. However they don't hold formatting information or any standard text. Stewart's method is one way. Another is to have a topic with a tag called Hidden and exclude it from all builds. Otherwise use something like Macro Express or BKReplaceEm to write the code for you in a similar way to Word's autotext.
UPDATE. The hidden topic of course holds examples of the tables you want.
I have a hidden topic called Snippets - hidden by a build tag excluded from the output. Snippets contains blank table formats I use - there are a couple different table setups in my Help doc. The tables are configured with the correct borders, text styles, padding, indent, column header style - I just copy and paste to a new topic and fill in the cells.
My snippets topic also contains commonly used instruction and other content that I use again and again. Even button images that I have added alt text to - I copy and paste from this Snippets topic so that I don't have to type the alt text each time.
Not only does this save time, but all these snippets are there in the eventuality that someone else takes over this task at my company. If you store content externally you can't be sure it will move on to others who may need it.