When you’re traveling to faraway places, your RV is your home. But, just like your real home, you have to take care of your RV too so that your journey goes on smoothly. The electricity in your RV helps you prepare fresh meals on the stove or in the microwave and store your food in the refrigerator.
You can also see important statistics about your RV and monitor your journey thanks to electricity. Unfortunately, a shutdown of such an important system can jeopardize your trip.
The RV converter is at the heart of your camper’s electric system as every ampere passes through it. It is durable, but it can face problems, so maintaining its health is crucial. Whenever your RV converter is failing, you will see some warning signs.
These signs include your RV lights dimming, your electronic devices not working well, and your house batteries not charging. Let’s discuss how you can tell your RV converter is misbehaving and if you can do something about it.
What is an RV Converter and Why Do You Need One?
A converter is essential if you want to enjoy electricity in your RV. You need it because it converts the alternating current from the campsite’s power source to a direct current because RVs can only use direct current. The power sources at campsites output 30 to 50 amps of AC, and your RV can run into several power issues if it isn’t converted to DC.
If your RV takes 120 volts of AC, it converts it into 12 volts of DC. Many people mistakenly think connecting their RV to the power source without a converter will work, but it doesn’t.
The converter powers some crucial parts of your RV, such as interior and exterior lights, vent fans and thermostats, refrigerator in case of no other power source, and home batteries.
Your converter might not necessarily power these components, but a converter and battery power the equipment in most modern RVs. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines/manual to see how a converter can perform in your RV.
How to Locate the RV Converter?
Converters are usually modest in size, so locating them isn’t always easy. They also aren’t at the same spot in every RV, which adds to the problem.
You can locate the converter by looking for the fan or the fan vent. Their fans cool off the heat produced by converters, so look out for them.
Look out for your control panel, where most electronic equipment is located. Since RVs are small, manufacturers try to cram as many electrical components in one place as possible to provide more living space. So, if you can locate the control panel, there is a high probability that the converter is somewhere near it.
The batteries in your RV are powered directly by your converter. Both are connected through wiring. So, if you follow the wiring coming out of your battery, it can take you to the converter.
If none of that works, turn off all the lights and electrical components of the RV and listen closely for a buzzing sound. If you can detect a buzzing sound after everything is turned off, it is surely coming from the converter.
If you still can’t locate the converter, it is time to read the manual or contact the manufacturer directly.
How to Tell Your RV Converter is Working
The best way to tell if your converter is working properly is to look for the warning signs. Usually, interior lights keep dimming if there is a problem with the converter. Sometimes interior lights cannot indicate the problem, and they aren’t the only way to tell there’s an issue.
The electronic devices inside your RV can also indicate converter problems. If your refrigerator isn’t maintaining its temperature and not cooling properly, it is a warning sign. You should also check outlets to see if they’re receiving enough power.
The biggest indicator is the house batteries because they get their power directly from the converter. If batteries cannot hold their charge or aren’t charging, it is time to check your converter.
Let’s discuss all the important ways through which you can check if your converter is working effectively:
#1 Is there Battery Drainage?
The RV converter is directly responsible for charging the home batteries by supplying power of 12V. If you notice your batteries too fast, it may signify the converter malfunctioning.
Test the batteries to find out where the real problem lies. Check if they can still hold a consistent charge by charging them fully and removing them from the RV. Keep them removed for half an hour and use a multimeter to check them.
If you get a bad reading, the batteries are problematic and need to be replaced. If the batteries are fully charged, you need to get your converter replaced.
#2 Is the Converter Cooling Fan Malfunctioning?
The converter cooling fan is crucial for converting alternating current to direct current. The converter heats up and stops working if the cooling fan doesn’t work properly.
High converter temperatures are the most common reason behind its malfunction. You can detect it through a voltage test where AC enters the converter.
If the voltage tester reads 110V, you should consider replacing the thermostat or the thermal sensor. Try supplying power directly to the fan to see if it works, as it needs consistent power to run. If it does work, replace the sensor. Check the details to ensure you get the same replacement for the thermal sensor or the entire fan.
#3 Is there an Irregular Voltage Range?
A malfunction in the RV converter can also be detected through voltage measurement where AC enters the converter. The multimeter should read between 108 to 130V at the entry point and 11V to 13V at the breaker box. If you get a reading above these numbers, you should install new breakers.
An abnormal voltage reading may also indicate a short circuit going on, and you should test the wiring that goes into the converter.
#4 Are there Circuit Board Issues?
Opening and checking the circuit board required some expertise with the electronic components. Do it only if you’ve worked before on the circuit boards or hire an electrician.
If you have opened the circuit board, check if there’s any battery acid in the components and connections. The battery acid is white and has a smell, too, so you should be able to detect it easily.
Clean it after turning off the RV electricity if you find battery acid on the connections. Make a 1 tablespoon baking soda and 12 oz water mixture and clean the battery acid using a cotton swab.
Keep the board open for a while and let it dry before closing it. If you still experience the same issues, the problem might be in the converter and not the circuit board. Sometimes the resistors in the circuit board fail too.
These resistors are installed in circuit boards to regulate the flow of power. Unfortunately, they can also get damaged because of the battery acid but are usually hard to reach, so you need a professional to resolve this issue.
#5 Are the Diodes Malfunctioning?
Older RVs have circuit boards equipped with diodes that keep the current flowing in one direction. By preventing it from flowing in the other direction, diodes ensure the electrical system stays safe and functions smoothly.
Diodes are complex, and even experienced electricians sometimes have difficulty testing them. If you feel your RV’s diodes are defective, take it to a specialist. Sometimes it is impossible to install new diodes, so you might have to replace the converter.
#6 Are the Fuses Blown?
Fuses protect the electrical system by shutting it down during short circuits and other issues. They are often blown in the process, requiring a replacement. Check them all by removing them from the circuit board one by one.
If the metal bridge is broken or they look burned, replace them as soon as possible. Ensure to check the amp rating printed on the back of the fuse and replace it with a fuse with the exact same rating.
You can make up a fuse with a lower amp rating, but it’s not the ideal solution. Try finding one with the exact same rating to have the right replacement to avoid any issues.
#7 Do You Have an Unreliable Power Source?
While you’re on the move, it is hard to find a sustained and reliable power source for your RV. If the power source isn’t reliable, the RV’s electrical system will misbehave. It will cause the lights to be dim, which makes it feel like the converter is misbehaving.
Connect a lamp or other electronic equipment to the power source directly to check if the connection is reliable. If the equipment/gadget misbehaves, the problem lies in the power source. Campsites in cold locations have this problem if their power outlets aren’t sheltered.
A storm can cause a leak in the power outlet resulting in short circuits which resemble a defective RV converter.
As you can see, having a quality converter is a necessity for a fulfilling RV experience. If your RV converter misbehaves, you will face several annoying issues affecting the whole electrical system. Knowing how to detect a faulty converter might help prevent it from collapsing and save you some money.
Learn more about converter troubleshooting from this helpful video.