Troubleshooting RV Electrical Systems


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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.

Here are more tips to help you understand the basics of your RV’s electrical system.

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.
Photo by Camping World

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.

Consider this in-depth guide to troubleshooting RV electrical outlets.

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.

Use these tips for troubleshooting RV converters and inverters.

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.

So check out our complete guide to RV battery and trailer light troubleshooting.

Maintaining Battery Life

Whether you’re boondocking or just traveling for several days between developed campgrounds, maintaining your RV’s battery life is important if you want it to keep working the way it was designed.

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!

  • Comment (5)
  • Shawna says:

    We have a 2016 Winnebago Minnie travel trailer. When we bought it, everything worked. Battery was new 5/2023. We had it plugged in to power but didn’t know about the battery shut off switch. Now, the battery is dead and even when plugged in to power (whether the shut off switch is on or off) nothing works. No lights, appliances, pop-out or a/c. We tested the circuit breakers, there were all getting ~DC 120 and each of the fuses (they weren’t blown) were getting AC 12. The ONLY thing that works when plugged in is the microwave and the little blue LED light on the TV (it won’t power on, but the LED light is lit). When tripping the breakers, the converter fan will run momentarily (2-3 seconds) but that’s it. What baffles me is…even if that battery is out of the camper…shouldn’t everything still if the camper is plugged in?
    **our battery was dead when we were testing the circuits and when we’d flip our “GENERAL” breaker which now we assuming is the converter; we could watch the AC drop from 12 to zero.
    Is it our converter?

    • Hi Shawna,

      Sorry for the delayed reply. I reached out to our technical service team to get their thoughts and here’s their reply:

      The Minnie Winnie has 120vac to the breakers. They have 12vdc, but it tapers off quickly. This model has a power distribution center with a 45 amp convertor/charger, a battery disconnect switch, and an option for 2 house batteries. This model will also charge the house batteries when the engine is running, but only if the battery disconnect is on. When trying to run on convertor power alone, the 12vdc can drop and this causes amp load to increase. This can blow fuses, so first, all fuses must be checked. There may be auxiliary fuses or breakers under the entry step near the house battery. The GFCI outlet must be checked as well since the customer reports a loss of 120vac and 12vdc power. It is possible that the strain on the convertor was too great while running with the disconnect off, and the convertor has gone bad. It will have to be removed and bench tested at a CW service center. Since the battery is extremely new, it was unlikely damaged while sitting unused with the disconnect switch off. Still, check the electrolyte level, cable installation (there are likely more than one positive and negative cables), and measure dc voltage at the house battery while the unit is plugged in to 120vac power. We want to see the voltage increase to 13.6vdc while charging. It could take 4-6 hours to fully charge with no loads on the system. The TV over the door is probably running with a DC power brick plugged into the 120vac outlet behind it. The LED light doesn’t require much power to illuminate, so it may still glow even if there isn’t enough power to turn on the TV.

      Here’s where you can locate the nearest service centers to you:

  • James Berg says:

    My 2 house batteries both die at night when I am using the furnace, which also dies, leaving me very cold. I have an Onan 4000 microquiet generator, which I run for 45 minutes or so to charge the batteries, which are new last fall. When checking if the generator is working, the microwave lights up, thereby confirming that I’m getting 110 or 120. Is this just that I need to charge the battery longer ? If so , how long ? Thanks

    • Hi James!

      I apologize for the delay in my response. I reached out to one of our technical instructors to get their take on your issue. Here’s the reply:

      We have to make some assumptions, but the conclusions we reach will be pretty accurate.

      – If they have a Micro 4k generator, they have a 30 Amp unit.
      – 30 Amp units likely have a 40 Amp converter/charger
      – 2 house batteries are probably 200 Amp Hours each, 400 Ah total
      – They state the batteries are dead, 400Ah / 40 Ah = 10 Hours to full charge
      – The furnace and ancillary equipment draw up to 10 Amps
      – It is not recommended to use a lead acid battery below 50% discharge
      – A 400Ah bank is good for 200Ah
      – 200Ah / 10 = 20 hours operating time if the furnace is running 100% of the time…60 Hours @ 30% operating time

      According to the customer, they regularly run the batteries dead. If they never went below 50% discharge, they could expect 4 to 5 years service life from the batteries. Regularly running them dead will reduce that to 3 or 4 years. The available amp hours will decline on an exponential scale. They stated the batteries are a year old, so they may be down to 190Ah by now. They must keep the electrolyte topped off as directed by the manufacturer by adding distilled water once per month. If they haven’t done this for a year, the batteries are likely dangerously low on electrolyte at this time.

      Hope that helps, but let me know if you have any follow up questions!

  • Gary Kosto says:

    The parking lights won’t shut off. It is not a fuse problem. Help Please.

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