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Everything You Need to Know About RV Lights

Everything You Need to Know About RV Lights

If you don’t spend much time thinking about your RV lights, that’s probably a good thing. This indicates they all work and serve their purpose without any problems.

But when they start failing, using too much power, flickering, or heating up your RV, you might put some thought into them, and maybe a little effort, too. This is also a good time to think about whether you should replace them with another kind.

Let’s explore the variations and styles of interior and exterior RV lights. You might be surprised to know how many types you can get, each serving a different purpose.

RV porch light

What Are RV Lights?

In our attempt to cover all of the bases, we’ll start with the basics of RV lights. RVs have various bulbs, inside and out, that either help you see or help others see you. Typically powered by your RV’s battery, these lights come as fluorescent, incandescent, LED, halogen, or maybe a combination. 

➡ Both your house and starting batteries play an important role in powering the many lights in and around your RV. Learn more here: RV House Batteries vs. Starting Batteries: What’s the Difference?

Motorhome headlights
RVs generally use automotive light bulbs for headlights, taillights, and turn signals.

Some of them are pretty standard, like what you’d find in a household or business. Others, like the ones for taillights and turn signals, use small automotive mini-lamps.

Exterior RV Lights

It’s a no-brainer that you need solid and dependable light sources inside your camper. That goes for exterior lights, as well, because you need to see what you’re doing out there, too. For example, you need a porch light so you can safely enter and exit your RV. 

You’ll also need good exterior lighting for when you have to set up your campsite after dark. Outdoor RV lights are also important for security reasons. They discourage unwanted visitors — whether the two-legged or the four-legged kind.

exterior rv lights

Exterior lights can be in the form of floodlights near the doors, docking lights near the ground or strip lights underneath or on the awning.

Also, if you love spending time outside your camper after sunset, you may want ornamental lights for more personality. More about this in a bit!

LED Your RV — PART 11 — Increasing Exterior Visibility

RV Driving Lights

Driving lights are essential for safety reasons, and it’s a pretty big category. Besides your headlights and taillights, you also have backup (reverse) lights, brake lights, turn signals, and reflectors. 

While some RV lights are designed specifically for RV use, most are what you find in other vehicles. All need to work well so you can avoid getting into a collision or receiving a citation.

rv driving lights
Good headlights, markers and dim interior lighting are important for night navigation

Outdoor Lighting

Some RV lights for outdoor areas have essential functions, while others play a more decorative role. String lights and rope lights give your campsite a cool vibe, and they can help you watch your step. 

string lights hung on palm trees at RV lot
RVers often hang lights around their campsite or attach rope lights to their awnings to create an inviting outdoor atmosphere.

Be mindful, however, that lights drain your power. That’s the reason motion-detection lights work well for security; they don’t stay on all the time. Additionally, you may consider using solar lights in outdoor areas, especially for awnings and porches, as they also help to conserve power.

Interior RV Lights

Larger campers have lots of lights in lots of places. Besides overhead lights, many rigs have decorative sconce-style lights on the walls. Some also feature utilitarian ones under cabinets and inside closets or other storage spaces. 

Some interior lights have a wall switch while others turn on and off at the fixture. Many want their interior lights bright but not too bright without using too much power.

Airstream Basecamp interior lights
The right lighting can make a small camper feel more spacious.

Are All RV Light Bulbs the Same?

No, not all RV light bulbs are the same. However, you will find similar bulb types and sizes across most RV models and brands.

A standard-sized light bulb with the classic pear shape is called an A19. A light bulb’s base (the part with the screw threads) can have several sizes. The most common base size is E26. Some RV fixtures use these traditional-sized light bulbs but most do not.

Other interior fixtures, such as recessed ceiling lights and dome lights, may use much smaller bulbs. These RV lights are sometimes referred to as capsule bulbs and have a G8 base. Unlike traditional bulbs that screw in, G8s have a two-prong base that simply clicks into place.

Simba Lighting LED G4 Bulb (5 Pack) 1.5W T3 20W...
  • ENERGY SAVING HIGH OUTPUT LED: 1.5 Watts, 150 Lumens, 20 Watts...
  • EXCELLENT AND SAFE LIGHTING OUTPUT: High Quality LED chips. Wide...
  • MANY LIGHTING APPLICATIONS: Indoor & Outdoor Use. Often used for...

Of course, you may find light strips, rope lights, light bars, or tube lights installed on your camper, as well as the automotive bulbs used for driving lights. All of these will come in a variety of sizes and types too.

➡ Is fog your road trip nemesis? Yellow fog lights can be a huge help! Find out how: What Is the Advantage of Yellow Fog Lights?

Most importantly, though, you want to pay attention to the wattage and voltage. Make sure you’re using the appropriate wattage for each light fixture, and always use 12V bulbs in an RV. When looking at bulbs make sure not to get 120V versions as they will not work.

kitchen lights in a fifth wheel camper
RV lighting doesn’t have to be boring!

Can You Use Any Light Fixture in an RV? 

As long as the light bulbs have the correct voltage (12V, not 120V) and the weight of the light fixture is appropriate for your RV, you can use any kind you like. Frankly, many fixtures that come stock with RVs are cheap, not stylish. If your camper’s lights are ugly or hopelessly outdated, you can swap out fixtures with something you like better.

LED vs. Incandescent

Most newer RVs come equipped with LED lights. LED stands for light-emitting diodes. They cost a little more upfront, but they last longer, use less energy, and don’t generate heat. Many people also prefer their softer, natural glow. 

➡ Are you ready to upgrade the lights in your camper to LEDs? Read this: Light Up Your Camper with RV LED Lights: Here’s How

RV LED Upgrades and Retrofits - Tips from Tom

Traditional incandescent bulbs produce light by heating a wire filament enclosed in glass. They’re cheaper to replace than LEDs, and some people like them because they tend to burn brighter. Incandescents burn out faster, though, and they also use a lot more electricity.

Good Lights Lead to Good Experiences

There’s a lot to learn when you get an RV, and it can feel intimidating. Thankfully, you won’t have much of a learning curve with RV lights. You can replace, upgrade, and add them without much hassle. Just ensure you get the correct voltage and monitor your power usage to avoid electrical issues

Good lights are crucial for a positive and successful RV experience. You need them for safety while driving, security at campsites, and to truly enjoy your home on wheels.

Truck camper at dusk

If you bought your RV for overlanding, you may need to beef up your exterior lighting. Consider installing one of the 5 Best LED Light Bars for added safety off-road.

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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