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Some parts of your RV are much less glamorous and interesting than others. The electrical system is one of those that you probably take for granted. When you first start camping, you just want the lights to come on and go off when you tell them!
But once you start diving into your RV or trailer’s systems, you’ll realize that there’s a lot to learn. Many parts make the electrical system tick–both when plugged into shore power and when disconnected from the grid.
One critical component is the power converter. This gizmo is important but very often confused with the similar-sounding–but unrelated–inverter. Here’s a look at the converter, how it’s different from the inverter, and why you want to make sure your converter is working right for every outing.
What is an RV Power Converter?
An RV converter is an appliance installed in your camper’s power system that allows it to supply 12-volt DC power when you are plugged into a wall outlet. This keeps your lights, fans, water pump, and other little things in the camper working without draining your battery.
As you read about the power converters and other appliances below, remember that everything in RVs is relative. For example, some pop-ups might have low-power portable devices that do the job, while a top-of-the-line Class A motorcoach might have a high-capacity built-in system that gives as much power as a home would have.
Best RV Converter Picks
|WFCO (WF-9855 55 Amp Deck Mount Converter||Prime||Buy Now|
|IOTA Engineering (DLS30 30 Amp Power Converter/Battery Charger||Prime||Buy Now|
|Victron Energy Blue Smart IP22 12-Volt 30 amp 120V, Single Output Battery Charger NEMA 5-15, Bluetooth||Prime||Buy Now|
|Progressive Dynamics PD9260CV Inteli-Power 9200 Series Converter/Charger with Charge Wizard - 60 Amp||Prime||Buy Now|
|PowerMax PM4 55A 110V AC to 12V DC 55 Amp Power Converter with Built-in 4 Stage Smart Battery Charger||Prime||Buy Now|
|Parallax 8345A Power Center with 45A DC Convert||Prime||Buy Now|
|WFCO WF8955PECB Black 55 Amps Power Center Converter Charger||Prime||Buy Now|
|Victron Energy MultiPlus 2000VA 12-Volt Pure Sine Wave Inverter 80 amp Battery Charger, Compact||Prime||Buy Now|
|Xantrex 81-2010-12 Inv/Chgr, Free-458 2000W 12V 100A M-Sine||Prime||Buy Now|
|Renogy 3000w Pure Sine Wave Inverter Charger 12V DC to 120V AC Surge 9000w Off-Grid Solar Inverter Charger for RV Boat Home w/ LCD Display, Auto Transfer Switch, Compatible with Lithium Battery||Prime||Buy Now|
Best RV Converter Charger – Deck-Mount Camper Power Converter
WFCO WF-9855 WF-9800 Series Deck Mount Converter Charger
If your trailer has a factory-installed RV converter on board, it might be a WFCO. This unit is found in many campers and trailers, and replacement is easy. Better yet, it’s easy to upgrade to a more powerful unit if you find your DC system getting used more. This one is a 55-amp model.
- Converter and charger functions
- Bulk battery charging at 14.4 volts
- Normal DC output 13.6 volts for battery maintenance
- Insulated DC connections
- Easy to install
- Three-stage charging
- Limited charge profiles
- No monitoring or control options
IOTA Engineering DLS30 30 Amp Power Converter/Battery Charger
If you run basic lead-acid batteries and don’t want all the fancy bells and whistles that a multi-stage charger can offer, this IOTA 30-amp converter charger is just what the doctor ordered. It’s perfect for replacing an older unit with something inexpensive and functional.
However, if you use your battery bank often and want it to provide its best performance, it would only cost a little more to find an RV converter with a multi-stage charger built-in.
- Simple, basic, and easy to install
- Low power output — 400 watts
- Switchable power output only, 13.6 or 14.2 volts
- Not a smart battery charger
Victron Energy Blue Smart IP22 30-Amp Single Output Charger with Bluetooth
You might not need a purpose-built power converter if you do most of your camping off the grid. In fact, one of the most useable solutions would be a simple battery charger. Plug it in when you have shore power, and then let your solar and batteries handle everything else the rest of the time.
