It’s been a long day driving your RV up through some tough mountain passes. You finally find your spot in the RV park, jump out looking forward to some sleep, plug in your RV and the darn thing just sits there. The lights in the kitchen don’t come on, the AC stubbornly refuses to fire up. Now what?
Beware, unless you are a licensed electrician, be very careful! Electricity kills, so don’t do anything you aren’t sure is safe. If you haven’t done it before, and you don’t know what to expect, you could get seriously hurt or catch your RV on fire.
Here are 8 quick things to check if your RV is plugged in but has no power:
- First check the GFCI, usually located in the bathroom of your RV. This is a simple fix. It may have tripped and you just have to flip it back to the “on” position. Frequently this is what fixes the problem and you are done. If not, go on to the next steps.
- The shore power, or power pedestal right there at your camping pad at the campground, has a main circuit breaker. Turn that off then back on.
- Do the same with the main breaker on your 110-volt box.
- Batteries on your RV — check to see they look ok.
- Disconnect those batteries – does the inverter still work?
- Is there power going to the surge protector?
- If you are using a generator, check the power transfer switch.
- Check all the wires – to the shore pedestal, to your RV, to your inverter, to your generator if you are using that.
Now that we’ve covered the steps quick and dirty, let’s go back and discuss each one in detail in case all these words don’t make sense to you. If at any time something starts smoking, turn it off and get an electrician.
What To Do If RV Is Plugged In But No Power?
These are the steps with derailed explanation
This used to be called the GFI. It stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. You may have one at home in your bathroom. They are designed to turn off a circuit when there is a short (fault). Say you are trying to dry your hair near a bathtub of water where your husband is taking a bath. The hairdryer slips out of your hand and into the bathtub of water.
The GFCI interrupts the circuit immediately so your husband doesn’t get electrocuted. Sometimes it just trips for no apparent reason. So an easy fix when you don’t have power is to check to see if it has tripped. Then,
before you go on your next trip, find out where the GFCI is located in your particular RV. Just look at every outlet in the RV. The GFCI usually will have a little red button near the 3 holes of the outlet, and the word “reset” on it. Play around with it and find out what it looks like when it has been tripped, and what it looks like when it is reset.
Check Circuit Breakers
There are two main circuit breakers to check. Go to the power pedestal (shore power outlet) and you will see the main circuit breaker – it will be bigger than the other circuit breakers. Turn it off and then turn it back on. Sometimes that works. Then make sure you already know where the circuit breaker box is located inside your particular RV, just like the circuit breaker box in your home. Go to the box and find the main breaker – again it will be bigger than the other breakers. Turn it off and then turn it back on. These three steps often bring back your power.
If all that didn’t work, take a long look at the batteries in your RV. Do they look ok? Or are they leaking fluid? Are they corroded? Look in each little compartment, called a “cell.” Each cell should have fluid in it. If the batteries look bad, you may have to replace them to get your RV working. If you haven’t replaced a battery before, be sure to get help. They can be heavy and they can spill corrosive liquid on you.
If your batteries seem ok, disconnect from the power pedestal (also called the shore power), and try a different power source. If that works, you know the problem lies with the campground and not with your RV.
Batteries are DC and you have an inverter that converts that power to AC because all of the appliances in your RV run on AC. If using your batteries and the inverter gives you the power you know for sure the problem lies with the power pedestal.
Check Power Pedestal
This test gets more complicated. You will need a test light to find out if you are getting power at the power pedestal. First, reset the main breaker on the power pedestal and then plug the test light into the outlet at the power pedestal. If you are getting power, then check the outlet on your RV. Again, reset the main breaker, plug in the test light, and see if your outlet is the problem.
Check Surge Protector
Just like you have a surge protector on your computer cord at home, your RV has a surge protector. Check to make sure it is in the “on” position.
Read Your Owner’s Manual
Next, you will have to get really friendly with your owner’s manual for your RV. You will need to check the charger/inverter, or the converter, and/or the generator for power. All these items are different in different models. Of course, it is too late now while you are sitting there trying to figure out what went wrong; but next time before you go on any trips, you should have at least read your owner’s manual. But now IS the time to flip to the “electrical” pages and start reading over again. Sometimes the fix can be very obvious and your owner’s manual can point that out and how to fix it.
Check The Wiring
Lastly, if you can see any wires to any of your outlets or the shore power or any of the things you have checked, then you need to examine the wires carefully. If you see any wires that are frayed or broken, you will know where the problem lies. If there are broken wires on your RV, you will need professional help to get them replaced. If there is a broken wire going to the shore power or power pedestal, you will need to notify the campground. With any luck, they can replace the wires quickly and get you all set up. Or at least they could move you to a different campsite.
If all these things don’t get you power, it’s time to get back to nature. Time to break out the candles and then build a fire outside; time to try camping without electricity. After a few nights without electricity, you might find you like the great outdoors. Then when you get back home you can take your RV in for service.
How To Prevent This From Happening Next Time
If you didn’t enjoy back to nature camping, there are things you can do to try to keep this from happening the next time. Pleasure camping takes a lot of prep work beforehand!
- Check the life of your batteries: Always look at the batteries before you leave. They may need replacement before you go. It’s not a great idea to keep your batteries plugged in while you are at home. It wears them down. Also, batteries have water in them. Old batteries might be low and need to have distilled water added to top them off. Some cells might be dead although you will need a mechanic to check that out. Batteries are quite expensive – best to check them out so you can budget your vacation better.
- Charge your batteries: If your batteries look fine, be sure to charge them before you go. When they sit over the winter, they run down. They don’t recharge themselves the way car batteries do. It’s easy enough to do – just don’t forget to do it. Plug your RV into a compatible AC outlet and let them charge until they are full. Sometimes this takes several hours, sometimes it takes a whole day.
- Unplug everything: Before you put your RV into storage for the winter, remember to unplug anything that is plugged in: refrigerator, air conditioner, dryer, hot water heater, microwave, etc.
- Perform all routine maintenance: Be sure your mechanic performs any necessary periodic maintenance that needs to be done before you leave on your first trip. Better yet, learn how to do these routine maintenance items yourself, and save a lot of money. Because you don’t take your RV in for service regularly, you don’t really have time to get to know your RV mechanic the way you know your car mechanic. So you stand a better chance to get ripped-off. Better to learn basic maintenance yourself.
- Check all your exterior lights: Every time you leave a campground, without fail, be sure you check all exterior lights. This means check the brake lights, the turn signals, the running lights, and the towing vehicle’s lights. It’s better to discover you have a burned-out light, or a short before you leave.
- Make sure your RV is completely sealed up: You may not think of this as an electrical issue, but before you leave home check your RV carefully to make sure it is completely sealed. A mouse can get in through a ¼ inch wide opening. Once he’s in, he would love to spend his day gnawing on random wires all over your RV. You might not even be able to see where he has gnawed on a wire, but for some reason, your microwave doesn’t work anymore.
If you want to make sure your next RV trip goes smoothly, be sure to perform all the maintenance your RV needs, and check out all the things mentioned in this article. It still won’t work if the campground pedestal is bad, but that should be rare. Good luck!
Hi, I am Brad. Car Independent is your source for independent views on cars and car accessories. Whether you looking to buy a new car or something cool for your car, you have many options. My aim to help you make the best-informed choices.