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RV Converter vs Inverter: Unlocking the Mystery of RV Electrical 2024

RV Converter vs Inverter: Unlocking the Mystery of RV Electrical 2024 : Directory

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RV Converter vs Inverter: Unlocking the Mystery of RV Electrical

Embarking on an RV adventure can be very exciting. Understanding how the electrical system works in your RV is important so your adventure isn’t ruined by electrical issues. So the question really isn’t about RV converter vs inverter, but how can an RV converter and RV inverter work together for a better camping experience.

Please keep it in the back of your head that I am in no way an electrical engineer or expert. When talking about RV converter vs inverter or anything in, on, or around RV electrical systems, will include basic concepts.

Now, let’s zoom out and look at the big picture. RVs have a whole system of electrical stuff working together. Instead of thinking RV converter vs inverter, think more about them working like a team where converters, inverters, batteries, and solar panels all have their roles. 

Understanding how all these parts fit together helps us manage our power better and makes sure everything runs smoothly when we’re on the road.

When dealing with an RV converter vs inverter, the voltages we will be discussing will be 120 volt to 12 volt and 12 volt to 120 volt. Voltages may vary slightly, but will likely fall into those ranges.

Imagine your RV as a big puzzle, and converters and inverters are two important pieces. The better you understand what your puzzle is about, the easier it will be to put the pieces together and get them to work for you.

When starting to upgrade an RV electrical system people start to have many questions. Once you start looking at RV converter vs inverter upgrades, then battery upgrades start making more sense. The next thing you know you are upgrading your rv to solar, start looking at rv solar panels and lithium battery systems.

Welcome down the rabbit hole folks!

These are only a few of the questions that we know you’ll have after you dive really deep into this.

DC Power Supply vs AC Power Supply: What’s The Difference?

Okay, before we get into RV converter vs inverter, let’s talk about the two main types of power that you have available in your RV: direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC). DC power is like a river flowing in one direction or water flowing through a garden hose, while AC power is like a swinging pendulum or the thoughts in our heads, constantly changing direction.

Maybe some of you are more DC and can keep your thoughts heading in one direction. I don’t happen to be one of those people.

Okay, enough about my mental condition. Let’s get back to our rv converter vs inverter talk. 🙂

If something requires a battery to work, they are most likely a DC operated device. You see this in your daily life in the form of cell phones, television remote controls, the electric system in your car, and some of the electrical system in your RV. Some electrical devices can be both.

the difference between alternating current vs direct current
Borrowed from atlearner.com

AC Power

If something is receiving power from “the grid” like devices you plug into an electrical outlet, they are most likely AC operated devices. Things like desk lamps, computers, coffee makers, most household appliances, and the AC outlets and in your RV.

FUN FACT: When you charge your cell phone or electric car, you are using both AC and DC power. The AC power comes from the outlet and a converter changes that power to DC to charge the battery in your phone or car. How cool is that?

Most DC systems we will be talking about work in voltages that are multiples of 12v. Most vehicle systems, like in your car and RV are 12v, but you may also find 24v, 36v, 48v, 60v, 72v and more.

Many golf carts are DC systems with 36v. Electric bikes come in many DC voltages, between 48v and 72v with the faster bikes being 72V. 

You could actually use a converter (charger) for your golf cart and also have an inverter onboard to run 120 volt appliances. I don’t know why you would do that, but you could!

When it comes to AC voltage, the most commonly used in household and light commercial are 120 volts and 240 volts. And when you get into commercial electrical it can hit 480 volts and more.

Voltage can be its own blog post so we may dip our toes into that in a future blog post.

AC Power or DC Power: An Off-Grid Solution

Simplified Off-grid solar system

A big difference between AC power and DC power is that AC power cannot be stored and DC power can be stored in the form of batteries. That’s why DC power is growing in popularity as we move towards wind and solar power generation and off-grid installations.

One more difference between the two that is worthy of mention is safety. Although both can give you a nasty shock, AC power is said to be about 4-5 times more dangerous than DC power.

And now you know!

Your RV electrical works pretty much exactly like an off-grid cabin.

Understanding some of these basic concepts will help us understand the difference of using an RV converter vs inverter. One without the other only gives us part of the story.

When we live in a house we just know that power comes in and we can use it whenever we want.

If we’re being honest most of these things we are addressing in the post are foreign to us until we start looking at RV power upgrades. Most people really never cared about any of this whole AC vs DC and RV converter vs inverter stuff until they bought an RV.

What is a Converter?

When you live in a house, you walk over to the wall, flip a switch and lights just turn on. You don’t think about everything it took to make that happen.

With older RVs, you’d flip the light switch and all of your lights are either really dim or not lighting up at all!

This reveals a couple of things. Your battery is low. You need to charge those batteries and that mean you need a source of AC power.

There are really two options for you at this point depending on where you are camping. If you are out “boondocking” you can turn on your generator. You then wait 90 seconds for it to cycle on and you have AC power available to you.

