Do Outlets Work in an RV While Driving?

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Living in an RV or taking one on vacation, you and your family rely on having access to power to charge your smartphones, run the TV to keep the kids occupied, use the laptop, or run the refrigerator.

Whether you’re usually staying at an RV campground or dry camping/boondocking to save on daily expenses, power is almost always a requirement. Especially after the sun goes down. However, do outlets work in an RV while driving?

It’s quite normal to find that the outlets won’t work while on the move. This is because the RV is no longer connected to hook-ups or shore power. With the inverter turned on and the generator operational, some of the power outlets will function again. A generator with sufficient fuel will create extra power; power conversion from 12-volts to 120-volts is performed by the inverter.

Read Also: Can You Watch TV in an RV While Driving?

How Does the RV Get and Supply Power?

When the engine is running, power will be delivered to the 12-volt sockets at the front in the cab. So, it’s usually possible to charge your phone while driving and keep the Satnav or Google Maps running to get directions to your intended destination.

However, standard RV design means that the majority of the outlets won’t be operational when the motorhome is in motion. That’s especially the case with the TV where there are laws relating to not having it within eyesight of the driver to avoid risking distracting them.

Read Also: How to Watch TV with a Generator

Read Also: How to Watch TV in RV without Generator

Is There Another Way to Power the Outlets While Driving?

There is.

Using a small inverter, it’s possible to convert 12-volt DC power from the coach battery system (in the living area) to a 120-volt AC (120VAC) to operate some AC outlets. These may give you up to around 1,000-watts at the top end. That is usually enough to power a laptop, or other devices while on the move.

The idea with inverters is that they convert the standard motorhome’s 12-volt power to the more typical household 120-volt system that people are more familiar with (sometimes it’s 110-volts, not 120-volts). From there, a few appliances or electronic devices can be charge up or powered on.

Read Also: Do RV Outlets Work on Battery?

Starter Battery and Coach/House Batteries

RVs come with both a starter/chassis battery that powers up the engine and runs the cab, and the lights, etc. This has specific uses and its best to avoid using it too often for other things otherwise you risk draining it sufficiently that the engine won’t start up the next morning.

Then there’s the coach or house batteries. These could be singular or multiple batteries installed usually somewhere inside the RV, such as under the dinette seating. These batteries will be charged usually via shore power, a generator, or occasionally trickle charged by running the engine. They are used to power virtually everything else in the main living space of the motorhome.

Two separate systems. Two different purposes. Due to the fact that the house batteries are 12-volt too, they need their power output converted to 120-volts to use standard electrical plugs and outlets. This way, you can safely plug in your phone, laptop, heater, and so on.

Read Also: Charging Camper Battery from Tow Vehicle


Possible to Watch TV in a Motorhome When Driving?

Our “Can You Watch TV in an RV While Driving?” article covers this question in far more detail. A summary is below:

Most RVs, campers, and trailers are designed so that the circuit that feeds power to the TV is disabled when the vehicle is being driven. This is intentional for safety reasons.

As we touched on earlier, it avoids the RV’s changing visual image and flickering from distracting the driver which could cause an accident. It’s also possible that the sound could be distracting as well, especially if there’s suddenly loud shouting and the driver turns to see what just happened.

Some people manage to isolate the electrical circuit and find a way around the lockout, but it’s usually not a great idea to do that. At best, it’s probably better if the kids use a tablet with their earbuds in. They can watch a movie or play a game without distracting the person at the wheel.

Can You Use a Generator to Power the Outlets While Driving?

Most generators are situated in a secured exterior compartment that is then wired into the RV’s electrical system. They’re also pretty loud. So, it will sound quite strange if the generator is turned on to provide power to the house batteries while underway. However, if these batteries are too low, then it’s a good time to top them up.  

It’s possible to run the generator while driving if you wish to do so. However, it will usually only deliver more juice to the 12-volt system, not any 120-volt one (some generators supply to both systems). Typically, an inverter is still needed to be operational to perform the power conversion.

It’s sensible to recharge the house batteries during the day. It ensures you’ll still have power in the evening and overnight. Also, it won’t disturb your campground neighbors by running your generator too late.

Read Also: How to Keep RV Fridge Cold While Driving?

Can You Use Solar Power to Power the Outlets While Driving?

Solar power is unreliable in the sense that the sun peaks out and then later hides behind the clouds. Also, because you’ll be driving, it won’t be a continual source of sunlight hitting the solar panels. Furthermore, the panels won’t be optimally angled to catch the most sunlight at that part of the day either.

Solar power will help to charge up your house batteries. They can ensure that they won’t go flat if you’re using them, and the generator isn’t running. However, an inverter is still needed to convert that power for you to use for 120-volt electrical devices and appliances.

Is Shore Power Useful When Wanting Outlets to Run on the Road?

Shore power simply means a power supply coming from an RV park or somewhere similar.

Charging Up with Shore Power from RV Park or Campground

When looking for an overnight stay, either a 50 amps or 30 amps connection is often available.

Typically, RVs come with a 50-amp connection system, but there are adapters to convert to a 30-amp one if that’s required too.

One adapter for this is below:

MICTUNING 18 Inch 30A Male to 50A Female Heavy Duty Dogbone Electrical Adapter with Handle (125V-3750W)

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Charging Up from your Home’s Electricity

When you’re looking to charge up your house batteries before heading off and you’re a homeowner, then you can provide shore power through your home’s power supply. Doing so avoids needing to run the generator, which saves it from getting overworked.

Bear in mind that a residential home usually has no more than 30 amps available. To harness the 30-amps from your home’s 120-volt system to the 12-volt system in your RV, an adapter is required.

Here’s one that’ll do it:

Power Inverter for RVs

There are different inverters to convert your house battery’s 12-volt power to 120-volts for regular power needed for electronics and for other purposes.

Inverters are available with different maximum wattage outputs. There are 400-watt models, 1,000-watt models, 1,500-watt models, and upwards depending on your needs. It’s possible to look at the various devices that you’d like to keep powered up while driving, add up the wattage required for each, and determine the best inverter for you.

It’s worth pointing out that some appliances or electronic devices use far more power when initiating – like when an RV fridge is turned on and cooling down to the correct temperature level. So, allow more wattage than you think is required to handle that too.

Also, avoid modified sine wave inverters. These are not the same as pure sine wave inverters. Why does it matter? Some electronic devices won’t charge or power up with a modified sine wave system or they could become damaged.

Our recommended RV inverter is below:

Do RV Outlets Work on Battery?

We have covered this question more fully in our “Do RV Outlets Work on Batteryarticle. However, a more basic summary is provided below.

Power outlets in the coach area can supply power but it’s 12-volt DC power. Only 12-volt devices rated for and designed to work with RVing and camping, in general, will work with it. This is why power conversion from your house batteries over to the 120-volt AC system (for any standard appliance or device) requires an inverter.

Without a generator running or being on shore power at the time, the outlets aren’t going to work. It’s a little confusing because the internal lights will still run and perhaps even a USB charging port or two, but not much else! This is because those are powered usually by the starter or chassis battery, not the house batteries.

To get the RV’s outlets going, a separate power source will be required.

Will I Be Safe Using Electrical Outlets While Driving the RV?

For people in the main coach area and not upfront, it depends on the state you’re in whether it’s okay for other passengers to move around while the RV is mobile.

It is safe to use the electricity while underway. The front cab and its system are separate from the house battery system further back. Just be aware of the need that many states have to not move around because it could create an unwanted distraction. Therefore, getting everything plugged in and ready to use before heading it out is best.

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