RV Basics: Understanding RV Electrical Systems for Beginners

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Hi everyone!

A lot of the time, I jump right in to complicated RV mods and just assume everyone knows what I’m talking about and can follow along.  Well, this video isn’t like that at all.  Here, I dial the technical stuff way back and explain the basics of RV electrical systems so that beginners can get up to speed and get out there RVing quickly.  I remember what it was like when we got our first RV… it was stressful not knowing anything!  So I hope this helps out some new RVers and makes things less stressful for them.


Our friends at Winnebago sponsored this video, along with all the videos in my “RV Basics” series, so thank you Winnebago! You can catch the other videos, too:


➡️ Understanding Fresh Water Plumbing

➡️ Introduction to Waste Water Plumbing

➡️ How To RV in the Winter

➡️ Dry Camping and Boondocking Best Practices


And since the first two comments have both asked for a way to access the flow chart, I thought I’d better include it – so here it is!

RV Electrical Troubleshooting Chart

Any questions, sound off below and I’ll do my best to answer!


James is a former rocket scientist, a USA Cycling coach, and lifelong fitness buff. When he's not driving the RV, or modifying the RV (or - that one time - doing both at once), you can find him racing bicycles, or building furniture, or making music. In his spare time, he works for a large IT company.

    20 thoughts on “RV Basics: Understanding RV Electrical Systems for Beginners

    1. Larry Elder

      Do you think my router would start to drain the battery if I leave it plugged in while our RV is off? I have a router from easychoicewireless.com and was just wondering..

      1. James - Post author

        Well, in the simplest terms, yes. If the router is on, it will use power.
        How much is a matter of degrees. How many watts is the router? Is it 12v or 120v AC? How large is your battery bank? If it’s a 120 volt router, what is the standby load of your inverter?
        Those kinds of questions.
        Of course, if the RV is truly “off” = battery disconnected, then no, it shouldn’t drain the battery if the router doesn’t have power.

      1. James - Post author

        That depends on how your inverter is wired in. If your generator is on, you won’t technically need the inverter working.

        But if your inverter needs to be “on” in order to pass power through, or to charge your batteries, then you’ll need to turn it on.

    2. Steven Collins

      Hi James… Thanks for your upbeat explanation of RV’s electrical systems and the troubleshooting flow chart!
      I really appreciated your simplified approach of how you addressed both the 12v and 120v systems and your whiteboard bullet points where a nice touch too!
      Thanks again!

    3. CDM

      As a senior wife now taking over the RVing responsibility, this was fabulous! For future basic educational videos, it would be great if there was a written deck we could download to add to our instructional notebooks. Sometimes there is no cell coverage and having “old school paper” would be great. Thanks James, always look forward to you and Stephanies’ emails.

    4. Cathy Crandall

      Thanks, James, for the great information. I noticed there was no surge protector used when plugging into shore power. Is that something you recommend?

      1. James - Post author

        We do use a surge protector in our own rig, yes. And I recommend them.
        (Except ours is hardwired in, so you wouldn’t see it while plugging in.)

        But they’re not mandatory, so I didn’t cover them here.

    5. Scott Black

      James, I know this isn’t related to the electrical system. Please forgive me…

      I’m still very much hoping for a “how to” video on changing a tire. (preferably one of the rear duels)

      I specifically need to learn how to lower the spare tire with the tools that are included inside a Ekko. This is an important skill that will make a huge difference, not if, but when the time comes to change a tire while traveling.

      Your “how to” videos are so helpful. Please consider this request!

      Thank you.

      1. James - Post author

        That would be a useful video for some folks, but…
        We don’t have a spare tire!
        (Yes, I’m one of those daredevils who runs without a spare.)

        We removed ours when we installed the air suspension system. So I wouldn’t even have a rig to work with to make such a video.

    6. Brad Boyd

      Very nice video. Everything was explained very clearly. I do consider myself as knowing the basics, however you explanation still filled in a few gaps. Sent the video over to my son and I know he will benefit. Thank You.

      1. James - Post author

        Great! Glad you liked it, and I hope your son gets some value out of it as well.


    7. John

      James, thanks for this. My son just got a small tear drop and I have been trying to explain this stuff. Your video makes his life easier. Is there some way to access the flow chart? Thanks again!!

    8. Julie Tremblay

      Thanks so much; I always learn something from your videos.
      Any chance you could post the chart you made for troubleshooting?

    9. James Diaz

      On the difference between a Converter and a Charger. While both provide 12v power, the Charger only does so in context to charging the battery, versus the Converter that has the added ability to power the 12v system as well. So one function versus multiple…

      1. James

        Perhaps that might have been the answer at some point, but our inverter/charger also powers the 12v system.
        I think it’s just a legacy definition that’s hanging around.


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