What’s the difference between converters and inverters and just why should you care? You may hear fellow RVers using these conditions and they may be using them interchangeably and incorrectly often. Why should you care? Most RVs include a converter and many have an inverter also. You need to know what you have and how to use each one properly to get the most out of your equipment and avoid depleting your batteries.
Both have to do with handling the coach electrical system. Each device provides a valuable and specific function for your RV. So, what’s the difference and why will it matter? Converters and inverters perform contrary functions actually. A converter converts 120-volt AC power to 12-volt DC power. This powers the 12-volt lights and appliances in an RV when it’s linked to shore power or when the generator is operating instead of running down the batteries.
The converter usually includes or is situated close to the fuse or breaker -panel. Converters usually include a battery-charging circuit to recharge trainer batteries whenever 120-volt power is available. However, these are usually intended limited to light charging to keep up batteries when the coach is in storage and they’re not very good at re-charging depleted batteries. If your converter doesn’t add a good multi-stage charger, you might like to add a computerized, automotive battery pack charger. This solution is usually easier, less costly, and more effective than upgrading the internal charger in a converter.
And I confirmed that with an engineer at one of the converter manufacturers. I had developed called because the charging circuit on my converter gone bad and was placing out about 18 volts and boiling my batteries. Rather than repair or upgrade the converter, the engineer recommended I disable the charging circuit (and instructed me how to take action) and set up an automated car battery charger. It worked very well for a long time — until I improved the whole system for an Intellipower converter with Charge Wizard from Progressive Dynamics. Still, the quickest way to recharge your batteries will likely be running your vehicle engine.
The vehicle alternator has a higher, controlled output and can re-charge batteries faster and safer than any plug-in charger usually. Gas consumption with the engine at idle is going to be about the same as running the on board generator, so there is absolutely no obvious fuel savings to using the generator, though it offers a smaller engine even. Running the automobile at or slightly above idle should be sufficient to charge your batteries. Another advantage to running the vehicle engine is that it’ll recharge the starting battery as well as the house batteries. Replacing a preexisting converter may be as simple as unplugging and disconnecting the old one and hooking up and plugging in the new one.
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However, if the old converter can be an integral area of the power -panel which includes the 120-volt breakers, the set up will be more difficult and complicated. An inverter does just the opposite from a converter: it changes the 12-volt DC power from your batteries into 120-volt AC capacity to run AC appliances. Inverters come in a variety of sizes and with an array of performance. Cheap inverters produce a “modified sine influx” AC power.
These may be OK for a few AC devices, but any sensitive electronics will demand a “true sine influx” output to operate properly. Inverters may be small and inexpensive and plug into a 12-volt cigarette lighter style receptacle. These may be adequate to power small appliances, even a laptop computer, and charge mobile phones (if the output is “clean” enough). I have found my cell phones charge faster utilizing a 120-volt charger plugged into an inverter plugged into the cigarette lighter than they do using a 12-volt car charger straight.
Larger units are hard wired into the battery bank and may power several outlet stores or circuits in the RV. Anytime you’re using an inverter, keep in mind the 120-volt wattage pull will be 10 times the same wattage draw for 12-volt home appliances of similar amperage. What does that means that to you? It means your batteries will run-down at least 10 times as fast running a 120-volt 10-amp equipment as they’ll running a 12-volt 10-amp device.
Appliances are usually graded in watts. A 10-amp, 12-volt product uses 120 w. A 10-amp, 120-volt appliances uses 1200 w. Batteries tends to be ranked in amp-hours. That determines the real number of hours they can deliver 1 amp at 12-volts. 12-volt deep routine RV battery bank with a rating of 850 amp-hours, theoretically, could operate a 1-amp weight for 850 hours or a 10-amp fill for 85 hours or an 850-amp load for one hour.
That same electric battery powering 120-volt devices via an inverter would operate a 10-amp 120-volt weight for only 8.5 hours or less. Inverters are noiseless so they can be used to power TVs and other entertainment systems past allowable generator hours — When you have a sizable enough battery bank. Inverters aren’t typically used to run the electric aspect of the refrigerator (even though some monster luxury motorhomes with really huge electric battery banking institutions may have that ability).