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Is Solar Prep for RVs a Marketing Gimmick?

If you’ve been in the market for a new or more recent trade-in model RV, you may have encountered the phrase “solar prep.” Solar power is among the hottest and fastest-developing technologies in the RV world, but you may not have much knowledge or experience with it. 

So we’re taking a closer look at what solar prep really means for you, your rig, and its electrical system. Let’s get started!

How Much Solar Do I Need For An RV or Off Grid Project: How To Get Accurate Calculations

What Does RV Solar Prep Mean?

Solar prep can mean a few different things depending on the manufacturer. In general, it means that wires have been run either to the roof or side of the RV for future solar panels to be installed.

However, solar prep does not include solar panels in any case. You’ll need to purchase your own panels that will work with the system and install them on your camper. You may also need to buy other equipment, including charge controllers or inverters, depending on your solar prep. 

Pro Tip: We crunched the numbers to uncover How Long Do Solar Panels, Batteries, and Components Last?

Types of Solar Ready Connections & How They Work

Solar-prepped RVs have two primary types of connections. The first is roof ports, located on top of your RV. They primarily work for permanently mounted panels which can sit atop your RV all the time, generating energy. 

On the other hand, a sidewall port works with portable solar panel systems you take up and put away at every stop. These systems plug directly into the sidewall port, making them easy to integrate into your solar-prepped rig. 

RV solar prep on travel trailer
Solar panels extend how long you can RV off-grid.

Why Is Solar Prep Good from a Marketing Perspective?

Now that you know what solar prep is, you will see it used in marketing a lot. Solar is a hot commodity on RVs and the sales teams know it. Solar and RV’s really go hand in hand.

Better RVing Experience

Solar power can be a massive benefit for those who like to get off-grid and boondock. You’ll no longer need to rely solely on your charged batteries. No matter where you camp, you can recharge your batteries and extend the available power as long as you have sunlight. Because RV’s have batteries built in it makes them excellent off-grid capable machines, as long as they have a way to recharge.

In addition to being an off-grid benefit, solar has the advantage of keeping batteries topped off when in storage. This can help keep them healthy and charged when you are ready to roll.

Pro Tip: Want to use camping solar panels while boondocking? We broke down the best options for your next off-grid experience.

RV campsite for boondocking.
Don’t stress about charging your batteries when boondocking by installing solar panels.

Don’t Worry About the Wiring

Installing the wiring for solar can be a time-consuming and challenging process. Plus, hiring professionals to do it can get expensive. They’ll likely need to drill some holes, open up walls, or make other significant modifications to your current RV.

With a solar-prepped RV, all of that work is already done, saving you time, expense, and hassle.

Limitations of Solar-Prepped RVs

Unfortunately, solar prep isn’t a perfect solution. Here are some of the limitations you need to know. 

How Many Solar Panels You Can Actually Use

Most solar prep systems will limit how many panels you can use. This can be a problem for those who want to camp off-grid, as you likely won’t be able to generate enough energy unless you keep your power needs fairly low.

The reason for this is that the wiring size run to the roof or side of the RV is usually small and can only handle limited current. For better or worse, the manufacturers complete all of the wiring. This means that you’ll have to live with whatever wire size they used. Smaller wires can carry smaller loads than larger diameter ones, limiting your overall power. 

Modifying an already solar-prepped RV to add additional panels can be expensive, time-consuming, and somewhat defeats the purpose of solar prep. 

You can sometimes get around these limits by running a higher voltage solar system. You can do this by using higher voltage panels or putting multiple in series. You will need to run a high voltage MPPT charge controller.

Pro Tip: We uncovered How Much Solar Power Do You Need for Your RV so you can decide if a solar prep system has enough solar capacity for you.

Solar prep systems limit how many solar panels you can actually mount on your RV.

Component Quality

Sometimes equipment is included with factory-installed solar prep. This can be great but you will have to rely on the equipment choices of the installer. Unfortunately, you may not find the best quality hardware throughout your system. 

