Do Outlets Work in an RV While Driving?


Owning and living in an RV comes with the convenience of having certain luxuries available to family members/passengers while out on the road. These include using power outlets for appliances, TVs, and laptops. But do outlets work in an RV while driving?

Here’s what I know from using my RV:

Outlets in an RV will work while driving if the generator is on, or if the inverter is on. The generator provides power just like shore power, whereas the inverter converts the 12-volt coach battery DC power to 110 volt AC power for outlets.

So it’s actually quite easy to have power for appliances and things while the motorhome is driving.

But don’t worry, if that’s confusing. We’ll get into inverters, converters, shore power, and generator power, how they differ, and what you need to do to get your stuff powered up.

Let’s go!

Of course, this article is geared towards motorhome and not RVs that get towed. But there are so many different kinds of RVs and so many different terms, it’s easy to get confused.

You can find out everything you need to know in this recent article. Just click that link to read it on my site.

What powers the outlets in an RV?

Outlets in an RV get power when connected to shore power at a campground, using the RV’s generator which also provides 110-volt AC power like shore power, or using the RV’s inverter to convert power from the coach batteries to power the outlets.

When The RV is parked at a campground, you can plug it into “shore power,”.

This is usually a 50 amp or 30 amp outlet on a pedestal at your campsite. In rare cases, there may only be 110-volt household outlets. But adapters can easily be used to convert your 50 amp power cable from your RV to either 30 amp or 110-volt.

50 amp connectors provide enough power to run everything in your RV, including all appliances and the outlets.

As you might suspect, if the campground only offers 30 amp connectors, you’ll be a little limited on how much stuff you can run at the same time (no vacuum and hairdryer simultaneously).

Unfortunately, if you’re faced with only 110-volt options, that will limit what you can use, but the outlets will be on.

Let’s take a more detailed look at all the different power sources.

The inverter on the coach batteries

Most RVs will come equipped with two sets of batteries. The 1st one, called the chassis battery, is used to power the vehicle’s components such as the lights, horn, starter, and more. Basically, as with a car battery, it runs everything to do with driving the RV.

The second battery (often a set of batteries) is used for the coach. These are called coach or house batteries, and they run everything to do with living in the RV.

Since batteries put out 12-volts of DC power and RV outlets can’t run off that, an inverter is used to convert that power to 110-volt AC power.

If you are interested to learn more about the differences between the two batteries, I have a recent article specifically about this.

In that article, I take an in-depth look at the two batteries, I also talk about generators, and finally, I have a few tips in there that you need to know about troubleshooting. Just click that link to read it on my site.

A generator

Having a generator onboard can solve a lot of problems.

Even though your RVs will most likely have coach batteries and an inverter, it is important to remember that most of the time, your RV will not charge that second battery while it is driving.

Traditionally, the only way to charge your coach battery is by connecting your RV to shore power or by using the generator.

On longer road trips, it is wise to use a generator so that you can charge up that coach battery. It will keep your coach batteries fully charged in the event you do have to boondock and want to use a few things without having to run your generator all night.

Shore Power

Shore power is another way of talking about the power outlets that an RV campground will provide to you while you are parked there.

It can also include power from your home if you have connectors at your house for your RV. Campgrounds will have an outlet that is either 30 or 50 amps. Most RV power cables have a 50 amp connector, but adapters to make it 30 amp, like this one on Amazon I bought, easily convert it.

When your RV is plugged into one of these outlets, it will power your entire RV. It will also charge up the coach battery so that you can still power a few things while on the road when you leave the campgrounds.

If you are plugging your RV into a regular outlet from your home, it is important to remember that your home only delivers between 20 and 30 amps. That means you won’t be able to do much other than maybe watch TV and keep the lights and fridge on.

You’ll also need this adapter from Amazon to convert that 30 amp adapter I mentioned above down to 110-volt size to fit your regular household outlet.

Does my RV have an inverter?

All late model motorhomes and luxury RVs will have an inverter. RV manufacturers that typically include the inverter include Airstream, Newmar, Winnebago, and many others. For travel trailers, they are often an option rather than included with the base price.

Luckily, if your RV did not come with an inverter, you can add it yourself by purchasing a small inverter and mounting it in a safe location. If you are unsure if your RV has one, check the readout panel where you typically see displays for tank fullness, propane levels, etc.

If your RV has an inverter, it should have a power button and readout in that area. But you can also consult your manual or just Google it.

The good news is the inverter allows you to operate outlets in your RV, lights, and other options.

The bad news is that without generator power or shore power, depending on how many coach batteries you have and how much stuff you’re trying to power, you may only have a few hours before the coach batteries get completely drained. And in some cases, it could drain a lot quicker than that.

But an inverter is essential; especially if you plan to do dispersed camping or any type of dry camping. Let’s look at my top pick for adding an inverter to an existing RV.

Ampeak 1000W Power Inverter Truck/RV Inverter: About $70 to $150

The Ampeak is perfect for RVs.

It comes in a variety of options from 1000 to 2000w. For each of these, you can choose to go with or without a remote. The remote only increases its cost by a small amount.

CLICK HERE TO SEE IT ON AMAZON

I went for the 1000 Watts option because I believe that it provides enough power for most people when they are out on the road. It has well over 1,300 awesome reviews too.

Now it’s worth noting that this doesn’t interface with your RV’s outlets. It simply connects to your coach or chassis battery and then has outlets on the inverter itself that you can plug things into.

To get one permanently hardwired, your best bet is to go to your dealer and ask for a standby inverter to be installed.

Do RV outlets work on battery power?

Outlets do not work purely off of the chassis or coach batteries in your RV as the batteries put out 12-volt DC power and outlets operate off 110-volt AC power. So if battery power is the only option, an inverter is required to convert the power to be able to run the outlets.

So, in short, with no shore power or a generator, and without an inverter, your RV’s outlets will not work.

Things like overhead lights can work right off the battery, and USB charging ports will likely work too. But outlets just won’t be powered until an alternate power source gets connected.

Do you have to run the generator while driving an RV to power the outlets?

You do not have to run your generator to power the outlets while driving the RV if you have an inverter and it is turned on. Without an inverter, the generator is required to power the outlets while driving.

Also, unless you have a system to charge the coach batteries off of the chassis batteries, the coach battery will drain quickly when using the inverter.

So personally, even with an inverter, I always run the generator while driving just to keep everything powered and charged.

But if it’s just you and maybe 1 other person in the RV, and you don’t need the TV on, or outlets or anything like that while the vehicle is in motion.

In that case, leave the generator off and just use the inverter if you do need to occasionally use an outlet. While generators are very fuel-efficient, you will obviously save gas that way.

Why are my outlets not working in my RV?

If the outlets are not working in an RV, the issue will either be a lack of proper power from shore, generator, or an inverter connected to the coach batteries, a dead coach battery, or there may be something faulty in the RV’s electrical system.

So start by eliminating the possibilities.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Am I connected to shore power and is that breaker turned on at the pedestal?
  2. Are other things in the RV working?
  3. Are all outlets not working or just one?
  4. If I’m not connected to shore power is my generator on?
  5. If not, is my inverter on, and do my coach batteries still have power

Ultimately, unless something is broken, the answers to those questions will get you to your answer.

And if it’s just 1 outlet not working, then that’s easy to swap out with a new outlet as long as the power is turned off. And if it is something more serious, then it’s time to head to your dealer or the nearest RV repair shop.

Is it safe to use electrical outlets in a moving RV?

It is safe, electrically, to use things that are plugged in while an RV is driving. However, be aware that walking in a moving RV may not be legal depending on what state you are in.

And, there are a few things that you need to consider.

One of the most important concerns is, you never want the driver to be distracted by anything going on in the coach. That is the number one priority when using appliances in your RV while moving.

And as I mentioned, of the 50 states in the US, more than half have laws on the books pertaining to seatbelt use and moving in motorhomes while they are being driven. And if you’re like me, and driving across multiple states, you may not know what the laws are depending on where you are.

Conclusion

That brings us to the end of this article, and we have pretty much discussed everything that we can regarding this topic.

And hopefully, you can walk away from this article without having further questions. So, allow me to close this article off by wishing you not only a safe trip but also a memorable one the next time you go on a road trip in your RV.

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Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell travels on and off with his 3 daughters in a Newmar Baystar Class A Motorhome. He writes extensively on both RVs, campgrounds, parenting on the road tips, remote learning & schooling, and much more!

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