Does your RV comes with an Onan Generator? You can get information on keeping it running at our Onan Generator Carburetor Cleaning blog post.

Don’t have a generator? We’ll talk about generators in another blog post, but a generator gives you backup in case of low battery or battery failure.

If you are at an RV park, you just head outside and plug in, walk back into the RV, flip the switch again and BAM! You’ve now got AC power just like your house.

Only it’s not just like your house because your house is 120 volts and the lights in your RV are 12 volts.

Your RV Converter is taking 120 volt AC power, putting some of that into your AC breaker box and some into your RV converter. The converter is then reducing that 120 volt power down into 12 volts and supplying that power to the lights and charging your 12 volt battery.

A converter is simply a device that reduces voltage from 120 volts to 12 volts.

Why have a converter at all?

Converters are like superheroes for charging batteries and running things that use DC power, like lights or fans.

A converter allows you to use all of your 12 volt appliances and operate all of your 12 volt lights without killing your battery(ies), when you are able to plug your RV into a 120 volt shore power.

12 volt dc rv battery rv converter vs inverter

When hooked to 120 volt AC power your RV converter provides 12 volt power to your lights. It also charges any 12 volt deep cycle batteries you have onboard. Your batteries will be located under your steps or an outdoor storage compartment.

If you are boondocking and don’t have AC power available, 12 volt battery power gives you the ability to light up the inside of your RV using 12 volt lighting. These old systems would give you enough light to last most of the night, if you were conservative using your lights.

What is an Inverter?

Now, let’s shine a light on RV inverters. These handy devices are like magicians in the world of RVs. They take the power from our 12 volt batteries, which, as we discussed above, is DC power. Then it turns it into the kind of power that our regular household appliances use, which is on the AC power side of things.

In the next section we’ll discuss the downside of this process.

So, when we’re camping in a remote FREE CAMPING spot or boondocking without any power outlets, inverters let us still use our favorite gadgets and appliances.

A Look at the Disadvantages: RV Converter vs Inverter

You didn’t think these things were the complete answer for all your troubles did you!?

There are some things to watch out for too. Converters are great for charging batteries, but they might not have enough power for some things we want to use. 

And inverters are awesome for running appliances, but if we’re not careful, they can drain our batteries pretty fast. 

The problem is most single battery 12 volt systems that come with an RV do not have enough stored energy to run your inverter for very long.

This is where battery upgrades start to come into play, but we’re going to leave that for another blog post.

RV converters and inverters work together to make sure we can use all our gadgets and appliances in the RV.

It’s important to know the pros and cons of each and use them wisely.

RV Converter vs Battery Charger

Just a thought…converters change or “convert” AC power into DC power. A battery charger does the exact same thing, so why isn’t it just called a “charger”. 

Let’s look into that.

Okay, a quick Google search gives me some added info and I can tell you from experience, it’s true. Older RV converters were great at converting 120 volts power to 12 volt power to run your lights and 12 volt appliances. They sucked at charging batteries and not overcharging them. 

If you left an old RV plugged in during storage without turning off the RV converter, you would likely smoke the battery due to overcharging.

I will say, modern RV converters have gotten much better and some are considered “smart RV converters” making it less likely that you will overcharge and kill your batteries.

So can we just call them chargers now? I know, let it go!

Smart RV converters are a great improvement moving forward because many modern day RV battery upgrades are lithium and require a better charging source.

Navigating Installation and Maintenance of RV Converters vs Inverters

Making sure they’re installed correctly and keeping them in good shape is super important for keeping your RV’s power running smoothly.

Both your RV converter and RV inverters should be installed as close to the batteries as possible. This is due to DC power not being able to travel as far without voltage drop.

rv inverter install
SOURCE: HOW To RV Blogspot / RV Inverter Install

So having your RV converter close to the batteries means the batteries will get the best current possible to charge them. And having your RV inverter close to the batteries means the inverter itself has the best current available to be able to switch to 120 volts.

You will also want them to be installed in areas with plenty of space around them for air circulation. All of this energy transferring back and forth produces a lot of heat and you need to let that heat escape.

recpro rv converter

There is very little to actually maintain on either an rv converter or inverter except to keep them free of any debris gathering around them and keeping their fans and cooling fins clean from dust.

Choosing Wisely: The Quest for the Right RV Converter vs Inverter

Okay, so how do we pick the right RV converter vs inverter for our RV? 

Well, it’s kind of like choosing the right tools for a job. We need to think about how much power we need, how efficient the RV converter or inverter is, and whether it’ll work well with our RV’s electrical system. 

So, before we make a decision, it’s smart to do a little research and maybe even ask for advice from other RVers. And by a little research, we mean A LOT of research.

We got lucky when choosing ours and to confuse you even further ours is a hybrid and is what is called an “Inverter Charger”.

What is an RV Inverter Charger?

