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It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that your RV is nothing without electricity. It is a must that you pay special attention to your RV’s electrical system, but no matter how careful you are, problems may arise at the least convenient time.
If you’ve run into some issues in your RV’s power system or just want to arm yourself with knowledge before your trip, let us provide you with some general guidelines on troubleshooting power issues in your RV.
RV Plugged In But No Power: Troubleshooting Tips
Fuses and breakers
The very first step to take when troubleshooting your RV’s power system is to check your breakers and fuses. This is comparatively easy to do, and often, your troubleshooting will stop here since most problems lie in a tripped breaker or a blown fuse.
Now, even if you restore power in the RV, you aren’t quite done yet. The purpose of fuses and breakers is to protect the RV and its occupants from harm if an appliance or electrical lines draws too much current.
A fuse blowing or a breaker tripping is a sign that something else is wrong with your RV’s power system. Problems may either be in the external power source – e.g. a generator delivering too low or too high current – or within the RV if, say, a faulty device starts to draw excessive current.
Due to this, tripped breakers or blown fuses are just a sign of a problem, not the cause of the problem itself. And while replacing a fuse or resetting the breaker may do the trick, you should do further investigation to find out where the problem comes from.
Keep in mind that breakers can wear from tripping. A worn-down breaker may be unable to stay closed even if the amount of current going through is completely alright.
GFCIs (Ground Fault Circuit Indicator) are specialty breakers required in areas where a 110V appliance could be physically touching the ground through flooring, metal, or plumbing. Areas where GFCI’s are commonly used are kitchens, garages, or bathrooms.
If several appliances stop working at once, or if only 110V appliances stop working, check out the GFCI in that particular area. Reset the GFCI and check whether this solves the problem.
If things don’t seem to work, the problem may be a single bad appliance or something beyond the GFCI. Disconnect all your appliances and plug them in one by one, checking the power after adding a device. Aside from that, GFCI itself may be bad, though it’s unlikely.
Main circuit breakers
The next step would be to try and reset the RV’s main circuit breakers. The circuit breakers are located at the RV’s power pedestal. The location of the power pedestal differs from RV to RV, so consult your vehicle’s manual to find where it is precisely.
If you discover a blown fuse, then you will need to replace it with another one that has the same electrical rating. If possible, find the same type of fuse. Do not attempt to replace the bad fuse with a higher-rated fuse – the fuse is there for your safety, and if you put a high-rated fuse, it will let through higher current that is dangerous to your RV and its appliances.
If the previous steps seem to have no effect, then you will need to check your RV’s 12V system. A single bad connection in the 12V system can cause failure in other appliances. Certain appliances like air conditioners – even if running on AC power or propane – require DC for their logic circuits, so they aren’t safeguarded from issues in the 12V system either.
DC power comes from your RV batteries. In their turn, the batteries are charged by the RV converter with takes in 110V AC and converts it into 12V DC used by RV batteries. Some AC portable generators also have DC outlets, so if you are using such a generator, the problem may lie in it.
DC goes to your RV’s lights, slides, switches, and controls of many appliances that are running on AC. This means that issues in your DC system may be caused by either your appliances or by a component from the DC system itself.
There a few simple steps that you could take to troubleshoot your 12V system:
- Check if there are any tripped breakers or blown fuses.
- Check if the fuses or its connections are loose.
- Check if the connections to the DC batteries are loose.
- Check if the connections or fuses in the converter are loose.
- Check if the batteries have enough water in them.
- Check the charge of the batteries with a multimeter.
- Check the condition of the batteries. Do the batteries appear damaged in any way? Are there signs of leaks?
Checking battery charge
To check the battery charge, use a tool called multimeter. It should show a DC voltage between 13.4 and 14.5. If the readings are lower, a plethora of issues may be in play, including a worn-out battery, lack of water, or a bad converter that doesn’t give any power.
Be mindful that a multimeter is useful in trained hands, and if you are inexperienced with electricity, you won’t understand what you are measuring, not to mention that you will be exposing yourself to dangers involved in testing electrical equipment. If you are a novice, have a professional do all the testing.
Checking the converter
Disconnect the batteries from the current power shore and reconnect them to an alternative source of power. If the batteries work as they should, then the issue probably lies somewhere in the initial power shore.
If the batteries do not work, then the issue is in the power source. Disconnect the batteries and check the converter’s fuses and connections. If the converter seems okay, then you can be sure that your RV batteries have gone bad. If the converter doesn’t work, then it may be the issue in your RV’s power system.
