One of the biggest appeals of traveling in an RV for many people is the ability to bring the comforts of home with them wherever they go, including electricity. But you may have been disappointed if you’ve ever tried to plug something in. That’s because, depending on the item, it may or may not work. We expand on the vital question, “Do outlets work in an RV while driving?” And furthermore, is it dangerous to use them?
Here’s what you need to know.
Do Outlets Work in an RV While Driving?
When it comes to using your outlets while driving as you would in a traditional home or even when you park your RV, the answer is no. At least, not unless you’re running an inverter or generator, both of which can produce the AC power you need. During typical travel, you’ll only have the use of your rig’s house batteries, which provide 12V DC electricity. This is similar to your car where you have 12V outlets available.
Therefore, you’ll be able to use items that operate off this type of power while driving. That’s even if more common 110V devices won’t work. So as you can see, the answer to “do outlets work in an RV while driving” can be – it depends.
If you want to use your outlets while driving there are a few ways that can be done that we will discuss below.
Pro Tip: New to RVing? Learn more about How Are RVs Wired? Helpful RV Electrical Basics for Beginners.
What Runs Off 12-Volt Power in an RV?
While 12 volts won’t run everything, RVers may be surprised to learn how many basic systems will work on this direct-current power. These include most of your rig’s lights, your water pump, and basic systems like smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
In addition, 12-volt power will also run certain refrigerators, furnaces, and water heaters. 12V power can be converted however to 110 with an inverter.
What Runs on 110-Volt Power in an RV?
The simple answer is “everything else!” All ordinary devices that can plug into a standard wall outlet run on 110-volt alternating current power. This includes most kitchen appliances like coffeemakers and electronics like computers and TVs, and power tools. Outside of heavy appliances (which require a separate style of home outlet), you have a few limitations if you have access to 110-volt power.
How Can I Run 110-volt Plugs While Driving My RV?
As we mentioned above, it’s not impossible to enjoy regular 110-volt electrical service while on the road. All you’ll need is an inverter or generator to power the outlets while you drive. There are some things to keep in mind while doing this, however.
An inverter is a device that takes the 12-volt DC electricity stored in your battery bank and transforms it into 110-volt AC power. On a technical level, this uses sophisticated electronics that modify the voltage and nature of the energy flow from the straight line. It provides directional power of direct current to the wave-like, oscillating voltage of alternating current.
Inverters have a limited capacity of alternating current that they can produce, usually a thousand to a few thousand watts at a time. It’s vital to remain within this limit to avoid electrical issues.
If you have an inverter on board its ok to run it while driving and your outlets connected to it will stay on. This can be used both in motorhomes and trailers.
A generator can supply your rig with 110-volt AC power directly without needing batteries or conversion. RVers will need a built-in generator from the interior to use while driving. They’ll typically run on gas or diesel (usually whichever your rig runs on), producing energy via an internal combustion engine that drives an alternator.
Generators will also only have limited capacity, generally a few hundred to a few thousand watts.
Pro Tip: When you buy your first RV, this should be the First RV Electrical Upgrade You Should Make.
Is It Safe to Run the RV Generator While Driving?
So using an inverter to power outlets when driving is ok but what about a generator? The answer here is going to be it depends again.
Those with motorized RVs like Class As, Bs, and Cs with built-in generators are in luck. These folks can typically run their generators while driving without any issues. In fact many are designed to do that so that the air conditioners can run while driving. That also allows passengers to take advantage of all the comforts of home, even on the road. However, motorhome users should know where their generator’s fuel comes from.
Many models pull from the rig’s main gas tank. While they generally have fail-safes that shut them off when the tank reaches a certain level, you may still need to make more stops to fuel up. In the worst-case scenarios, you may end up stranded in a remote area and can’t find a gas station. That’s even if your rig cuts off the generator at a quarter-tank or more.
This category includes common travel trailers, fifth wheels, and other campers that are towed behind a truck, SUV, or other vehicles. For owners of these RVs, the answer is more complicated, but usually, if it has a built-in generator it can operate while driving. Again this is commonly used to run an air conditioner. Remember that it’s not legal to ride in a trailer in most places while driving, so even if the generator can keep the outlets on, you shouldn’t be using them.
On a practical level, many pull-behind RVs also don’t have built-in generators. Instead, they need to be plugged into a separate generator which usually sits on the ground outside the rig. While driving, there’s no safe place for the generator to sit outside, and running a generator inside is also never a good idea under any circumstances. Even a generator on the hitch should not be running as a cord would need to be plugged into the RV and the connections could be a problem with the vibrations.
For all these reasons, pull-behind RVers should avoid running their generator while on the move and wait until they’re settled at their destination instead.
The answer here will again depend on whether your truck camper generator is built-in or external. Those with built-in generators are good to go and can run them while in transit, while exterior generator users will have to wait until they arrive and set up camp.
Which Appliances Shouldn’t You Use While an RV Is Going Down the Road?
Safety is always paramount when RVing. With this in mind, you should never use any RV systems or appliances that require propane while driving. This is to prevent the possibility of an explosion or gas leak during an accident.
In addition, you should use common sense when it comes to other appliances. After all, if you’re following safe RVing guidelines like the 3-3-3 rule, you’ll never be more than a few hours from your destination anyway. So, your appliance use can typically wait!
Pro Tip: Make sure you have these 21 Electrical Tools Every RVer Needs on hand in your RV.
Is It Dangerous to Have Outlets Working in an RV While Driving?
So by now, you should understand that if your outlets aren’t working while you drive it’s because they just don’t have a power source. However, just because an outlet can power something while driving doesn’t necessarily mean it should, especially if it could potentially distract the driver. Therefore, any outlet used by passengers, especially drivers, should be done with care. In fact, some outlets in our RV deliberately turn off while we drive including our TV, electric awning, and induction stovetop. Distractions are the biggest danger with having live outlets when driving.
However, overall, it’s generally an excellent convenience to fully use your electrical system while on the road, including AC outlets. Passengers can enjoy all the comforts of home while safely heading to their destination. We do use our outlets to power computers and keep our internet routers and other electronics running while driving. We have even fired up the generator and cooked dinner in the oven in route!
All you’ll need is a simple inverter or generator and the right kind of rig. You’ll be on your way to on-the-go electricity.
What other RV electrical questions do you have? Let us know in the comments!
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