Last updated on September 13th, 2021 at 10:29 am
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Curious about your RV’s electrical system, but not sure where to start?
Chances are, you’ve heard about an RV converter as being part of the system, but where does a converter fit in?
What does a converter even do for your RV? An RV converter is responsible for converting standard 120v AC power into 12v DC power. This is important because your 12v DC powers very specific things inside your rig, such as fans, lights, and vents. Because it powers such important components, a converter is a critical part of your RV.
Still confused about what your RV converter does? Let’s take a look and answer some frequently asked questions about your rig’s electrical system!
How Does An RV Converter Work?
Still pondering how your converter works and why it’s important to your RV?
It’s a necessary component to any and all rigs, whether you’re planning on being hooked up to shore electricity or not!
When you plug your RV into shore power or any other standard electrical source, the converter’s job is to reduce 120v AC power down to 12v DC power. Converters have been made standard in newer RVs to supply power to all of the 12-volt appliances and accessories in your rig.
If your rig isn’t plugged into shore power or another electrical source, your RV battery or batteries will supply the power to all of the 12-volt appliances and accessories in the RV. A converter is there to recharge your batteries when you are hooked up to shore power, which means your batteries will not drain and risk damage to their overall lifespan.
A converter works simply enough, and is either a standard feature or an easy plug and play addition to any rig. It is a necessary machine if you plan on utilizing your DC appliances or accessories because your batteries will still drain even if you are plugged into standard shore power.
A converter keeps your batteries charged, but not all converters work the same. Their operations vary based on your needs. Let’s go more in-depth on what this means!
Types Of RV Converters
There are many different types of converters out there, each with their own special abilities and compatibilities. Choosing one that best suits your needs is a good idea, especially if you are upgrading an old or broken converter! These are some of the most common types of converters, but you may need to do additional research to find one that best suits your needs. I’ve actually done a lot of this research already and put together a list of the 10 best converters for just about RV and situation which you can read here.
Multi-Stage Or Smart Converter
So you’re looking for a converter to do it all then I have good news, there’s an option out there for you! A multi-stage converter is an amazing modern converter capable of charging your batteries, keeping them at a consistent level, and shutting off when your batteries have reached an optimum level of charge.
Multi-stage converters are most people’s first choice these days, given their capabilities. This converter takes care of you and your rig’s electrical system at every step of the process so that you always have peace of mind.
A charged battery is a happy battery, and a multi-stage converter knows the harm of an overcharged battery as well. Single stage chargers, often found in older RVs, don’t have the same capabilities as multi-stage chargers. For example, single stage converters or chargers are only capable of a large bulk charge.
These converters can often overcharge your batteries, leading to permanent damage. A multi stage converter is designed to avoid this and protect your batteries over a longer period of time.
High Output Converter
Do you need multiple batteries charged and enough juice to power larger appliances running off of a DC current? A high output converter may suit your needs best.
This converter is designed to work for you and work hard. It is the best converter for camping in harsher or colder climates, as well as the best option if you need a high output of energy for your DC appliances or accessories.
This converter also helps out all of your batteries, if you have more than one that needs charging. If you know you’ll have a lot of energy demands for your 12v system, this is a good converter to consider.
Deck Mount Converter
If you’re looking for a converter that can be installed almost anywhere, look no further than a deck mount converter. Just like the name suggests, this converter can be installed on the deck which means you don’t have to worry about installing it somewhere inconvenient.
This converter may suit your converted or otherwise bespoke rig best, as most conversions require very different setups than standard RVs. Having the option to mount a converter beneath seats, counters, or on a wall is appealing to many RVers!
Distribution Panel Converter
Do you have an older rig in need of a converter replacement? Are you looking for an easy switch? Research distribution panel converters, because it may be the right fit for you!
Most distribution panel converters are designed to replace older models and can usually be installed in the same place. They are newer and more efficient than older models of converters, which means you’re getting an upgrade in every way!
Distribution panel converters are capable of charging your batteries efficiently as well as working silently to power your appliances. Their efficiency is such that you won’t have to worry much about energy loss.
How Do I Know If My RV Converter Is Bad?
I knew I needed to replace my RV’s converter and battery charger when, in the middle of summer, my DC vent fan ran slower and slower until it finally stopped one morning. I wasn’t sure what was happening at first, but it didn’t take me long to realize that my battery was dead; my converter had not been charging it as it should have.