This Victron charger has plenty of output while remaining simple–just plug it into a standard 15-amp 120-volt outlet. That might be with an extension cord to the campsite, or it might be one of your rig’s outlets after connecting shore power.
- Simple–single 15-amp cord
- Available in a variety of outputs from 15 to 30 amps (12-volt models), with one or three outputs
- Also available in 24-volt models
- Lithium battery compatible
- Bluetooth connectivity to Victron apps
- Can be used with your vehicle or other 12-volt batteries
- Dedicated battery charger, not for hardwired solutions
- Limited charging profiles, not programmable
Progressive Dynamics Inteli-Power 9200 Series Converter/Charger with Charge Wizard
This deck-mounted 60 amp converter charger is a good replacement for factory units. The progressive dynamics Inteli-Power 9200 gives you pretty good charging for most lead-acid battery banks, and it is less expensive than other options.
- The built-in “charge wizard” automatically detects the battery charge state
- Reverse polarity protection
- Filtered DC power
- Current limiting when input current limit is reached–fewer popped breakers
- Variable speed cooling fan for quiet operation
- Easy installation with standard 15-amp power cord
- Not programmable
- Not lithium compatible
Powermax PM4 55 Amp 110V AC to 12V DC Power Converter with 4-Stage Smart Battery Charger
Powermax converter chargers are a great value if you’re looking for maximum flexibility and a lot of power. Available in outputs ranging from 35 to 100 amps, the PM4 has a four-stage charging profile on its smart battery charger.
This is a deck mount unit that can be placed anywhere. It’s a direct replacement for many of the other deck-mounted converters you might find in your RV.
- Four-stage battery charger
- UL and CUL listed device
- Compatible with lithium batteries
- Reverse polarity, overload, and thermal protection
- Easy to install
- Equalize charge stage must be manually activated as “fixed mode”
Best RV Power Converter – Panel-Mount Converters
Parallax Power Supply 8345 DC Converter/Charger Panel with 45-Amp DC Output
This metal distribution panel comes in many RVs. It includes branches for 30-amp shore service 120-volt power. The 12-volt fuse block has 11 slots for your system.
- 45 amps DC output power
- Three-stage charger
- Automatic transfer switch
- 11 position fuse block
- Blown fuse indicators
- It can be upgraded for temperature regulation with the TempAssure module (sold separately)
- Difficult and complicated to install
- Comes with box only–no breakers or fuses
WFCO WF-8955 55 Amps Power Center
For the most part, these WFCO power centers are serviceable. Replacement converters are available online, including on Amazon. But if you want to replace the entire thing–maybe you’re doing a conversion or yours has become damaged–they are widely available as a whole. In some cases, it may be preferable to replace the whole thing and tidy up the wiring anyway.
- Includes RV converter and distribution panel
- Available in a variety of sizes, from 55 to 75 amps
- The outer case is black or brown plastic
- Includes 12 DC fused circuits and five slots for AC breakers
- Three-stage battery charger
- Reverse polarity, over-temperature, over current, and short circuit protection
- Exact replacement for many stock units, including WFCO, Parallax, Atwood, and more
- Inexpensive parts online but difficult to install
Best Inverter Chargers
Victron Energy MultiPlus Compact 12/2000/80-30 Inverter Charger 2,000-Watt
Victon is the go-to name for complete power system redesigns. It’s unlikely you’ll find Victron products coming out of the factory–these are the high-tech add-ons beloved by the overlapping and boondocking crowd. Their selection of Bluetooth-connected solar controllers, inverters, and chargers is the best out there, especially if you’re looking for a techy solution.
There’s a lot to love about Victron products, but the best thing is that the equipment’s capabilities are always being expanded. For example, more settings and programming options become available with every new release of the VictronConnect software. In addition, the company monitors an active community on the Victron forum, and user reports and feedback are continually integrated into new products.
The MultiPlus Compact is for 12-volt power systems. Its inverter puts out 2,000 watts, which is plenty for most domestic uses. However, if you’re planning a power off-the-grid installation with battery air conditioning, you might want to opt for the 3,000-watt version.
