Ultimate Complete RV Electrical Guide

This complete RV electrical guide provides the basics for a beginner or intermediate RVer. Electricity in RV is a vital component. Just as blood is to the human body, your RV depends on power to function effectively. It uses two distinct power configurations. You have the 110/120v power system and the 12v electric system for the RV.

I am not a science major or electrical expert. But since I spend weeks RVing away from home, it became necessary to understand these basic electrical requirements. Now, it’s to discuss the fundamental of electrical systems for your RV.

Table of Contents

How RV Electrical System Works?

Every system has a specific power unit, input, and output capacity. Your RV power source depends on watts derived from amps and voltage. The wattage capacity of your RV will determine the type of features built-in. Using a higher wattage will result in tripping off your electrical circuitry systems.

Thus, you must select the right combination of electrical gadgets to switch on each time. Switching-on, your TV, fridge, AC, hairdryer, and microwave at the same time might require higher capacity. Your RV works using the DC and AC electrical systems. Direct Current (DC) system carries current from one end to the other only. But for AC (Alternating Current), the voltage could go in alternate directions sometimes.

How-RV-Electrical-System-Works

One RV, Two Electrical Systems

There are two basic electrical systems in your RV. They include the 120 volts Alternating Current systems and the 12 volts Direct Current systems.

Every single power outlet or electrical appliances in the RV uses the 120-volt AC. But your RV works using the 12 volts systems when connected to the battery. At other times, it uses more than one battery. Battery-powered components include the headlamps, kick-starter to power the engine, dashboard, stereo, screen-wipe, etc.
The 120- volts AC relies on RV electrical hookup plugs. Or it could receive current from your generator to power heavy power consuming appliances. The type of machines includes your refrigerator, water heater, and water pump.

RV Power Sources: The Low-Down on Batteries

Battery power

The 12-volts electrical system could use more than one battery. Using a 12-volts battery makes dry camping or boondocking more fun or possible. You can connect your electrical appliances on the go, powering any gadget.

But you need to wire both batteries together into a parallel circuit manner. However, using two 6-volts batteries as against a single 12 volts battery gives a better output. One reason is that it carries extended battery life or deeper discharge time. That means when RVing, two 6-volts batteries could give you longer, pleasurable rides.

The 12-volt battery comes with a charging unit. It makes it possible to connect to a battery source automatically. Therefore, once at a campground, I plug the battery into the electrical pedestal. Other times, I could connect to any other power source.

However, if you want to enjoy extended power, you can introduce the inverter systems. With a 12-volts battery, you can loop a direct current to the 120-volts alternating current. The vehicle’s electrical outlets therefore make running any electrical appliances possible. You can ascertain how many hours your battery can last from a full charge. That way, it’s possible to know how long the battery can last before the next recharge.

Before You Plug In Your RV Electrical Hookup

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Most RVs possess power cords for connecting to power sources at the campground. But you must take precaution when dealing with electricity in the RV as much as at home. Before connecting your RV power unit at a campground, always test the hookup. A polarity tester will help you ascertain if the source of power at the camp is okay. For as low as $50, you can purchase the polarity tester. It will save you the additional cost owing to power fluctuations.

Before plugging in, please turn off all electrical appliances and pedestals in the RV. You can switch them back on afterward. For additional safety, please install a surge protector. It helps prevent power surges or damage to your electrical systems.

What Is The Standard RV Electrical Hook Up

Your RV electrical hook up is either 30 or 50 ampere. The 30 amp comes as a three-prong cord. Meanwhile, the 50 amp has a four-prong plug. A 50 amp hook up offers more electricity than the 30 amp.

Know Your RV’s Electricity Hogs

Some appliances usually take up the most power in your RV. And that’s what you need to identify. Doing that makes it easier to manage power consumption adequately.
I can almost bet you have a heater or chiller in your RV. Most heat or cold generators consume a lot of voltage. Do not switch on several heavy power consumption items at the same time. That’s a rule of the thumb. And if your RV uses 30-ampere power cords then you have even less capacity.

RV Appliances and Ampere

RV-Appliances-and-Ampere

RV Generators

Hooking up to shore power would have been an excellent option when at a campground. But in a case where such is not available, the generator provides an exceptional alternative.

You can buy a generator that supplies 2,500 to 4,000 watts of electricity. With such capacity, you can support heavy power consuming appliances.


However, study your user manual to know the power capacity of your RV before acquiring a generator. Except for larger motorhomes, most small travel trailers do not come with generators. It supplies alternate current to power the RV at 120-volts.

RV Inverters and Converters

Your RV batteries make use of 12 volts Direct Current. You need a converter to hook up your power unit to the shore power. Without doing that, you might not be able to charge at the campground. The converter helps you transform 110-volt Alternating Current to 12 volts, Direct Current.

The inverter

The inverter helps you utilize 110volts for either hogs or non-hogs appliances. What it does is that it inverts the power from direct current 12 volts to 110 volts alternating current.

Thus you might need to convert or invert power at different times. Please consult your RV’s user manual to know the appropriate inverters or converters to purchase.

You will need the inverter more when there are not AC hookups or generator access. That’s what happens when dry-camping.

RV Solar and Wind Options

RV Solar

Solar energy provides a clean and more affordable source of power. And that’s why it is becoming more popular even for RVs. Solar makes it possible for me to stay longer in locations without access to power. They are also now less bulky. So you don’t have to border so much about space. Dry campers will love the freedom it provides. Snow-birders can enjoy the freedom to run off to cold regions and enjoy exciting weather elsewhere.

Therefore, solar panels can convert the sun’s energy to direct current or light for your RV. Once you can install an inverter, the sun’s energy will help power your appliances. But you could also get solar kits for small charges. The bigger the RV, the more power needs and solar panels you need. But the good thing is that you can place them on the RV roof.

You wire the solar panel to the battery and the charging unit or inverter. Finally, you need to create an input and output point in the RV.

RV Electrical Maintenance and Troubleshooting

You might start as not knowing so much about electrical circuitry. But it will become necessary to understand the basics of electricity. After all, you are likely to spend much time RVing for days or weeks.

You should have a power maintenance plan that allows you to monitor, detect, and maintain electrical systems. Carry out routine checks on your batteries and other connections. For example, you mustn’t embark on a trip without inspection, repairs, and acquiring supplies.

Inspect connection heads, cables, and points to ensure none is fried or destroyed. Always crosscheck for anything that looks out of place.

Other things to do include checking the battery electrolyte and top up when necessary. But if you use lithium or deep-cycle batteries, then you don’t need to worry.

You also need to understand how the circuits or fuse works in the RV electrical panels. You may have a blown fuse, or something tripped, or you perceive burnt cables. Whatever the case, you must investigate.

Always Use Extreme Caution With Electricity

Electricity offers immense benefits to your home, but it could be harmful when handled poorly. When you need to deal with an electrical circuit, please turn off the unit from the source. You don’t want to get fried, or do you?

Avoid cutting wires with your teeth; Use appropriate screwdrivers. Wear rubber hand gloves before dealing with electrical appliances that have current. Understand the difference between positive, negative, and neutral.

Not everyone can get the hang of it. So, please consult a certified RV electrical technician to deal with major electrical issues. You are better safe than trying to save a few bucks.

Dealing with RV electrical systems could be a simple but complex process. Initially, I thought of staying away from it, but I quickly got the hang of it. Once, you understand the basics; the rest becomes seamless. You have most of the electrical system set up and understand how to hook up and charge the battery.

And oh, I forgot to mention, for a beginner, you could make some minor mistakes. We all do. But never forget to laugh over it, learn and keep learning.