When you’re off the grid, like in a camping site, your RV is your sweet home away from home. It allows you to enjoy a hot cup of coffee, a real meal, and an entertainment spot where you can catch your favorite TV shows or enjoy some gaming. Now, if your RV is suddenly out of power, then this can cause dire consequences that can devastate your camping plans. Thankfully, you don’t need to despair as this guide will get to the bottom of the issue by conducting a comprehensive RV converter troubleshooting.
Although most people don’t bother to know how a converter works, a little knowledge about it is somewhat important. When your RV is parked and connected to shore power or a generator, it uses the 120V a/c power to operate some of your household appliances. At the same time, a converter is needed to transform the 120V a/c current into 12V d/c power to run the dashboard system, most lighting, and to recharge your battery. Since converters are electrical components, they too can fail, forcing you to think of ways in which you can restore them back to their working order.
RV Converter Troubleshooting: An Ultimate Guide
How Can You Tell if a Converter is Faulty?
It’s very easy to tell when your RV converter has a problem. The first and obvious warning sign is dimming of your RV’s interior lights. Another clue could be your electrical appliances once they seize to work. A good example is when your refrigerator fails to maintain its temperature. In extreme cases, your RV can lose power altogether.
In the first cases, the problem could be the converter where it’s unable to convert enough power to be used by your RV’s components. In the last case, the problem is likely to be the battery where it has totally exhausted its charge or it’s defective. The problem could also be a totally damaged converter.
Remember, we mentioned that its main purpose is to convert AC power into DC to charge your RV’s battery and power most low voltage appliances. So, once the converter is damaged, then it means that your battery will definitely drain since it’s not being recharged.
Although troubleshooting your RV’s converter doesn’t require a high level of electrical knowledge, it’s always good to be cautious when dealing with electrical outputs. Some of the problems we’ll discuss can easily be diagnosed and fixed by any novice. However, some problems will require a bit of experience and will hence require you to consult a licensed RV repair professional to fix them. So, if you’re up and ready, then let’s begin.
1. Are the Batteries the Cause?
In case you experience total loss of power, then there’s a possibility that your RV’s converter has drained your batteries. Another explanation could be one of your batteries is not maintaining its charge causing it to draw power from the other battery. If that’s the case, then the problem should be examined early enough to prevent damaging the other battery.
Thankfully, testing your batteries is one of the easiest things that can be done by almost any RV owner. You can do it anytime at any place provided you have a voltmeter and a multimeter.
- Step One:
The first step is to charge your batteries to full capacity then disconnect your RV from any external power source. This could be the shore power, a generator, or solar panel. This will help to isolate your RV from your electrical power source for a while.
- Step Two:
Disconnect each battery from its partner to separate them from each other. This will allow you to test each battery independently making it easier to spot the problem. Most RV batteries are connected in parallel where the positive terminal of one battery is connected to the positive terminal of the other battery. The same goes for the negative terminals.
- Step Three:
Once the batteries are removed from the RV, allow them to rest for about 20 minutes to stabilize their charge.
- Step Four:
Since the batteries are fully charged, use your multimeter to test their voltage one at a time. Now, a good battery that’s in perfect working condition should have a multimeter reading of 12.5 – 12.7 volts. Anything less than that means that your battery or batteries are unable to hold a charge and are hence faulty. In this regard, you’ll have to replace the batteries or rather the faulty battery.
On the other hand, if you record the correct readings, then it simply means that your batteries are in perfect order and the issue may well be the converter.
2. Could it be a Faulty Cooling Fan?
If the batteries are not the problem, then you should check the next possible culprit which is the cooling fan. Just like most electrical components, an RV converter also requires a cooling fan to cool the components by lowering the temperatures.
Since you can’t regulate the temperatures manually, this cooling fan is usually inspired by a thermostat to turn on and off intermittently in response to temperature fluctuations. So, if the cooling fan is damaged, then this can cause a serious temperature rise that can possibly damage some components within the converter not forgetting causing some electrical issues in your RV.
Thankfully, just like in our first case, the cooling fan can also be inspected and fixed.
- Step One:
So, to test the cooling fan, you’ll need to connect your multimeter to the exact point where the cooling fan connects to the converter. In case it doesn’t give any reading, then it’s certain the fan is dead. You see, cooling fans can sometimes malfunction following regular use that can lead to wear and tear.
- Step Two:
Since all hope isn’t lost yet, there might be a possibility that your 110V power line has a problem. Just to be certain, you can try to supply the cooling fan with a current from a separate source to see whether it works. If it doesn’t work, then it’s clear it’s damaged and will need a replacement. In case it works, then the problem might be your 110V power line or the thermostat.
- Step Three:
In case the converter is getting hotter than normal and the fan is working, then the problem could be the thermostat. Remember, the thermostat is the sensor that turns the cooling fan on/off when temperatures in the converter rise or fall. So, if it’s malfunctioning, then it will require a replacement.
