How do RV electrical systems work

How do RV Electrical Systems Work?

Updated October 2, 2022

- By Annie Martin

Electrical system is one of the main thing that separates and makes RVing best compared to the traditional camping. Every RV contains an electrical system, and dealing with electricity is not an easy task. Thus every RVers should know how do RV electrical systems work. Once you are familiar with the working process of your RV’s electrical system, it will be easier for you to deal with it.

When it comes to the electrical system in your RV, there are lots of things you should know about the system. However, here we are organizing the details to make your job easier. Let’s dive into the discussion.

How Do RV Electrical Systems Work?

Not necessarily every RVer will understand the basic electrical system in their RV as they are not an electrician. But from the trial and error process some RVers can gain knowledge. However, the RV’s electrical system is a little bit complicated. This system is difficult because it contains both the AC and DC components, whereas the only AC power contains in a regular house.

Alternating Current (AC) means two way current, and the Direct Current (DC) means one-way current. Power lines are the source of AC, and batteries are the power source of DC.

How do RV electrical systems work

Understanding the RV’s Electrical System

If you don’t connect your RV with the 120 volts electricity providing external power source, some appliances in your RV will not work. But if your RV has an generator or inverter, then the thing is different. So do you know what type of electrical appliances in your RV will not work unless a shore power or generator? Actually you should know this to avoid unnecessary hazard.

Usually there are some heavy electrical appliances which don’t work or run on the RV batteries. Those are big smart LED TV, air conditional, microwave and many things like this. All these appliances run well in connection with the electricity on 120 volt power. However, there is a tiny general difference between the automotive system and RV system. The basic 3 types of electrical system in your RV are the following:

  • 12-volt RV system
  • 120-volt system
  • 12-volt RV system which is running appliances using the RV battery

Trailers 2 Electrical Systems

Irrespective of the type of appliances you are using in your RV when you use a shore power source for plugging a device you are consuming a 120-volt electricity system. And while your RV batteries powered an electrical system it is called 12-volt system. For running your RV’s light, you could use the 12-volt system, but for using microwave or AC, you have to use the 120-volt system.

RV Electrical System

1. AC/DC Applications

RVs use both the AC and DC to power your electrical system’s components. Your RV’s battery, engine, lights, etc. run using the 12-volt DC. While the other typical heavy appliances such as fridge, microwave, air condition and additional power outlets runs using 120-volt AC system.

2. RV Converters and Inverters

For various purposes, you may require to invert or convert the power supply in your RV. You need an inverter for switching DC to AC power. However, having the right rig setup and buying the right inverter is important for your RV.

In some situation, the AC hookups may not be available in your RV. In that situation you require inverter. For example, in dry camping, you don’t have the opportunity to use the generator or AC hookups. In this point the inverter can prove helpful for you.

However, the use of an RV converter is not as extensive as an inverter. When you require to convert the AC power into DC power for charging small electrical devices or powering, only then you need the converter. Converters work just like chargers. However, choosing a reliable and high-quality converter is essential.

3. RV Site Hookups and Shore Power

Shore power is the electrical hookups that most RV parks and campground offers. Usually, 30, 20 or 50 AMP output is available in hookups. However, depending on your RV type(like the airstream), the hook up varies


The pop-up campers, smaller RVs, travel trailers, and small trucks use the 30 amps. On the other hand, fifth wheels and more extensive travel trailers use the 50 amps output hookup. However, the starting hookup connection of most sites is 20 amp.

Actually, the shore power is nothing but the AC and it is helpful to power your RV’s electrical appliances. In case the campsite doesn’t offer the power supply facility, you should have adapters of 50 to 30 and 30 to 50 of your own. Before booking a RV park or campground, make sure that the site offers the RV’s necessary electrical system facilities.

4.RV’s Solar Energy

As an environmental friendly and cost-effective option the solar panels for RV is receiving more popularity day by day. Solar panels produce power using the sun’s energy. And its power-producing process don’t emit any by-products or nasty thing like the gas generator.

For the dry campers the solar panel is a very popular choice. The board generates direct current power by converting solar energy. And using this converted power you can run the electrical system of your RV. However, you can easily power numerous electrical appliances by adding an inverter to the solar system.

Know your RV’s Electricity Hogs

When you plug different appliances into your RV’s electrical system, they draw additional power. Not every piece of electrical equipment draws electricity in exact amount. Using very little power some devices may operate very well. On the contrary, some big appliances draw tremendous amount of energy for running.

In general, some appliances draw enormous powers. Especially those devices which get cold or generates heat. As these devices requires immense power to operate thus at once using a same plug you can’t run many appliances at a time. Especially if your power cord is of 30-amp, then obviously you should avoid running much equipment in one outlet.

Most of the RV kitchen appliances like coffee maker, Microwave, and toaster all use huge electricity to operate. Thus all are electricity hogs. Also, lots of power required by the air condition unit and bathroom devices such as curling irons, hairdryers etc. However, compared to these appliances, your RV stereo and TV consume less power.

RV Electrical Maintenance and Troubleshooting

If you inspect and maintain your RV electrical system’s small problem regularly, it will not get a chance to turn into a big issue. Frequently you should check your RV batteries and their corresponding connections. Before starting your trip, checking your RV’s power system and batteries is a very good time.

Ensure that your RV’s all the electrical connecting points are safe, secure and working perfectly and there is no frayed or damaged look into it. Make sure every electricity connection is clean enough and there is no corrosion sign in it. If you see any sign or find something suspecting, you should look after it immediately before starting the trip.

For every camper and RVers, it’s essential to know where is the location of the electrical panels in your RV. You should know the area because if any appliances fails to power up, at first you should check the blown fuse or tripped circuit. Also try to determine the appliances connection issue by your own while you are on a trip.

However, without professional help dealing with the electricity connection is tough. But while you are in the middle of the road or on a trip then, for troubleshooting the sudden electricity problem in your RV, you should have minimum knowledge of it.

Follow Extreme Cautions with Your RV’s Electricity System

If you are an experienced electrician or expert in dealing with electrical work, then already you are aware of the necessary safety precautions. But if you are a novice in doing this job, you should learn and follow extreme caution when dealing with your RV’s electrical system.

Before correcting any appliances or power source at first, turn off the power. Be cautious and deal with all cables in a way as if they are live. Use different non-conducting handles and proper tools and so on. However, if you have lack of confidence to do the electrical work, you should not take any chance with your life or your RV. Contact a professional and expert RV electrical repair person and take help from him.

A more cautionary approach is to plug only the necessary appliances in your RV’s electricity outlet. If you use only the essential devices your RV batteries will remain as fully charged and you don’t need to think about the voltage and current. Try you best to avoid using unnecessary electrical appliances in your RV.

Bottom Line

Having your RV’s electrical system’s basic knowledge and knowing how do RV electrical systems work is crucial for every campers and RVers. The RV contains lots of sensitive and heavy voltage carrying electrical appliances. Thus knowing which devices requires how much voltage will proof beneficial. However, getting an EMS (Electrical Protection System) is the most simplest and effective protection method.

Make sure your RV’s electrical system is safe enough so that you don’t need to deal with any unnecessary pain. For dealing with the electrical connection, power surge or wiring issue taking professional help would be better. Don’t play any risky or danger game with your precious RV. Take the necessary electrical caution in advance and enjoy a safe trip in your RV.

Annie Martin

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