When your RV is plugged in, 120-volt alternating current (AC) can run appliances and small electronics. Just like in your home, circuit breakers control AC power and allow you to plug in safely.
But what happens when power outlets or specific appliances stop working? Troubleshooting RV circuit breakers may only be part of the solution, but it’s an important piece when troubleshooting your RV’s entire electrical system.
The video above shows you how to troubleshoot electrical issues associated with pulling too much power, like tripped breakers or blown fuses, and how to fix them. Below, we’ll go into more detail about RV circuit breakers, how they operate, and how to troubleshoot them.
Understanding AC versus DC Power in your RV
Before you dive into circuit breaker troubleshooting, it’s essential to understand how RV electrical works. Here’s a short video introduction:
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Understanding your RV’s Amperage
Most RVs are equipped with 30 or 50-amp electrical service. You can find this specification for your RV in your owner’s manual. Here’s a little more about 30-amp versus 50-amp RVs:
Understanding your RV’s Electrical Distribution Panel
Now that you have a basic understanding of RV electrical systems, it’s time to decipher what you’re looking at in your electrical distribution panel. If you have a used RV, hopefully your distribution panel is properly labeled, but this isn’t always the case for used and new RVs. Pro tip: If your panel isn’t labeled, take the time to label it because it will save you time when troubleshooting future issues.
To troubleshoot circuit breaker issues, you’ll need to know which breakers provide power protection for the different appliances of your RV. If your breaker panel isn’t labeled, consult your owner’s manual for electrical specifications that will help you label it appropriately.
How Does an RV Circuit Breaker Work?
An AC circuit breaker is a protective device that opens when excessive current flows in the circuit. By opening, it interrupts current flow, and this is commonly known as “tripping” the breaker.
The tripping mechanism is enclosed in a molded plastic case with the breaker’s rating (in amps) stamped or molded into the handle. AC breakers must be manually reset to restore current to their associated RV appliances and outlets.
How to Check RV Circuit Breakers for AC
If a breaker is tripping, it’s important to check how many amps are flowing through the circuit after you reset it to make sure the circuit is not overloaded.
To test a circuit breaker, you’ll need a clamp meter that reads AC and DC amps, volts, and ohms. This allows you to clamp around a single wire to read amps without placing the meter in series.
With a digital multimeter (DMM) or voltmeter, you’d have to connect the meter in series, which limits your amp reading to the meter’s fuse rating, which is usually only 10 amps. By clamping around a single wire instead of connecting in parallel, a clamp meter allows you to test higher amperages.
Here are some quick testing tips:
- Plug your RV into a 30 or 50-amp power pedestal.
- Set your clamp meter to the volts AC setting.
- Make sure the breaker is in the ON position.
- Place one test lead on the neutral bus bar and the other on the black wire attached to the breaker being tested.
- Your meter should read approximately 120 volts AC, indicating a closed breaker allowing current to flow.
- If your meter reads 0 volts AC, the breaker is open.
- Change the clamp meter to the AC amps setting.
- Clamp around the black wire attached to the breaker being tested.
- With associated loads or appliances in use, the amp reading should be less than the amp rating of the breaker being tested.
If you get a reading that’s considerably less than 120 VAC out of a breaker after verifying you have 120 VAC in the main breaker supplying power, you may need to replace your breaker.
You can also power the breaker off, unplug your RV’s shore power cord, and remove the breaker from the circuit. With it removed, you can set your DMM to the Ohms setting and test for continuity to see if the breaker is good or needs to be replaced.
Troubleshooting GFCI Receptacles
RVs have another form of circuit breaker known as GFCI receptacles. These look like standard 120 VAC receptacles, but they are built with ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection to shut the circuit down if they sense a fault current.
RVs must have GFCI-protected receptacles in the bathroom, on the exterior, and within six feet of any sink. If a GFCI receptacle is tripped, unplug any electronics in that receptacle and use the Reset button (typically marked with an ‘R’) to restore power.
If you wish to test receptacles downstream from the GFCI-protected receptacle, you’ll need a device known as a circuit tester. It plugs into downstream receptacles and has a test button that should trip the upstream GFCI receptacle if the system is functioning properly. If it doesn’t trip, it usually signals a defective or miswired GFCI receptacle.
Other Potential Issues with RV Circuit Breakers
Suppose your circuit breakers and GFCI receptacles are all functioning properly, and you’re still experiencing a lack of power to certain RV appliances. In that case, there are a few other issues to check:
- Blown 12-volt DC fuses. Many new RVs are equipped with distribution panel indicator LED lights that light up if the fuse is blown and there’s a load on the circuit. The best way to be certain if a fuse is blown is to remove it and inspect it visually. Blown fuses must always be replaced with fuses of the same rating.
- Unreliable shore power. You should always use a surge protector when plugging into a power pedestal at an RV park. This will alert you to power issues like low voltage and protect your RV’s electrical system from damage.
- Faulty wiring connections. Even some new RVs experience wiring issues from the moment they roll off the factory lines. If you suspect a wiring issue, contact your local Camping World for professional assistance.
RV electrical systems can be somewhat confusing to new RVers. While we encourage everyone to learn more about their RVs, you can always come into a Camping World Service Center and have a certified RV technician troubleshoot circuit breakers and other electrical issues for you.
If you’re curious about how frequently you should be servicing RV components, check out our downloadable RV ownership and maintenance booklet!
Do you have any specific questions about troubleshooting RV circuit breakers? Share them in the comments below!