↓Episode 58 Electrical Problems – DIY or Take to a Service Center

RV Electrical problems

Full Show Transcript:

This is Eric Stark with Radio Arizona RV. It’s about six o’clock in the morning on a Thursday. It’s snowing this morning. What a better day to talk about electrical systems in RVs. And the real question is whether to take it to a dealership, to a repair facility, or just tackle the problem on your own. So that’s what we’re going to be discussing today and this is episode number 58 about electrical systems. Basically, taking it someplace or doing it yourself. Now just as reminder, check out our website, RadioArizonaR.com that’ll take you to all our other websites where we sell RV parts. If you’re new to the show. We own sun pro manufacturing, which we make sunshade products for RVs slide out awning, fabrics. We sell a bazillion of them. They’re flying out the door every day. Awesome product, great warranty, great prices, the problem free slide out awning fabric.

00:59 Now before we get into the show, I want to talk a little bit about scams. My mother is 82 years old and she’s been a target for the last few years, but it seems like it’s just getting worse. I am trying to convince her to not buy into these scams. And trying to get her to believe that they are scams has become somewhat of a challenge. My brothers and I are dealing with phone calls and problems and trying to keep the money in her bank, not in some foreign country for some guy who’s, you know, bilking it from her. I’m sure everybody is getting  robo calls. You’re getting emails, you’re getting all these different ways that people are coming at you in different ways to try to take your money. My mom’s no different, I’m no different. I see the stuff all the time. We get the phone calls, get the emails, but she seems to want to fall for it.

01:53 And this is just kind of a word of warning. Be careful, be cautious. Most companies are not going to call you and ask you for banking information. Most companies aren’t going to call you with some sort of story. That sounds kind of wild. One of the recent scams is a company calls her up and tells her that they do the antivirus software on her computer and they need to log in and change some settings because the company was just bought by a new company and they’re updating everybody and rather than have the persons do it on their own, they’re just making it part of their customer service package and just calling everybody and giving them access to their computer and going in and changing the settings that need to be set. Well my mom went for this and it almost cost her a thousand dollars and she gave out her bank account information.

02:45 The guy logged into her computer, changed some settings. He changed the password so she could not log back into her computer and he became the administrator locked her out. The only time if that computer is on the only person who could access it would be him. Now my mom had enough sense after the fact because he wanted her to go to Best Buy and get two gift cards for $500 each and call him back and give him the number on the gift cards. Well, on the way to Best Buy, she decided she’d go to the bank and run it by them, and they told her it’s a scam. But she’d already given them her bank account information so they could see that he was already trying to get money. So, they closed the account, shut down her credit cards, everything. She had to start from scratch, which was a real chore.

03:32 And she didn’t lose that thousand dollars or more. She just lost the money it took to take her computer to a shop so they could reinstall windows so she could access it again. And now I would have done that for her. But she’s in California, I’m in Montana and my brothers aren’t computer savvy, so it wasn’t going to happen that way. She had to pay 120 bucks, which isn’t bad, cheaper than a new computer. But two weeks later she did the same thing, gave someone access to her computer, they went in and deleted the antivirus program, tried to get some money from her, gain control of her computer, had to do the whole thing all over again. So frustrating. Right! In talking to my mom, I told her there are three people she can trust.

04:21 My dad died years ago so she can trust myself and my two brothers. That’s it. No one else do not talk to people on the phone about your computer or about finances. If they want information, banking information, credit card information, hang up. It’s a scam. She’s finally connecting those dots. But it’s taken a toll on her. I’m bringing this up because we have parents, some that are listening to the show are aging, getting older and sometimes you don’t even have to be older. You know they target older persons because they seem to be a little more naive, but they in many cases have much more wisdom than we do. But we sometimes just fall for it. Everything sounds just right. Case in point, I got some emails from Netflix while they looked like they’re from Netflix and I don’t have a Netflix account, but my wife does.

05:12 So that’s the first thing that kind of set off a red flag. I don’t have a Netflix account. And the other thing is they went to three separate email addresses that I have all the exact same time asking me for credit card information, which Netflix doesn’t do. If they do need to update your credit card information, they tell you the expiration date has expired on this card and they show the last four digits. And, the grammar was poor. This was better grammar than I’ve seen in a lot of scam emails, but it was still poor. The spelling is wrong. When you start looking at it, okay, this isn’t Netflix and I’ve gotten these from ones that look like they’re from PayPal, from Wells Fargo, they look good but they’re not. And then if there is a hyperlink and you hover over it, yeah, you’re going to get a little window that pops up and tells you what the website address is or the URL.