If we’re going to talk about an RV converter vs inverter, we must talk about RV inverter chargers. An RV inverter charger is an all-in-one solution that contains both of the two components we’ve been talking about in this article. It is a single direct link between your RVs 120 volt system and its 12 volt system.

victron-energy-multiplus-rv-inverter-charger
Victron Energy
RV Inverter Charger

One component is a converter that takes the 120 volt AC power coming from “shore power” and reduces it to 12 volts for your fans and lights. It is also charging your 12 volt battery bank.

It also has an inverter side that jumps into action when you are not plugged into shore power. This takes 12 volts from your battery bank and bumps it up to 120 volts to be used in your appliances.

I’m sure there are pros and cons we could debate about having two components in one device. If one thing fails you have to replace both, but with modern day technology most of this stuff is pretty damned reliable.

The exact one for your RV will have to be left to another blog post, but let’s take a quick look at an RV Inverter/charger.

Check out our article the Top 7 Best RV Inverter Charger.

RV Converter vs Inverter: The Benefit of Having Both Onboard

When converters and inverters work together, you should experience a flawless camping experience with all of the creature comforts you are accustomed to at home. They make power management in our RVs a breeze and something we don’t even have to think about.

With both converters and inverters onboard, we can have the best of both worlds – DC power for our batteries and 12 volt devices and AC power for our 120 volt appliances. 

FAQs: Understanding RV Converter vs. Inverter

1. What is the difference between a converter and an inverter?

  • Answer: Converters change alternating current (AC) power into direct current (DC) power, while inverters do the opposite – they convert DC power into AC power.

2. Do I need both a converter and an inverter for my RV?

  • Answer: It depends on your power needs. If you want to charge batteries and run DC appliances, you’ll need a converter. If you want to use AC appliances when you’re not connected to shore power, you’ll need an inverter. Of course, you could install an inverter charger and get the best of both worlds.

3. Can I use a converter and an inverter together?

  • Answer: Yes, absolutely! In fact, using both converters and inverters together allows for seamless power management in your RV. You’ll have both DC and AC power available for your various appliances and devices. Have we mentioned you can install an inverter charger combo?

4. How do I choose the right converter and inverter for my RV?

  • Answer: Consider factors such as your power requirements, the efficiency of the converter or inverter, and compatibility with your RV’s electrical system. Doing some research and perhaps consulting with other RVers can help you make an informed decision.

5. What are the common issues with converters and inverters, and how can I troubleshoot them?

  • Answer: Common issues include overheating, voltage fluctuations, and malfunctioning components. Regular maintenance and troubleshooting are essential. If you encounter problems, check connections, inspect for damage, and consult your RV manual or manufacturer for guidance.

6. Can I run ALL my appliances off an inverter?

  • Answer: While inverters are great for running AC appliances when you’re off-grid, it’s important to be mindful of your power usage. If you have a 3,000 watt inverter that means you can operate appliances up to that amount. Let’s say a 1,500 watt microwave and a 1,500 watt hair dryer. You’ll learn quickly what you can and can’t use because your inverter will shut down if you exceed its capacity. The other issue you will run into is, high-powered appliances will drain your batteries quickly. It’s wise to prioritize and use energy-efficient appliances when running off an inverter. You can get more use out of your inverter by increasing the amount of power storage through more battery capacity.

7. Are there any safety precautions I should take when using converters and inverters?

  • Answer: Absolutely. Always follow manufacturer instructions for installation and operation. Ensure proper ventilation to prevent overheating, and regularly inspect for signs of wear or damage. Additionally, consider installing surge protectors to safeguard your RV’s electrical system from power surges.

8. Can I install a converter or inverter myself, or do I need a professional?

  • Answer: Installation complexity varies depending on the unit and your RV’s electrical system. Simple installations may be manageable for DIY enthusiasts, but more complex setups may require professional assistance to ensure proper installation and safety.

9. How long do converters and inverters typically last?

  • Answer: With proper maintenance and care, converters and inverters can last for many years. However, factors such as usage, environmental conditions, and quality of components can affect longevity. Regular inspection and maintenance can help prolong their lifespan.

10. Can I use solar panels with converters and inverters?

  • Answer: Absolutely! Solar panels can complement converters and inverters by providing additional power sources. They can help charge batteries, reducing reliance on traditional power sources and enhancing your RV’s sustainability.

RV Converter vs Inverter: Summary and Concluding Thoughts

To wrap things up, it’s not really a matter of RV converter vs inverter and more like how are the two components able to work together in your RV electrical system. RV converters and inverters are like superheroes in the world of RV power. They both have extremely important but very different jobs – converters charge batteries, while inverters let us use AC appliances. 

Understanding how they work and choosing the right ones for our RVs is super important for a smooth camping experience. 

So, next time you’re out on the road, remember to give a little nod of appreciation to your trusty RV converters and inverters!

Sharing the Love

Spread the word! Share this article with your fellow RV enthusiasts and help them understand the ins and outs of converters and inverters. Together, we can empower more people to make informed choices about their RV power systems and enjoy worry-free adventures on the open road. Happy camping!

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