For many, one of the most confusing aspects of an RV is the RV electrical system. While it’s not terribly complex, many varying brands of RV have opposing systems that can definitely confound some RVers.
There are different voltages, fuse issues, circuit breaker requirements, and generator systems that you’ll need to fully understand for your RV.
I’ve been an RVer for decades now, and I’ve had several great RVs on which to learn the electrical systems. Let’s take a look at all you need to know about your RV electrical system.
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RV Electrical System
Before we get started, it’s important to understand that safety needs to be a priority.
These systems can be very dangerous as they pose the risk of fire or shock, so if you don’t quite understand what you’re doing, then it may be better to seek professional aid for the electrical system of your RV.
Your RV’s voltage is one of the most important things to understand about your RV’s electrical system.
There are two types of voltages for RVs: the 12-volt charging system, which uses a DC current, and the 120-volt system, which uses an AC current. Both of these systems interact with each other, so let’s see how they work.
12 Volt (DC)
The smaller appliances like the water heater and the gas leak detector inside of your RV run on a 12-volt system.
12-volt current is directly supplied and stored by the RV batteries and uses direct current (DC) to provide power for your appliances that operate off of 12 volts.
Each of these appliances runs through a battery disconnect and draws power from your RV battery.
The battery disconnect is handy because since every appliance runs through this system, simply hitting the switch will turn it all off with the exception of the carbon monoxide detector and the LP detector.
Typically the batteries that provide power for 12-volt appliances like the lights and RV fans are charged by the alternator inside the coach.
120 Volt (AC)
If you have a larger, home-level appliance, this will run on a 120-volt alternating current system.
This includes your larger load appliances like your air conditioner and your refrigerator to devices that use up less electricity like your computers and your televisions.
Most campgrounds will provide this type of power, but in order to use it while boondocking or in any situation where you need a 120-volt electrical feed, you’ll need a dedicated RV generator that can manage all of your 120-volt appliances.
When it is supplied by the campground, the 120-volt feed is converted down to 12 volts to charge the coach batteries as well.
RV generators are very handy to have for your vehicle. As mentioned, these generators provide a stream of electricity that you can use to power the larger appliances that you’d find inside of your home.
Generators produce watts, which is overall power. Your generator needs to manage its voltage and amperage in order to produce the wattage that your devices need.
For example, many AC units need more than 2,000 watts of electricity just to start up and at least 2,400 watts to run.
Since these systems can never run well on your 12-volt charging system, you’ll need to ensure that your generator has the wattage to handle larger appliances.
Chassis Engine Charging Systems
Converter Charging Systems
Solar Panel Charging Systems
Which Amperage Is Best? 30 Amp Or 50?
Most campgrounds either have a 30-amp connector or a 50-amp connector that is positioned on the power pedestal.
Many of the RVs currently have either of these two hookups and obviously, a 50-amp will provide more electricity than a 30-amp.
The drawback of the 50-amp is that not every campground’s pedestal has the right connection for this, which means that you’ll have to buy a converter.
In my opinion, it’s better to go with a 50-amp RV rather than a 30.
This is because with a 50-amp you can downgrade to a 30-amp current, but the opposite isn’t true, which means you’ll always have less overall versatility.
Some Good Practices For Maintaining Your Electrical System
Always check your fuses. These things tend to burn out, and if you have a voltage tester, you can quickly diagnose a busted fuse so that you can replace it.
I always use smart glow fuses on my RV. These fuses have a LED light inside that lights up when a fuse has blown, which makes changing them a cinch. You can even see them when there is a lot of ambient light around during the day.
Whenever you’re going to work with an electrical component; whether it’s your battery, your generator, or even your fuses; always make sure to turn off the power first.
It’s important to know where everything is in your particular RV. This means that you should be able to eyeball a panel so that you can quickly ascertain if there are any issues.
Personally, I like to check each component of the electrical system about 24 to 48 hours before my camping trips.
While the electrical systems of your RV might seem mystifying, practice working with them can help you become more familiar with their inner workings.
Hopefully, this brief guide has provided you with some understanding of how your RV electrical system works.