An RV inverter is great when you need regular ac power. These devices serve RVgoers well when off shore power and there is a need to use RV outlets and appliances.
Unfortunately, things can go wrong, and your inverter can have problems. Common RV inverter problems are overheating, overloading, and no output voltage, to name a few.
This post will cover the 7 most common inverter problems and their solutions, including:
- Low Battery Voltage
- Voltage Drop
- Faulty Wiring
- Inverter is not Turning On
- No Output Voltage
These problems can cause issues getting ac power to your RV outlets and appliances.
Table of Contents
- RV Inverter
- RV Inverter Problems
- Final Thoughts
To start to review the common problems of an RV inverter, it’s important to know what it even does. Many people interchangeably use the work RV “converter” and “inverter.” Unfortunately, these two devices are not the same, and each offers its unique services to the RV electrical system.
A power converter is a device that changes ac power (120V) to dc power (12V). A converter is critical to all RVs and travel trailers as it provides the power to keep your battery charged and operating. Most of the fans, motors, and lights are battery power. For a complete list, visit what runs off the battery in a travel trailer. Being this battery power is necessary, all modern-day campers come with a power converter.
On the other hand, a power inverter does the opposite to your electrical system. It takes battery dc power and changes it to ac output. This ac current can then operate your 120V appliances such as microwave and gfci outlets from your battery. This is great if you are not connected to shore power. All electrical systems seem to operate flawlessly.
A pure sine wave inverter uses sophisticated electronic circuitry to produce this waveform, which is very similar to the waveform produced by a conventional AC power source. This waveform is considered to be of high quality and is the ideal waveform for powering most types of electrical devices and appliances, particularly those that are sensitive to the quality of the power source, including low voltage, such as a phone or tablet.
While modified sine wave inverters are not as smooth as a true sine wave, they can still power most electrical devices and appliances. However, some devices, particularly those with sensitive electronics or motors, may malfunction or be damaged when powered by a modified sine wave inverter. In these cases, a true sine wave inverter may be required.
Interestingly, not all travel trailers or RVs have a power inverter. Since most RV critical systems run on battery, there is no mandatory need to have ac power. So check your travel trailer specs to see if you have an inverter and where it would be located.
RV Inverter Problems
Below is a list of the 7 most common problems and solutions to an RV inverter. Although there are different kinds of inverters i.e. modified sine vs pure sine inverters, the below list applies to either function the same.
Problem #1: Overheating
Heat is generated as your inverter changes dc power into ac power. To combat this heat, the inverter has a fan similar to a laptop fan. And the outer casing of the inverter is made of aluminum (very conductive). As heat is generated, the fan and the metal housing expel the heat generated. Keeping the power inverter as cool as possible.
What happens if either the fan stops working or the inverter casing is not in a ventilated area? Eventually, the heat generated will be too much, and the inverter will overheat and shut down.
If your inverter is overheated, check that the cooling fan is working. These fans are at the end of the inverter and should be running anytime the inverter is generating power.
Also, check the overall ventilation of the inverter. It should be an open area with nothing on top of it or around it. I have seen inverters overheat because a duffel bag was placed on top of it, and no heat could escape.
Problem #2: Overloading
Inverters are rated by power or Watts. You will see inverters range from 1,000 watts to 5,000 watts. These are the max output ratings for the inverter. More, the inverter will overload and could trip the circuit breaker or shut down.
If you notice that the inverter turns off during the use of a large appliance, like a microwave, then the issue may be that the inverter is overloaded.
See what appliances and RV outlets are used when the inverter shuts off. Do a quick watt count on what is being used and see if that is close to or exceeding your inverter rating.
Disconnect some items from your RV outlets and see if that resolves the issue. You may have tripped the circuit breaker, so you may need to reset that to get the power back to your RV.
Problem #3: Low battery voltage
Since the inverter uses power from the house battery, it will need a charged battery of 12V. A full RV battery is around 13V. As the power from the battery is used, it dissipates the power from the battery bank, and there is not enough voltage from the battery to power the inverter. If your house battery gets below 12V, the inverter will start to reduce the power it can provide.
Check your RV battery voltage. If you are at or below 12V, it is time for a battery charger to get your voltage back up.
Problem #4: Voltage drop
Wait a minute, isn’t voltage drop the same as low battery voltage? The answer is no, they are two separate issues.
Low battery voltage is when the battery is too low. Voltage drop is when the battery has a higher voltage than at the input wire of the inverter. That means that the voltage is lost somewhere in the wire from the battery to the input terminals of the inverter.
How to check? You should have the same voltage reading at your battery as you do at the input terminals of the inverter. If not, let’s run through some potential solutions.
Check the battery terminals are clean with good metal-to-metal contact. A quick way to test this is to put your multi-meter probe on the battery terminal post and the other probe on the wire connected to that terminal. Since multimeters test a voltage difference, you should not get any voltage. If you are getting voltage, there is a voltage drops from the battery to the wire. If so, ensure the terminals and battery wire connections are secure and clean.
Problem #5: Faulty wiring
Like the battery wiring and voltage drop, you could have an issue with any part of the wiring that leads from the battery to the inverter. There are two common causes of faulty wiring on an inverter that was hooked up and working fine.
Cause #1: Inverter wire connections become loose over time. As your RV bounces down the road, the screws or posts holding the wires become jostled and can loosen over time. Check the wires and makes sure there is a secure connection.
Cause #2: Rodents chewed on the wire, causing a metal connection somewhere. This will result in an electrical short and insufficient power for the inverter to work.
Check the wires to see if they are touching metal in the RV. If there is any metal connection with the inverter wire, there will be a loss in voltage. Ensure there are no metal connections to any part of the inverter wiring.
Also, check the wire connections at the inverter terminal and make sure they are secure and not loose.
Problem #6: Inverter is not turning on
If the inverter doesn’t want to turn on, the most common issue is a power supply or safety issue. In the case of overheating, the inverter will eventually turn itself off until the proper temperature can be achieved. And if overloaded, the blown fuse will cut off the power supply to the inverter.
Check the fuses and replace them as needed. Always use the same amp rating as originally provided with the inverter.
Problem #7: No output voltage
If all other solutions above check out, and there is no output voltage, try to reset the inverter. Different brands and types of inverters have different methods to reset. Some have reset buttons, while some need to be disconnected completely to reset. Check your owner’s manual on how to reset your particular inverter.
Check the owner’s manual on your particular inverter. If all other issues check out and the fuse and reset do not resolve the issue, it could also be a faulty inverter needing an RV technician or replacement.
Your RV power inverter is a great device that provides you ac power while not connected to shore power. But there are times when problems strike, and you need answers on how to get powered back up. This post covered the 7 most common problems with an RV inverter, including overheating, overloading, and low battery voltage.
Tony is an avid camper and RV traveler. He fell in love with camping on his first RV trip with his wife over 25 years ago. Tony loves sharing lessons learned and tips about RV maintenance and safe traveling.