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Have you ever taken your RV out for a weekend without hookups to standard shore power or electricity?
Your RV’s battery isn’t powering some of your appliances like you thought it would, and you can’t figure out why!
All RVs are equipped with a battery, operating on 12v power, but does this mean your standard outlets will still work without plugging in at a campsite with amenities?
In order to pull that off, your RV would need to have an inverter. So naturally, the question becomes…do all RVs have inverters?
Not every RV has an inverter but they are becoming increasingly popular as more folks decide that they want to boondock without having to give up some modern creature comforts.
Let’s learn about inverters, and how they might be beneficial for you and your rig!
What Does An Inverter Do?
If you’re unsure about what an inverter does, let alone if your rig actually has one, you’rere in the right place!
An inverter in an RV is responsible for converting the power in your RV’s 12v DC battery into 120v AC power. What this means is, with an inverter, you have the option to boondock or be otherwise disconnected from shore power and still use some of your 120v appliances.
120v refers to your standard three-pronged outlets and some electronics or appliances. Often, RV appliances are able to run on either AC or DC power, but some need the 120v AC power exclusively.
This is where an inverter comes in. Your inverter will change your battery’s low DC power into a higher voltage, capable of powering more than your battery ever could before. Sounds nifty, right?
Well, there’s only so much that the average inverter can do. It can’t create more power than what your RV battery can supply; it can only convert. Changing 12v into 120v means you need ten times the power than your 12v DC can give you at a time.
An inverter can make the switch, no problem. That’s what it is designed to do! Inverters are a neat invention, but utilizing one usually means that your battery drains much faster than you expect.
Why Do I Need An Inverter (Especially If I Already Have A Generator)?
An inverter can be handy in many situations, but the primary use of an inverter is when you plan to camp unplugged and unattached to shore power. If you boondock often, or camp in locations without hookups, an inverter may be a necessity for you and your comfort while camping.
Inverters are similar to generators in that they allow you to power the majority of your RV without accessing shore power. Generators need separate gasoline or propane to power them with an inverter simply requires access to your RV’s batteries.
You may be thinking, “I already own a generator. What do I need an inverter for?” If you do in fact already own a generator and are planning to bring it on your next camping adventure, an inverter may be a bit redundant and unnecessary to enjoy your time.
However, if you don’t own a generator yet, an inverter might be a good investment. It can be fairly easily installed into your RV’s existing electric system and streamline the process for when you choose to boondock next.
However, ensure that you get a large enough inverter for your needs. You may also need to consider purchasing additional batteries since an inverter merely converts the existing voltage in your RV’s batteries. Being hooked up to shore power is naturally the way to go if you plan on utilizing all of your new rig’s amenities, but an inverter and some extra batteries will do in a pinch!
Many new RVs have inverters already installed. It may be worth it to see if your rig has one, especially if you plan to camp off the grid.
Should I Leave My Inverter On All Of The Time?
So you’ve found that your RV has an inverter already installed.
But now comes the question of when to turn it on and when to turn it off, or if it’s a good idea to leave your inverter on all of the time.
As a general rule, your inverter shouldn’t be left on all of the time unless it is supplying power to necessary appliances, namely the fridge. Inverters are designed to use your battery power and will even drain your battery’s life while in standby mode.
An inverter may be useful for an overnight camping trip. You can power your necessary appliances and leave the inverter going the whole time, probably with little issue!
However, if you don’t own a battery charger (AKA a converter; I know, confusing), your inverter can only do so much for so long. Most fridges and other small-scale appliances don’t require much energy, and of course, the occasional light left on isn’t a deal-breaker.
But if you plan to camp for a weekend and leave your inverter on and powering multiple devices or appliances, you may find yourself running out of juice, and quickly.
Inverters are nice to have if you are traveling from one campsite to another and want to leave the fridge running or the appliance clocks on so that you don’t have to reset them when you arrive at your next destination. This is no problem for an inverter, but this is assuming you will be hooking up to shore power within the same day.
Leaving an inverter on all of the time is also not recommended by the majority of inverter manufacturers. For the longevity of your device, most manuals suggest unplugging or turning off your inverter when it is not in use.
How Do I Know If My Inverter Is Bad?
The RV electrical system is quite simple to troubleshoot once you figure out how everything works and feeds into one another. The easiest way to see if something has gone wrong in your electrical system is to look out for any signs of damage or wear and tear.
The next best thing that you can do is purchase a voltmeter. This is a must-have for any RV owner, and thankfully is a reasonable price compared to most other gadgetry needed for maximizing your RV experience! My favorite is this little one on Amazon that does pretty much everything you could ever need.
