Skip to Content

What Does an Inverter Do in an RV?

| Updated Feb 24, 2023

You've likely heard of inverters, but just what does an inverter do in an RV? What size inverter do you need? We answer those questions and more…

Do you love being able to travel to escape the hustle and bustle but still enjoy having coffee? Or like having a convenient way to keep your food cold while on the road, like in your RV fridge? Well, you could not do that without the use of electrical power.

But have you ever thought about how your RV's electric systems work? We often think about our RV's batteries, solar panels, and generator power. But it is essential to understand how that power source gets turned into something that can electrify your RV's systems and small appliances.

The following outlines what an RV inverter does, how it works, and the different types available in today's market. We also cover how to choose the suitable inverter for your needs and install one.

If you buy something through our links, we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps keep our lights on so we can continue to provide helpful resources for RVers. Read our full affiliate disclosure here.

What Does an Inverter Do in an RV?

What Does an Inverter Do in an RV?
Must have coffee, AC, and TV…..

An RV inverter is sometimes called a watt inverter or RV converter. You might have also heard the term “square wave inverters.” No matter what you call it, an inverter is a device that converts direct current (DC) electricity from the RV battery into alternating current (AC) electricity.

In layman's terms, the inverter makes the power between your RV's battery and the outlets you use compatible. Batteries operate using DC power but AC amperage runs most appliances when plugged into an outlet.

An inverter enables you to use AC electronic devices and RV appliances. So, you can run things like an air conditioner, coffee maker, television, microwave, and laptop while on the road in your recreational vehicle. It also allows you to use other electrical appliances like coffee pots, water pumps, and game consoles.

RV inverters come in different sizes and capacities, so you can choose the one that best fits your needs and the electrical demands of your RV. They typically include surge protection, automatic shutdown, and low-battery protection to protect your RV electrical system from damage or overloading.

Inverters can be very helpful for RVers who want to use AC electrical devices without being plugged into an electrical source. They can be handy for boondocking (camping without hookups) or using AC power while on the road.

How Does an RV Inverter Work?

The primary function of an RV inverter works to convert one type of electricity to a different kind of electricity. They take direct (DC) electricity from the RV battery into alternating (AC) electricity.

The operation of an RV inverter is relatively simple. When you turn on the inverter, it takes the DC power from the RV battery and runs it through an electronic circuit that converts it into AC power. The AC power is then available through the inverter's AC outlets.

It's important to note that an RV inverter does not generate power; it simply converts it from DC to AC.

The energy the inverter uses must come from the RV battery, so it's essential to have a solid and well-maintained battery to ensure that the inverter operates correctly and efficiently.

As boondockers, we recommend Battle Born Batteries. You can read why it's an RV upgrade that's actually worth it or check them out directly on the Battle Born Batteries website. You can also watch this video to learn more…

Like what you see in these videos? We'd appreciate it if you would Subscribe to our YouTube Channel (easy to do right here) and consider “ringing the bell icon” to be notified of any new video from us. 🙂 Thanks!

What Types of RV Inverters Are There?

Did you know that there are different types of RV inverters? There are two main types: modified sine wave inverters and pure sine wave inverters.

Pure Sine Wave Inverter

Pure sine inverters produce a perfect sine wave, the same waveform as the power from a traditional electrical outlet. This type of inverter is necessary for more sensitive AC electrical devices, such as computers and televisions, because it provides a cleaner and more stable power source.

Pure sine wave inverters are typically more expensive than modified sine wave inverters and they are what you should insist on in your RV.

Modified Sine Wave Inverter

Modified sine wave inverters are the most common RV inverter type found in older RVs and the least expensive. They produce a waveform close to a sine wave but not a perfect sine wave.

This type of inverter is suitable for most basic AC electrical devices, such as lighting and charging.

Pure Sine Wave Inverter vs. Modified Sine Wave Inverter

The main difference between modified sine wave inverters and pure sine wave inverters is the quality of the power that they produce.

