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How To Tell If RV Converter is Bad and Troubleshooting Guide

Cruising with an RV is a pleasant experience since it gives you the luxury of traveling in style and comfort. However, your camping trip may turn sour instantly if your RV converter is bad. The converter supplies 12-volt power to your essential travel gadgets and charges the RV’s battery when connected to shore power. So, how do you tell if your RV converter is bad?

One of the most common signs is that your battery doesn’t hold a charge or gets drained quickly. This can be a huge inconvenience since you rely on your battery to power lights, appliances, and other off-grid devices. Another indicator that your RV converter has gone bad is if you notice flickering lights or dimming voltage in your RV. This could mean that the converter can’t consistently provide a stable flow of electricity.

Suppose you suspect that your RV’s converter has gone bad. In that case, it’s crucial, not only for comfort but also for safety reasons, to address the issue promptly. Ignoring a faulty converter can lead to further damage or even pose a risk of electrical fires.

Therefore, it’s advisable to consult a professional technician specializing in RV electrical systems to diagnose and repair any issues with your converter.

However, suppose a professional technician is out of reach. In that case, this article will provide you with the necessary information to keep up with the technical aspects of your recreational vehicle and be sure if the converter is faulty in your RV.

What Does an RV Converter Do?

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Image credit: www.rvingknowhow.com

Before we begin this brief explanation of how to troubleshoot your converter, you must first understand how this device works. Ultimately, an RV converter receives household power from a generator (roughly 110–130 volts of alternating current) and then converts it into the appropriate direct current for personal consumption.

The voltage output will automatically charge the battery of the recreational vehicle and power appliances like refrigerators, consoles, laptops, etc. Unfortunately, when this efficient system is broken due to a circuit failure, the onboard batteries drain, leaving you without a power source.

How to Tell if RV Converter is Bad

Faults are inevitable in owning any electronic device, and an RV converter is no exception. Some of the errors you might find while using this item include:

  • Zero or insufficient power output for your appliances
  • Batteries dying mysteriously
  • Faulty wires
  • Damaged components
  • Dimming lights

In some cases, you may even experience complete power loss in certain areas of the camper due to a faulty converter. Additionally, keep an ear out for strange noises from the electrical panel, as this could indicate something is wrong with the converter.

To accurately tell if your RV converter is bad, you’ll first need to get your hands on a multimeter and learn how to use it. The job of the multimeter is to provide you with impeccable answers when checking the “health” of the device—the battery, wires, components, etc.

There’s a brief section below, – How To Use A Multimeter, with all the information you need to be proficient at using a multimeter; we recommend reading it before proceeding.

Pro Tip

Ensure you inspect your appliances—TV, stereo, fridge, etc.—for damage before ripping your converter open. It will save you a lot of trouble if the fault comes from them.

However, if you’ve analyzed your appliances and still believe that your RV converter is faulty, here are some essential tips to tell if your RV converter is bad and how to detect it.

1. Inspect The Power Converter Fan in Your RV

The first place to look is the power fan that cools the entire system while it’s operational. Typically, a fully functional fan should produce some whirling sound. At the same time, it breathes in a load of air, and its power input must read approximately 110 volts AC on your multimeter.

If the fan doesn’t display these features—an audible whirring sound and an AC input of 110 volts—you’ll need to replace it. Remember that replacing a fan is relatively tricky since you need the item’s precise make, voltage, amperage, and many other factors.

Occasionally, you can install a converter fan of a different make into your RV. However, it must still possess the same amperage and voltage as the first fan to function efficiently.

While inspecting your fan, you should also analyze your RV’s thermostat to see if it’s supplying enough voltage to the fan. You can watch the thermal sensor switch the fan on or off depending on the circuit temperature. 

If the thermostat malfunctions, the fan will work inefficiently. Therefore, you should check this unit and ensure it’s perfectly functional before replacing your fan.

2. Inspect The Batteries

The batteries play a significant role in this equation since they transfer power to all facets of your recreational vehicle. To ensure your batteries are the problem, you should first charge them and disconnect them from the converter once they’re full.

After they’re utterly isolated from the unit, leave them for 6–12 hours, then come back to do a reading with your multimeter. This 6–12-hour waiting time aims to determine if the battery can sustain a full charge without depleting its value.

After the waiting period has elapsed, pull out your multimeter and read the overall voltage of each battery. Suppose one or all of these previously full batteries now display a voltage far lower than it should. In that case, it’s safe to conclude that the battery or batteries need replacing.

Note

If your meter’s bad reading indicates that the battery didn’t charge, you can inspect the wires for faults or replace them entirely.

3. Inspect The Circuit Board And The Resistors Of Your RV Power Converter

This section might be too technical if you have no previous knowledge of electronic components and their functions. However, we will make it as comprehensive as possible.

Suppose you’ve tried the previous tips and still haven’t gotten the desired result.

In that case, the next best option is to look into your RV converter’s “internal organs—the circuit board. The circuit board is the capital city panel where all the converter’s facets (fan, batteries, lights, etc.) interact. If a critical part of this section gets damaged, it will shut down the entire system altogether. 

