RV Breaker Box: Everything You Should Know About Your RV Circuit Breaker

The circuit breaker is a crucial piece of safety equipment on your RV. Anytime electricity is in use, there has to be a regulation system in place. It has to make sure too much power doesn’t charge through the system. Excess charge in electric systems can cause overheating, fires, and damage to appliances. The circuit breaker interrupts the current or “trips” the system when this happens.

At the very least, you need to understand the basics of your circuit breaker. You don’t want a tripped circuit breaker to leave you without electricity on the road. A trip may be the result of a temporary overload or a larger issue, and it’s essential to know the difference.

Here are the four things that every RV owner should know about their circuit breaker:

  • That the circuit breaker is a key piece of safety equipment
  • The location of your circuit breaker
  • Which circuits attach to each breaker
  • Your circuit breaker panel capacity

In this article, we will cover how to equip yourself with this necessary information. We’ll also review maintenance and frequently asked questions about RV circuit breaker panels.

The Most Important Things To Know About Your RV Circuit Breaker

Your RV circuit breaker monitors electricity from your power source to your appliances. It protects your refrigerator, hot water heater, and air conditioning system. If your electric system overloads, the circuit breaker trips to interrupt the current.

Let’s cover the four pieces of circuit breaker knowledge that RV owners need in more detail.

Circuit Breakers Are A Key Piece of Safety Equipment

A circuit breaker is a simple electrical system that stands between your RV and disaster. Electrical issues cause excess heat, which leads to melting wires, fire, and electrocution. People can’t detect changes in electric current, so your circuit breaker is always on watch. It will automatically trip the circuit if it detects a problem.

Trips can be the result of too many appliances drawing power at once and overloading the system. If you are experiencing frequent trips, you may be operating overcapacity. The circuit breaker also trips if it detects issues with wiring or surges of electricity. However, breakers have diffusion capacities, which we’ll cover in more detail later.

It’s essential to make sure your circuit breaker is operational before using electricity in your RV.

The Location of Your Circuit Breaker

Every time your circuit breaker trips, it needs a manual reset. You don’t want to wait for a trip to locate the panel in your RV. Knowing the location also makes maintenance and repairs easier.

The location of your circuit breaker varies based on the make and model of your RV. If you own an older model RV, the circuit breaker might be underneath a bed, under the refrigerator, or behind a cabinet door. In newer models, it’s typically in an external storage compartment. If you can’t find it, the location of your circuit breaker should be in your users’ manual.

Excessive heat or water damage can render your circuit breaker inoperative. If you suffer either in its general location, ensure it’s in working order before powering up.

Which Circuits Are Attached to Each Breaker

Knowing which breaker covers each appliance in your RV is handy if you need to shut off power to one or more of them. You might need to do this for general maintenance or due to a malfunction. It can also help you locate potential issues faster in the event of a tripped circuit.

If the circuits aren’t labeled, your first resource is your users’ manual. It should lay out the circuit breaker configuration in detail. For late models, you can also check with a dealership or an RV maintenance expert for the layout.

When all else fails, you can manually map out your circuit breaker configuration. We recommend you do this to double-check that the labels are correct if you purchased your RV used. There is a chance that the past owner rewired, making the tags and user guide inaccurate.

To figure out your circuit breaker layout, turn off one breaker at a time to see which appliances lose power. A single breaker can power multiple amenities, so be thorough in your walk-through. It’s much easier to do this as a two-person job. Make sure to label the breakers as you go so anyone using your RV can easily access this information.

Your Circuit Breaker Panel Capacity

Circuit breaker capacity is the maximum amount of electricity your system can handle. Breaker capacity is also sometimes known as its amperage or load capacity. Amperage determines how much charge will trip each switch. It’s also how much electricity your system can safely diffuse without being destroyed.

Each breaker has a label on it that denotes its maximum amperage. Standard capacities are 15, 20, or 30 amps. Keep in mind that a switch can handle 80% of its max amperage before tripping. So a 20 amp breaker will handle up to 16 amps before it trips.

It’s incredibly dangerous to exceed the amperage on your circuit breaker. If the breaker can’t diffuse the current, there’s a risk of appliance damage and electrical fires.