Modified sine wave inverters are less expensive and are suitable for many basic AC electrical devices. Still, pure sine wave inverters provide a cleaner and more stable power source for more sensitive AC electrical devices.

When choosing an RV inverter, you must consider the power requirements of the devices you want to use and your budget to determine which type of inverter is best for your needs.

Benefits of Using an RV Inverter

Using an RV inverter has several benefits that make it an essential component of any recreational vehicle.

Independence from Electrical Sources

Using an RV inverter gives a convenient and reliable AC power source while on the road. This allows you to use AC electrical devices and appliances, such as televisions, laptops, and air conditioners, without relying on external power sources.

Use of AC Electrical Devices while on the Road

With an RV inverter, you can use AC electrical devices while on the road, providing you with the comfort and convenience of home. This is especially important for longer trips where you may be without access to electrical sources for an extended period.

Convenient and Safe Power Source

An RV inverter provides a convenient and safe AC power source for your recreational vehicle. The inverter is easy to install and operate, and it helps to protect your RV electrical system from damage or overloading. Additionally, it provides a reliable AC power source that you can use anywhere, anytime.

Overall, we believe an RV inverter is an essential component of any recreational vehicle that provides a convenient, safe, and reliable AC power source while on the road.

How To Choose the Right RV Inverter

When selecting an RV inverter, there are several factors to consider to ensure that you choose the right one for your needs.

The following are factors to consider when selecting an RV Inverter:

Power Requirements

The first and most crucial factor is to choose an RV inverter that meets the power requirements of the devices you want to use. This will help you determine the size and capacity of the inverter that you need.

Additional Features

RV inverters typically come with additional features, such as surge protection, automatic shutdown, and low-battery protection, to ensure that your RV electrical system is protected from damage or overloading. Consider these features when selecting an RV inverter, and choose an inverter that provides the level of protection and security you need.

Size and Capacity

RV inverters come in different sizes and capacities, so it's essential to choose one that fits your needs and the electrical demands of your RV. Consider the size of your RV, the number of electrical devices you want to use, and the length of time you want to use them to determine the correct size and capacity of the inverter.

Here's how to figure out what size RV inverter you need…

What Size Inverter Do I Need for My RV?

What Does an Inverter Do in an RV?

Not all recreational vehicles are the same size or have the same onboard AC appliances. So it makes sense that it has different inverter power needs.

Some RVs only need small inverters, while a larger RV with a huge TV and fireplace would need a larger inverter. The size of the inverter you need for your RV depends on the power requirements of the electrical devices you want to use and the length of time you want to use them.

Here are some steps to help you determine the correct size inverter for your RV:

1. Determine your total power requirements

First, determine the total power requirements of the electrical devices you want to use in your RV. Look for the wattage ratings of each machine, and add them up to find the total power requirements.

2. Determine the maximum power requirement

Next, determine the total power requirement for any single device. This will help you choose the size of the inverter you need to handle the maximum load.

3. Add a safety margin

It's a good idea to add a safety margin of about 20% to the total power requirements to account for any power surges or to accommodate for future additions of electrical devices. Even if your RV could get away with a smaller inverter, you might consider having a margin for adding new devices in the future.

4. Choose the right size inverter

Choose the right size inverter for your RV based on your total power requirements, the maximum power requirement, and the safety margin. RV inverters come in different sizes and capacities, ranging from 500 to 4,000 watts.

Choosing the right size inverter for your RV is essential to ensure that you have a convenient and reliable AC power source while on the road. If you're not sure which size inverter to choose, it's best to consult with a professional or a specialist in RV inverters.

What size inverter should I get?

Up until now, we have carefully avoided giving our recommendations. Instead, we wanted to give you the big picture and a general understanding of just what an inverter does in an RV.

The truth of the matter is when buying a new RV, you may not have a choice. The inverter comes with the RV.

The lower the cost of the RV, the lower the power of the inverter. The least expensive RVs on the market come with a 1,000-watt inverter. In our view, this is next to useless. That means to use your microwave or hair dryer or AC, or any high-demand appliance, you'll need either shore power or a generator.