- Included inverter and 4-phase smart charger
- Automatic switching UPS function (battery backup when the grid goes down)
- Unique power boost function combines available AC power from grid and inverter
- Up to 50-amp shore power input
- Options for Bluetooth connections, battery monitoring, and remote displays
- Programmable for lithium systems
- Completely customizable setup using a USB cable (not included)
- Wall or desk mount
- Expandible capacity and output with parallel mounted units
- Excellent support and community forums for help
- Cost does not include remote control panel or cabling
- Complex setup–complete system solution
Xantrex Freedom 458 – 2,000-Watt Inverter 100-Amp Charger
A little cheaper and a lot less flashy than the Victron is the Xantrex inverter charger. It’s a simple deck mount system that provides power for everything you might need off the grid. Like the Victron, this one gives 2,000 watts of power through its inverter.
Unlike the Victron, most of the Xantrex Freedom inverter charger functions are automatic and cannot be programmed. On the one hand, this is a good thing since it leads to a simple system that cannot be messed with. But if you’re looking to upgrade to special batteries in the future, or you think you just might want to expand your system later on, the Xantrex might not be best.
- True sine wave inverter gives 2,000 watts of continuous power
- Deck mount for maximum mounting potential
- Automatic transfer switch when shore power is disconnected
- Multi-stage charging with temperature compensation
- Control panel sold separately
- Charge profiles are limited and not programmable
Renogy 3,000-Watt Inverter with 4-Stage Charger
Renogy makes a line of value-priced inverter chargers that sell for only slightly more than a conventional RV converter does. For just over $600, you can get a 3,000-watt inverter with all the bells and whistles. There are also 1,000 and 2,000-watt models.
Sound too good to be true? Unfortunately, the company has a mixed reputation online. They produce some great products that have wonderful specifications at good prices. In all, what they offer should be a solid home run. But unfortunately, the company is plagued with customer service and warranty problems. We’ve included this unit on the list because it is clearly a great value, but we’re also extending a caution. Buy from Amazon and return it immediately if it doesn’t meet your expectations.
- High-power output–3,000 watts continuous and 9,000 watts surge
- Pure sine wave power works with all electronics
- Included controller
- Small unit with integrated LCD status display
- Lithium compatible
- Fully customizable charge profiles
- Poor customer service and warranty reports
- Difficult to install with poor instructions
RV Power Supply Definitions
Let’s start by diving into some of the terms involved with your RV electrical system. This will be a simple refresher for some folks, but it’s important to understand the basics before getting too technical.
AC vs. DC Power
Before going any further, it’s time to brush up on some high school physics that we use every day. How’s your electrical theory?
We use two main forms of electricity every day–AC (alternating current) and DC (direct current). The two types are incompatible, so you can’t use an AC appliance with DC power.
AC is found in your home. When you plug something into a wall outlet in the United States, you are using 120-volt alternating current at 60 hertz. The precise numbers vary depending on the application and location, but AC is the standard power the world over. In many other countries, the standard is 240 volt. It is easy to move lots of electricity great distances with AC power, so the grid’s infrastructure is built on it.
On the other hand, DC is found in automobiles and other vehicles. It has two big benefits over AC power–it’s easy to generate in small amounts, and you can store it in batteries. Batteries are always DC.
RVs and campers need to be built to work when they aren’t plugged in. That means they need to be able to use battery power sometimes. And to do that, they must be equipped with DC power systems. Most have automotive-standard 12-volt systems so that they can use standard automotive-type batteries and parts.
But what about those times when you are plugged into the grid with shore power? Every DC appliance will blow up if you plug 120-volt AC power directly into your camper’s electrical circuit. Your lights, fans, water pump, refrigerator, and more–done!
This is the purpose of an RV converter–it converts the power from 120-volt AC to 12-volt DC. Then, you can use it to run all the stuff in your RV without draining your battery or blowing anything up.
