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RV Tip: Troubleshooting a 12-volt DC Problem
If you enjoy RVing, you already know that part of the fun of RVing is getting away from it all. You can simply pack up the RV and head off for some well-deserved rest and relaxation without having to deal with the hassles of everyday life. Those relaxing, relaxing, memory-making RV trips shouldn’t be compromised by something as simple as a 12-volt electrical problem ruining your vacation.
If you’ve been driving an RV for a while, you already know that a lot of the devices and accessories in your RV run on 12V DC. 12 volt DC or direct current is the electricity supplied by RV batteries. Direct current flows in one direction, from negative to positive. 12 VDC electricity is stored in motorhome batteries and powers components, devices and appliances that operate on 12 volt voltage.
These 12 volt appliances include ceiling lights, water pump, fans, stove fan, range hood fan, LP gas leak detectors, stereos, 12 volt televisions, and refrigerator when operating in LP gas mode. When you go camping, you rely on these 12 volt batteries to function properly, especially if you are dry camping without plug-ins. So what do you do when one of these 12 volt items stops working?
For example, let’s say we are dry camping and our 12 volt water pump stops working.
I’m sure almost anyone can troubleshoot a 12VDC problem and in many cases fix the problem without ruining your camping experience. To get started, you’ll need a few simple tools to help you troubleshoot your RV’s 12-volt electrical system.
1). Inexpensive 12 volt test light.
2). A multimeter that can test DC power.
Both are available at local auto parts stores. Also have electrical tape, various sizes of wire nuts, 12 volt bulbs and 12 volt fuses handy. Check the amperage of the fuses used in the distribution box and keep the selection. If you know of any built-in fuses that are used on any of the 12 volt devices, have those on hand as well.
Now try to figure out the last time the water pump actually ran. Have you left your RV for a while with the pump on? Is there water in the fresh water tank? Have you been working on or around anything else that could affect the operation of the water pump? Try to think of all possible scenarios. Something can confuse your memory, which will lead to a quick solution to the problem.
If not, the first step is to check that the battery or batteries in the bus have enough charge to power these 12 volt items. There are a few ways to do a quick battery test on a bus. You can use the control panel to check the condition of the batteries in the bus. For accurate readings, make sure the RV is unplugged and turn on some overhead lights to put a little strain on the battery. Check the reading on the monitor panel. (If you check the dashboard reading while the RV is plugged in, it will read fully charged) A more accurate method is to test the battery with a multimeter. Set the meter to read 12-VDC and place the negative test probe on the negative battery terminal and the positive test probe on the positive battery terminal. A fully charged battery will read in the 12.6 to 12.7 volt range. If it reads less than 12 volts, it is below 50% charge and will need to be charged.
If the battery is fully charged, the next step is to make sure that any battery cut-off switch for the bus is on. If the battery disconnect switch is on, check that other 12 volt devices in the RV are working properly. If there is 12 volt power inside the RV, you need to check the fuse for the water pump at the power distribution center. Find out which fuse is for the water pump (the fuses are usually labeled) and find the proper ground for the 12 volt test light. Test both sides of the 12 volt fuse. If the test light illuminates only on one side of the fuse, replace it with the correct size fuse and try the water pump again. If there was power on both sides of the fuse, check for 12 volts at the water pump switch. If there is voltage and the switch is working properly, check the water pump wiring for a built-in fuse.
Find a good ground for the 12 volt test light and test the wire on both sides of the fuse. If power is only on one side of the fuse, replace it with the correct size fuse and retest the pump. If there is power on both sides of the fuse, check the water pump wiring connections at the wire nuts. It is possible for the connections to loosen due to excessive vibration. Repair any loose connections and try the pump again. If the pump still does not run, feel the engine and see if it is hot to the touch. If the engine is hot, the thermal breaker may have tripped. Allow the pump to cool and see if it resets.
If you run all of these tests and you are getting 12 volt DC power to the water pump motor and it still won’t turn on, it is likely that the water pump is bad and will need to be replaced.
Troubleshooting the 12 volt electrical wiring in your RV is not that difficult. Follow the logical path of the device you are troubleshooting and see if you can figure out where the problem is. You might save yourself a well-deserved vacation, some cash, and a trip to the RV dealership.
Note: If you do not feel comfortable performing maintenance or troubleshooting the 12 volt electrical system yourself, take the RV to a recognized service center for inspection and repair
Copyright 2006 Mark J. Polk, Owner of RV Education 101
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