20

How to Replace a Power Converter in an RV or Van

van electrical information for beginners

If you’re anything like me, you had no idea what a power converter was until it bit you in the face

…or, in a more likely scenario, just stopped working.

Power converters are magical devices which enable you to use all of your 12v appliances while plugged into 120v shore power.

You see, when you are out boondocking in your rig, the power from all of your electrical comes from your deep cycle house battery. You continue to have power as long as that battery is full.

But what about if your battery is dead and you have to plug into a campground or external generator to charge?

That’s where your power converter comes into play.

Our old van did not have a converter since the set up was so minimal, so all of this is new to me. We found out ours might not be functioning anymore when we plugging in at my Father in Law’s. He told me that plugging in should charge the battery within a couple of hours.

I waited and waited, but that charge never happened.

After two days we gave up and hit Google.

Hard.

Long story short, the converter in our rig was the original that was installed in 1990. At the time, our Canadian neighbors used the best damn converter money could buy. In the TWENTY EIGHT years that have happened since, however, many achievements in battery technology have been made, like variable speed chargers.

Where old chargers give you the same 13.7 volts of power whether you need it or not, newer chargers give you different charging stages and slow down to a trickle when you’re full.

That’s a big deal because it can extend your battery life SIGNIFICANTLY.

For anyone who wants to get the most out of their house battery, this is a big deal.


Power converter replacement for rv

After a million hours online, we ended up purchasing what is basically just a newer, updated version of our previous model.

While there are way better units out there, this one does everything we need it to, was the exact same size, and was simple to install.

I did contemplate a beefier model, but I’m not all that savvy when it comes to electricity. I can figure out what I need to, but I do get scared when it comes to live wires. This is basically a plug and play, which works just great for me.

How to Replace a Power Converter in an RV or Van

This scary looking box right here is what we were working with. The bottom part, the bit that’s covered in 30 years of dust bunnies, is the bit we had to change. You can’t see it, but there’s a fan  down there that probably hasn’t worked in years.

I’m not going to lie, I was a little afraid this sucker would catch fire as soon as we plugged it in. Not that I thought the previous owner lied to me about the electronics, but you just never know when you buy something used.

The smart thing to do would have been to hire an independent mechanic to inspect the vehicle thoroughly before purchasing. The lazy thing, which is the thing we did, was to get a family friend who knows about cars to check it out.

He gave it his seal of approval, and it drove beautifully, so we bought it on the spot.

Aside from the cosmetics of the interior, this is the first big chunk of repair that I’m doing, and at less than 200 bucks for a new converter, I don’t think we’re doing too bad.


How to Install A Converter in Your Van or RV

Disclaimer: I am not an electrician.

Obviously.

I will accept no responsibility from people who freak out and set their vans on fire. What works for me may not work for you.

So chill out!

Step 1. Disconnect your house battery, shore power, generator, solar, giant hamster wheel or whatever other sources of power you are connected to.

See those positive and negative terminals full of wires? Rip those suckers off!

Safely of course.

house battery for rv

Step Two: Unwrap your new converter.

You should have 2 pieces, this big heavy one, and a small green circuit board. Notice the absence of filthy wires and dirt? I certainly did.

how to replace a power converter

Step Three: Remove the screws on the box to the top left.

This is your 110 AC side. We need to get the metal case off so we can access all those sweet, sweet wires inside.

See all those white ones on the left? Those are neutral wires and they gotta come out….well not ALL of them have to come out. Just the one that is connected to the converter on the bottom has to be removed. I did not know that so I removed all of them.

But, again, I’m not an electrician or a doctor or anything. I’m just a middle aged woman with access to Youtube.

power converter school bus

Step Four: Remove AC incoming hot from the breaker.

Those little black breaker boxes pop right off. Once you pop them out of their sockets, there should be a fun little tag that says “danger, hot wire” or something horrifying like that. Find that Bad Larry and disconnect him by loosening the screw on the side.

If he’s not easily labeled, just follow whichever black cord is wanting to run to the hole at the bottom of the box.

110 ac breaker van

 

Step Five: Remove all these junky wires on the DC side.

Starting with the two screws on the front that seemingly lead to nowhere, just start removing stuff one bit at a time until the entire thing comes off.

I don’t know if this matters or not, but each wire I disconnected, I labeled with tape so I could remember it’s original position. I found out the hard way that about half of the wires I labeled weren’t needed and I’m a moron.

