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7 Common RV Electrical Problems and How to Fix Them

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Published : March 15, 2023
Fixing an RV Socket issue
  If you are like most RV fans, one of your worst fears might be something going wrong with the electrical system. However, RV electrical problems don’t have to spoil your fun, and those with basic electrical knowledge can fix many problems. Once you understand what causes electrical problems in an RV and how to do some basic RV electrical troubleshooting, you can handle many circumstances that might come up on the road.  

How to Spot Electrical Problems in Your RV

  First, you need to know the most common signs that your RV has electrical issues. Many of these signs are similar to what you would expect if the electrical system of your home, vehicle, or appliance were not working properly. For instance, if you suddenly notice that the interior lights of your RV go dim shortly after you turn them on, it could be a sign of trouble.   Some signs of RV electrical problems are hard to miss, like if the engine suddenly cuts out or something quits working. Other signs can be more subtle. Here are a few signs something is wrong with the electrical system of your RV.  
    • Headlights become dim or flicker
    • Difficult starts in cold weather
    • The refrigerator does not maintain the temperature
    • Trailer lights will not work or flicker
    • Light bulbs that keep blowing
    • Burning smell coming from appliances
    • Batteries keep losing charge
 

How to Check the RV’s Electrical System

  The electrical system of an RV might seem complex, but once you understand the basics, you can easily determine where the problem lies. Even if you call a repairer, this is helpful because you will know what to expect. So the first step is to get to know the electrical system of your RV and how it works.   Your RV has dual electrical systems and gets its power from two sources. It has a DC system and a 120-volt AC system. You might also have a generator or solar power system. Your RV also has a power converter that can be the source of the problem.   Knowing which system and components are responsible for features and amenities will help you locate the problem quickly. For example, the problem can be the battery itself, the DC system, the AC system, the converter, or the appliance.  

DC System

  The first system is the DC power system which gets its energy directly from the battery. The battery can be charged by several means. It can obtain power from the alternator or solar panels. When the RV is plugged in or operated by a generator, the 12-volt DC system runs the lights, fans, and water pump.  

AC System

  The 120-volt AC system obtains alternating current from a power outlet or generator. You use an AC current when you plug into an RV park outlet. When plugged in, your RV also has a power converter that transforms 120-volt AC into 12-volt DC. This system helps run your wall outlets, roof AC unit, and microwave oven.   Why does my RV keep losing power? This is the most common question that causes owners to call in a professional. RV electrical system failure can have many causes and occur along any portion of the system, from the power supply to the outlet to the appliance itself.   Many problems have a simple solution you can do yourself, but you need to call in a professional for others. For example, working on your RV’s electrical system can be hazardous, and if you do not know what you are doing, you could risk injury, fire, or cause more damage. Therefore, before beginning any electrical repair, you should evaluate your skill level and knowledge.  

What Are the Most Common Electrical Problems with Motorhomes?

  Electric problems in RVs can arise suddenly or give you hints something is wrong. Recognizing what your RV is telling you allows you to get problems repaired before they become bigger, more costly issues, or RV electric system failure.  

1. Battery Is Bad

  The first thing every RV owner needs to know is where their battery is located. Many RVs have a battery in the engine compartment and an auxiliary battery in the coach. The alternator charges the battery in the engine compartment. An auxiliary battery can be charged using solar panels or a converter.   Signs your battery might be bad are dim lights and trouble starting in the morning. These problems can also be a bad connection to the battery. In addition, corrosion can build up around the battery posts and disrupt the current flow. You can disconnect the battery and clean the posts to see if this fixes the problem. It might also be that the battery is old or the alternator is not charging it properly.  

2. Blown Fuses or Breakers

  The RV’s electrical system is hooked up to a panel box that routes power to various components and systems, just as it does with your house. If the system becomes overloaded, the fuse or breaker will trip. This will cause a sudden loss of power to every item on that circuit. If you have a sudden loss of power to several appliances and lights at once, then it might be that you need to reset the breaker or replace the fuse.   Another source of power failure might be the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) on a wall outlet. The GFCI serves as a first line of defense if an appliance suddenly becomes faulty. It will trip at the outlet level rather than the circuit breaker level. So if you plug something in and hear a sudden snap before it stops working, the GFCI is the first place to look. Then, you just need to press the reset button in the middle of the outlet, and it should work again.  

3. Trailer Light Connections

  Trailer lights are notorious for being problematic. The most common problems are trailer lights dimming, flickering, or not working at all. Driving with faulty trailer lights can be hazardous and illegal in many areas.   The most common problem is either a plug end that is not sealed correctly or a kink or break in the wires. The trailer lights are different from other issues with your RV because they are exposed to the elements and under strain.   Trailer light wiring can be stretched or become caught on something and damaged. Another common problem is that the connector has pulled away from the wiring. Those with basic electrical skills can easily fix either of these issues.  

4. Converter Problems

  Converter problems can manifest in accessories not working at all or not working properly. Problems with the converter can cause fans to run slowly, lights to dim, refrigerators to fail, and AC units not cool sufficiently. A bad converter can also cause batteries to drain continually. The problem can be with the converter or the connections.   If you hook up to an RV park outlet and suddenly begin having these problems, you might try moving to a different spot. Sometimes, the problem might not be your converter but the park’s outlet. Leaving your RV hooked to a faulty power source could damage your electrical system or appliances if this is the case. However, if you move to another spot and it still does not work, it is time to troubleshoot your electrical system’s converter or other components.  

5. Light Bulbs that Keep Blowing

  When it seems that you are continually replacing light bulbs, the problem could be major or minor. So the first advice is to make sure you buy quality light bulbs. Often, cheap bulbs do not last as long as a name brand.   Low or high voltage from the power source can also cause light bulbs to blow often. Light bulbs blowing continually can indicate more serious electrical problems, such as worn or melted wiring insulation. In addition, it can be a sign of a faulty circuit breaker or other problem. If you have eliminated the light bulb, circuit breaker, and more common causes for blown light bulbs, then this is one time when it is wise to call in a professional.  

6. Appliances Not Working

  If your appliances are not working when you pull in to hook up, the first thing to do is check and ensure they are plugged all the way in. Sometimes, plugs can wiggle out of the outlet while you are driving. The problem can be that the appliance itself is no longer working and needs to be repaired or replaced. It can also be that the appliance is not receiving enough power due to an issue with the converter or power supply.   Something you can try to see if it is the appliance itself is plugging it into a different outlet to see if it works. If you have checked the breaker and GFCI on the outlet, and the appliance does not work in other outlets, then it might be time for an appliance repair or replacement. However, unless you have extensive knowledge of the appliance, you should not attempt to repair this yourself.  

7. Burning Smell Coming from Appliances

  Of all the RV electrical problems, a burning smell coming from your appliances is one you should not ignore. This is a sign that you are getting excessive current and can lead to electrical failure or a potential fire. Finding the source and remedying the situation as quickly as possible is important. If it starts when you hook up to a power source, you should contact park management and report the problem.  

Is It Worth It to Fix an RV’s Broken Electrical System?

  You know some of the most common RV electrical problems and their possible causes. Many issues can be easily resolved and are not cause for concern, such as a tripped circuit breaker or outlet that has worked its way out. Others are an indication that a more expensive repair is needed. Regarding whether to fix an RV with a broken electrical system, the answer has to do with the age and value of your RV compared to the repair cost. If you have an RV with electrical problems that are not worth repairing, you might consider selling it for cash to a junk RV buyer. They can take your old RV off your hands, and you can put the cash toward your next big trip or rig.  

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