Fortunately, you won’t have to probe the entire panel to find the faulty component. Your focus is on the power resistor that controls the voltage transferred to the battery and 12-volt DC system. 

Frequently, the resistor will display a value within the range of 3–33 volts when reading with the multimeter.

Pro Tip

Ensure your battery is fully charged; otherwise, it gives your resistor a reading outside the 3–33 volts range.

Unfortunately, getting access to the circuit box isn’t easy since it’ll require you to carefully unscrew several bolts from the device.

Once you’ve brought it to the circuit board, carefully guide it out of its chamber since it is a delicate component of your converter.

Once you read the resistor(s) with your multimeter and discover that their value isn’t within the appropriate range, you can gently disconnect them from the board and replace them with one that functions.

A new resistor shouldn’t be difficult to find since they’re abundant in most discarded automobile applications.

After successfully replacing the resistor, ensure that you read the voltage output to be confident that it is appropriate for your battery. Otherwise, you’ll damage its cells.

4. Inspect The Fuse

If luck is on your side and the Fuse is the source of the commotion, you won’t have to do much regarding repairs. The Fuse is merely a small component—a metal string inside a glass tube—strategically positioned in the power section to deliver an immense amount of current. 

Suppose the current mysteriously exceeds its average intensity, or there is a bridge within the circuit board that might damage your appliance. In that case, the Fuse burns out (breaks) immediately. This simple action will save you the trouble of buying a new fridge, TV, laptop, or phone.

Note

Other factors, such as excessive heat or metal degradation, can cause a Fuse to go out prematurely.

Fortunately, it is easy to replace a Fuse after it has reached the end of its life. First, read its power rating on the glass casing, then gently pull it from the board. Ensure you grip it lightly to prevent shattering the glass while pulling it out.

After successfully extracting it, you can replace it with another fuse of the same power rating. However, you can use a Fuse with a lower power rating if you’re in an emergency. Unfortunately, it might burn out quickly with the slightest current increase.

Pro Tip

Never use a Fuse with a higher power rating than the previous one because it won’t burn out when necessary, causing your appliances and components to suffer damage.

5. Inspect The Power Source

Image of a man inspecting an RV power fuse to tell if the RV converter is bad
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There’s a high probability that your power source could be the reason for the converter’s malfunction. Sometimes, the 110-volt entry point plug could be faulty, the power cable could have partial contact, or the generator—the power source—could be at fault.

Therefore, you should check every component directly connected to the power source to see if there’s a partial disconnect or a complete lack of contact. You can do this with a multimeter by:

  • Reading the continuity of the power cable.
  • Checking the power source for power output
  • Probing the converter for electrical input

You can also test the power source’s capacity with an appliance that requires 110 volts to function (pressing iron, microwave, household lamps, etc.). If it doesn’t operate as it would with a 110-volt input, then there’s a problem with your power supply. 

Suppose your generator, or any power supply, is relatively old; there’s a high possibility that it is the cause of the malfunction since components are susceptible to failure as they age.

What Happens If My RV Converter is Hooked Up Backwards?

If a converter is connected backward, it will attempt to convert DC back into AC, which can create a host of issues. It will start with an overload on the circuit, resulting in excessive heat generated within the system.

In addition, electronic devices connected to this reversed circuit may experience erratic behavior or simply fail altogether due to receiving incorrect power flow.

It’s important for efficiency and safety reasons that converters are always installed correctly, with their positive and negative terminals aligned properly.

How To Use A Multimeter

The primary job is translating what’s happening in your circuit or appliance into understandable numbers. These numbers and values are necessary to troubleshoot the device and find the source of the faults within its electronic system.

Some of the things a multimeter is suitable for include:

  • Detecting if a switch is active
  • determining if a wire is in perfect shape
  • Measuring the flow of current 
  • Calculating the total power output of a battery or AC distributor 

Components Of The Multimeter

A multimeter comprises four significant components: the display, selection knob, ports, and probes. 

  • Display: It reveals the value of the item being read.
  • Selection knob: This selects what you want to measure (batteries, AC, resistors, wires, etc.) 
  • Ports: for connecting the probes to the multimeter
  • Probes: two wires, red and black (positive and negative), with a pointed tip for interacting with what you want to measure.

Measuring With A Multimeter

This section will only provide insight on how to measure DC (batteries), AC (generators), and continuity (wires).

Measuring DC voltage 

To measure DC voltage, turn the selection knob to the section of the meter with a capital letter “V” with three dots underneath, either on the left or right-hand side.

This section contains multiple values (200m, 2, 20, 200, and 1000 volts), representing different power ratings. You should only select the one that exceeds the value of the DC device that you want to measure.

For example, if you want to measure a 12-volt battery, turn the selection knob to 20 volts.

Measuring AC Voltage

To measure ACV, turn the selection knob to the section of the meter with a capital letter “V” with a sinusoid on top—either on the left or right-hand side. 

This section contains multiple values (2, 20, 200, 750, and 1000 volts) representing different power ratings. You should only select the one that exceeds the AC output of the device that you want to measure.

For example, if you want to measure the output of a 110-volt generator, you should turn the knob to 200-volt.