- Step Four:
So, how do you replace a faulty converter fan? Well, although it’s easy, one tricky nut you’ll have to crack is finding the right replacement. Here, you’ll need to be extra careful as you will have to find the exact replacement that corresponds with your converter’s amperage, voltage, size, and part number. In short, you’ll need to have the existing cooling fan during your purchase to confirm all these.
However, if you’re on the road, the best advice is to visit your nearest garage or electrical shop to see whether you’ll get a replacement.
3. Could it be the 110V Power Source?
In our previous point, we touched something to do with the 110V power source. At this point, we will discuss in detail how to troubleshoot the 110V entry point to see whether it shows any signs of power failure.
- Step One:
The first step is to inspect all the components responsible such as the RV inverter. Remember, the inverter is responsible for converting your batteries’ 12V DC into 110V AC power to be used by your household appliances. The inverter should, therefore, be in good working order.
You can also test the reliability of the AC power source by plugging any appliance of your choice (such as a microwave) to see whether it works.
- Step Two:
To perform a comprehensive test, you’ll need to use a multimeter to measure the voltage in two specific points. The first point is where the 110V AC power enters the converter and the second one is testing the entry point of the 12V DC circuit breaker box. In case you don’t detect any power, then the circuit breaker is the culprit.
- Step Three:
To fix it, you’ll need to inspect the wiring of the circuit breaker box very carefully to see whether there’s any loose or broken connection. Check every circuit breaker independently starting with the primary input breaker to check for any signs of physical degradation.
Check for cases of corrosion in the wire terminals and if any, mix a small portion of water with a tablespoon of baking soda to clean it. You can use a soft-bristled brush to scrub the affected areas. Once you’re done, you can now wipe the circuit breaker and leave it for some time to fully dry up.
Note: When testing the circuit breaker box, test power-out rather than power-in.
4. Check the Fuses
Just like inspecting the batteries, another simple way of detecting your RV converter’s problem is by inspecting the fuses. In most cases, fuses are overlooked when it comes to troubleshooting your converter.
Fuses are designed with a thin metal bridge in the inside that melts down to break a connection whenever they detect an electrical surge or a short circuit. Once the current is broken, there’s a total loss of power in your RV. This is an obvious thing with fuses and it’s a positive step that helps to protect your appliances from damage as well as your wiring from melting down.
- Step One:
So, to troubleshoot this possible issue, you’ll need to inspect each fuse by removing it from its respective spots. You can perhaps use a fuse puller or needle-nose pliers to pull them out. Be careful not to press them too much or else you’ll crush them.
- Step Two:
Inspect the thin wire in the inside to see whether it’s burned out. If it’s damaged, then it means you’ll have to replace it. Now, during replacement, you need to find a similar fuse with the same amp rating so that it matches with the other fuses.
5. Inspect the Resistors and the Diodes
Sometimes the root source of your converter’s problem can be as simple as a faulty resistor or diode. Now, in some old-fashioned RV converter circuit boards, resistors and diodes are the ones used to control the voltage flowing to and from the 12V DC batteries. In such converters, the circuit board is usually riveted somewhere in the converter box making it easy to locate.
However, due to the complexity of the design, accessing these resistors will require you to disassemble the converter box completely to avoid damaging the vulnerable components inside.
Once it’s out, you’ll need to take a very close inspection of the resistor gates (the connection points) to see whether there’s any buildup of battery acid. This is one surefire way you can attest whether a resistor is faulty or not.
Now, the diodes, on the other hand, differ greatly from the resistors. They are tasked to ensure that electric current flows only in one direction without reversing. Remember, if electric flow reverses, it can potentially blow your RV’s batteries or your solar panel for that matter.
Due to their design, testing for a faulty diode using a multimeter can be very difficult, as you have to understand the direction to which the current is flowing before you can test. Just like the resistors, the diodes too can also be tested by inspecting the connection points to see whether there’s a white acid residue.
For the case of the resistors, you can easily hire a professional mechanic to replace them. However, for the case of diodes, the only remedy is to replace the entire RV converter.
In conclusion, your RV is a major investment that requires extreme care for it to offer full service for a long time. One major component of your RV that’s usually factory-installed is the converter. The best thing about the converter is that it can last for a lifetime as long as your RV is operational. However regular maintenance followed by preventive measures will need to be observed if at all you need your RV converter to last for a longer time.
In this ultimate guide, we’ve discussed how to troubleshoot your RV’s converter. Some issues are easy to fix while others are quite complex and require a professional mechanic. Some are so extreme where the only way out is to replace the entire RV converter. However, regardless of the situation, one surefire way of taking care of your converter is by conducting regular inspections of your RV at all times.