Using an RV inverter can make your trips significantly more comfortable and convenient. It allows you to use your regular appliances with limited power in a safe and secure way. This can lead to a major question, though: Can I leave my RV inverter on all the time?
Inverters are a necessary part of RV life that lets otherwise underpowered circuits power larger appliances. While it is technically safe to leave your inverter on for as long as you like while it’s being monitored, it’s better to turn it off when it’s not directly in use. This saves on power efficiency over time and can prevent corrosion, wiring damage, and fires from long-term use.
Here’s a quick guide to RV inverters, and a few more answers to the biggest questions you might have about using them in your RV.
What Is an RV Inverter?
To understand why you need to carefully control inverters in RVs, you need to understand what they are and how they work. An inverter is an electrical device that changes the voltage emitted by an outlet to match the appliance it’s operating, or vice versa.
As explained by VeHQ, an inverter works by increasing the draw of amps (units of electrical current) from the battery to power higher wattages (the measure of amps transferred over a certain period) than would normally be possible.
This extra draw does lead to some power leakage, though.
Some of the amps being drawn are lost in the extended circuit created by the inverter. Because of this, the efficiency of inverters hovers between 90% and 95%.
In an RV, inverters are commonly used to power appliances like microwaves, refrigerators, or televisions. It can also be used to safely plug in a personal computer or laptop. Some RVs come standard with inverters, but those that don’t can be easily retrofitted for a reasonable price.
If they don’t come standard, you may need to buy multiple inverters to get the power you need out of them.
The Kinds of Inverters
The two kinds of inverters are named for their installation method. A standalone unit is, as the name implies, a self-contained after-market inverter. An integrated model is a part of a larger electrical system that may come pre-installed in your vehicle.
Standalone units are excellent for multi-stage charging systems, while integrated units are conveniently and safely packaged with the pre-existing system and purpose-built to work with it. The kind you have should be determined by the model of your RV and the intended use of the inverter.
It’s worth noting that converters and inverters are not the same things. Both converters and inverters change the type of current running through the system, but they change them in the opposite directions.
A converter turns AC, or alternating current, into DC, or direct current. AC is great for household use, while DC is good for charging batteries.
An inverter changes DC into AC. You’ll probably use both in your RV, so it’s good to know the differences between them so that you know which one you need for a particular job.
Can I Leave My RV Inverter On All The Time?
There’s a lot of debate about whether or not you should turn your inverters off at all, but there are a few practical cases when it should always be disengaged. Inverters without automatic transfer switches should be shut off when not in use. It should primarily be off when your vehicle is not connected to shore power. That way it will not completely drain the battery.
When connected to shore power, however, the choice is more of a personal preference. You won’t be running the battery down, but you’ll still be experiencing that drain unless it’s otherwise compensated for.
If you’re planning to put your vehicle in storage, you should turn the inverter off by completely disengaging it from the battery. This reduces the likelihood of drainage or corrosion from long-term unmonitored exposure. It also means that your battery will hold its charge during extended storage and be ready to use in the next camping season.
For a little more detail about whether or not you need your inverter in a given situation, let’s look at some of the arguments for leaving them on constantly and for turning them off.
Reasons to leave RV inverter on
To start with, most of your appliances simply won’t run at all without an inverter. They won’t be able to pull enough amps from a low volt battery to power on, and so will simply draw power that dissipates when not in use, wasting it completely.
Those that might run without it are likely to damage your electrical system by pulling unregulated amounts of electricity at once and putting too much strain on it. To put it simply, your inverters should be on if you’re camping at a site with old or low-wattage outlets. They let you safely increase the voltage for a time without overloading your circuit or appliances.
Leaving your inverter on means that your appliances have continuous power and can save your customized settings, such as time and programmed channels. It also helps in the event of power loss, as it can store minor amounts of electricity to supply vital appliances like refrigerators.
It’s a good idea to leave your inverter on when you’re connected to shore power so that your appliances are fully powered and/or charged while your battery is charging. Any time your appliances are in full use, your inverters should be on, to prevent any malfunctions in the circuit.
Reasons to leave RV inverter off
Having the inverter on for extended periods of time can be dangerous. The constant flow of electricity means that there is a higher likelihood of It leading to electrical shortages from overworking of your vehicle’s wiring. Electrical shortages across your inverted outlets may result in damage to your RV or appliances, or even to fire.
On top of this, leaving the inverter on will drain your RV’s internal power supply significantly faster, potentially causing a dead battery that leaves you stranded. Though an appliance drawing minimal power may drain the battery some, an inverter can still pull up to 10% of its power from the battery when nothing at all is plugged into it, which wastes charge even further.
An inverter is not strong enough to charge batteries that are already extremely low. They are designed for trickle charging over time while in use but will do nothing for an already depleted battery due to the draw. Because they pull on the battery even when not in use, they can drain it to a dangerously low charge without you noticing.
Use Your RV Inverters Responsibly
RV inverters can be life-savers when you spend lots of time on the road. They’re a great way of bringing the conveniences of home with you even when you’re determined to live off the grid. They make using the power that you have more convenient and compatible.
That being said, it’s worth doing your research on their proper use and limitations. If you’re careful with them and remember to turn them off when it’s appropriate, then your inverter can be well-worth the risks.