Measuring Continuity (Wires)

To check if a wire isn’t broken, turn the selection knob to the icon that looks like the logo for a wireless connection (bottom center).

After selecting that point, connect each probe to both ends of the cord. The cable is perfect if the meter produces a continuous, high-pitched sound.

However, you must replace the wire or metal cord if there is no continuous sound.

Pro Tip

Ensure you turn off the power supply before checking for continuity, or else you will damage the multimeter.

Should I Repair Or Replace My RV Converter?

Once you’ve gone from easy repair methods like replacing a faulty wire, switch, or battery to fixing faults caused by damaged circuit boards, burned components, or wire shorts, you’ll need to take the device to a professional.

However, you might be tempted to get a new one, thinking it’ll save you money in the long run – it’s the other way around. Repairing broken electronics is one of the easiest ways to reduce waste and save some of your hard-earned money. 

Besides saving money and reducing the heap of electronic waste, here are some tips to help you decide whether to repair or replace your damaged converter:

Recent Products Are More Durable

A survey done by consumerreports.org revealed that the repair rates of products, especially electrical appliances, have dropped since 2010. In other words, manufacturers are making products more durable.

Therefore, whatever natural fault you might encounter in your RV converter will likely recur with a newer purchase. So, investing a few bucks in repairing your damaged converter is more economical than buying a new one.

Avoid Unnecessarily Expensive Repairs

Although it is financially wise to repair your RV converter instead of getting a new one, there comes a time when replacing it isn’t a smart option.

In other words, it’s not worth it if the repairs require you to spend up to 50 percent of the cost to get a new RV converter.

Additionally, there’s a high possibility that another complication might occur after you successfully repair the damaged parts.

The Product Might Not Operate The Same as Before

Frequently, some products that received substantial damage before repairs don’t work the same way after repairs.

For example, a car with a faulty engine might sound loud and uncomfortable after it returns from the mechanic’s workshop. The same can happen to your converter. 

Suppose the board got fried, and the repairman created a makeshift circuit to bring the equipment back to life. In that case, it might not have been able to handle as much load as possible before the accident. 

In such a scenario, a new converter is the best option, especially if impeccable performance is what you seek.

Ultimately, deciding whether to repair or replace your damaged device depends on your financial capacity. I recommend weighing the pros and cons before determining whether the cost is worth it. Will the device function properly? Etc. 

Final Thoughts

The RV Converter supplies electricity to your essential travel gadgets such as the TV, Xbox, stereo, stove, fridge, and other necessary equipment. However, like any other part of your RV, it can go bad over time.

Therefore, it’s critical to know how to troubleshoot a faulty converter and be the hero who saves your trip from disaster. There you have it: all the information you need to determine the status of your RV converter and how to rectify it.

If you’re technically savvy, you can troubleshoot a faulty converter and handle some minor repairs. However, I recommend taking your faulty electronics to a professional instead of fixing them yourself. This way, you might save yourself a lot of complications in the end.

FAQ About How to Tell If RV Converter is Bad

Can an RV work without a converter?

No, an RV cannot function properly without a converter, as it is responsible for converting AC power from external sources into DC power to operate the various electrical components in your vehicle. Therefore, if you don’t have a functional power converter in your RV, your batteries will drain, and you won’t be able to use any appliances in your RV.

Are converters necessary if I’m using solar panels?

Certainly! Even with solar panels on your RV, converters remain essential. Solar panels generate direct current (DC) power, while many appliances and devices, such as laptops and kitchen appliances, operate on alternating current (AC).

Converters bridge this gap by transforming the DC power from the panels into the AC power needed to run these items. They ensure a seamless and efficient flow of electricity, allowing you to fully utilize your solar energy system.

Without a converter, you’d be limited to using only DC-compatible equipment, significantly reducing the functionality and convenience of your RV’s electrical system. In short, converters are a crucial component in making solar power practical and versatile for your RV adventures.

Can I replace my RV’s converter with an inverter?

Yes, you can replace your RV’s converter with an inverter. But keep in mind that this conversion may require modifications and additional equipment to ensure compatibility and proper functionality.

An inverter needs different things than a converter to do its job well. So, you might need to adjust your RV’s setup to fit the inverter. Make sure everything fits and works together. That way, your RV can switch the power from batteries to regular outlets.

How long does an RV converter typically last?

The lifespan of an RV converter can vary depending on usage and quality, but on average, it can last anywhere from 5 to 15 years before needing replacement. However, some can last less than a year.

What happens if my RV’s converter fails?

If your RV’s converter fails, you will likely experience issues with your electrical systems, such as lights not working or batteries not charging properly. It is important to get it fixed or replaced promptly to avoid further complications.

Can I upgrade my RV’s converter?

Yes, you can upgrade your RV’s converter to a more efficient model or one with additional features such as built-in battery chargers or voltage protection. However, it is recommended to consult with a professional before making any changes to ensure compatibility and proper installation.

How do I know if my RV’s converter is working properly?

You can check the status of your RV’s converter by monitoring the voltage and amperage output using a multimeter. If you notice irregularities or significant fluctuations in the readings, it could indicate an issue with your converter that needs attention.

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