If your RV’s electrical outlets aren’t working, the frustration can go far beyond not being able to use your favorite appliances. It can really prevent you from enjoying your vacation while you rack your brain trying to figure out, “Why, oh why, did my RV’s electrical outlets decide to quit working?”
A blown fuse, tripped circuit breaker, or a GFCI outlet that needs to be reset could be the cause of your RV’s outlets stopping working. However, more complex problems could involve the inverter, the house battery, or the shore power connection.
When an RV outlet stops working, the mystery can often be solved with a simple repair, and you can save the cost of a service call by doing the work yourself. However, for more complicated electrical problems, you may need to call in a professional repair.
In this article, I’ll help you troubleshoot by listing the most common causes of a malfunctioning RV electrical outlet and show you how to fix it in no time.
If you’re going to take the time to investigate some of the most common reasons why your RV’s outlets aren’t working, you’ll need to take a step-by-step approach. Troubleshooting each reason to rule it out or assess its severity will help you determine if it’s a simple repair you can do yourself.
Even if it’s something you can’t fix yourself, knowing more about the causes of non-functioning outlets in your RV will help you ask an electrician more informed questions.
1. There is a problem with a GFCI outlet.
GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, a special type of outlet found in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, and almost anywhere in an RV where there is a risk of water coming into contact with an outlet. In the socket itself is installed a small fuse.
If a fault occurs in the outlet itself, such as a water drop, excess condensation, or other short circuit, the fuse will trip and break the electrical connection in the outlet before it can cause problems elsewhere in the circuit.
Reset the GFCI outlet & Check for water problems.
When a ground fault circuit interrupter trips, a small button pops out. Resetting is easy, but you must make sure the outlet is dry or that you have fixed the original problem in some other way. Otherwise, the RCD will continue to trip or could further damage the rest of the circuit.
2. a circuit breaker has tripped or a fuse has blown.
If you have no power at a standard AC outlet that is not a GFCI outlet, the next thing you should do is check your RV’s electrical panel. Most modern RVs have circuit breakers, but there are a few models that still use fuses.
When a particular breaker is tripped or a fuse blows, power to the corresponding circuit is interrupted, including all of the RV’s outlets connected to that circuit. To restore power, you can reset the breaker by flipping the switch or replace the blown fuse.
First, however, you should ask yourself what caused the fuse to blow or blow. If you simply reset the circuit, wipe your hands, and think of it as a quick, easy fix, you could be setting yourself up for a bigger problem later.
In most cases, when a fuse blows or a circuit breaker trips, it’s because of a problem in the wiring or because you have too many appliances connected to one circuit.
If you turn the problem circuit back on without fixing the problem, you can damage appliances, burn out wiring, and even put your RV at a higher risk of an electrical fire.
What tripped the circuit breaker?
First, you need to determine how many appliances you have plugged in and how much power you are drawing from the problem circuit. You can determine the wattage of your circuit by looking at the ampere rating on the breaker or fuse. To do the simple math: One ampere equals 120 watts.
This means that an ordinary 15 amp circuit breaker can deliver a maximum of 1,800 watts.
A 20-amp circuit breaker can deliver a maximum of 2,400 watts.
If you have so many things plugged into your outlets that your power consumption exceeds the maximum capacity of the circuit breaker or fuse, you will have the same problem over and over again.
You will then either have to divide the demand among multiple outlets on different circuits, or make a tough decision about what can be plugged in and turned on at the same time.
3. there is a problem with the RV’s inverter.
A problem with the inverter is the second most common reason for the outlets in an RV not working. The inverter is designed to convert the 12-volt DC power from your RV’s batteries into 120-volt AC power, which many common RV appliances use. If the inverter has a problem, it can cause your outlet to stop working because it will no longer provide power to outlets throughout the RV.
In many cases, you can fix the problem by performing a hard reset of the inverter using the following steps.
How to perform a hard reset of a mobile home inverter.
4. the battery level of the motorhome could be low.
If you’ve been driving on battery power overnight or for a full day, chances are good that you’ve drained your RV’s house battery reserves quite a bit. It’s important to remember that inverters are not very efficient and tend to use more than a portion of the battery power.
Even if you think your overall power consumption was modest, you probably lost a small portion of the electrical charge continuously to the inverter. This is not the inverter’s fault; it simply needs some extra charge to convert DC power to the AC power that most RV outlets rely on.
To make matters worse, the electrical charge of a lead-acid battery begins to diminish once it has dropped below 50%. It can even diminish to the point where the inverter and the rest of the RV’s electrical system can no longer power the RV’s AC outlets.
How to tell if your battery is low
You can check the charge level of your RV’s house battery by using a charge monitor or a multimeter to measure voltage. If either device indicates that the house batteries are less than 50% charged, chances are good that you will need to recharge the batteries before the AC outlets inside your RV will work again.
