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Finally parked in your campsite, you plug your RV into the shore power outlet - and nothing happens. The lights are still out, the air-conditioner isn't kicking in. Your RV has no power. Don’t despair! Let’s get to the bottom of your issue with a little troubleshooting so you can get back to enjoying the comforts of home, stat!
Safety first! Remember to always practice caution when dealing with electrical outputs. If it looks or feels dangerous to you, stop what you’re doing immediately and consult a licensed RV repair professional. That being said, here’s a quick list of things to do:
- Check if the main GFCI has tripped and needs to be reset.
- Reset the main circuit breakers at the power pedestal.
- Reset the main 110-volt circuit breaker.
- Check the batteries to make sure they’re not damaged or otherwise incapacitated.
- Disconnect the batteries from the coach and see how the inverter responds.
- Disconnect your power pedestal from the shore power and reset your RV’s breaker.
- Check the diagnostic lights to determine if there is power to the surge protector.
- Check the charger/inverter, and, if you have a generator, test for power at the power transfer switch.
- Test for power between the power transfer switch/power cord and the inverter/converter.
- Check the wires connected to the breaker, then between the breaker and the outlets.
Whew. Those were a lot of steps to go through, we know. And some of them likely seem daunting at first glance. But follow along with us as we go through each one in detail and you’ll be back up and running before you know it.
RV Plugged in at the campsite but no power? Let's go over your options
It’s an RV enthusiast’s worst nightmare: you’ve spent hours on the road in your vehicle, fighting traffic, crawling your way across lanes for endless miles and now, finally, you’ve reached your destination, parked your vehicle, and are ready to unwind in your state-of-the-art home away from home. So you plug in your RV, but you’re not getting any power! What on earth is going on?
Checking and Resetting The GFCI
The first thing you should do when troubleshooting your lack of power is to check your RV’s main GFCI, the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. This is often located in your vehicle’s bathroom, but not always.
Check your RV’s manual if you’re unsure of its location, or how to reset it. Do that before you hit the road, so you won't have to waste time looking for that manual when away in the campground (or worse, find that you don't have it with you).
This is the easiest way to solve power problems in your RV, and should absolutely be the first step you take when troubleshooting this issue.
Resetting main circuit breakers
Try resetting the main circuit breakers at the power pedestal and main 110-volt circuit breaker. This should be a fairly simple process, but please, like all things in this guide, check your RV’s manual if you’re unclear on how to do this, and, again, do not proceed if you feel unsure or at all endangered by anything described. When in doubt, consult a licensed RV professional!
How are the batteries doing?
Check your vehicle’s batteries. How do they look? Are they leaking, or do they appear damaged in any way? Vehicle batteries can take a beating, but they're not invincible, particularly in winter where they’re prone to freeze. If they are damaged, be sure to wear protection before handling them as battery fluid is toxic and can lead to burns and other unpleasant side effects when it comes in contact with human skin.
If the batteries aren’t weather-beaten and otherwise look okay, disconnect them from your current shore power and reconnect them to an alternate power source. If everything works as it should, the issue is likely from the initial shore power and not your RV. Hurray!
If it doesn’t, disconnect the batteries from your vehicle and see how the inverter responds. Do any lights come on? If so, your batteries may have collapsed cells and may need to be repaired or replaced.
Disconnecting from shore power
Here’s where things get a bit more technical and require special tools to proceed. Using a voltmeter or a test light, disconnect your shore cord from the power pedestal and reset the breaker, then test for power at the outlet. If power is there, turn off the breaker, reconnect the power cord, then power the breaker on. Then, move to where the shore cord connects to the RV and test for power.
If your voltmeter finds power flowing, check to see if your RV has a surge protector. If it does, check its diagnostic lights to see if power is going through it. If it isn’t, a faulty surge protector may be the cause of your lack of power.
Inverter/converter and the power transfer switch
If everything is still looking as it should, check your charger/inverter or converter for power, and, if you have a generator, test its power transfer switch. Ways of checking these vary by model, so, please, consult your RV’s operating manual for specifics. Also, test that power is flowing between the power transfer switch/power cord and the inverter/converter.
Time to check the main 110-volt circuit breaker. It’ll probably be housed under a panel, which you’ll have to remove to get to. If the wires connecting to the breaker have power, it’s possible your breaker is faulty and will have to be replaced. Be sure that you’re checking the breaker’s power out rather than power in, as breakers have a tendency to sometimes go bad or rust to the point of inoperability.
Finally, if there’s still no power, check the wiring between the breaker and the power outlets. There might be a loose or broken connection somewhere that’s causing your vehicle’s inability to take in power, and it’s possible fixing this issue will require more professional expertise.
When all else fails
If you’ve gone through this entire list and are still unable to determine the cause of the issue, your best bet is to take your vehicle to the nearest RV repair facility, where they will likely be able to diagnose and fix the problem without further hassle on your part. Trust them, they’re experts!
How to prevent power issues in your RV
Now we'll discuss a few measures you can take to prevent RV power issues.
Charge your batteries
Remember, RV batteries aren’t able to recharge themselves in the same way automotive batteries do, making them more prone to unexpected discharges and failures. They’re a lot more powerful, and, as a result, require a lot more power and maintenance than your standard, run-of-the-mill car batteries. Charging them, though, is often a simple matter of plugging your RV into a compatible AC outlet and waiting until it’s full, a process that can take anywhere from a few hours to an entire day.
Keeping an RV plugged in
Many RV owners, keen on maintaining their vehicle’s various electronic gadgets in a perpetually functioning state, keep their batteries plugged in even when their vehicles are idle for long periods of time. Though not inherently damaging, leaving the RV plugged in emits a continuous low-range charge to the battery that can, over time, deplete electrolyte levels within the battery cells.
Along with remembering to turn off any 120-volt appliances like refrigerators, heaters, air conditioners, etc. within the vehicle before deciding to store it plugged in for the long term, it’s important that RV owners who choose to leave their idle vehicles plugged in for such periods check the electrolyte levels of their batteries monthly to make sure they remain at a good range.
If levels become low, topping off batteries with distilled water is necessary to avoid a damaged battery that has run completely dry, a dilemma you certainly wouldn’t want days before a long road trip!
We hope you found this guide helpful. If you have more tips on dealing with a power failure in an RV, leave a comment to share them here!
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