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Troubleshooting RV electrical systems isn’t as complex as you might imagine. You’ll need a basic understanding of AC and DC power, the ability to operate a volt meter, and the know-how to understand your volt meter’s readings.
But there are various electrical issues that require different troubleshooting approaches. So let’s provide overviews of those components and some basic electrical troubleshooting tips for common RV electrical problems.
Disclaimer: Working on RV electrical systems can be hazardous. If you’re not comfortable with any of the testing methods below, contact a Camping World Service Center to schedule a diagnostic appointment today.
Understanding AC and DC Power
Your RV’s electrical appliances derive power from shore power (AC) or your coach batteries (DC). Your microwave and air conditioner usually require AC power, but your water pump, refrigerator, and vent fans can operate using 12-volt DC power.
AC stands for ‘alternating current’ and DC stands for ‘direct current’.
RVs offer AC and DC power so they can provide electricity in a multitude of environments. They can operate when plugged into a power pedestal in an RV park or campground (AC) while still being operational from 12-volt batteries in a boondocking area without full hookups.
Understanding 30 Amp versus 50 Amp RV Power
Shore power requires plugging into a 30 or 50-amp power pedestal using the appropriate RV power cord and surge protector. Depending on your RV’s make and model, you’ll typically require a 30-amp or 50-amp electrical service.
- 30-amp power cords have three prongs.
- 50-amp power cords have four prongs.
Looking at your RV’s power cord is the easiest way to determine your required electrical connection. It’s possible to run a 50-amp RV using a 30-amp service with limited functionality (i.e. larger appliances with high amperage draw may not work efficiently). But the opposite is not the case.
Troubleshooting Circuit Breakers
Modern RVs have a circuit breaker panel that separates your RV’s electronic components onto different circuits. Your owner’s manual is your best guide to which specific breakers and fuses correspond to your RV’s various electronics and appliances.
Sometimes, a tripped circuit breaker or a blown fuse is the case for an RV appliance to stop working. Checking for tripped breakers is essential in troubleshooting your RV’s electrical system. If a breaker is tripped, it’s usually a sign that the corresponding circuit has been overloaded.
So, you’ll need to evaluate which appliances or electronics are connected to that circuit. And you may need to unplug a few to avoid tripping that breaker again.
Troubleshooting Electrical Outlets
Your RV’s electrical outlets require AC power for you to plug in small electronics and appliances. If you can’t find an issue with your power source, fuses, or circuit breakers, the individual GFCI electrical outlets that make up your RV’s 120-volt system may need to be tested.
When plugged into shore power or a portable generator, your outlets should supply roughly 120 volts of AC power. If you plug in and aren’t getting power, your first step is to check the RESET button on the outlet.
If that button isn’t depressed, the circuit is open and will not provide power to anything that’s plugged in. So your solution may be as simple as pressing that button to reset the outlet and close the circuit.
Troubleshooting RV Converters and RV Inverters
RV converters and inverters supply safe electrical current to your RV’s appliances. They allow you to use DC appliances when plugged into AC power (converters) or AC appliances when you rely on your coach’s DC batteries (inverters).
Converters are usually located next to your RV’s fuse panel and circuit breakers. When they aren’t working properly, you’ll typically notice dimming lights, decreased vent fan speed, or your RV batteries may struggle to hold a charge.
But if you suspect your RV converter or inverter might be bad, there are tests you can use to verify your suspicions before you contact a Camping World Service Center.
Troubleshooting RV Batteries
Learning everything you need to know about RV batteries can seem daunting. But they really aren’t as complex as you think. There are three main types: flooded, lithium, and absorbent glass mat (AGM).
Flooded batteries are still standard on most RVs and travel trailers, but AGM batteries require less off-season maintenance and offer a higher depth of discharge. Lithium batteries are considered the next revolution for high-performance RV batteries.
Currently, they require unique charge systems that aren’t standard in many recreational vehicles. Unless your RV is equipped with a compatible battery management system, you won’t be able to swap directly from a flooded or AGM battery to a lithium battery.
Testing your battery’s charge is a big part of troubleshooting your RV’s 12-volt system. But if you determine your battery is good, you may also need to test your RV’s charging system.
Maintaining Battery Life
Minimizing appliance usage, utilizing rechargeable solar lanterns or flashlights, or installing solar panels to trickle charge your battery during the day are all good tips to help you avoid fully discharging your RV battery.
If you’re interested in upgrading your RV batteries, learn more about lithium:
Knowing how to troubleshoot your RV’s electrical system will give you peace of mind. But it will also help you provide service technicians with accurate information if you need to take your RV in for repairs.
Providing accurate technical information can aid the technician’s diagnosis and help them identify the issue more quickly. Ultimately, this leads to your RV spending less time in the shop and you waiting less before you can get back on the road.
What other questions do you have about RV electrical systems and troubleshooting? Leave us a comment below!