One thing to realize is that RVs are seldom set up for off-the-grid living when they roll out of the factory. To keep costs low, most manufacturers set their rigs up with the simplest electrical systems they can. They use a cheap lead-acid battery that is sufficient for a single overnight and not much else. Similarly, the accessories and distribution system attached to that battery is also limited.
In this case, all you really need is an RV power converter. So when plugged in–and in this case, we’re assuming that’s all the time–the DC equipment doesn’t drain the battery. If you start using the battery more or need more power when you aren’t plugged in, then you need more choices.
There are also a number of DC DC converters on the market, designed for specific applications. For example, you might use such an item in a vehicle that has both a 48-volt and a 12-volt electrical system. You could also use it to provide 12-volt regulated power from a 12-volt multi-stage charger.
An inverter is a similar device, but it changes electricity the other way. It makes 120-volt AC power from 12-volt DC. Why would you want to do that?
Imagine you are boondocking in the middle of nowhere. You’re living the life, parked on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway, watching the surfers catch the waves. You have the lights and fans purring away, slowing draining your trusty batteries.
But it’s early, and you need your daily pick me up. So you walk to your loyal friend Mr. Coffee and plug him into the wall. Nothing! Without an inverter, your 12-volt battery system cannot power a 120-volt AC Mr. Coffee!
Depending on how adept you are with propane, a kettle, and a French Press, an inverter may or may not be critical at this point.
Kidding aside, many of the little things we use daily only work with AC power. For example, computers and televisions usually plug into standard outlets, even if their insides technically use DC power. Anything with a standard wall plug will need an inverter to run off a battery. Without it, you are limited to what is installed in your RV, plus a few items with cigarette lighter-style plugs or USB chargers.
There’s a big difference between the size of the inverter you would need to run a computer and the one you’d need to operate an electric skillet or microwave. Some inverters are tiny and only operate one outlet, while others are hardwired into the RV to provide power constantly to all your outlets, just like if you were on shore power. Inverters are rated based on the number of watts they can output. For example, a laptop charger usually needs about 100 watts, while a small microwave needs around 1,200 watts. For more practical information, read our full guide on how to install an inverter on an RV.
RV Charger for RV Batteries
If you aren’t plugged in, then the only source of power for most RVs is the battery. And like anyone with a smartphone addiction can tell you, batteries only last so long before they need their juice.
To accomplish this, you’ll have a battery charger. When plugged into 120-volt AC shore power, the battery charger will provide just the right amount of power to keep your battery in tip-top shape.
This is actually considerably more complicated than it sounds. In fact, you could probably dedicate entire articles or websites to the exact power requirements of different kinds of batteries. For now, let’s just say that batteries are complicated, and some require very specific voltages and currents from their charger.
Modern battery chargers are usually multi-stage chargers, meaning that they provide a programmed charge profile to the battery. This usually starts with a bulk charge phase, which provides a lot of power until the battery is about 80 percent charged, and then an absorption charge phase to taper off the charger current as the battery reaches fully charged. Finally, a float charge phase provides a small amount of current to keep the battery topped off for storage.
Most new battery chargers are also battery maintainers. That is, they charge up the battery and then provide just enough power to keep it fully charged for storage.
One last note about chargers–if you have a battery installed and your power usage is light, you can probably get away with using your system with only a good charger. Then, as you run your DC appliances off the batteries, the battery charger will continue charging the batteries. Most will even sense the increased load and compensate. Here you can find some tips on RV battery troubleshooting.
If you’d like more info about batteries and the technologies used in RVs, check out our article on the best travel trailer batteries. If you want lithium batteries, you might need an upgraded charger.
RV Converter Charger or Smart Converter
Since both converters and chargers make 12-volt DC power from 120-volt AC, it only makes sense that you could combine them into one appliance, right? Well, this is what most RVs have today–a converter charger. It’s sometimes called a smart converter.
Some people call it a converter, and some call it a charger, but it’s really both things. Others are just confused and call it an inverter, but that’s the one thing that it is not!
The fact is, when most people talk about RV converters, they mean a converter charger. The word converter is archaic at this point, and it’s still used mostly out of tradition. Everyone needs a battery charger, and with the advanced chargers available today, it’s a no-brainer to buy a good quality RV converter charger.