Replacing a converter isn’t an easy job, and you may need to have a service center involved. Do not attempt to replace a converter if you don’t know what you are doing.
Another place where power issues could manifest themselves in is your RV’s AC system. Since the AC system ultimately powers your RV’s DC system, the lack of power in the latter could be caused by a faulty AC power supply. If everything appears to be alright in the DC system but you don’t have power, the AC system may be at fault.
RV AC systems are tested basically in the same way as the DC system, but there is one thing to keep in mind.
Do not attempt to do any maintenance in your RV’s AC system if you don’t know what you are doing. AC is deadly, and a wrong move could be lethal for you. If you have zero experience with AC, then have a professional do the testing and repair for you.
AC power comes into your RV from your portable generator. At a campground, you can receive AC from the site’s electrical system. Most of the larger appliances in your RV are going to use AC, e.g. your refrigerator, microwave, stove (if it is electric), coffee maker, desktop PC, etc.
Your RV’s AC system has its own circuit breakers, just like the DC system. These breakers work in the same way – they trip and block the flow of current if it exceeds a certain threshold.
The steps you need to take are likewise the same – you should check whether there are any tripped breakers, as well as check all the connections in your AC system. Again, it’s possible that the breaker itself is faulty, so make sure to test its power out as well.
Exterior power supply
If everything in your RV’s AC system seems to be okay – you have no bad fuses, the converter is alright, and your appliances are all working as they should – then the source of the issue probably lies in the exterior power supply.
Supplying the AC system, the exterior power source ultimately powers your DC system as well. As you remember, the DC system is powered by batteries which are charged by the AC converter, so your power supply chain starts in the exterior power source, goes into the AC system, and eventually ends in the DC system. Thus, an issue in the RV park grid or your generator could cause your DC devices not to work.
RV parks’ power grid
The power supply in RV parks could cause problems in your RV if it is supplying too much/too little power, isn’t grounded correctly, has a corroded connector, or fluctuates. Too much current will cause your fuses to blow, circuits to trip, or will even melt wires or burn appliances. Too little current will not be able to power your appliances properly.
If you have any power problems, you may ask the campground management to investigate it so that you know whether the problem lies in their power system or not. Besides, you may ask your campground neighbors whether they are experiencing similar problems – if they do, the campground’s power supply is at fault.
If the problem lies in the park’s power system, then you can’t do anything – it is up to the campground administration to have their issues resolved. If you can’t wait while the power is being restored, you may change campgrounds or just use your portable generator.
If you aren’t staying at any campgrounds and are relying on a power generator, then it is most likely the source of the issues. It may have simply gone bad, or it may have stopped running due to a shortage of fuel.
Check your RV’s master switch as well. It is a small switch usually located near the entrance door from the inside. This switch needs to be on for the RV to get any power.
Many RVers are using their own surge protectors at campgrounds. While RVs already have surge protection devices – its breakers – surge protectors have certain benefits that make them a good investment.
Namely, good surge protectors react faster than breakers. Not only that, but most surge breakers will also block off the electricity if the current is too low – low current can also damage electrical devices.
However, if you have a surge protector in your RV, then you will have to deal with an additional link that could have gone bad. Testing a surge protector is easy though – you just need a voltmeter to see whether current goes through it. If not, then the surge protector may be the issue, though don’t forget that there may be other things wrong in your power system.
If nothing helps
If you cannot determine where a failure in your power system has occurred, then don’t waste any time and take your RV to an RV repair facility. There, any issues will likely be quickly discovered and fixed, albeit perhaps for a higher price than if you were doing everything yourself.
How to approach this information?
Many things could have gotten wrong in your RV’s electrical system, and we haven’t covered every reason for power failures in RVs. Rather than trying to provide you with in-depth guidelines on what to do to resolve your power issues, we’ve given more general tips to help you get going.
The simpler issues – like a tripped breaker – require no tools or special skills and thus could be performed by anyone. It is likewise easy to discover issues that manifest themselves in blown fuses, melted wires, or burned appliances.
But when it comes to more difficult causes lying deep within your RV’s electrical system, we think that you shouldn’t try to fix them on your own if you aren’t experienced with electricity. If you are experienced, then you most likely don’t need any guides.
Above, we’ve provided you with information that should be sufficient for you to resolve simpler issues on your own. Besides, it should help you get a good idea of what you should be doing upon discovering a weak link in your RV’s electrical system.
Electricity is dangerous, and you shouldn’t attempt to fix something which you have no idea of. Go as far as your skills and tools allow, and upon coming across anything beyond your reach, address a professional.
If you liked this article then take a look at our other RV how-to articles here.