06:04 And if it doesn’t say PayPal, like truly PayPal and they usually don’t is some other email or a website, it’s not legit. And I would just rather error on the side of caution, delete it, wait for another one to come or even have my Netflix account turned off if that’s what it takes to make sure or log into your account after you close out those emails or delete those emails, log into your account and just see what’s going on. If your credit cards up to date, then you know it was a scam. It’s being cautious. I know this has nothing to do with electrical systems, but it’s been on my mind and I just thought I’d share it. Be cautious. There are a lot of scams out there. Lots of them. People are trying very hard to take your cash. Some of these guys are in other countries.

06:46 If they’re getting 15 to 20 a day from scamming two or three people, they’re doing good. You know, that might not be a lot to people here in the United States, but it’s a lot to people in other countries. You know, $20 a day, you’re the big man on campus. All right, so that’s enough of that. That’s just my long-winded rant there about scams because it does irritate me not only when it’s other people, but when it’s my family ticks me off even more. But anyway, let’s talk about Electrical Systems. Let’s get into this. When you are out using your RV or you’re getting ready to go someplace and a problem occurs generally it’s something that’s not working. But from time to time it might be a short in the system. You’re going into, your RV has been plugged in and the battery’s just stone dead.

07:31 Nothing works inside. You put on a charger; nothing works. And maybe the battery is bad, but you still must check for a short to make sure the battery wasn’t drained by something else, that there’s not a short in the system, but it goes beyond that. It’s also understanding your system, your electrical system. You know there’s two different systems. In an RV, you have a 12-volt system and you have 110-volt system and you must know which one it has. The problem you have is to be able to isolate that and in most cases is not too difficult, but that’s what we’re going to talk about. How to isolate it and then make that decision whether you’re going to have it repaired or not. Now the thing about taking an RV to a dealership or a service center is that you know you must take it to them.

08:20 You’re going to have to hook up your trailer and tow it to the dealership. If it is a motorhome you must drive to the dealership. Either way, you must get your RV to the dealership. More than likely you’re going to have to leave it. Someone’s going to have to pick you up. And you know when you leave your RV there, it could be as simple as leaving it for a day, but a day could turn into weeks, weeks could turn into months. I’ve heard of RV owners; they take the RV someplace to get an electrical problem fixed and it’s there for weeks or months. And sometimes when they pick it up, the problems not even fixed. They say it is, they paid for it, but it’s not fixed. So, there’s some hassle in doing that, taking it there, dropping it off. If you must get a ride to get back home, then you’ve had to go to work or whatever it is.

09:50 So that takes time out of your day. And there are times where you could take your RV to a dealership or a service center and they find a problem. It could be as simple as a fuse. They put in a fuse and it costs you $100 bucks because they had to diagnose it. They spent time on it, which it does take time. I mean even to replace a fuse; it’s not just replacing the fuse. What led them to that? You know, maybe it took them a half an hour to get to the fuse before they realize the fuse is bad. You know, there’s variables there. But nonetheless, it can be $100 for basically changing a fuse, a very simple diagnosis there, you know? Or it could be much more complicated, and it could turn into hundreds of dollars, thousands of dollars, depending on what the problem is. So, if it’s me and I was going to take my RV to the dealership, which we know that’s not going to happen since I truly believe in Doing It Yourself, I would do a little troubleshooting first.

09:58 I would do some basic troubleshooting to make sure it’s not something as simple as a fuse, even a fuse, if they replaced it for free, you had to take your RV there. It took time out of your day. Now you have hours invested in that fuse regardless. I would do some troubleshooting myself, save the hassle. If you feel you can tackle the problem, then that’s the better way to go. Then you don’t have to worry about taking it anywhere. You can pick at the problem at your leisure or you can dedicate a Saturday to it or one full day or each day after work. You can look at it, work on it a little bit. But as I said earlier, you need to determine which system is causing the problem. Is that the 12-volt system or the 110-volt system.

10:43 And to some of you that will sound basic, like who wouldn’t know the difference. But I get phone calls, I get people coming into my store constantly asking about these problems that have to do with the 12 volt or 110-volt system and they don’t know the difference. Some of them might say, my lights don’t work when I’m plugged in. There’s a problem with my 110-volt system that is not correct. Your lights inside your RV do not run on 110 volts. They run on 12 volts or they say that their lights are 12 volt and 110 volts. That’s not correct. They’re 12 volts. They’re not both. They don’t go back and forth. So, there’s some confusion there. And for some it’s a little more difficult than others to understand. They don’t get the two systems in the RV. It’s been that way for decades.

