Encountering electrical issues while you are camping is frustrating. Unfortunately, though, RV electrical systems can be confusing, since outlets can get power from shore power, a generator, or coach batteries in conjunction with an inverter. So many RV owners are often left wondering why won’t my outlets work in my RV?
Here’s what I know from troubleshooting my RV:
The most common causes of RV outlets not working are a tripped GFCI outlet or the power inverter being off when not connected to shore or generator power.
And if it is a GFCI issue, the good news is, those breakers are part of the outlets located near the sinks. So just press the tiny button back in on the outlet you see that is tripped, and everything should kick back on.
And if it’s the inverter, that too is an easy fix as it just requires the power button to be turned on.
However, there can be other issues too such as your coach batteries being dead or not charging. So, if your outlets aren’t working in your RV, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I’ll explore common concerns regarding RV electrical systems.
So let’s get to it.
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Do RV outlets work on battery power?
RV outlets won’t work directly on battery power. Outlets in RVs are 120 volts AC. Batteries are 12 volts DC. The only way to power the RV off of batteries is with an inverter that converts 12 volts DC to 120 volts AC, but it’s easy to drain your battery this way.
If you’re going to use an inverter, make sure you have sufficient battery capacity to power your small appliances.
A microwave, hairdryer, or coffee maker can quickly drain your battery. And that is if your battery can even provide the amperage and voltage to power the inverter.
Inverters allow you to use small devices like a TV or hairdryer.
However, they are inefficient and will drain your battery very quickly, usually in just an hour or two. While they will usually sound an alarm when the battery is no longer sufficient to power the unit, they will also switch off quickly after the alarm sounds.
Then, not only do you have power to your outlets, you now have to find a way to charge your depleted 12-volt battery.
Inverters are generally not the most efficient use of your battery power. So unless you are dry camping, you should use shore power or your generator. And using a generator isn’t recommended or allowed in most campgrounds past quiet hours; so it’s not a good solution for the whole night.
But if you are not at a campground and don’t have shore power to connect to, using a generator is a better option than running off an inverter.
If you’re new to camping, you likely know that the term RV stands for “recreational vehicle.” You probably also know the term motorhome.
But did you know that not all RVs are motorhomes?
RVs include non-motorized campers, such as travel trailers and fifth wheels, which are not classified as motorhomes. To learn more about the different kinds of RVs and why the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, head over this recent article.
Just click the link to read it on my site.
— Chris Andro (@HemlockhillRV) March 27, 2015
How do you fix an RV outlet?
To fix an RV outlet that is not working:
- Ensure you have power either from shore power, generator, or the inverter
- Check all outlets near sinks to make sure the GFCI breaker has not been tripped
- Check the main breaker panel to ensure no breaker has tripped
- Test all outlets in the RV to see if it’s just 1 that is not working
- If only 1 outlet is not working. replace that outlet (cut power 1st)
Broken outlets are relatively common in RVs.
There are a few things you can do to troubleshoot your outlets and fix them. First, you need a couple of tools. A receptacle tester can diagnose problems with the outlet itself.
A multimeter or voltage tester can quickly test the voltage in an outlet. But you really don’t need to get that technical.
First, check the GFCI outlets
If an outlet stops working in your RV, the first thing you should do is check the GFCI outlets. It’s the easiest thing to check and the quickest to fix. Just push the reset button.
Next, check the breakers & inverter
Then, if you have an inverter, check it and make sure the power is on. You only need the inverter if not connected to shore power or a generator. But many RVer’s just leave it on all the time.
And check the shore power or generator breaker, too. If some of your outlets are working, you can skip this step. If the power tripped at the pole or generator, none of the outlets would work.
If you’ve checked all of those things, and all is well, you’ll need to check each outlet.
Use your receptacle tester to see which outlet is the culprit. If you already know which outlet is the problem outlet, you’ll need to open it up to check the wiring.
However, before you do this, make sure you turn off the main breaker and disconnect any power.
Unscrew the outlet from the wall and check the wiring
Sometimes a wire can come loose due to vibration and cause the outlet to stop working. Check all of the wires to make sure they are secure.
Replace the outlet, if necessary
You should be able to use any household outlet.
Of course, if you are not completely comfortable checking wires and replacing outlets, call a professional. There’s no sense in electrocuting yourself or causing even more electrical problems just to save a couple of dollars.
But with the power off, an outlet can be replaced in under 5 minutes by an average homeowner, and they only costa few dollars.
— electricalpros (@electricalpros3) December 16, 2020
Why do my RV GFCI electrical outlets keep tripping?
RV GFCI breakers trip most often due to water getting splashed into the outlet. Technically, this means that the GFCI outlet is detecting an imbalance between the hot and neutral conductors. This usually means there is a leakage to the ground on one of the wires.
GFCI outlets are designed to be used next to sinks, so you’ll find them most often in the kitchen and bathroom, and on any outlet outside the RV.
GFCI outlets have built-in circuit breakers. These mini circuit breakers are very sensitive to bad grounds and reverse polarity in electrical systems.
