RV Newb Exploring Systems


I had just bought my first RV 3 hours away from us and wanted to know everything about it before I had even seen it. The very same week I bought an RV, my fiancee surprised me with a late Christmas gift - a Remarkable 2! I was very amped about using my new toy to help with visualizing the electrical systems of my other new, much larger toy.

When I first just rented an RV I was really frustrated by the lack of conceptual understanding I had for breaking shit. When you’re on shore power you can do this but not that. I mean it seems obvious looking back now: don’t draw more power from the system than it can handle. But it’s not all that. The lights and fridge can always be on while you’re actively living in it but why?

Yearning to get to the root of all these assumed inert set of rules, I set out to find an explanation of the electrical system. What is connected to what and what are the limits on that thing? To seasoned RVer’s this is hard-wired knowledge.

First I wanted to understand what was connected to what part. All RVs are different even if their identical models! So I went to my new RV’s manual.

example manual page

In the normal, almost perfectly accurate manual, I highlighted sections where a certain appliance was referenced Now remember RVs are mobile houses, so the components are vast and even the manual will lie or guess. To really get the proper reference specs I thought to use the supplemental manual which is a composition of all components’ manuals in one giant, ugly binder that has NO PAGE NUMBERs. Pretty frustrating. I guess this is one of the perks of reno-ing a whole ambulance or school bus - you know exactly what is inside it because you installed it or hired someone to. Ok, rant over. From the manual, I copied the components to a diagram.

drawing of components

To understand what was running off of house DC versus AC. Some components will run off DC and AC under circumstances. And some the car or house batteries all depending. Originally I thought the xantrax component is always an inverter which was wrong. Ours is an Inverter/Charger which is actually a switch/logic component, inverter, and converter. It’s hooked to not just convert DC to AC but actually charge the house batteries and the switch makes sure you aren’t shorting the circuit by inverting and converting simultaneously To understand the electrical system in different states, I created copies of the diagrams and then highlighted the power flow. When just the chassis engine is running: Notice it charges the house batteries and the car batteries if the xantrex unit is on. You really shouldn’t be using the coach AC outlets or pumps while you’re driving for safety reasons and it’s sorta silly.

When connected to shore power: The systems when connected to shore or the generator you can think of as being the same. Only with the generator, you worry about the diesel gas that is left in the chassis tank. And with shore you worry that 30 Amp is being supplied. Our charging/inverting unit is fancy in it charges the batteries in stages to optimize battery and has a bunch of logic in it to protect and supply power appropriately. Last, I wanted to explore where all these components were actually located in the vehicle. Plus I wanted to explore the PDF capabilities of my new remarkable toy :)

drawing of shore power ONdrawing of alternator power ON

Main take aways:

  • Read some newb guides and youtube videos, but don’t attempt to mastermind your RV Day -5. It’s all about learning as you go. PIctures are fun to draw and do help conceptualize though. When are you connecting to proper shore power or generator you are golden, but be careful when running high power consumers - AC, microwave, hair dryer, heater - simultaneously run the microwave and the AC at the same time. Starting the chassis engine or relying on the inverter be even more careful because the 120 AC system is being fed by the inverter and maybe the alternator Every RV is different and the only true source of truth is the physical connections.
  • Don’t rely on your manuals as the holy grail because they all leave out some information and sometimes even lie to you! I think there is a reason so many retired folks choose the RVing as their sport of choice. With an RV every day presents unique challenges that you learn from. It is a great path for those of us that are innate learners and look forward to continual improvement.
Traveling and being with nature are just perks. The sport isn’t designed with a set of strict rules and guidelines. It’s about you figuring it out Being in my 20’s I decided to learn about RVing before I had owned a normal home for a year or been on a bar crawl. I will save the bar crawls and sky diving for my 70’s I guess!