Well, now we’ve gone and done it–just when you thought it couldn’t get any more complicated! That’s right, you can combine all of these things into a single item.
An inverter charger is the ultimate device for providing all of your power needs all of the time. When plugged into shore power, the provided 120-volt AC power is converted to 12-volts and used to charge the batteries and run your DC appliances. The 120-volt shore power flows through and powers anything plugged into an outlet.
When you disconnect the shore power cord, the battery powers all your DC appliances. But at the same time, the inverter clicks on and provides 120-volt power to all of your outlets. Obviously, the inverter can only provide so much power for so long–and that’s a factor of how big and good your batteries are.
How Does an RV Converter Work?
A power converter uses electronics to change 120-volt AC electricity from the grid or your generator to 12-volt DC power.
The actual function of your converter will depend on the unit–how big is it, and how is it wired? Many are wired into the system so that you don’t need to think about it. It does everything automatically.
But if you wind up with power problems–drained batteries, for example, you’ll need to know how the converter works to troubleshoot the electrical system.
What’s the Difference Between a Converter and a Charger?
Both converters and chargers provide 12-volt DC power for your RV’s system. But the real difference is the precise way it provides that power.
A converter is built to just supply power to your appliances. So its job is to give the voltage everything needs to run. Most converters provide 13.6 volts.
On the other hand, a charger needs to provide enough power to the battery to get it completely charged up. And while we refer to the system as a 12-volt system, 12 volts is actually in the low range. So, for example, a standard lead-acid battery will provide around 13.8 volts when fully charged. But to get it charged, the charge usually needs to make 14.4 volts.
So if you attempted to charge a battery with a single-purpose converter, the battery might never get to 100 percent. This would reduce the longevity of the battery. In other words, you need to have a battery charger onboard to keep your batteries topped up.
What’s the Difference Between a Converter and an Inverter?
Converters and inverters actually do two completely different jobs.
The job of a converter is to provide 12-volt power to your camper when you are plugged in. Since the shore power cord provides 120-volt AC power, you must convert it before your lights, fans, and other accessories will work. In many cases, it is also the camper’s battery charger. Therefore, every camper and RV needs to have a converter charger.
The job of an inverter, on the other hand, is to give you 120-volt AC power when you are not plugged in. This is only necessary if you want to use household appliances when you aren’t plugged in. Microwaves, coffee makers, hairdryers, or computers are examples of items that would require an inverter to function. Only high-end campers come with inverters installed, while it’s an option on others. In any case, they’re far less common than converters.
What is an Inverter Charger?
An inverter charger combines the functions of the battery charger, converter, and inverter. This gives you an all-in-one power solution for both plugged-in and off-the-grid life on let’s say a great luxury travel trailer.
Working with Power Converters
So now that you understand the basics of the what and why, let’s get to the how. How do you use your converter, and where is the thing?
Where is an RV Converter Located?
Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. It completely depends on your system design. But here are two starting places.
1. Many smaller units are combined into a distribution and fuse panel. This is where you’re likely to find low-power converters.
2. In high-power systems, check near the batteries. There are usually some electronics there, and this is where you’re most likely to find a converter charger.
What Does a Converter Look Like?
It depends on where it’s located. A unit built into the distribution panel will just look like a switch or fuse panel. Bigger units are metal boxes and are likely mounted in the battery compartment or nearby storage compartment.
Will an RV Converter Work Without a Battery?
This is another tricky question to give a generic answer to. The only definitive answer will come from the owner’s manual for your converter charger. It entirely depends on how it is wired and designed to operate.
In theory, a traditional converter is entirely independent of the battery system. Therefore, it should work fine without it. But most have batteries attached, even if they aren’t designed to be chargers. In addition, the battery may help regulate voltage in the system, so removing the battery could cause voltage spikes that may damage electronics.
Do I Need a Battery Charger as Well as a Converter?
Without a battery charger, the DC power system will deplete the battery until it is completely drained.
