An RV converter simply charges the RV batteries from any AC power supply. Some converters will also allow you to operate 12v DC equipment in addition to charging your leisure batteries while it is powered up.
If you have traveled in your RV for a long trip, we don’t need to tell you how important it is to keep the batteries charged up to enjoy a painless but powerful RV lifestyle.
But what happens if your DC electricals suddenly stop working correctly? Could it be a fault with your RV converter? Are your batteries being charged on hook up? How to tell if the RV converter is bad? We will look at answers to these questions in the article below.
We will also help you understand how to test your RV converter for faults, what you can do to resolve the problem, and what you need to do to ensure that your electricals remain ready for the next trip and every time you pull out your RV. Let’s begin with a basic understanding of what RV converters are.
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What Does An RV Converter Do?
When you plug into an electrical socket in your house, you get a steady 120V AC current. That’s true anywhere you go in the US. In Europe and most of South America, the power supply is 240v AC, something to consider if you plan to travel further afield. The RV electrical system, however, is different.
Most RV batteries use a 12V DC system. So how do those 120 volts (or 240V AC) charge a 12V system?
Enter: the RV converter. The converter, as the name suggests, converts AC current from a power source to DC current so that you can charge your battery. You can then use the battery to run your appliances.
Depending on the model, you can even use the RV converter to run some appliances directly.
So the question then is – what happens if the RV converter fails?
If you’re attempting to charge your RV batteries from a shore hookup and the converter fails, your batteries won’t charge. If you overlook that and continue to use your battery bank as your power source, it will eventually drain.
How Do You Know if Your RV Converter Is Bad?
If there is a problem with your converter, typically, you’ll notice some symptoms. These may include:
- the battery monitoring panel might indicate an issue with a low battery charge level
- appliances may run slow
- lights may dim.
But all those symptoms may have more simple but more likely explanations. For example,
- appliances may not be connected to the battery correctly,
- you are running too many things, essentially overloading the battery,
- a fuse has blown,
- isolators switches are off,
If you notice any symptoms, you should fault-find the simple things first. Only when you suspect the battery isn’t charging should you consider the converter.
How to Test Your RV Converter?
If you have gone through all the fault-finding on the load side and established that the battery is not getting properly charged, it’s time to figure out if the converter is the problem.
Converters don’t often fail (although they can), so more often than not, the problem is on either side of the component rather than the converter itself.
The following steps will methodically guide you through the troubleshooting process.
Step 1: Test Your AC Input To The Converter
The first thing to see is whether the AC power from the grid is coming to your RV properly. Start with the simple things:
- Is the hookup cable connected to the campground pedestal properly?
- Is the hookup cable connected to your RV properly?
- Is there a power cut on the campground?
- Are your neighbors experiencing any issues?
If there are no external reasons why you shouldn’t be getting power into the RV, check your supply breakers. If they’re open, this explains why your converter isn’t getting any power. Close them and if they trip again, begin troubleshooting what is causing that.
Assuming that’s all sorted, you’ve established you have power into your RV, but is it reaching the converter? Use a digital multimeter to check.
Read more: How To Use A Digital Multimeter
Step 2: Test Your Converter For Output Power
If you’ve confirmed the converter is receiving power, make sure its cooling fan is clear of any obstructions. An overheating converter will cut out in a short time.
Suppose there are no fault alarms or indications on your converter; you need to check if it’s outputting power too. Again, use the multimeter to test that.
If you’re sure your converter is working correctly, you’ll get a voltage reading on the multimeter between around 12.8 and 14.4v, depending on the charge state of your batteries.
Anything higher or lower than this, and your converter looks to be the problem and requires further investigation.
What To Do If Your RV Converter Is OK, But The Batteries Still Aren’t Charging
If all the tests confirm your converter is in good order, and you still have a problem charging your batteries, the issue lies on the circuit between the converter and the battery bank – or with the battery bank itself.
- Check there is charging voltage on the battery bank terminals
- Check the battery isolator is on
- Check for blown fuses or circuit breakers between the converter and the battery bank.
- Check the wiring is in good order.
Check Your Battery
If everything in the circuit from the AC power right up to the battery is fine, the fault must be with the battery itself.
To check your batteries, first of all, isolate the battery.
Now check the battery’s voltage using your multimeter. Your battery reading on the multimeter should be between 12.3 and 12.7V. If it is lower than that, your battery is flat and needs either a charge or replacing. Learn more about how to carry out a full battery test in our Campervan Electrics Handbook.
RV Converter Troubleshooting
In reality, if your converter is bad, it’s easier and more cost-effective to simply replace it with a new one.
Geekery Alert – How To Check the Resistors and Circuit Board on the RV Converter
If you are sure that the problem is with the converter and know a thing or two about electrics and electronics, you might want to delve a bit deeper before buying a new converter.
The converter’s resistors, diodes, capacitors, or circuit board could be the cause of your troubles.
