Do outlets work in an RV while driving?

In this short guide, we will explain the following: Do outlets work in an RV while driving? We will discuss the options that you have for electricity on board and how to choose the best inverter for a motorhome. 

Do outlets work in an RV while driving?

Outlets work in an RV while driving in the following two cases:

  1. You either have a generator that supplies your RV with electric power;
  2. You have an inverter that converts 12-volt direct current to 220v alternating current, thus making your outlets work. 

Both the generator and the inverter are good solutions for having your devices on even when on the move. Below we will explain how both devices work and discuss their importance for a safe journey. 

And since we discuss how an RV generator works on multiple occasions, in this article we will focus more on how an inverter works and why you need one in your motorhome. 

What is an RV generator?

The generator for motorhomes, both gasoline and diesel, is an accessory whose purpose is to offer electricity at 220 v guaranteeing total energy autonomy since it recharges the vehicle’s battery or batteries while it is on through its connection with the charger.

The mission of the generator is to offer the possibility of having a 220 v electrical installation with all the benefits similar to a standard home. Among its many advantages are that it allows the auxiliary battery to be charged while it is on and offers us electricity when the vehicle is parked, the energy autonomy that it guarantees is therefore top-of-the-range. 

Its main advantages are total autonomy and electrical power, which it offers mainly for high voltage electrical expenses such as air conditioning, microwaves, hairdryers, some heaters that combine gas and electricity for their operation, etc …

Among the drawbacks that it raises, we would highlight that it has more than considerable dimensions for its location and generates noise while it is turned on since it is an engine.

You can read more on how an RV generator works and how to maintain it in our articles about how the electrical system in a motorhome works. 

What is an RV inverter?

An inverter is a device that is responsible for converting 12-volt direct current to 220v alternating current.

They are installed with the aim of using devices that need this current to function, such as a 220v refrigerator, a microwave, a Nespresso coffee maker, a hairdryer, a blender, charging the laptop … or any other, that you cannot use at 12V.

Why do I need a 12V to 220V inverter in an RV?

Being self-sufficient with your motorhome without an investor is totally feasible. In fact, it is a device that is used at specific times, when you want to plug in something that works at a higher power than your vehicle accepts (12v).

Many dispense with an inverter and do not use appliances that require its use or look for alternatives, such as charging their laptops in a cafeteria.

On the other hand, if you are one of those travellers who like to have certain comforts while travelling, the inverter is an essential accessory. Although you should know that these converters consume a lot of energy, you will need a good installation of solar panels and auxiliary batteries that store your energy efficiently.

What should I know before buying an inverter for my RV?

If you have decided to buy an inverter for your motorhome, caravan or camper, you must take into account some factors so that you make the right choice.

  1. Choose the type of modified or pure wave inverter according to your needs. For appliances (with motor) without a doubt a pure one, but if you will only charge the laptop, a modified one is enough.

Remember that motorized devices need a pure wave to work, while others such as telephones or portable devices have a built-in current transformer that makes them independent of the wave.

  1. Look at the power, which is given in Watts (W), and above all, at the power peaks that the converter tolerates. The power must always be higher than what we connect, that is, if you install a 2000W inverter, it is recommended to use devices up to 1500W.

The most common in the camper world is from 2000 to 3000W. Prices vary widely depending on the brands and the efficiency of each investor.

  1. Check, in those devices that you intend to plug in, what power and peaks it reaches, in order to correctly choose the power of the inverter.
  1. Find a place to put it, that is not in the way, that is easy to place the wiring and is within reach. In addition, they need some ventilation so that they do not overheat, although they usually incorporate a fan to cool them.
  1. If you install a simple low-power converter, just plug it into 12v. On the contrary, above 300W it is recommended to connect it to the auxiliary battery. For inverters of more than 1000W, you will also need to connect it to the 220v circuit of the motorhome.
  1. It is recommended to turn it off when not in use, so as not to waste energy.
  1. A connection to the 230V socket can be made using a switch. It is a device that changes automatically when it detects external 230v current, that is when you connect to the electricity in a campsite. This system is useful for managing the 230v voltage when there are two current sources available, giving priority to the external electrical network.
  1. An inverter-charger is a type of converter that functions as an inverter, a charge controller, and as a battery charger. Later, we will show you some models.
  1.  Inverters are more expensive, the more power and power peaks you tolerate. We recommend choosing reliable and guaranteed brands, for example, Dometic, Victron, NDS. 
  1. Take a good look at the prices and compare power and wave type. You will be surprised to find that some of them can cost up to $300 less with the same characteristics … do not trust if they are too cheap, they usually cause problems.

To get an idea:

  • Less than 500W: between $80 and $130
  • 1000W: between $200 and $400
  • 2000W: between $600 and $700
  • 3000W: above $700
  • 5000W: above $900.

The bottom line

If you are not going to connect a microwave or a refrigerator continuously, surely with a 500-600W inverter it will be more than enough. On the other hand, if you are going to use, for example, the microwave, we recommend a 1000-1200W inverter at least.

The inverters also have a peak power, which is usually twice the nominal. This represents the power that they are capable of supplying at a very specific moment (seconds), when, for example, for situations, in which, for example, an engine is started.

Please let us know if you have any questions or comments on the content.

FAQ on Do outlets work in an RV while driving?

How does the electrical system of an RV work?

The sockets that are used on a day-to-day basis are generally 220v and the RV only generates 12v. This means that during the trip, with a fully charged battery, you will probably have 2 hours with the lights on and 2 hours with the television. At the end of this time, the battery will run out

How do you recharge the battery of a motorhome? 

The batteries are recharged automatically thanks to the energy generated by the motor. … Another way to charge the battery, although in this case it only affects the auxiliary, is by connecting the motorhome to 220V power.

How long does it take to charge a motorhome battery?

So the charging time for a 100Ah battery is 12 to 16 hours minimum and if we have two batteries, double it. If you want to recharge faster, you must install a special 20 A electronic charger.


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