If you have frequent trips, it’s a sign that the breaker is over its limit. Some amenities, such as air conditioning, use a lot of electricity. Make sure they are on their own switch or one with enough capacity to support it and other appliances.

RV Circuit Breaker Troubleshooting

Any issue with the electrical system of your RV is something you are going to want to deal with quickly. We’ll cover the initial steps RV owners should take and how to figure out if you should call an electrician.

Resetting Circuit Breaker Trips

The most common cause of an electrical shutoff is a circuit breaker trip. Trips happen when there is too much charge running through the breaker. Sometimes it’s the result of running too many appliances at once. Or it could point to a more concerning electrical issue.

The first thing you need to do is reset the breaker. When a breaker trips, the lever shifts to a new position. The tripped circuit will look different from the rest of the switches and will be easy to spot. Simply flip to lever back to reset it.

When to Call a Professional

If a reset does not fix the issue or you are experiencing frequent trips, it’s time to turn to an expert. Remember that these systems are there as a safety measure against electrical problems. Frequent trips could be a sign of a malfunctioning appliance or a faulty breaker.

Always call an electrician before tampering with any of the wirings. Rewiring may be necessary during repair or when upgrading your circuit breaker. Electrical systems are dangerous and can be deadly to untrained amateurs.

Anytime you are ever uncomfortable or unsure of how to fix your electrical system, stop and call a professional.

Frequently Asked Questions about RV Circuit Breakers

These are some commonly asked questions about the RV circuit breakers:

Do Circuit Breakers Need To Be Replaced As They Age?

Like every electrical device, circuit breakers do wear out with time. However, unlike other equipment, the actual circuit breaker isn’t meant to be repaired. If your circuit breaker is past its prime, you will need to replace it. There are some common signs that your circuit breaker is malfunctioning. You might experience frequent trips, notice excess heat in the unit, or see sparks. Luckily, most new RV circuit breakers cost under $150, and you can install them yourself.

How Much Does To Hire An Electrician to Fix a Circuit Breaker?

If a breaker reset doesn’t fix an electrical issue, it’s best to call a certified electrician. They are experts in inspecting and repairing your system. Luckily, they are also relatively affordable. When hiring an electrician, you will need to pay for labor and parts. Labor rates will vary depending on the contractor, but the average price is between $40 and $100 an hour. The parts needed for repairs are typically inexpensive. You can expect to pay $100-$150 for the total job.

What’s the Difference Between a Surge Protector and a Circuit Breaker?

Both surge protectors protect your RV from unsafe changes in current. However, they differ in how they offer protection. Surge protectors absorb excess power while circuit breakers stop the flow of electricity. They also have different use cases. Surge protectors specialize in protection from uncommon occurrences rather than everyday use.  A surge protector can save your RV from things like lightning strikes and faulty electric power sources.

Do I Need A Surge Protector If I Have A Circuit Breaker?

Circuit breakers are necessary to protect the wires in your electrical system. On the other hand, surge protectors are optional. If you camp in an area with frequent lightning, you should invest in a surge protector. It’s also a wise safety precaution if you use power from unfamiliar sources often. With electricity, it’s better safe than sorry.

Are Fuses The Same As Circuit Breakers?

Fuses and circuit breakers have a similar purpose. They both interrupt potentially damaging electric current to protect wiring, but they do it in different ways. Fuses function by self-destructing, so they need replacement every time they blow. Circuit breakers are resettable each time they trip.

How Do Fuses Work?

Fuses contain wiring that melts when exposed to too much voltage. The melted wire breaks the circuit and stops the electrical current.

Why Does the Circuit Breaker Trip When I Turn on The Air Conditioners?

Of all the appliances in your RV, the air conditional probably draws the most power. The AC unit’s breaker might not have the capacity to handle your air conditioner and other appliances at the same time. Having a professional upgrade your system can help prevent further breaker trips.

Wrap Up

Nothing brings your trip to a standstill like an electrical issue. Getting familiar with the circuit breaker keeps your RV safer from electrical problems. Make sure you know the capacity, mapping, and location of your breaker before hitting the road.

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