RV Interior Lights Not Working: What to Do?

RVs are convenient to bring on long road trips because they offer a lot of commodities, the primary being interior lighting during the dark of night. The illumination of your cab allows you to feel at home, until it doesn’t, and the lights go out. If you’ve tried replacing the bulb, flipping the switches, and any other basic common-sense quick fix, then you might have an underlying problem.

Bad bulbs, blown fuses, bad batteries, bad ballast or light fixture, damaged wiring, a broken light switch, and a tripped circuit breaker are the easiest and safest to diagnose by yourself. Replace those bulbs, check those fuses and batteries, examine and remove the light fixture, peek behind those panels or light switches to get a look at the wires, and reset that circuit breaker. More complex problems include a bad converter or a tripped GFI. These should be checked by an electrician after the simpler options are eliminated.

It is also important to know your limits. If you are not an electrician, tinkering with electrical systems can be quite dangerous. After diagnosing the problem, if it is not easy to fix, like replacing a bulb or blown fuse, make sure to call a professional. Do not mess around with wiring or the like by yourself.

With that in mind, here’s what to look for when troubleshooting your RV’s interior lights, and how to proceed after.

What to Do When RV Interior Lights Aren’t Working

RV interior lights are a vital component to your experience. Troubleshooting when your RV interior lights aren’t working can uncover many different problems and solutions.

Assess the Problem: What Could be the Cause?

Of the variety of problems involved with interior lights not working, some are extremely complex, whereas others are relatively simple. Here are some of the common culprits.

1. Your light fixture/ballast is bad

Sometimes light fixtures themselves go out, this could be a wiring issue, or an issue with other components of the fixture. It is also possible that your ballasts are bad, though not all RVs have them, only those with high-intensity discharge lights, fluorescents, or HIDs. The ballast works to regulate voltage levels so as not to blow your lights, thus when ballasts go bad, the bulbs blow.

2. Your light switch isn’t working

If you are flicking your light switch and get no response, especially if the light has been taking several flicks to work before this, it may be an issue with the switch itself. In the case of a switch issue, it could be caused by faulty or damaged wiring, or any damaged component.

3. Your wiring is damaged

If you remove the light fixture, or take glance behind the switch, and your wiring looks to be in rough condition, your lighting issues are probably caused by damaged wires. Rough condition can be defined as anything that looks just weakened or decrepit, and can even be as simple as frayed, singed, or overly bent (shorted) wires.

4. Your circuit breaker is tripped

If your lights are 110-115AC, then it is likely your breaker is tripped. The most common reason your circuit would break is due to system overload. If you have too many electronics or appliances running at one time, there may be too much power for your breaker to handle, causing your breaker to trip, or even blow.

5. Your converter is bad

Flickering interior lights are often an early sign that your converter is going bad. Your converter changes the AC power to 12-volt DC power, and if it begins to go out, then your lights will also stop working.

6. Your batteries are bad

Certain light fixtures may come with their own battery, so the issue could be as simple as bad batteries. If your batteries aren’t charging properly, or haven’t been changed in a while, it is possible that they are to blame for the issue. You will want to make sure they are charged fully and isolated from the RV system itself in order to get a proper reading.

7. Your fuses are blown

The fuses ensure that you don’t have too much power going through your system. In the instance that you do have too much power, the fuses are designed to blow first to avoid any damage to other components and your wires from melting. If your fuses are blown your lights will not work, since they are no longer there to handle surges.

8. Your GFI is tripped:

Another instance specific to 110 or 115 AC light systems, your ground fault interrupter or GFI might be tripped. The GFI works to protect you from electric shock from lighting or electronics in your RV. If your GFI somehow gets tripped, it cannot contain power leakages to stop shocks from occurring. A symptom of this malfunction is your interior lights not working.

How to Solve the Problem After Troubleshooting

Once you find what the problem with your interior lights is, it is time to decide what to do about it. In some cases, you are perfectly fine to go ahead and fix the issue yourself, but in others, it is best to call an electrician.