This is bad for two reasons. First, without a charger, you don’t have a way to recharge it when that happens. Secondly, most batteries are not designed to be completely drained–they will most likely need to be replaced if that happens. So unless you want to buy a new battery every time you use your camper, you’ll need some type of battery charger.
Now, how fancy that battery charger is is up to you. The best chargers are designed to get your battery’s maximum life and performance. They also maintain the battery for storage when you aren’t traveling.
The real difference between a converter and a charger is its output voltage. A converter will supply a steady mid-level voltage suitable for all 12-volt appliances–usually 13.2 volts of clean DC power. A charger should provide varying voltages, usually between 14.4 and 13.8 volts.
If your battery requires 14.4 volts to reach a 100-percent charge, then supplying a steady 13.2 volts from a traditional stand-alone converter will never top it off. Offering such a low voltage for the long term will diminish the battery’s capacity and reduce its lifespan.
However, keep in mind that there is a lot of confusion about converters. Most “converters” sold today are actually multi-stage battery chargers that provide variable voltage to the battery. So before adding a separate charger, make sure that your converter doesn’t already do that!
What if I Don’t Have a Converter? Do I Need One?
This is actually a more complicated question. Everyone needs a charger, but does everyone need a converter? A modern charger does much the same thing as a convert would, so what’s the benefit of having a converter too?
If you have a modern charger, chances are it will sense any increased load in the system and provide power for that while charging the battery.
In this instance, the only advantage of using a converter is its ability to provide a constant voltage. This is important for some electronics that don’t like a lot of fluctuations. But in reality, most of these electronics already have some system built in to ensure they get steady voltage anyway.
If you have a cheap battery charger, you might consider adding a converter. But in this case, it might be worthwhile to upgrade your charger and kill two birds with one stone.
Choosing an RV Converter
Before diving into a complete converter replacement, it’s best to sit down and look at the electrical system you’ve got. Are you pleased with the way it works? If you’re planning upgrades, how far do you want to go? Are you looking at upgrading to lithium batteries or other high-power options?
Converter, Charger, Inverter, or Yes?
Take a look at your current setup and determine what you’ve got. Do you only need one piece of the puzzle, or do you want a complete upgrade? Obviously, the more things you replace, the more expensive and complex it all becomes.
Types of Converters and Their Advantages and Disadvantages
|Type of Converter||Description||Advantages||Disadvantages|
|Standard Converter||Provides 12-volt DC power from 120-volt AC shore power||Powers DC equipment independent of the battery bank|
Can be used with a separate specialized battery charger
Provides steady, regulated power or “clean DC power,” usually 13.2 to 13.6 volts (some are programmable)
Can be combined with a fuse/distribution panel for simple installation
|Does not provide adequate battery charging|
|Converter Charger/Smart Converter||Powers DC electric system while providing charge current for coach battery bank||Most common system|
Combines both a converter and a charger
Most can be programmed for different battery charging profiles (multi-stage or smart charging)
Single unit to install, simpler electrical system
Easy to add a separate inverter
|Does not provide 120-volt AC power from batteries–requires separate inverter|
Most require a battery in the system to function correctly
|Inverter Charger||Provides 12-volt power for DC system and batteries when on shore power. The inverter switches on when shore power is disconnected to provide 120-volt AC power to the camper using the battery bank.||Only way to get 120-volt power off the grid without running a generator|
Available in a variety of output sizes depending on your needs
Automatic switching keeps power to your AC RV appliances even when disconnected from shore power or during power failures
|You must size your battery bank appropriately–120-volt appliances require a lot of power|
A single unit is more expensive than a stand-alone inverter and stand-alone charger
If the unit breaks, you must replace both
Most expensive option
Some electronics require the use of a pure sine wave inverter for proper performance
Should I Upgrade my Stock Converter?
Any time you start tinkering with your RV, you’re faced with a choice. Do you simply replace what’s broken and get back on the road, or do you dive deep into an improvement project of replacing RV wall panels or other systems? Of course, it’s always appealing to look at the shiny new toys, fancy batteries, and built-in inverter chargers and think of how much more capability you’ll get.
