An RV is a ‘home on the wheels’, which means having all the amenities of home when you are camping on the road. You run many electronic devices and appliances including lights, air conditioner, TV, refrigerator, and other machinery on a daily basis. As they run on electricity, you have to face various common RV electrical problems during your journey.
An electrical issue could be overwhelming for those who have no prior experience in electrical work. Well, we’re going to discuss various electrical problems and how to troubleshoot them so you can be prepared for the next blown fuse or malfunctioning power supply.
- Understanding an RV’s Electrical Systems
- Common RV Electrical Problems and Troubleshooting
- Minor RV Electrical Issues
- RV Electrical Issues: Things You Should NEVER Do
Understanding an RV’s Electrical Systems
An RV has more than one electrical system, of which you should have a basic understanding to solve the electrical problems.
A motorhome or camper has three electrical systems that work together to keep all the electronics up and running.
RV 12-Volt System
Drawing power from RV deep-cycle batteries, this system runs all components compatible with a 12V system. It supplies power to 12V lights, leveling jacks, slide-outs, freshwater pump, and the circuit board for all the appliances. These batteries receive their charge from a converter (known as an inverter) that converts 120V to 12V.
Chassis 12-Volt System
This system draws power from chassis batteries to operate the exterior RV lights, stoplights, and turn signals. A 7-way pin connector attached to the tow vehicle supplies the power when it’s a trailer or fifth wheel. Batteries connected to an alternator are the power source when it’s a motorized camper.
House 120-Volt System
This system is similar to the one you have in your home. It supplies power to the high-power electrical devices such as the air conditioner, RV microwave oven, electrical outlets on the walls, and other accessories run on a 120V system.
The 120V system runs on AC power. The source of this power is generators or an electrical outlet in the campground or other places. A power control panel distributes the electricity to the 120V appliances and outlets in the RV.
On the other hand, the 12V systems run on DC power, which comes from batteries. The from these batteries to your appliances is supplied through a 12V fuse panel.
Common RV Electrical Problems and Troubleshooting
The major electrical problems involve any of these four issues mentioned below:
- Fuses and breakers
- The 12-volt systems
- The power source
- Appliance current draws
These issues occur because of loose electrical connections, regular wear and tear, and rundown appliances. Here’s how to find the issues and troubleshooting RV electrical problems.
1# Fuses and Breakers
Issues with breakers and fuses are some of the most common RV electrical problems. Older campers have fuses while breakers are an addition to the newer units. A blown fuse or a tripped breaker means that something else in the RV is not working properly. For example, it can happen due to a sudden electrical surge or when an appliance runs in an unsafe mode.
Breakers can malfunction even with no wire or appliance acting up. If they trip too many times, they lose their ability to function properly, which is staying closed when electricity flows.
Any fuse- and breaker-related problems can be solved by changing the fuse or resetting the breaker. Sometimes, a Ground Fault Indicator can stop working as a safety measure. You need to reset it to bring everything back to order.
Don’t replace the fuse or breaker with a higher-rated one because it will not be compatible with the appliances and electrical load.
2# The 12V Systems
An issue with this system can affect many appliances dependent on it. It may not work properly for various reasons including blown or loose fuse, tripped breaker, loose breaker connections, loose connections to DC batteries.
Two other reasons could be an undercharged battery or inadequate water level in the batteries. The converter could be the center of these problems too. The converter connections could be loose or one or two of its fuses could be blown out.
If none of these components show any trouble, it could be a bad converter. In that case, hire a professional for repairing or replacing it.
3# Outside Power Sources
Any problem with the outside power source at a campsite will create issues with the electrical accessories in the RV. The power supply should not fluctuate as the accessories will not run properly when the current flow is low and will fail or blow out when the current flow is too much. An excessive power supply can also melt down the RV’s power outlets and wires.
Other reasons for a fluctuated power supply are corroded connections, faulty wiring, and incorrect grounding. It’s the responsibility of the campsite management to ensure the supply of uninterrupted power at the correct amount.
Using a surge protector will save you from these unwanted hassles but be sure to purchase a high-quality device to curb the voltage spikes efficiently. The motorhome already has surge protection facilities. The main AC breaker trips off when it detects an unusually high amount of electricity flow. The breaker panel also has separate breakers for individual appliances and systems.
However, an RV surge protector is still a better option because it offers a quicker reaction time to voltage changes than a regular breaker. These few seconds of difference are crucial in protecting of sophisticated devices.
4# Appliance Current Draws
The common RV electrical problems stemming from the 120V power system should not be dealt with if you are not a certified electrician. However, you can check on the appliances to see if they are drawing more power than necessary.
For example, a 13,500 to 15,000 BTU air conditioner draws 12 to 14 amps of current when starting up and then at 5 to 8 amps during its operation. Depending on the size, make, and model, a microwave oven can draw 8 to 13 amps and water heater 11 to 13 amps.
To calculate the current draws of an individual appliance, find out its power rating in watts. Then, divide this number by 120 and you will get its power drawing rate in amps.
Minor RV Electrical Issues
Hiring professional help is the right thing to handle common RV electrical problems. If you are not a certified electrician, we don’t recommend you handle any of the major problems mentioned above. Although many people can change fuses, reset breakers, and refill a battery’s water level because of having previous experiences.
Anything involves electrical repairs poses the risk of damaging the rig and self-injury. But anyone can possibly take care of these minor issues without serious intervention:
Replacing the circuit breaker’s push-button or switch. A breaker has a couple of switches that may stop working sometimes. Replacing them is a simple task that anyone can do.
External electrical outlets. You will find them all across the interior of your motorhome. They become loose often and therefore stop working. Replace them with outlets of same size.
Setting up new batteries. Another straightforward task that does not require much skill. Battery changing is required for various reasons such as when upgrading from a generator system to RV solar panel units. Lithium-ion batteries are easy to set up despite requiring a few more components.
RV Electrical Issues: Things You Should NEVER Do
Learning about the major and minor common RV electrical problems may have given you the confidence to do some DIY repairs. However, you should be cautious and follow safety procedures when dealing with electronics and electrical systems.
Be careful about these safety measures:
- If changing a blown fuse or resetting the breaker does not solve the issue, call for the help of electrical service. Don’t touch or open anything if you don’t know what you are doing.
- Wait for the appliances to turn off properly before switching off the main power. Sudden unplugging may damage the electronics. After the repair work is done and turning on the main power source, don’t switch all the appliances on at once, especially when the camper runs on a 30-amp power system. Doing so may also blow a fuse or two or trip the breakers.
- Running all appliances at once is always risky unless the RV draws electricity from a high-capacity source. Even if you know that the power system can handle the load, don’t turn on all electronics at once.
- Never run the air conditioner when drawing power from a 15-amp outlet, not even when using an adapter. It will just ruin the wiring.
- Always check the power source when plugging your RV to a campsite’s electrical pedestal. You can use a voltmeter or power management device to check whether the power source has any issues.
The most common RV electrical problems are not complicated. But you should not proceed unless you know what you are doing. This is not something to sit around and watch or solve through an experimental DIY task. Don’t hesitate to take professional help if necessary.