How to Tell if Your RV Converter is Bad

How To Tell If RV Converter Is Bad

Your first trip in your RV can be almost revelatory. It simply can’t be compared to staying in hotels or motels. You are free to drive wherever you please, and you can take the comforts of home with you as you travel. Of course, many of those comforts need a reliable source of electricity. Appliances, smartphones, video game consoles, etc. all need power to run. 

That’s where your RV converter comes into play. It helps to power all of these devices! In addition to this, the converter is also the power source for your RV’s gauges, monitors, shower head for rv and other systems. So, without a working converter, things can go south quickly.

The problem is that a loss of electrical power can be caused by many things, not just a converter failure. How do you tell the difference?

Here’s a troubleshooting guide to help you answer that question. Follow these instructions to determine if your problem is related to your converter or not.

gear on RV

What is a Converter?

All of the electronics in your RV runs off of your RV battery. This is often referred to as a house battery. However, if you simply relied on it alone, you wouldn’t have power for long. Just like your car’s battery would run out of juice without being powered in some way, so would your house battery. That’s why you plug your RV into a power source whenever you park it. 

That’s important, because your RV becomes your living space each time you park it. When you do that, your converter takes the shore power (AC) that you’ve plugged into, and converts it into the 12 volt battery power of your house battery (DC). 

If your converter does go bad, replacing it won’t be cheap. The cost can range from $100 to more than $1000. This is a job that should only be done by professionals. It’s simply too risky to try and take this on as a novice.

How to Troubleshoot Your RV Converter

The following troubleshooting guide will help you determine if an electrical problem can be blamed on a bad RV converter.

RV Converter Warning Signs

Chances are, you’ll begin to suspect a problem with your RV converter when your devices begin to malfunction. If you notice your interior lights have dimmed, that’s a good sign that something is wrong. The same goes for power issues with your other devices. Is your fridge getting warmer than it should? All of these things are signs that your outlets aren’t getting the power they need from your converter.

Checking  Your RV Batteries

Remember that your RV converter provides power to your house batteries. If it isn’t doing that efficiently, then your batteries begin to run on their own power. They may begin to drain slowly. Take a voltage meter and a multimeter to test your battery. Follow these steps:

  1. Charge your batteries fully.
  2. Disconnect your batteries from your RV
  3. Test them to see if you get a faulty reading.
  4. Replace batteries if they are faulty.

Now, you’ve either determined that your batteries are fine, or you’ve replaced them. If you continue to have problems with your electricity, it could easily be your converter.

Troubleshooting Your Cooling Fan

If your RV converter is bad, the issue could be with your cooling fan. Check this first. 

The process of converting electricity from an external power source to one your batteries can use produces heat. The cooling fan turns on and off depending on the inner temperature of your converter. If the fan isn’t coming on as it should, the high temperatures can cause problems. 

To test your van, take a voltage test at the entry point of your converter. If the voltage test fails, that problem will need to be repaired first. If the voltage in the line coming in is okay, you can consider the fan. The issue is usually going to be with your thermal sensor or thermostat.

Connect a power source directly to the fan. If it turns on and rotates, the fan is working fine. The problem is with your sensor or thermostat. If the fan does not work, they you’ll need to find a replacement part and install it.

Using a Multimeter to Test Your RV Electrical System

The next area of troubleshooting involves ensuring that your voltage is within the normal range. Abnormalities can occur at the entry point where the power supply comes into your RV. It can also occur at the point of your 12V DC breaker box. Normal voltage will run from 108 to 130 volts at point of entry. That will go down to 11 to 13 volts near your breaker box. You’ll need a voltage meter to test this. If your readings are too high or too low, that’s a problem.

Checking The RV Circuit Board

This is a step you should only take if you have some experience working with electronics. If not, please get a professional to help you. If you decide to proceed, here are the steps to follow:

  1. Unscrew the circuit board carefully.
  2. Look for built up battery acid that has clogged the connections.
  3. It will be strong smelling, and leave a white flaky residue on the connections.
  4. Disconnect your shore power, solar panels, and batteries if you see battery acid.
  5. Mix a teaspoon of baking soda with 12 ounces of water.
  6. Use this mixture and a cotton swab to clean off your connections.
  7. Let the circuit board dry completely.
  8. Reconnect everything.

If you still have issues at this point, it is probably a faulty converter.

Some circuit boards have resistors. These control the amount of voltage coming from your 12V DC power sources. These are often behind your circuit board, and are difficult to reach. Use a gentle hand as you look for them. If you see battery acid build up on the connection points or resistor gates, contact a specialist who works on recreational vehicles. They will be able to advise you on either replacing your convertor altogether, or replacing the resistors.

Another component to consider are your diodes. These control power flow. Unfortunately, if these are the issue, there’s really no way to test or replace them. It’s simply a process of elimination. If you suspect your diodes are the issue, it’s time to replace your converter.

Don’t Forget About Your RV Fuses

Sometimes, the simplest solution is the one that works best. If you have electrical problems, take a close look at your fuse box. Pull them individually, and look for signs of scorching or cracked bridges. If you see an issue, replace the fuse right away. You should be able to find replacement parts at truck stops, auto parts stores, RV dealers, or rural supply stores.

Preventative Maintenance For Your RV

It’s always going to be cheaper to do preventative maintenance such as getting the best rv roof coating​ than to replace or repair things. Because, once you determine there’s an issue with your converter, you will need to replace it. You won’t be able to last very long without a properly working converter.

If you do replace your converter, start off by purchasing the best RV converter you can afford. This is not an area where being frugal will serve you in the long run. Next, commit to testing your system before you head out on any long trips. Losing power out on the road is a real problem.

You should have a repair kit that you bring along when you take trips in your RV. One of the items you should always carry with you is a set of spare fuses.

Your batteries will suffer wear and tear, even more so if you travel in countries where the weather conditions are extreme. Be proactive, and replace these every few years. Test them more often than that.

When you pull into a campground or truck stop, don’t immediately plug your RV into the power source provided for you. Take a look at it first, and ensure that the powerstation is in good working order. If it seems to be in disrepair, don’t connect your system to it. Even if it means spending a night living very low-tech, or driving to another location, you don’t want to risk damaging your electrical systems. 

If you decide that you are safe plugging in, close your circuit breaker before you do. Then, plug into the powerstation. Once this is done, you can open your breaker. This will prevent a power surge from frying one or more of your components.

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