1. Replace the light fixture/ballast

If the problem is a faulty ballast or light fixture, the problem is simple. Just replace the broken parts. If your ballast is the issue, then you will want to have an electrician help, as ballasts deal in high voltage.

Before replacing a light fixture, it is important that you already made sure the batteries weren’t the issue. After this, you should be fine to replace the fixture by yourself, though if you feel uncomfortable with your safety or skill then there is no harm in calling an electrician to do it for you.

2. Have an electrician replace or repair the light switch

This is another situation where it is safer and better to call an electrician unless you have experience yourself. If your light switch is the issue, simply have someone come out and look at the problem. An electrician should be able to easily assess and solve the problem, and if it cannot be fixed, they will be able to replace the switch entirely.

3. Call an electrician to examine and fix or replace the wiring

In no instance would I recommend digging around in the wiring yourself and trying to fix the problem. Not only does this pose a risk to your safety, but you may do more harm than good. An electrician will be able to come out and set you up with new wiring with no problem.

4. Reset your breaker

If your breaker is tripped, it is likely you can reset it on your own, just be sure you know how to do so first. After resetting it, you will also want to try and find the cause of the breaker trip. This is important so that you can avoid doing it again, as repeated tripping could cause more severe issues.

5. Call an electrician to fix or replace your converter

If you suspect a bad converter and have ruled out other causes, such as fuses, batteries, the circuit board, etc., then it will be time to call an electrician. Installing a converter is very complex and one mistake could fry the entire electrical system. An electrician will be able to tell you whether it can be fixed, and if it can’t, replace it for you.

6. Replace your batteries

Battery issues are extremely easy to fix. After troubleshooting, if your batteries aren’t charging properly or aren’t outputting enough energy (check with a meter), simply buy new ones.

7. Replace your fuses

When checking your fuses, if you notice they are burnt and the little metal bridge inside is broken, it’s time to buy new ones. Make sure you check every fuse individually and replace each one, otherwise the problem may persist.

8. Call an electrician to reset or replace your GFI

If all other troubleshooting has failed, or you have experienced any sort of electrical shot when getting near your fixtures or electronic devices, then it may be a GFI issue. At this point, for your safety, you should halt troubleshooting and call a professional.

Since your GFI’s job is to keep you from getting shocked, doing any work on it yourself poses some serious risks for electrocution. Unlike with a breaker, you should leave all GFI work, including a reset, to an electrician. They will reset the system, and if it still does not work, will be able to replace it.

Overview of Electrical Information for RV Owners

RVs have a surprising number of built-in electrical devices. For these devices to run, they require intricate circuitry to both control them and protect the occupants. This power comes in three primary forms.

Your AC electrical system: The AC, or alternating current, electrical system generally runs at 110 or 115 volts. This system primarily exists to run the air conditioning, but also may run some other devices. AC power comes from the RV generator, or from another outlet that you plug it into.

Your DC system: The DC, or direct current, system runs your lights, switches, slides, and thermostat, as well as many other appliances. Typically, DC power comes from a battery or multiple batteries. These batteries are charged by your converter, which converts the higher-voltage AC power into 12-volt DC. There is also an inverter that changes power from 12-volt DC power back into AC power for the use of certain electronic devices, such as televisions.

Some RVs use propane: Some appliances may also run on propane fuel. This is rare, and most commonly the case for refrigerators and similar appliances.

Electricity in transit can be tricky: Hauling around your RV on long trips, which is often what they are used for, can cause weaknesses and unnatural wear and tear in your electrical system and appliances. Every vehicle naturally vibrates while in transit. Sometimes, these vibrations can loosen electrical connections.

Be careful of loose connections: If the insulation on a wire rubs off, or any other connection shakes loose, burns out, or has leaks, current can stop flowing to either your AC or DC system. It is also possible that something loosening could cause a short from excessive or diverted flows of current. If you experience strange power outages in your lighting or appliances, make sure to check your fuses and your breakers, as these exist to shut off power in the instance that anything goes wrong. When replacing fuses and breakers, get to the root of the problem to ensure safety.

