Are you new to RV life? You’ve got a whole lot of excitement ahead of you — but also, unquestionably, some challenging technical issues to grapple with. Don’t worry. The RV community is always ready to share its vast body of knowledge. If you barely know what an RV power converter does, never mind what size power converted you need for your RV, we’ll get you up to speed.
What Is an RV Power Converter?
An RV power converter, also often colloquially called a charger, is a device used to convert your RV’s native electrical system, which uses 120-volt AC power, to 12-volt DC power. That, in turn, charges your RV’s 12-volt battery bank — which isn’t just handy, but in many cases indispensable. RV power converters are typically installed close to the batteries, and are often encased in a fuse panel.
We’ll take a look at the appliances that run 12-volt DC power in a little while.
In the meantime, it’s useful to know how an RV power converter actually works. These devices have one simple job, and that is to bring the RV’s 120-volt power down to a 12-volt level, which will in turn stop your RV battery from running out of juice at a significant portion of the speed of light.
When Do You Need an RV Power Converter?
Every RV needs an RV power converter, without exception. That’s exactly why newer RVs come equipped with a power converter by default — but if you have an older RV and the power converter is not sufficiently large for your needs, or you believe that the RV power converter is faulty and needs replacing, you may be shopping for a new one.
What is an RV power converter used for? All 12-volt DC (direct current) appliances need one to run efficiently, without draining your RV battery — and some of the most important appliances in your RV run on 12-volt DC power, include:
- Your lights
- Any ceiling or other fans (though not air conditioner units, which run on 120-volt AC power)
- TV antennas, laptops, radios, CD players, and similar small appliances
- Gas leak detectors
There’s a whole load of RV appliances that rely on 12-volt DC power, some of the key ones include:
- Fluorescent light, double, 30 W: 2 DC Amps
- TV, color, 13″: 6.4 DC Amps
- TV booster: 0.2 DC Amps
- Digital Satellite Receiver: 2.0 DC Amps
- Refrigerator – on gas: 0.4-0.9 DC Amps
- Refrigerator – on 12 volt mode: 35.0 DC Amps
- Fan motor, 1000 CFM: 5.5 DC Amps
- Furnace, forced air: 8.0-10.0 DC Amps
- Evaporative Cooler: 6.0-9.0 DC Amps
- Roof vent fan: 2.5 DC Amps
- Water pump: 6.0 DC Amps
Note: These are approximate ratings. Check the current draw on each device in your RV for a more accurate calculation.
Appliances powered by 120-volt alternating current — and which therefore don’t rely on an RV power converter — include AC units, fridges, freezers, and microwave ovens.
What Is the Difference Between an RV Inverter and a Converter?
An RV inverter is essentially the polar opposite of an RV power converter. An RV power converted takes your RV’s standard 120-volt Alternating Current power and converts that to the 12-volt Direct Current power many of your smaller appliances need to run. An RV inverted takes 12-volt DC power and brings it up to 120-volt AC power, on the other hand.
This makes it possible for you to watch TV, use hair dryers, enjoy coffee makers, and use other AC appliances with a 110-volt outlet from your RV batteries.
RV power converters are so universally required for comfortable RV living that they’re standard equipment now. RV inverters will not, on the other hand, come preinstalled in all RVs.
If you are still assessing your needs, you will be interested to learn that inverter charger units, which can both act as inverters and power converters, are also on the market. These units can take the comfort of your life on the road to the next level.
What Size Power Converter Do I Need for My RV?
What size power converter will you need to make your life on the road as comfortable as possible? There is a technical answer to that question, and a lay person’s answer. We’ll tackle the basics first, but if you’re gearing up to buy a power converter for your RV, you will have to do some math to figure it out.
So, to look at the very basics, RVs that use more 12-volt DC appliances at the same time will need larger RV power converters to facilitate the use of all these appliances. That generally means that larger RVs, in which more appliances like lights, phones, and laptops are plugged in at any given time, require larger RV power converters.
Now for the math. You’ll need to be familiar with your RV’s electrical system, and the number of amperes your 12-volt DC appliances (or at least the ones you’re realistically planning on using all at the same time) put out. That will help you decide what size power converter you need for your RV, because RV power converters are rated depending on the maximum amps they can output while they’re working.
How do you find out how many amperes the 12-volt DC appliances in your RV use? That part is usually simple. The device’s instruction manual likely tells you about the amperage, or it may even be printed somewhere on the appliance itself. In some cases, you’ll be supplied with information about the watts a device uses, instead. You’ll just have to divide the number of watts the device puts out by its voltage, and you’ll end up with the amperage.
Once you’ve done this for all DC appliances, just tally up the total, and you’ll have your answer.
Many RVs are equipped with 45-amp RV power converters, such as this Progressive Dynamics PD9145AV Inteli-Power 9100 Series Converter/Charger. RV electrical systems have evolved into ever more powerful setups that function nearly as well as any home’s electrical grid, however, and larger RV power converters are now also on the market.
You may need a 60-amp RV power converter, like this Progressive Dynamics PD9260CV Inteli-Power 9200 Series charger – found here on Amazon, or you may need an even bigger 80-amp RV power converter, such as the Progressive Dynamics PD9280V Inteli-Power 9200 Series Converter, seen below. Even 90-amp power converters are now on the market!
No matter your RV living needs, the right RV power converter for you is out there — even if you’re adventuring in the mother of all fifth wheels!
How Do You Know if Your RV Converter Is Working? Plus, Can It Be Repaired?
Common warning signs that indicate your RV power converter may be faulty include dimmed lights, power fluctuations, and batteries not charging properly. Essentially, if your 12-volt DC appliances aren’t working properly, your RV power converter is likely to blame. If that’s not definitive enough for you, you can also purchase a digital multimeter very affordably. That will tell you for sure if your RV power converter is working properly.
What should your next step be if you determine that your RV power converter is not working at all, or not working as well as it should? You could have a certified RV technician take a look at the problem. Depending on the source, you may be able to get your RV power converter fixed. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a broken circuit board.
In other cases, however, it will turn out that it is not feasible to have your RV power converter repaired, or that purchasing a new RV power converter is simply more cost effective.
RV Converter Replacement Cost
Should you need to have your RV power converter replaced, you will want to know what that is going to cost you. The answer? Fortunately, RV power converters are often a lot more affordable than you might initially think! The cost of a new RV power converter will depend on the brand, model, and size.
The cost will also depend on the type of RV power converter you opt to purchase. So-called smart or multi-stage power converters are among the most popular choices today, because they will protect your batteries by preventing them from overcharging.
A high-output RV power converter may be the right choice for you if you are looking to charge multiple batteries or have higher demands, while deck mount RV power converters can be mounted on the deck.
You may not have to spend more than $100 to $400 for a 45-amp RV power converter, but some RV power converters cost as much as $2,000. Because your RV power converter plays such a vital role in your quality of life on the road, it’s crucial to opt for a high-quality unit that suits your unique needs and that is built to last. So long as you get the right size power converter, it will last you for years to come.