But hey, that’s life, right?

DC power in rv

removing dc power from rv

 

Step Six: Rip the old converter out!

So this is what it looked like immediately before removing the bottom unit. Wires, dust, and screws everywhere. Not to mention, I am not a petite woman. The area I had to squeeze into to get this task done was pretty tiny.

To get the bottom screws out, I had to exert some muscle, so for me this was the toughest part of the job.

Thank you rusty screws for giving me a workout!

faulty power converter

Step Seven: Enjoy Your Fun New Toys.

If you’re lucky, the space that once held your converter will also be filled with fun treats like bandaids and chopsticks.

If you are unlucky, you will see a scorched hole in the floor where your unit was slowly trying to kill you.

I was lucky.

change rv converter fire

 

Step Eight: Marvel at the beautiful piece of new gadgetry you’ve purchased.

And then fit that sucker into place. The red and white wires on the right side should be poking up through that little black hole on the top right. Once you align this into place where the old converter was, you’ll see two holes on the frame that align with these two holes. Just feed these wire into the new holes.

vanlife power converter

 

Step Nine: Put all the things back together.

I started on this (DC) side and set up all the wires back in their corresponding spots. Good thing I labeled them huh?

This might sound daunting, but it’s really not. If you squint, you can see that the board is labeled very well. Makes it super easy to know what should go where.

After you plug all the wires in, go ahead and put your fuses back in.

stealth van living electrical

 

Step Ten: Do all the same stuff on the AC side.

Remember the million white cables that were our ground wires? Put them all back in place. And while you’re at it, plug that incoming hot wire back into the breaker, screw it in, and pop that back into place too.

 

ground wire electrical van dwelling

 

Step Eleven: Remove all your tape, and start screwing the casing back on.

So many screws, so little time. If you’re doing it right, you should be completely over this project by now and ready to drink some beer.

van life electrical

 

 

Step Twelve: Kick back and enjoy a Rock movie in the privacy of your van that now has a healthy battery.

How to Replace a Power Converter in an RV or Van

Might I suggest Skyscraper?

Perhaps a Fast and Furious?

I’m kidding of course, sorry Dwayne!


So, yeah, I’m not an electrician, but I thought this job was pretty easy. I think they key take away is label everything and stay safe.

If you missed my first class on electrical work, be sure to check out my post Van Electrical Information for Beginners- Part One

Hopefully you find this to be useful and it gives you the confidence to take on some van electrical projects of your own.

Now if you’re excuse me, I have to go smell what someone is cooking…

 

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please read this disclosure for more information



Like What You Just Read? Share With Your Friends!

Comments 20

  1. This is such a handy post! I will be saving it for later, so I can refer to it if I ever need to do this 🙂

  2. I would have first thought when I came across the article that it didn’t apply, however after multiple years going to Burning Man in RV’s and vans, this would actually be super useful to know.

  3. Nice! We don’t have an RV or Van, but it’s good to know how to do this. Without the post, I would have no idea how!

  4. Buying a used RV can come with problems. It is always good when you can fix the problems yourself.

  5. Number 8 and 10 are my favorite! I love when you fix something really hard and you get to take pride in your accomplishments. Its the best feeling. Although I don’t have an RV, I appreciate how hard it was to replace the power converter. Great job!

  6. I will have to share this with my husband. I’d be afraid I’d mess something up if I tried to do this myself.

  7. My husband wants to buy an RV when he retires so that we can do road trips this is helpful information when we become RV owners.

  8. I have no idea on whats going on with all this techy stuff but I think my bf would find interest in this info

  9. You have a little humor in this article. It makes it fun to read. I hope no one starts a fire either. I will hopefully never have to do this, but at least there are instructions for such an occasion.

  10. Oh my goodness, I held my breath while reading the post, is that normal? Imagine I was stressed out reading this although I knew that you were successful in the end. Good job and well done for being so brave. You’ll need more than a movie after all that stress.

  11. I am not really a techie person nor a great one in terms of mechanics. I always go to professionals but reading this post makes me interesting about it. I need to learn more especially the basics first.

  12. Oh my, that’s too complicated. I would rather have a professional do this for me. I think I will do more damage than just replace the converter.

  13. OMG I didn’t know about this. I’ll share this to my friends who owns RV. This is use!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *