What Does an RV Inverter Do? Is it Helpful?

what does an rv inverter do

While RVs come equipped with a battery that can provide some power, it may not be enough to keep all devices running for an extended period. An RV inverter can be a game-changer in this scenario.

So, what does an RV inverter do? It’s a device that converts DC power from the battery into AC power, the type used by most household appliances and electronics. With an RV inverter, you can enjoy all the comforts of home while on the road.

This article delves into the functionality of an RV inverter and how it can be a helpful addition to your RV.

What Does an RV Inverter Do?

An RV inverter changes the way electricity flows in your RV. Let’s break it down for you – your RV’s electrical system usually runs on 12-volt DC power, which is great for things like your lights and fans. But when it comes to things like your TV, microwave, or air conditioner, you need AC power.

That’s where an RV inverter comes in. It converts the DC power from your RV’s batteries into AC power, so you can run those household appliances even when you’re not hooked up to a shore power source. So, in essence, an inverter “inverts” DC power into AC power. Pretty cool, right?

When you’re on an RV trip, you’ll likely come across many camping sites that don’t have access to shore power. That means there won’t be an AC supply available for you to connect your RV appliances. In such cases, an RV inverter can help you out.

But it’s not just about camping sites without shore power. Even if you have installed solar panels on your RV’s roof, they only provide a DC supply. That’s why you need an inverter to run high-power consumption appliances that require an AC connection.

One thing to keep in mind is that not all RV inverters are created equal. Some are more powerful and can handle more appliances at once, and some are more efficient, meaning they won’t drain your batteries as quickly. It’s good to do research and find the right RV inverter for your needs.

But the bottom line is this – an RV inverter is a really handy thing to have if you want to be able to use all your things when you’re camping or traveling in your RV. It’s like having your own little power plant!

How Does an RV Inverter Work?

power inverter and cables

An RV inverter uses a combination of voltage conversion, waveform modification, and filtering to convert DC power to AC power. While the process may seem complicated, the end result is a reliable and efficient source of AC power that can be used to power a wide range of devices and appliances.

Think of it like this: imagine you have a water hose that’s only flowing in one direction. If you want to use that water to power a water wheel that requires water to flow back and forth, you need to somehow make the water reverse directions.

Similarly, if you have a DC power source that only flows in one direction, you need a power inverter to make it flow back and forth like AC power.

To do this, the inverter first boosts the low DC voltage (usually 12V) to a higher voltage (usually 120V) and then modifies the voltage so that it alternates between positive and negative values.

Let’s dive deeper into the process. First, the DC power is fed into the inverter, where it’s converted into a high-frequency AC signal. This signal is then passed through a series of components that modify the waveform to match the standard sine wave of AC power. These components may include filters, transformers, rectifiers, and capacitors.

Once the waveform has been modified, the AC signal is amplified to the appropriate voltage level for the devices being powered. This voltage may be stepped up or down depending on the needs of the devices. Finally, the AC power is delivered to the devices via an output terminal.

Bypass Circuitry

Bypass circuitry in high-end RV inverters allows the inverter to be turned off and bypassed when shore power is available, reducing energy consumption and extending the life of the inverter.

When your RV is connected to shore power (i.e., when it’s plugged into an electrical outlet), the AC power from the outlet can be used directly to power your appliances and electronics. In this scenario, the RV inverter is not needed.

Bypass circuitry typically works by automatically detecting when shore power is available and switching the power source from the inverter to the shore power source. That’s done through a series of electrical relays and switches integrated into the inverter.

Hybrid or Power Assist Mode

Imagine you’re out in your RV, running the air conditioner to stay cool on a hot day. The air conditioner uses a lot of power, which means it’s draining your RV’s batteries pretty quickly. Eventually, your batteries start to run low, and you’re left with a tough decision: do you turn off the air conditioner and suffer through the heat, or do you run the risk of completely draining your batteries?

If your RV inverter has a Hybrid or Power Assist functionality, you don’t have to make that tough decision. Instead, the inverter will automatically switch to power assist mode when it detects that your batteries are running low.

In power assist mode, the inverter will continue to draw power from your RV’s batteries, but it will also draw power from any other available power sources, such as solar panels or a generator.

Some hybrid inverters may also incorporate advanced power management features. For example, they may allow you to set custom power thresholds that determine when the inverter should switch to power assist mode. This feature can help you optimize your power usage and ensure you always have enough power to meet your needs.

Pure Sine Wave vs. Modified Sine Wave

A pure sine wave inverter produces AC power identical to the AC power you would get from a standard wall outlet in your home. So the voltage and frequency of the AC power are both smooth and consistent, without any fluctuations or distortions.

Pure sine wave inverters are ideal for powering sensitive electronics and appliances, like laptops and televisions, as they require a consistent and high-quality source of power.

On the other hand, a modified sine wave inverter produces AC power similar to a pure sine wave but with some distortions and fluctuations in the voltage and frequency. So it can cause issues with certain electronics and appliances that are sensitive to these fluctuations, such as audio equipment and motor devices.

Modified sine wave inverters are generally less expensive than pure sine wave inverters and are suitable for powering basic appliances, like lights, fans, and small kitchen appliances.

Although pure sine wave inverters are more expensive than modified sine wave inverters, they offer a higher quality and more consistent source of power, which can help ensure your devices and appliances function properly and last longer.

RV Inverter Vs. RV Converter

With an RV converter, you can use your 12-volt DC devices and appliances without relying solely on your RV’s batteries. The converter takes the 120-volt AC power from the campground or generator and converts it into 12-volt DC power.

Meanwhile, an RV inverter powers your AC devices and appliances, like your TV or microwave, using the DC power from your RV’s battery. That’s important because some devices and appliances require AC power, and an inverter allows you to use them even when you’re not connected to an AC power source.