Of course, if no water is present, and the outlet is still tripping, then you most likely have bad wiring or a defective outlet.
Start by replacing the GFCI outlet that trips (with the power off). If it still trips with the new outlet in, then you have a larger problem that will likely require service at an RV service center.
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What is the difference between an RV inverter and converter?
The converter ensures that power is properly distributed throughout the RV. They turn AC power into DC power. Inverters turn DC power into AC power.
When you plug your RV into a 30 or 50 amp RV power outlet box, you receive 120-volt AC or alternating current power. RVs need to convert that power into 12-volt direct current, or DC power, to make use of it.
Without a properly working power converter, RV appliances and electrical fixtures won’t run.
The converter ensures that power is properly distributed throughout the RV. 12 volt power is supplied to the DC systems when the RV is plugged-in to shore power or running off a generator.
It also charges the house batteries. An alternative to a converter is an inverter.
The inverter is needed if you don’t have shore power or the generator on (if you have one). In those cases, basically when you’re dry camping, if you want power in the RV, you have to use the coach batteries.
But coach batteries deliver 12 volts of DC power; that won’t power outlets or appliances.
The inverter takes that and converts it so that your RV has power. Just be aware that using a ton of electricity will deplete your coach batteries somewhat quickly.
You’ll know they are starting to drain when you see lights flicker and dim.
To recharge your coach batteries you can run the generator, hook up to shore power, or in some cases with motorhomes, running the engine will allow the chassis batteries to charge the coach batteries.
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What happens when the RV converter goes bad?
When an RV converter goes bad, the coach batteries will drain even when connected to shore power. It will cause anything inside the RV designed to operate on 12v DC power to not function properly, if at all. You may also notice lights flickering or dimming unexpectedly.
There are definite warning signs that indicate either a battery problem or a converter problem.
If the cooling fan, internal vents, or interior lights aren’t working properly, that could be a sign that there is something wrong with your converter.
If you see abnormal flickering or dimming of lights on the dashboard or around the RV, it could be caused by converter problems.
Finally, if your RVs onboard batteries can’t hold a charge, the culprit is likely either the battery or the converter.
Below we’ll get into some specific troubleshooting tips for your RV converter.
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Always cary spare fuses!
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— Annette Steele (@Annette32103419) July 31, 2020
Testing your converter
If you have any of the above-listed issues, or if you just want to check that your RV converter is in working order, there are a few steps you’ll want to take.
First, test your DC batteries. Start by disconnecting all power sources, turn off the inverter, engine, and generator. Test each battery with a digital multimeter. If the battery should hold a charge between 12.3 and 12.9 volts, it is working properly.
Anything less is a bad sign.
Next, test the AC power at the voltage box. You’ll want to use that trusty multimeter again. Make sure it’s delivering power properly.
Finally, test the converter at the DC distribution panel with the multimeter. The meter should be between 12.3 to 12.9 volts. Anything more or less will need to be addressed.
Unfortunately, RV converters can go wrong in several ways.
We’ve included the most common RV converter issues and troubleshooting options on this list. It’s just not possible to address every issue or fix.
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Troubleshooting your converter
- Check the battery
All RV batteries lose power over time. If your RV has been in storage and not connected to power, the problem could be as simple as a dead battery.
- Check the fuses
Blown fuses are cheap and easy to replace. And blown fuses are not uncommon in RVs. Check the fuse box to make sure the problem isn’t just a blown fuse.
- Check the circuit breakers
If your circuit breaker is tripped, it will need to cool down and be reset.
- Check the cooling fan
Your converter may be overheated. Check to make sure the fan is running and that the area is clear. It should be adequately ventilated.
- Check the converter for damage
Finally, check the circuit board for any signs of physical degradation. If it’s old, it may just be time to replace it.
If your converter uses resistors, make sure they are functioning properly. Faulty resistors can cause batteries to malfunction.
You may need to disassemble the converter to access the resistors. This will give you a chance to make sure everything else internally at least looks good.
While you’re in there, look for any signs of burning. You may see charring or even smell electrical burning. It’s possible it was overloaded and burned up. If that’s the case, you’ll definitely have to replace it. Luckily, RV converters really aren’t too complex.
Any issues can usually be fixed.
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What’s the difference between DC Power and AC Power in my RV?
AC power runs typical household electronics; anything plugged into a wall outlet. DC power is the type of power stored in batteries and in an RV includes the electrical system, car charging ports, and USB ports.
Before you can understand what an inverter or converter is, you should familiarize yourself with the difference between DC (direct current), and AC (alternating current) power.
Anything with a battery is using DC power internally.
So, when you are using shore power, you are using AC power. When you are boondocking, you are using DC electricity.
Inverters and converters allow you to switch between the two power sources. In short, converters turn AC power to DC power, and inverters turn DC power to AC power.
The primary function of converters is to charge batteries. And they are often referred to as “chargers.”