Note that this fading effect only occurs with lead-acid batteries in RVs. If your RV has state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries, this fading effect will not occur. Lithium batteries deliver the same robust performance at 98% as they do at 2%.
5. power supply is interrupted by corrosion at the battery terminals.
The process of electrolysis can attack the metal-to-metal contact of the battery terminals. It can gradually get to the point where the current can’t get from your RV’s house battery to the inverter and the rest of the RV.
In such a case, you will have no or inadequate power throughout the RV, and you will likely see a powdery white or perhaps green substance at the battery terminals. However, you should be able to restore power by plugging into a shore power outlet.
In such a case, a simple battery cleaning may suffice. You can do this with the following steps.
Cleaning motorhome battery terminals
6. there is a problem with the shore power connection of your motorhome.
So far, we’ve reviewed the components of the RV’s electrical system that are related to the house batteries and internal power supply. If you are in a campground that offers shore power as part of the site rental, it may as well be a problem with the power socket itself.
These power pedestals take a lot of wear and abuse over the course of a single year. In rustic or older campgrounds that have limited maintenance budgets, they are usually minimally maintained as well. A failure of the power column itself can result in your entire RV being without power.
This involves more than just the electrical outlets. All of your RV’s electrical components will stop working if you are plugged into shore power instead of drawing from the RV’s 12-volt DC house battery bank.
7. one or more electrical outlets may have blown.
At this point, the only way we can figure out why your RV outlets are not working is to use a process of elimination. Let’s assume you have done your due diligence. You’ve checked all internal power systems, breakers, house batteries, GFCI outlets and inverters, as well as external AC sources such as shore power, and everything is fine. The next logical step is to check the outlet itself.
How to tell if an outlet is burned out
Begin by visually inspecting each outlet, starting with the one closest to your RV’s circuit breaker. Look for signs of a short circuit, such as:
Sometimes a faulty outlet can cause a short circuit so severe that it prevents power from flowing to all other outlets on the circuit. On some RVs, this can also prevent power to other major appliances, such as the rooftop air conditioner or a built-in microwave.
Be sure to turn off the main breaker and disconnect the power before doing more than a visual inspection.
How to replace a faulty socket in your motorhome
Let’s say your visual inspection has revealed signs of an obviously defective outlet in your RV. Before you can safely turn on the other outlets, you will need to remove and probably replace the blown outlet. You should also be prepared to find other problems behind the outlet, such as melted, blown or shorted wires. Sometimes a wire can come loose due to vibration and cause the outlet to stop working.
Removing and replacing a faulty outlet in an RV can be done in the following steps.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can camper sockets be operated with direct current from the battery?
RV receptacles are not designed to operate directly on DC power from the battery. They are designed to operate on 120-volt AC power supplied by the inverter that converts the 12-volt DC voltage from your RV’s house battery to AC power.
If you want to power your outlets through the RV’s inverter, you need to make sure you have enough battery capacity to run your small appliances. Common AC appliances such as a microwave, hair dryer, or coffee maker can quickly drain your battery to the point where it can no longer provide enough power for the other outlets in your RV.
What is the difference between an RV inverter and a converter?
An inverter converts DC power from the RV’s house battery into AC power that supplies standard outlets. A converter does the opposite, converting AC power supplied from an external source into DC power needed to charge the RV’s 12-volt house battery, for example.
The primary function of a converter is to charge the batteries while connected to shore power or perhaps to a retrofitted generator. A converter also requires a separate fuse panel and breaker boxes to be installed.
When should I call an electrician to repair my RV’s electrical outlets?
Electricity is one thing that needs to be taken seriously. It’s definitely a time to put safety first, as electrocutions and fires are caused every year by amateurs who tried to fix an electrical problem they were in over their heads.
If you feel like you’re in over your head with an electrical problem in your RV, there’s no shame in calling in a professional electrician to fix the situation. Especially if your RV is still under warranty or there is a clause in your RV insurance policy that excludes damage from self-repairs.
If you’re trying to figure out why your RV’s electrical outlets aren’t working, you’ll need to troubleshoot some of the most common issues in hopes of finding a relatively simple solution.
First, check and reset all GFCI outlets and check the electrical panel for tripped breakers or blown fuses. Reduce the stress on the outlet by unplugging it before resetting the circuit.
If connected to shore power at a campground, check the outlet for signs of a maintenance problem. The campground hosts may need to make a simple repair.
Check the 12-volt DC house battery to make sure it has at least 50% of its maximum charge before you need to recharge it. A thorough cleaning of the terminals might also be in order.
Next, check the inverter. Sometimes a hard reset by turning off the power and disconnecting all the wires is all that is needed to get the inverter working again. Whenever you feel you are in over your head, there is no shame in calling in a professional electrician. Many RV warranty plans and RV insurance policies even include a clause that voids coverage if anything is damaged while trying to repair it yourself.