A 2,000-watt inverter is the absolute minimum we think is acceptable. A 3,000-watt inverter is what we recommend.

The problem is, to keep costs down, most RV manufacturers skimp on the heavier gauge wiring that a higher-powered inverter needs.

All this is to say that you may be stuck with whatever inverter came with your rig unless you want to install a new one (and the necessary wiring) yourself.

Below is a video we did a number of years ago about how adding a small inverter to supplement what is provided by the main RV inverter may be a good solution to get more power.

How to Install an RV Inverter

Like what you see in these videos? We'd appreciate it if you would Subscribe to our YouTube Channel (easy to do right here) and consider “ringing the bell icon” to be notified of any new video from us. 🙂 Thanks!

Installing an RV inverter is a straightforward process that most RV owners can do with a basic understanding of electrical systems. However, if you're not comfortable working with electrical systems, it's best to have a professional install the inverter.

You’ll have to refer to the installation instructions for your specific inverter. However, the following outlines the basic steps for installing an RV inverter. That way, you’ll have an idea of whether to DIY or hire a professional.

1. Determine the Location of the Inverter

The first step in installing an RV inverter is determining where to install it. It should be a dry and secure location that is easily accessible for maintenance and monitoring.

If your RV already has an inverter, then it's likely best to replace it in the same location. Or, if you're adding to it, in or near the same location.

2. Connect the Inverter to the RV Battery

The next step is to connect the inverter to the RV battery. This is done by running a heavy-duty cable from the battery to the inverter and making the connection.

If you’re replacing an existing inverter, you may be able to use the existing cable.

3. Connect the Inverter to the AC Electrical Devices

Once the inverter is connected to the RV battery, the next step is to connect the inverter to the AC electrical junction box. This is done by running AC cables from the inverter to the AC panel and making the connections.

Again, if you’re replacing an existing inverter with one of a similar size, you may be able to use the existing cables. But if you are adding a bigger inverter, check with the RV manufacturer to determine whether the wiring also needs to be upgraded.

4. Test the inverter

After the installation, the final step is to test the inverter to ensure it's operating correctly. Turn on the inverter and use a multimeter to test the AC voltage at the inverter's AC outlets.

Tips for Installing an RV Inverter

The following are some tips to help you install an RV inverter.

1. Choose the right size and capacity

I can't emphasize this enough. When installing an RV inverter, it's essential to choose the right size and power for your needs and to be sure you have adequate wiring.

Consider the size of your RV, the number of electrical devices you want to use, and the length of time you want to use them to determine the correct size and capacity of the inverter.

2. Use high-quality components

Finally, to ensure that your RV inverter installation is safe and reliable, high-quality components, such as heavy-duty cables and connectors, must be used.

Following these steps and tips, you can install an RV inverter and have a convenient and reliable AC power source while on the road.

What Does an Inverter Do in an RV? 1

Get the Home Study Course today and worry about the road, not the repairs!
Every time you move your RV it's like driving through a hurricane during an earthquake. Parts break and many items need to be maintained, this program will show you how you can save time and money by gaining the confidence to take on the majority of the issues you’ll come across. Don’t get caught with your RV in the shop! Learn how you can maintain and repair your RV at your own pace and at the most convenient time for you! This course is produced by the National RV Training Academy.

Mike Wendland

Published on 2023-02-24

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

2 Responses to “What Does an Inverter Do in an RV?”

February 24, 2023at9:13 am, Deborah Beck said:

Can you have a converter and an inverter in your camper? Our Cougar came with a converter and we are almost always hooked up to power, but how would you boondock without an inverter (like in your Alpine)?

Reply

February 24, 2023at1:23 pm, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Hi Deborah – this could be a good question for Mike and Jen’s Ask Us Anything every Sunday night at 7 pm ET (here is a link https://www.youtube.com/rvlifestyle ) or for their RV Lifestyle Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/roadtreking ) Happy Trails! Team RV Lifestyle

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top
6 Shares
Share
Tweet
Share
Pin6
Email