Before proceeding any further, let us warn you:
- Trying to repair the circuit board yourself will likely void your warranties.
- In most cases, the cost to replace the circuit board will be higher than replacing the entire unit.
- We would strongly suggest simply replacing the converter.
- Electricity can kill even those small and seemingly insignificant circuit components if touched when live!
If you still want to try your hand at it, read on.
Circuit boards are susceptible to wear and tear just like any other component of the RV. Inspecting a circuit board is not something that will come easily to you unless you are trained in electrical and steady-state electronic components.
Visually inspect the circuit board for signs of damage, and if you find something wrong, consult with an expert. You might end up having to replace the entire converter if the circuit board has been damaged.
Sometimes, converters might also use resistors. Resistors bring the voltage and current of the battery in line with the required output. If your converters resistors are faulty, they may cause your battery to get overloaded. If your diodes and capacitors are faulty, they will prevent the electrical current flow conversion from AC to DC or the regulation of the voltage level being supplied.
Fixing a faulty circuit component is not easy because you will need to take apart your whole converter to do this. If you are not handy with electrical equipment, soldering irons, advanced use of the multimeter functions, and knowing how to read the circuit board, we would suggest you not do it.
Converter circuit boards aren’t that easy to understand, and if understanding a circuit board is going to be tough for you, we would again suggest you not try your DIY skills here.
Best Practices and Proper Maintenance
When you’re not using your RV, it’s important to store it properly. This will help maintain its condition and make sure it’s ready to go when you are.
That’s especially true for your RV’s electrical system. RV converters rarely fail due to anything other than wear and tear. Ensuring it will remain clean, dry, and dust-free when you’re not using it will help prolong its life.
Before heading out on an extended RV trip, give your electrical system a thorough health check. Test your battery, inverter, converter, appliances, and electrical devices. Ensure that everything works as expected and there are no faults, blown fuses, and other such problems.
Missing out on routine checks can cost you a lot, especially since once you’re in a remote area, qualified technical help will be hard to find and expensive to boot.
Here are some things that you need to take special care of before you plan your next time in the van:
- Test all your electrical components (with a multimeter if necessary). Make sure that your battery, converter, and your AC current inlet are all working properly and in tandem.
- If you have an older van, make sure that parts aren’t worn out. Check for blown fuses and if you find any, investigate to determine the cause.
- Keep track of how many cycles your battery has. That’s not so easy to do, but if you are a heavy user, make some assumptions on how often they will have cycled. If you’re a low user, use the battery’s annual life span as your guide. Most batteries come with rated cycles and/or years which lets you know how many times you can recharge them. Beyond that, they start losing their capacity to charge.
- RVs that spend a lot of time in humid areas near the coast (like Florida) seem to have a shorter battery lifespan. Give that due consideration.
Here are a few things to take care of when you reach your campground:
- Before plugging into the campground’s power supply, turn off your RV’s circuit breaker. If you don’t cut off the circuit breaker, you might experience a surge of power when plugging in. This can cause damage to your electrical system. Only when you are plugged in and ready should you open the circuit breaker.
- Make sure that when you plug into the charging port, your connection is right, and the breakers are also connected properly. If you find anything amiss, talk to the campground officials and get it sorted out before plugging in.
Frequently Asked Questions
When Should You Take The Problem To A Professional Repair Shop?
This is all a question of understanding your limitations as far as electrical systems are concerned. Most van lifers are DIY people; we love to solve our problems on our own or with the help of fellow campers.
However, dealing with mechanical problems is more intuitive and easier. Dealing with electrical circuitry is a whole other beast. If you don’t have the skills to follow the fault-finding steps above, it’s probably best to get a qualified electrician to diagnose the problem.
If you’ve followed all the fault-finding steps described here and you’re confident you have a bad RV converter, we don’t think it’s ever worth the trouble or cost of going to a professional repair shop.
The easiest and most cost-effective solution is to replace the unit.
What is the cost of replacing an RV converter?
In order to understand what it might cost you to replace your old converter, you first need to know which size of converter you need. There are several online calculators available that will help you find out the right size. In fact, our complete RV electrical design tool will do the job for you (and much, much more).
The size you need depends on your battery bank and how fast you want the RV converter to recharge it. RV converters mostly come in sizes between 10A and 80A, and quality varies between manufacturers.
Victron sits at the high-quality end of the scale, and you can expect to pay at least $200 for a 30A Victron Converter, but you can find more budget-friendly options too.
Your RV converter is one of the most important pieces of equipment since it allows you to plug into the campground’s electrical power and charge your battery. If your converter goes bad, it’s a massive inconvenience.
We have shared with you how to spot a faulty converter, how to troubleshoot, and how to take care of your electrical system. Hopefully, that will keep you in good shape. And if you’re on a campground right now and have confirmed your RV converter is bad, it’s probably easier to buy a new one.
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