You will know if your RV converter is bad if you have a similar experience: your fans are running slower, your lights are dimmer or flickering, and any other DC connections seem weaker than normal. If the RV is new to you, it may take a moment to realize it, but before long it becomes all too clear.
If your RV converter is in fact bad or broken, it should be a relatively easy replacement. However, if you’re unsure if the culprit is your converter or another piece of the RV electric system puzzle, testing your converter is the only thing you can do. Here’s how!
How To Test Your RV Converter
The easiest way to test your RV converter requires another tool: a digital multimeter. Thankfully these devices are usually very affordable and compact for easy storage. It is easy to use and a necessity for any RV owner!
The first step to take when testing any RV electric system is to disconnect the rig from any power, including disconnecting the battery. This means you will be protected in case anything in your electric system is malfunctioning.
Once your batteries are disconnected, take your multimeter or voltmeter and connect it to each individual battery. Testing your batteries is a good first step when troubleshooting your converter, as they are inherently linked together! This video can help you understand what needs to be done:
If your meter reads 12.3-12.9, all is well. This is the ideal level for all parts of your system, and if it reads less or more, something is off in your batteries. However, if your batteries seem to be in this range, then they are not the issue in this case.
Your meter can also be used to measure the voltage in your converter the same way, and you can test both the input voltage and the output voltage to further troubleshoot the issue. Your converter may also simply be struggling with it’s built-in fan, one of the most necessary components in a converter.
If you can’t seem to find the culprit, it may be a more involved problem with your electrical system, including a potentially faulty fuse or issue in the wiring. And, as always, ask the professionals if you can’t seem to get your converter working again. They’ll know better than anyone!
How Much Does It Cost To Replace My RV’s Converter?
So your troubleshooting went as planned, but you received some bad news: your converter needs to be replaced. What does this mean for your budget, as well as how complicated is it to replace?
Like most things in an RV, the cost of replacing a part depends on your needs and your own skill level. There are many converters on the market, and if you feel comfortable installing a converter on your own, you will save some money on installation.
However, a converter may be a more complicated installation than you are used to, and you may need professional advice and help when it comes time to get your new converter up and running. An RV expert will have no trouble installing a new converter for you if it is something you think is beyond your abilities!
In terms of cost, the number of converters on the market should make options available to every budget. However, if you find that the entire converter needs replacing and it isn’t an easy fix such as the fan or an updated battery charger, you may be looking at a larger budget.
Replacing your RV’s converter can cost between $100-$2,000 which is an unfortunately large range. However, the cost of it all depends on the amperage needed to power your RV as well as any other features you are hoping for from your converter. The average cost of replacing an RV converter starts at about $500, which may seem steep. However, your converter is an important part of your RV’s electrical system and is worth the investment.
You may be able to save some money on installation, or perhaps on a converter that doesn’t produce as much power as another model. Your DC system shouldn’t be powering anything too extreme, which means you probably don’t need a high output converter. However, if you find this to be a necessity to your rig, just be prepared for the cost of such an upgrade.
Will An RV Converter Work Without A Battery?
Wondering if your RV converter will work without a battery? This is an interesting question and one that may not apply to all of you RVers out there. However, the answer may not be the one you’re hoping for.
Your RV converter is designed to convert the power from your rig into 12v power that your battery then stores up for future use. In theory, can’t you use a converter without a battery if you are consistently hooked up to shore power?
The short answer is, yes, you can indeed run only your converter without a battery and enjoy 12v power, but only if you are consistently hooked up to shore power. There are also many reports of ruining converters using this method. Why might this be?
Your electrical system is designed to store excess power and energy into your RV’s batteries, meant for later consumption or use when your energy needs are high. Without these batteries being utilized, the chances of burning out your converter are much higher.
Many RVers have tried using their built in RV converters without a battery and most people report success for a short period of time. However, if your RV is permanently hooked up to shore power, it is recommended that you still utilize your batteries to ensure proper maintenance and care of your RV’s electrical system.
Converters are designed to work in tandem with batteries, and nearly every RV comes with them, standard. So unless you are struggling with your storage and need the battery’s compartment for an upcoming trip, keep your electrical system happy by leaving it be!
Your RV’s electrical system can be a sophisticated and complicated piece of technology. Proper maintenance and care of your converter, batteries, and charger is necessary to enjoy your RV for a long time. Hopefully your converter is working the way it should, and you can get back to enjoying your travels for years to come!