But it’s seldom as simple as it seems at first. There are always complications and a pile of new technicalities to pick through.
In general, approach projects like this with caution and research. It’s better to live with what you’ve got for a while and plan the exact improvements you need. Plan your upgrades strategically rather than just doing all the cool stuff you’ve seen on YouTube. Project creep is a real thing, and it can suck all the fun, money, and time out of what was supposed to be a fun time traveling.
What Size Power Converter Do I Need?
You might need to replace a converter if it’s just too small for your use. This depends greatly on what you’re running off of it.
Converters are rated based on the amount of power they can output in amps. The output in amps must be greater than the entire system’s use in amps. Remember that the converter is only running DC appliances, and most of the big power-hungry energy consumers in the rig are likely 120-volt items. Most campers don’t have many DC appliances beyond lights, fans, and controllers on propane furnaces and RV refrigerators. Analyze your system and see what you’ve got that might need running. Usually, the biggest electrical items, like air conditioners and water heaters, only run on 120-volt power.
Here’s a list of the common things connected to your 12-volt DC power circuit that need to be connected to your converter.
- Controllers and ignition for propane appliances (water heater, furnace, refrigerator)
- RV water pump
- Toilet pump (electric toilets)
- Cigarette lighter-style outlets
- USB charging ports
- Stereo/sound system
- Some refrigerators, freezers, or electric coolers
- Some TVs
To figure out how much your system uses, you might use a few methods. However, depending on your camper’s electrical system layout, you may have to modify this procedure.
The basic idea is to simply look at everything you run in the camper and audit how many amps it uses. Then, total all of the amps up, and you’ll have some idea of how big a converter you need.
But finding how many amps a device uses is tricky. You can start by looking at its fuse size. It may also be labeled, like your phone charger may be a 5-watt charger. Your lightbulbs may be 2-watt LED bulbs.
Cost of a Converter
The cost to replace the current converter will depend on several factors, but the primary one is how much work you plan to do yourself. If you’re somewhat handy and are a competent electrician, the job isn’t very hard at all. However, if you don’t know the first thing about electricity, then it’s best if you hand the project off to a professional. Remember, incorrectly installed electrical components are a leading cause of fires in RVs.
The converter itself will set you back a few hundred dollars. If you are looking for a top-of-the-line lithium-compatible inverter/charger, expect to pay around $1,500. If you’re upgrading your system, the actual converter cost will be small compared to all the other components–fuses and breakers, wires and cables, and mounting hardware.
How to Replace Converter in an RV
Swapping out an RV power inverter isn’t rocket science, but the job greatly depends on your system setup. If you have a deck-mounted converter, chances are you can get it going by just taking out the old and swapping in the new.
On the other hand, if yours is part of the distribution system like an original WFCO or Parallax model, the swap might take considerably longer. Since these units are usually packed into a small space and jammed with lots of wires for various circuits, replacing individual components can be time-consuming. And then there’s the fact that they are usually mounted somewhere with difficult access that requires hunching–and maybe some cursing!
Top Converter Brands
WFCO distribution panels and converters are found in a wide range of travel trailers and RVs. In fact, their company motto is “The heartbeat of today’s RVs.”
The standard WF-8930 or 8950 (30 or 50 amp circuits, respectively) have up to 15 DC and 12 AC branch circuits that can be built-in. This provides a complete electrical system backbone, making it easy for manufacturers to customize your camper’s systems at the factory.
Most panels are coupled with a WF-9800 switch-mode converter. According to WFCO, no battery is needed as the converter will supply 13.6 volts of regulated power to the circuit with or without it.
While the Arterra unit is likely the one in your trailer, know that there are still many options if you need a new one. Since these are so common, so are knock-off brands that fit the same cutouts. In general, these are plug-and-play replacements that don’t require much work.
Parallax Power Supplies
Parallax is one of the original names in RV power systems. Their beefy high-end systems are built in the US and made with steel enclosures to ensure they’re robust enough to survive a life on the road. Like WFCO, you might find their converters came in your RV from the factory. They could be part of the distribution panel or a stand-alone deck-mounted option.
