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