— Dr. Boyle Heights Rep (@BoyleHeightsRep) October 9, 2018
Converters vs. Inverters
Typically, RVs come with built-in converters. They are simple systems that convert 120v AC power to 12v DC power. They slowly charge your battery while powering your RV.
Converters are the best solution if you are frequently connected to shore power. If you want to go boondocking and want to run a laptop, coffee pot, or anything that plugs into a wall socket, you’ll need an inverter.
The most important thing to be aware of with an inverter is capacity.
Inverters must produce ten times the voltage when inverting from 12V to 120V. As a result, they pull ten times more current from the batteries. For example, if you are watching a TV that requires a 5 Amp AC draw, the inverter is drawing 50 Amps from the batteries.
This can drain your battery very quickly. source
There are a few things to consider when using an inverter. First, they are unable to power large appliances. Things like air-conditioners, refrigerators, and even microwaves can drain the batteries very quickly. If you want to use large appliances, you should be connected to shore power or a generator.
If you are using an inverter, you should also consider incorporating a solar panel array with your inverter system. This will provide for some battery voltage recovery while dry camping.
Converters, on the other hand, charge batteries while connected to shore power or a generator. You’ll also be able to use the wall sockets and large appliances.
Converters distribute power to the different AC and DC circuits.
This means that the converter takes power from the shoreline or generator and distributes it to different branch circuits through individual breaker switches. That’s why there are separate fuse panels for various 12v house systems.
Inverters do not have a distribution system built-in.
So they require separate fuse panels and breaker boxes to be installed. They also don’t typically come built-in in your RV. So if you want one, you’ll have to purchase it aftermarket and either install it yourself or have it professionally installed.
As an RV owner, you know that most motorhomes have a battery for the motor, just like a car battery. These are often called chassis batteries. But they also have a battery, or even multiple batteries, to power the inside of the RV, too.
These are often called coach batteries.
To learn about the differences between the chassis battery and the house battery, check out this recent article. Just click the link to read it on my site.
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Why are my RV outlets not working on the generator?
If the generator is running, any outlet inside the RV that is not working likely has a tripped breaker. For GFCI outlets, check the breaker on the outlet and reset if necessary. Otherwise check the main breaker panel and reset the breaker.
GFCI outlets are typically found in the kitchen area and bathroom areas.
But some RV manufacturers are even installing them in out of the way places, like inside of cabinets. If you aren’t sure exactly where all of your GFCI outlets are, you should check all of your outlets for reset switches. Outside outlets will likely have them too.
Press “reset” on them, if necessary.
Take note of them for later, so you don’t have to check all of your outlets the next time you’re having electrical problems.
Of course, if your generator won’t turn on and you have gas and oil in it, then check the main breaker panel to see if there is a generator breaker that has flipped.
The exact location of the breaker for a generator may vary by year model, but they can also be in the generator compartment.
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What does it mean when my RV electrical outlets are not working, but the breaker is not tripped?
When your RV electrical outlets are not working, but the breaker is not tripped, it will likely be an issue with your shore power, generator, inverter, or converter.
It’s not uncommon for new RVers to trip breakers.
Every once in a while, you may not have power, even if the inside breakers haven’t tripped. Understanding the basic electrical working of your rig can make it easier to troubleshoot issues.
If you are plugged into campground power, check the breaker on the post.
Every post will have its own breaker. If your power goes out, and the inside breakers haven’t tripped, check the outside breaker.
Of course, if you do have power for other things other than the outlets, that probably isn’t the issue.
Just like in your home, most RVs have GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlets. These can be found in places that get wet, like the bathroom or the kitchen.
Unlike standard outlets, GFCI outlets have buttons labeled “test” and “reset.”
These outlets are meant to protect you from getting shocked or electrocuted. They have an internal switch that shuts off electricity to the outlet when a ground fault is sensed.
Try pressing the reset button on the GFCI outlet. If it were tripped, the “test” button would pop back out, and the power will be restored to the outlet.
If you’ve checked the RV breakers, the campground power pole breaker, and the GFCI outlets, and you still don’t have power, what do you do?
The last thing you can do if you still don’t have power is to check the inverter. In theory, if you have the generator on, or are connected to shore power, you don’t need the inverter. But it’s possible it is malfunctioning and creating an issue.
Just like the GFCI outlet, inverters have a reset button. Press it.
If your outlets still don’t work after doing all of this, you may have an electrical issue. It’s a good idea to get a professional to take a look at your wiring. Faulty electrical systems can cause fires.
Did I cover everything you wanted to know about why your RV outlets aren’t working?
If you suddenly don’t have power to your RV outlets, check all of the breakers first. Check the shore power breaker and the RV breakers.
Also, check to make sure none of your GFCI outlets have tripped.
A multimeter is an essential tool to have on hand. Use it to check the battery power as well as your converter and inverter power.
Inverter power is okay if you are boondocking, but be sure to keep an eye on your battery. Otherwise, use shore power or a generator.
Above all, be safe. When in doubt, call an electrician.
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