11:36 It has not changed. A 12-volt system in an RV, let’s just look at this for a moment. That’s going to be your interior lights and porch lights, exterior lights of any kind, maybe a compartment. And I’m kind of clearing that up, saying it that way, because clearance lights and running lights are not part of the 12-volt system on your RV. They’re separate systems. When you’re 12-volt clearance lights or running lights aren’t working, that generally is going to be something either with the connector at the front of the trailer that plugs into your tow vehicle or the tow vehicle itself. It’s not part of the 12-volt system on your RV. So, if your running lights aren’t working, it has nothing to do with the battery in your RV, has nothing to do with the fuses in your RV or in most cases it won’t.

12:26 It’s going to have something to do with the connector at the front of the trailer and the tow vehicle itself. Okay, so that’s out of the way now. So, we’re talking about interior lights, porch lights, compartment lights as part of your 12-volt system. If you have a powered awning that’s part of the 12-volt system, generators use your battery in the RV, the deep cycle battery to start, that’s running off your 12-volt system, an RV refrigerator. This designed to run on propane or 110 volts and 12 volts. Maybe not all three, maybe it’s just propane and110 it still needs 12 volts for the circuit boards to work. Now 12 volts is going to the refrigerator. Your vent fans, if you have a Max Air fan, if you have a regular 14 by 14 vents with a small 7” fan blade, those are 12 volts.

13:46 If your refrigerator has exhaust fans on the back of it, those are 12 volts. If you have an electric step, like in a motor home, that’s 12 volts. Stereo systems that are automotive type, they have that look and feel of what’s in a car. Those are 12 volts. Leak detectors are 12 volts. Your furnace runs off 12 volts, so that’s not all inclusive. There are probably some things I missed there but get the pitcher. Those are the 12-volt things and your 12-volt system is protected by fuses. There are some circuit breakers for 12-volt appliances, but they’re not always the same as a 110-volt circuit breaker. Sometimes 12-volt circuit breakers are small. They just have two connectors on them. They’re in the system, in the wiring somewhere, maybe by the appliance, maybe by the fuse panel. It just depends on what it is and how the RV was put together.

14:09 Sometime there’s compartments with all the 12-volt breakers and fuses in one spot. That can very easy to identify them. Before I move on to the 110-volt system. When you look at the wiring in an RV, sometimes it can be overwhelming. You open a compartment door and there’s wires and circuit breakers and panels and stuff. Don’t let it overwhelm you. It looks like a lot, but when you start really isolating it, breaking it down, where do these wires go? It becomes less complicated. It’s like the hood of a car. You know, you take off the air cleaner, get a few things out of the way. Suddenly, the engine is right there, you can see everything. It’s not so scary, it’s the same in an RV. So, don’t be overwhelmed if you see a bunch of wires, you know it’s like some computer at home, you have 200 cables running behind your desk and it doesn’t scare you from doing anything.

14:57 Audio, video systems are the same way. Lots of wires, lots of connections. It’s just a matter of seeing which wire goes where and what is doing. Let’s break down the 110-volt system that’s going to run appliances such as your microwave, the rooftop air conditioner or a basement air conditioner, residential type refrigerators. Now we’re not talking about RV refrigerators here, we’re talking about residential type refrigerators. Now an RV refrigerator could have 110 volts on it, but it’s connected to the 12-volt system so it could not be a problem. Then any kind of add on fans you have like something that would sit on a countertop that plugs into one of the 110-volt outlets. You know the regular outlets in the wall sometimes called wall outlet plugs, so any kind of fan that plugs into the wall outlets. Some audio systems might be 110 volts.

15:52 Televisions could be 110 volts. You see more 110 volt televisions then you do 12 volt televisions and then any other appliance you would plug into the wall outlet, you know, fans, chargers, whatever it might be, Radios, portable Radios and the 110 volt system is protected by circuit breakers. Yeah, you’re going to see a rack of them. They look very similar to what’s in a house. 15-amp, 10-amp, 20 amp. You might see double twenties, double 30’s, you’re going to see a main one that controls all the circuit breakers or all the power into the RV. Isolating these two systems can make life a lot easier for you because now you know where to look. And again, I want to emphasize this. Sometimes RV’ers just don’t know where to start because they’re not sure of the system. I get people that ask me about their wall outlets.

