RV Electrical Systems Overview: Distribution Center

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Once connected to an outside power source the power coming into your unit is routed through RV electrical systems and distribution centers. The distribution center is where the fuses and circuit breakers are located and where the power is rerouted to the appliances and the converter for 12 volt electric sources.
Though most are similar, RV electrical systems can vary among different units. To get a better idea of the type of RV electrical systems used in your unit, take a look inside the distribution center. In there you will see the circuit breakers that operate the air conditioner, microwave and refrigerator. In most units you will also see the automotive style fuses that operate the 12 volt system such as the stove and lights on the inside of the unit.

If there is something not working properly that is hooked up to RV electrical systems it is possible to conduct some quick diagnostics to determine the cause of the problem.

When self-diagnosing an issue with RV electrical systems you will want to start by checking the circuit breakers. Flip the breakers on and off checking to ensure they are crisp and not sloppy. Look for any signs that the breaker is blown. This means it will not reset and stay up. If a breaker will not reset, it could be a worn or defective breaker. However, verify there is not a short in the RV electrical system that connects to this breaker prior to replacing it.
On the 12 volt side of the RV electrical system you can diagnose an electrical problem by using a meter and testing each fuse connection to ensure there is enough power going through each one.

Older RV electrical systems had the distribution center and 12-volt converter together in one location. They were loud and put out a tremendous amount of heat. Newer models have the distribution center with the circuit breakers and 12-volt fuses in an accessible location, but the 12-volt converter is separate, usually tucked away in a cabinet or underneath in basement models. Out of sight, out of mind.

Once you have taken a look at the electrical system, you will be able to further determine where the power issues are coming from.

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2 Responses to “RV Electrical Systems Overview: Distribution Center”
  1. Ken

    We just bought a ” new to us” travel trailer…a 2010 Heartland and the 12 volt lights cycle between bright and dim on a regular basis, especially when there’s a big 12 volt load. Even when plugged into a 30 amp shore power. We have a brand new Duracell gel deep cycle battery. I assume that it has to do with the converter…any thoughts?

    • Customer Service

      Hi Ken. This is usually more of a problem when there is a weak battery or no connection to the battery. The converter puts out 12v even without a battery most of the time but when a load is applied, even a small one, the lights will dim. This is because the converter doesn’t handle the amp draw like a battery does. If it does this when only on the battery, the battery is the issue. The converter only comes into play when plugged into shore power. If you get power from the battery when not plugged in, you at least know the battery is sending power. You then want to check all connections and the chassis ground connection. Most of the time it comes down to a loose or bad connection causing this issue. Especially the chassis ground. The negative from the battery will connect to the chassis frame at some point and if this connection is loose or rusted, it will cause lower voltage and the lights will dim when a load is present. If it only did this when plugged into shore power it could very well be the converter but since the issue happens when only on battery you have to check all connections. Make sure to check the connections on the fuse panel as well. There could also be an issue with the fuse panel but like I said before it usually is caused by the battery connections and up to the panel. I hope this helps!
      Dan-RV Repair Club


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