A voltmeter does exactly what it sounds like: it measures the voltage of any device, including your RV’s batteries or shore power. A voltmeter is an easy tool to use when you aren’t sure if your inverter is working or not.
Use the voltmeter to measure the input voltage (coming from your RV’s batteries, so it should read 12v) and your output voltage (the power from your inverter, converted from DC to AC power, so it should read around 110v).
If your input voltage is smaller than 12v, something is most likely wrong with your RV’s batteries. If your output voltage is smaller than 110v, then something is most likely wrong with your inverter.
Of course, like everything having to do with troubleshooting an RV, this may not solve your problems. However, to me, this is a good place to begin if you think something is wrong with your RV’s inverter.
Inverters are not built to last forever, just like your RV’s tires and other electrical components. There are steps you can take to ensure a longer life span for your inverter, however, and some of these steps may be easy and necessary ones to take!
How To Take Care Of Your RV’s Inverter
If you already own an inverter, or if you plan on purchasing one for your RV, maintenance and upkeep are essential for the health and life of this piece of technology! How can you take care of your RV’s inverter?
There are a few things you can do to lengthen the life of this handy device. However, the upkeep of your inverter also depends on the upkeep of your RV’s batteries, so keep that in mind when reading forward!
Take Care Of Your Inverter’s Cooling Fans
One of the most important components of your inverter is the cooling fan. Inverters give off a lot of heat while converting energy if you hadn’t already guessed. This means that the cooling fan is a necessary feature of all inverters.
Taking care of your fan is a fairly easy task. Much like any other fan used to cool electronic devices, it needs consistent cleaning and maintenance to keep your inverter cooled down. An easy fix you can perform as part of your maintenance process is keeping the fan blades clear of dust and debris.
This may be a slightly involved task with an inverter as some fans are more difficult to access than others. However, canned air or other electronic cleaning supplies may make the process easy for you.
If your inverter fan is malfunctioning or has quit operating, you may need to reach out to an RV repair center to get it repaired. Your inverter can’t work at full capacity without a fan, and chances are, it won’t work for long no matter what!
A cooling fan is necessary to extend the life of your inverter, so make sure yours is in tip-top shape!
Take Care Of Your RV’s Batteries
Your inverter’s power and longevity are directly linked to the health of your RV’s batteries. While no RV battery is designed to last forever, you can perform a decent amount of maintenance on it to extend the life of it and, in turn, your inverter.
Whether you have one battery or multiple to power your RV, it is important to take care of them. Batteries are prone to corrosion, improper off-season storage, and improper charging. All of these things have simple solutions, however, and it may be worth doing should you wish to extend the life of your batteries and inverter.
Corrosion is the most common issue with RV battery maintenance but is a very easy fix. Should you notice any sort of sulfation or corrosion, don’t be alarmed. A battery’s normal process of charging and discharging forms sulfate crystals on any part of a battery’s lead plate.
The easiest thing for you to do should you notice these crystals is to clean them off. Disconnect your battery, purchase a terminal cleaner (this one on Amazon is my go-to), and use the solution and a metal scrub brush (here’s a good one on Amazon) to scrape away the corrosion. There’s even terminal sealant spray to deter future corrosion so that you can save your time and money the next time maintenance is needed!
Another cause of battery failure is improper off-season storage. Your RV’s batteries should be kept inside while not being used for maximum health and longevity, which means disconnecting them when you store your RV for the winter.
The batteries should still be kept at a full charge, however, so you may not have a dedicated space in a garage or workshop for them. This is not something that will cause too much of an issue, and RV batteries have been known to survive a season or two still installed and uncharged in an RV.
However, removing and storing your batteries is a necessity if you live somewhere cold. Batteries can freeze in winter and cause irreparable damage to them and potentially your inverter or converter as well.
The final step you can take with your RV’s batteries is properly charging them. This may seem like a no-brainer, but batteries are often over or undercharged. Many factors play into why this might happen, but an easy solution is purchasing a converter or battery charger that automatically turns off when your battery is fully charged!
No matter what, happy batteries make for a happy inverter, so don’t hesitate to perform these extra maintenance plans!
Turn Off Your Inverter When Not In Use
Just like all electronics or automotive accessories, it isn’t helpful to leave something on when it isn’t being used. So the same can and should be said for your inverter! Why drain your batteries and put extra strain on your technology when you’re not even planning on being in your rig anytime soon?
Just leave your inverter off and let your batteries charge up if you’re not planning a trip. Your RV doesn’t mind, it isn’t a necessary device to leave on, and your inverter will thank you!
So, DO All RVs Have Inverters?
Inverters are not a standard feature in every RV. They can be a useful tool for the average RVer, though, and might be worth purchasing should you find yourself disconnected from shore power often. It all depends on your needs and the needs of your upcoming trip!