Powermax makes battery chargers, converters, inverters, generators, and distribution centers. Several of their chargers are lithium compatible. Their converter chargers come in various sizes, with outputs ranging from 15 to 120 amps.
Powermax makes direct replacements for many standard WFCO, Parallax, and Iota components. Check their website for a comparison with replacement part numbers.
If you’re looking for a state-of-the-art lithium-ready solution for a complete off-the-grid system, Victron is the go-to name brand. The Netherlands-based company makes a complete line of inverters, chargers, battery monitors, and solar MPPT controllers perfect for campers.
What sets Victron above the competition is the connectivity and upgrade potential. Most of their products come with Bluetooth connectivity and remote monitoring options. These are computerized components designed to create an energy network on your rig. If you design your system with Victron stuff from the ground up, everything will talk and share the same controllers.
For most RVers looking to replace a blown component, Victron electronics are probably overkill. But if you’re looking to build an off-the-grid adventure machine with solar and lithium and everything else, Victron is the way to go.
RV Converter Maintenance and Upkeep
For the most part, converters are maintenance-free. Problems arise in individual circuits or when a wiring problem occurs. Remember, ring terminals and crimp connectors are best in the shifting and bumping world of RV life. Avoid wire nuts and too much soldering.
Heat is the enemy of all electrical devices, especially converters and inverters. No matter what type of unit you have, it will have a big fan. Ensure that it is supplied with plenty of cool air and that the fan is kept clean of dust and debris.
Your converter will often be mounted in a tight compartment, under a seat, or in a storage locker. This is fine so long as there is proper venting. If you’re noticing your converter gets too hot–or even occasionally overheating–add some vents to the compartment or find a more suitable location.
Lastly, make sure your batteries are in tip-top shape. Water your flooded lead-acid batteries regularly. Regardless of the type of battery you have, occasionally inspect the terminals and cable leads for any sides of loose wires or corrosion. Keep those connections clean and the wires tight for flawless operation.
Keep the Lights On – Make Sure Your RV Power Converter is Charging
RV converters aren’t the most glamorous piece of equipment you’ve got in your rig, but they are one of the most important. How much you put into your RV power supply will depend on a lot of things–how you use the RV, what sort of batteries you have installed, and how you need to recharge them. Be sure to include the best RV power converter in your research as you design the perfect system for your camping adventures.
Power Converter FAQs
What is a power converter for in an RV?
The power converter takes 120-volt AC power from shore power or your generator and makes 12-volt DC power for your battery-operated RV systems. This is critical to running things like lights, fans, and some other appliances like jacks and some refrigerators. In most cases, the converter also charges your RV batteries when plugged into the grid.
How do I know what converter to buy for my RV?
When you pick a new power converter, two factors will weigh in your decision. First, you need to know how much power your RV’s 12-volt DC power system uses so that you may size the converter correctly. Converters are rated in amps, and the output amps need to be greater than the total amps of all of your DC appliances that may run simultaneously.
Secondly, you need to decide if your converter is also your battery charger. In most cases, it is. So you’ll also want to match the converter charger to your batteries. Find the charging profiles for your batteries and ensure your new charger will provide the proper outputs–or find one that is at least programmable for your batteries. This is more critical with modern, advanced-chemistry batteries, like lithium iron phosphate or AGM. You can generally charge standard flooded lead-acid batteries with any standard charger.
How much does a converter cost for an RV?
Converters vary in complexity and cost depending on the type of unit you need. A basic AC to DC converter that will run your power system will set you back a few hundred dollars. A top-of-the-line, high-power inverter charger can be well over $1,000. Of course, these prices are for the parts. In both cases, professional installation will cost just as much, if not more. Also, remember that you may need other accessories, such as fuses and cabling if you plan a major upgrade.
What is a converter on a travel trailer?
The converter switches 120-volt AC shore power to 12-volt DC power for the RV’s power system. When you are plugged into the grid, this is used for lights, fans, and other DC accessories, but you don’t want to drain the batteries.