Many modern RVs come with a combination inverter/converter, a single device that combines the functions of an RV inverter and an RV converter. It can be a convenient and cost-effective option for RV owners, as it can take up less space and requires fewer wires and connections.

An inverter/converter also provides more control over your RV’s power usage. Some units also offer smart features that automatically switch between AC and DC power depending on what you’re using, saving energy and extending your RV’s battery life.

However, there are also some potential downsides to using a combination inverter/converter. If the unit fails, you may lose both your AC and DC power sources, which can be inconvenient and potentially dangerous. Additionally, a combination unit may not be as customizable as separate units.

Three Methods to Install an RV Inverter

Choosing the right installation method depends on your power needs and the size of your RV. A cigarette lighter inverter may be suitable for smaller RVs or just charging devices, while a direct battery or AC installation may be more appropriate for larger RVs or extended periods of power use.

When installing an RV inverter, you must follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Moreover, ensure the inverter is properly grounded and connected to the battery or AC distribution system, depending on the installation method you choose.

It’s also a good idea to have the installation done by a professional if you’re not confident in your electrical knowledge.

Cigarette Lighter Inverter Installation

This is the simplest and most common way to install an inverter in an RV. All you need to do is plug the inverter into the cigarette lighter socket in your RV.

These types of inverters are small and have a low wattage output, so they’re best suited for powering small devices like phones and laptops. Keep in mind this option isn’t powerful enough for larger appliances.

Direct to the Battery Bank

If you want to power larger devices like TVs and microwaves, you’ll need a more powerful inverter that’s directly connected to your RV’s battery bank.

This type of installation is a bit more complex, but it allows you to power larger devices like a TV or microwave. You’ll need a large inverter to handle higher wattage output.

Direct to AC Distribution Box

If you want to power all your RV’s appliances at the same time, you’ll need to install the inverter directly into the AC distribution box.

This method is the most complex and should only be done by a professional electrician. You’ll need a larger inverter for this type of installation, but it allows you to power higher-draw appliances like an air conditioner and other heat-generating appliances.

However, it’s important to note you should not run all high-power devices at the same time. Otherwise, the power drawn from these devices can quickly exceed the capacity of your inverter, causing your system to shut down or even damage your appliances.

To ensure safety and efficiency, you must choose an inverter compatible with your RV’s battery bank and power needs with built-in safety features to prevent overloading or overheating.

How to Choose the Right Size Inverter for Your RV

gasoline powered Inverter generator running next to a van outdoors

Choosing the right size inverter for your RV can be a bit tricky, but it’s essential to get it right so that you can power all your appliances without running into any problems. In general, a 2000-watt inverter is mostly sufficient, but make sure to double-check your specific power requirements before making a final decision.

It’s always better to choose an inverter that’s slightly larger than you need, rather than one that’s too small and can’t handle your power needs.

What Do You Want to Power? Let’s Make a List!

Before you can choose the right size inverter, you need to know what you’re trying to power. Make a list of all the appliances and electronics you plan to use in your RV.

Here are the steps to determine the power requirements for your RV inverter:

  1. Identify the continuous wattage and surge wattage of all the devices you plan to power simultaneously. The continuous wattage is the amount of power the device uses when it’s running normally, while the surge wattage is the extra power it needs to start up.
  2. Add up the continuous wattage and surge wattage of all the devices to get the total power requirement.
  3. Add 20% to the total power requirement to get the minimum size of the inverter you need. This value provides a buffer for unexpected power surges and helps ensure the inverter can handle all your power needs.

Devices like TVs, laptops, and lights have a steady power demand and don’t require a surge of power to start up.

On the other hand, devices like air conditioners and refrigerators often have a high surge demand when starting up. The surge demand can be up to three to five times the device’s continuous power demand.

Determine Your Battery Capacity

Your inverter needs to draw enough power from your RV’s battery to meet the power requirements of your appliances and devices. Check the capacity of your RV’s battery to ensure it can handle the load. You may need to upgrade your battery if it’s not large enough to support your power needs.

As a general rule, the larger your battery bank, the larger the inverter you can use. This is because a larger battery bank can provide more power for a longer period, which means you can use a larger inverter to power more devices.

If you have a small battery bank, you may want to consider a smaller inverter. A smaller inverter will draw less power from your battery bank to help extend your battery life.

Overall, it’s a good idea to consult with an RV technician or electrical professional to help you determine the appropriate size of inverter for your specific needs.


Is a single inverter enough for one RV?

Whether a single inverter is enough for one RV depends on the size of the RV, the number and type of devices you want to power, and your power usage habits. A single inverter may be ideal for smaller RVs or if you have modest power needs.

RV inverters providing 2,000 – 3,000 watts are sufficient for an average camping experience. However, the exact wattage you need will depend on the specific devices you want to power and how many of them you plan to use at the same time.

Moreover, an inverter is only part of the overall power system in an RV. The size of your battery bank and the capacity of your solar panels or generator also play a role in determining how much power you can generate and store.

For a comprehensive power system, you may need to consult with an RV technician or electrical professional to determine the appropriate setup for your needs.

Can I use a generator instead of an inverter in my RV?

You can use a generator instead of an inverter in your RV. A generator is an alternative power source delivering AC power to your RV’s electrical system, just like an inverter.

While a generator is a useful tool for providing power in an off-grid situation, an inverter can offer several advantages, including quieter operation, fuel efficiency, convenience, portability, and clean power for sensitive electronics.


Whether you’re a full-time RVer or someone who enjoys weekend camping trips, an RV inverter can be a useful tool while traveling.

What does an RV inverter do? It makes off-grid camping a lot more comfortable and convenient. With an RV inverter, you can power your electronics, stay connected, and enjoy all the comforts of home, no matter where your travels take you.


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