Useful Terms and Abbreviations for Electric Troubleshooting

Troubleshooting can be problematic if you are not aware of the terminology or abbreviations associated with the electrical system of your RV. Understanding what you see or read can help even a novice be comfortable assessing the situation.

AC (Alternating Current): Alternating current reverses flows and polarity in both directions within a circuit.

Amp (Ampere): An ampere is the measure of electrical current. This can be measured by a meter or amp reader.

Capacitor: The capacitor stores electrical energy.

Circuit Breaker: The circuit breaker stops the flow of energy through a circuit when the current exceeds its designed or designated limit.

DC (Direct Current): Direct current flows constantly in one direction, typically from a positive lead to a negative one.

Diode: Diodes allow current to flow in one direction while preventing it in the opposite one.

Fuse: Fuses are designed to destroy themselves, or “blow,” when a current passes through them that is stronger than the designed or designated limit.

GFI (Ground Fault Indicator): Just like a circuit breaker, the GFI blocks current when it exceeds the designed or designated limit.

GFCB (Ground Fault Circuit Breaker): The same as GFI, different name.

Ohm: The measure of resistance to the flow of a current.

W (Watt): A measure of electrical power.

Wire Gauge: The size of wires chosen when designing electrical circuits. This will determine the current that can be handled with minimal resistance.

Frequently Asked Questions

RV Interior lights are essential to enjoying your experience while traveling. The ability to illuminate the space you are staying in is one of the reasons people buy and travel with RVs. Here are some questions people ask regarding their interior lighting:

Why do my interior light fuses blow frequently? There is probably a short circuit somewhere in the electrical system. This short circuit is then causing an electrical current that is too strong for the wiring to handle, and the fuses are stepping in to prevent more significant damage. Alternatively, there may be too many lights or appliances drawing power from the same circuit, causing that specific fuse to consistently blow.

What are the best bulbs for interior lighting? Any high-quality lightbulb brand will do the job. You will want to research what works best for your particular RV. Typically, LED bulbs are brighter and longer lasting. They also use less power than other options, decreasing the strain on your battery.

How do I improve bulb lifespan? There are several ways to make your bulbs last longer. Going long hours with the bulbs consistently on increases strain. Switching them on and off is also a definite drain on their lifespan. Ideally, your bulbs will not remain on for long periods and will be allowed ample time to cooldown prior to being turned back on.

Why isn’t my battery storing power properly? If your battery is always low on power, there are a few culprits.

  • A bad alternator will not provide proper charge to your battery during the time it is operating and result in lower-than-normal power storage
  • Bad grounding wires or battery terminals can cause the battery to discharge faster and not charge as efficiently
  • Too many appliances or electronic devices may be drawing on power faster than the battery can recharge
  • The battery might be low on water/fluid
  • The battery has reached the end of its lifespan and needs to be replaced

Why is there a buzzing sound when I turn on my interior lights? A buzzing sound may be caused by an electrical short, a loose fixture, electromagnetic interference with LED lights, a bad ballast, fluorescent lights, low voltage lights, or a dimmer connected to incandescent lights. If the buzzing sound might be coming from your converter or another source, rather than the lights themselves, you will need to have your system assessed by a professional.

How often should I replace my RV house batteries? With regular battery maintenance, car and RV batteries can potentially last up to 5-7 years. Storing your vehicle in a warm location away from harsh weather will help to extend battery life. If the vehicle is not in use for a long period of time, keeping the batteries charged rather than letting them drain will also help. It is also important to make sure the other components of your RV’s electrical system are in good condition to ensure that the batteries last longer. These are good techniques for batteries of any kind and will increase the lifespan on all chargeable batteries.

Wrap Up

When your interior lights go out, it’s not the end of the world. Likely your fuses, batteries, or fixtures themselves are to blame. Even if there is a major issue with the wiring, or converter, simply call an electrician and they should know what to do. Just remember to be safe while troubleshooting.

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