16:43 I have a GFI and it’s not working? So is my converter bad, no, it has nothing to do with it. I mean technically it doesn’t. I don’t want to get into all the diagnosis here, but a converter is not going to be plugged in most cases to the same circuit that a GF I would be on. I mean GFI’s do go bad and they can cause other things to not work, but in general things that are plugged into the wall outlets after the GFI and GFI’s are usually found where there’s water in kitchens, bathrooms, something like that. You must understand that as well. But we’ll get into that kind of in a different way in just a moment here. But understanding the differences now you have direction. If you know it’s 110-volt system that’s got the problem, you’re not going to spend time looking at the 12-volt system.

17:30 You’re going to look at the 110-volt system. What runs off 110 volts. Maybe it’s a circuit breaker that keeps blowing or popping. So, you must isolate that circuit breaker and what it is controlling. So, every time you turn on the microwave, let’s say for example the circuit breaker blows. Well that would be a problem more than likely with the microwave. If you disconnect the microwave and the circuit breaker doesn’t blow, you plug something else into that outlet and the circuit breaker doesn’t blow, then you can say that’s the microwave. Pretty basic tests there, which can save you a lot of money. Do you see where I’m going with this. You know, if, if an outlet doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean you have to rush it to the dealership. Are the circuit breakers blown? Are they in the off position or halfway between on and off?

18:17 Then you just push it to off and push it to back on. That’s resetting the circuit breaker. So that’s simple. Now it could become more complex. You know, the GFI outlet could be bad. You must be able to diagnose that and if you want to replace it you can certainly do that. If your RV’s not plugged in, there’s no voltage in the system, so you’re not going to get electrocuted or shocked. Pretty simple stuff there. Now identifying the system. Now let’s say is something on the 12-volt side. Let’s say your power awning doesn’t work. It’s an A&E, you know it won’t go out. It doesn’t do anything. You press the button for retract, extend and nothing happens. The simplest task before you dig into anything could be the check the fuse, if the fuse has power going through on both sides of it.

19:01 So, you use either a voltmeter or a test meter. An electrical meter, I would use a meter, meters are more accurate. Sometimes test lights are easier to use, but a meter is more accurate. So whichever your flavor is there, but I like a meter, so let’s say you checked the fuse, it has power on both sides, 12 volts on both sides. Then you don’t start taking things apart. You go right out to the awning and you disconnect the wires going to the motor. You might have to bring the awning out manually a little bit to do that. But that’s the easiest thing to do. Check the power right at the motor. And so, if you put your test meter on the positive and negative wire and someone inside hits a switch and your meter shows 13 volts, 12 volts, whatever it is, that means you have power going to the motor.

19:50 The motor’s bad. They can hit the switch either way and you’re going to see that in the off position you won’t see any voltage and the extend or retract, you’ll see voltage. You might have to switch to the wires in your meter to check it both ways. But if you have power going there it is not the fuse, it is not the switch it is not a relay. It’s not anything else. It’s the motor that is bad. So then at that point you could decide whether you want to replace the motor or not. Me personally, I would replace the motor. I would tackle it regardless of how complicated I thought it was, I would tackle it. You’ve just saved yourself $100 on a diagnosis. Now if you decide to take it to the dealership, you can tell them that it’s already been checked. Just put the motor on.

20:29 If you have power going to the motor, it is going to be the motor and they put the motor on and there you go. You could save some money that way. Possibly they still might want to check it, but maybe they won’t charge you as much. I’ll just add an extra $25 into the overall labor cost. But they won’t charge you for that diagnosis cause you’ve already done that. And if you’re insistent just do this, this is the problem, then more than likely they’ll do it. Eliminating some of the things are the problems. You’re saving yourself money; you’re saving yourself time and you might just decide I don’t have to take it to the dealership. And that’s the point of this podcast episode is whether you need to take it into a repair shop. Or can you do it yourself. Understanding the 12-volt system versus 110-volt system is going to give you some clarity in how to even proceed to diagnose the problem.

21:21 And there might be problems that are obvious, like the awning is not working. It’s either from where the awning gets his power source out to the motor. It’s not real complicated. It’s not going through relays and a series of circuit boards; you know it’s not like that. Some carefree awnings have a little more to them. Some of the older Weather Pro awnings do, but they’re still easy to diagnose. Now don’t become overwhelmed with things either. Look at it, look at it logically. You know a lot of times there’s a diagram on the cover or the case of a relay or if it’s a circuit board, sometimes you know basic circuit board. It shows you the ins, the outs of the power. What’s a positive, what’s the negative, the flow of it. And with a little testing and with a little patience, you can figure it out.