Inverters, charge controllers, and other pieces of equipment may not work right for your needs or, in the worst cases, be poor-quality items that need fixes or replacement. While you can generally swap out parts with your preferred ones if necessary, it can be a frustrating expense considering buyers already pay a premium for solar prep. 

Camper van parked inside with solar panels on top.
Unsure how to do an electrical DIY? A solar prep system takes away the stress of rewiring your RV.

Are All RV Solar Ready Systems the Same?

As you might gather from the previous section, the answer is an emphatic no. Systems will vary in their choice of components, whether some are included or not, wiring size and style, amount of panels they can accept, and other ways. 

That’s why it’s crucial to dig deeper than the “solar prep” label to determine what it entails and how it compares to other solar-prepped rigs. 

Aerial image of camper van driving down dirt road with solar panels installed.
An RV solar prep system can be beneficial or detrimental depending on what type of RVer you are.

Can You Install RV Solar Wiring Systems Yourself?

While it’s certainly possible to install RV solar wiring yourself, whether or not it’s feasible in your RV will depend on your experience and confidence level. Those familiar and comfortable with electrical wiring and RV maintenance and construction could tackle the project. 

However, the installation process could lead to severe issues like water leaks, damage to your rig, or even electrical fires if done incorrectly. The generally complicated nature of the installation and the potential risks from things going wrong lead many to opt for a professional installation, despite the additional cost. 

What Goes Into an Off-Grid Power System? Overland RV Solar Power System With 12V Air Conditioning

Is Solar Prep a Huge Gimmick?

Solar prep is undoubtedly a popular feature in newer RVs, and there’s no doubt that some new owners don’t quite understand exactly what they’re getting and the limitations of the systems. 

Those looking for entirely off-grid solar systems may find the term a bit gimmicky. They’ll likely need to substantially rebuild their solar system anyway to get the capacity they need.

But for many other more casual solar users okay with a system limited to a few hundred Watts, a solar-prepped RV can be an affordable, simple entry point into renewable, off-grid power. 

Furrion Solar Charge Port

Did your RV come with solar prep and do you use it? Tell us in the comments below!

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Mike J

Sunday 3rd of April 2022

We purchased our MH with a complete 480 watt system. While it worked as it should it could not keep up with our 4 AGM batteries. We (meaning we did it ourselves) added an additional 800 watts of solar, added wiring, drilled more holes, separate MPPT charge controllers, all necessary pieces and parts, plus upgraded our batteries to 6 BB lithiums. We then moved the original PWM 30 amp charge controller to a basement compartment to use with a portable 200 watt solar panel for an additional boost if needed.

Mortons on the Move

Wednesday 6th of April 2022

Your experience is pretty common, unfortunately. One of the cons of solar prep is that it's not always as robust as RVers need it to be for their solar setup.

Mark Lawler

Sunday 3rd of April 2022

Although my Tiffin was prepped for both solar and satelite TV, the dealer chose to ignore during my installation. I found this frustrating as Tiffin had created a great weather sealed patch panel box on the roof and the dealer blew it off, drilled new holes in my roof and the weather proofing provided was far inferior to what Tiffin had provided. Unlike Tiffin, they didn't even set me up with a box for accommodating adding more panels later.

When I quized my dealer after I climbed up on my roof to check out their work the rep basically admitted that they don't have the time to train their techs on how each manufacturer does their solar prep. She said it was faster and cheaper for them to just do the same thing on every rig. She also went on to say that if there is an issue during the installation then they own all the work vs only connecting to the manufacturer's roof box and then hoping the manufacturer did it right. Lastly, she admitted the Tiffin setup was better, but that their techs are just too used to doing it the way they've always done it.

Now, due to their ignorance/laziness, I have more holes in my roof with additioanl cover plates that I have to inspect twice a year... ugh

Best, -Mark