22:06 Even calling, let’s say Carefree of Colorado, Hey, how do I diagnose this problem? They’ll walk you through it. It’s not that hard. You just let them know. Call them with what you have. Don’t call them. Say I got one of your awnings on my RV and it doesn’t work. What do I do? You know what awning it is? No. Are there any electric controls, do you  know what the controls are, maybe take pictures of them so you have them ready to text or email if they ask. The point is understanding 12 volts versus 110 volt and then looking at it logically? Can I do this myself? As I was saying most in most cases when there’s a problem in RV, you can do it yourself. And I know some of the newer RVs, they have a lot of electronics in them. There are more computers, there’s more things happening.

22:48 In that case you might get in over your head but at least check the basics. If you’re going to take it to a service center, check the basics, make sure it’s not a fuse, make sure a wire hasn’t come undone. Recently I had a customer bring in her RV and on their RV it had a Dometic awning on it, brand new RV and it would go in and out intermittently. It would kind of go out, stop, go in, stop. And it wasn’t consistent. And looking at it where the power coming out through the wall of the RV up the arm and plugs into the motor, the wire wasn’t long enough, they cut it too short and so it was barely making a connection and that was brand new from the factory and now that was an easy fix because I was able to move that wire.

23:53 Not too big of a problem, but it could have been more complicated. But that’s my point. Sometimes things are very simple. So sometimes check the simple, the obvious and sometimes the obvious is not so obvious. And if you’ve been around computers for any length of time, you know you probably get frustrated with calling companies and they tell you silly things like your printer cable is bad. That used to be a real common thing with computers. When your printer didn’t work, the cable’s bad. All they did was get you off the phone. Then after you bought the new cable installed, it still didn’t work. You’d have to call them back up. Man, it still doesn’t work. I put the new printer cable on. Check the simple things and if you want to learn more about your RV electrical system, there are books on it.

24:17 I kind of looked at a few online and you know, a lot of them cover solar. They get into different things on your RV, which by the way, solar panels would be part of your 12-volt system. They might confuse you. Having a basic understanding of 110 volts and 112 volts might be more beneficial and more usable than getting a book on your RV or on RV electrical systems. That might confuse it a little bit. Or if you have those basic understandings and you look at one of those books, you can weed out the stuff that really doesn’t apply to your system. Because if you don’t have solar, you don’t need to consider solar. And even if you have solar, you can isolate that, narrow down where the problem might be coming from. Is it one panel, two panels, all the panels?

25:01 Is that the controller, you know, are your batteries bad? Now you’ll look at it logically. Some of the books might help. But having some basic understandings of 110 volts and 12 will certainly help. And then having a meter where you can check 110 volt and 12 volts being one meter. And I’ve talked about this before, you get the voltmeter, a better way to go than a test light. And in an RV, you’d have to have 110-volt test light and a 12-volt test light, which isn’t a big deal. You can certainly do that. And you ought to check your wall outlets. They do make little ones you can just plug right into the wall to tell you if it has power or not. And those are kind of simple and handy. You can keep it in the drawer of your RV, you know, one of the kitchen drawers, quick little tasks.

25:41 And if that’s not lighting up then you get out the meter and dig into it a little bit more. I hope this episode has helped you to understand the difference between the two systems and determining whether you want to tackle the project or take it to a repair facility. And I’m going to say this, sometimes they say they fixed the problem and it’s not fixed. So sometimes you spend money is not refundable and you’ve invested time into it and that’s where doing it yourself quite often saves you that headache. You saved the money and you know your time has some value. It’s cheaper to do it at home and save your money. I want to thank you for listening and again a reminder to check out Radio Arizona RV and if you go there, that takes you to all our other websites like I said. And if you can subscribe to these podcasts on whichever channel you prefer, you can go to the website and we also have a YouTube channel that you can have a link and it’s linked to on our website, Radio Arizona RV. And you can subscribe to that channel as well. So again, thank you for listening. This is Eric Stark with Radio Arizona RV.

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About the author, Eric

I have been a hands on DIY'er since childhood, yeah since childhood with the idea that the job has to get done. My job (not a career) history is not the typical job history. I have run successful multi-million dollar companies, I have started RV related businesses from ground up. Over the years I have acquired many skills, some self taught and taught by others in a hands on environment. Today everything I have learned over the decades has come together and now I love to help others and keep myself involved in my favorite industry, Recreational Vehicles! This is not even close to being finished......