Welcome to our guide on RV wiring. We’ll cover, among many other things….
- Figuring out what amperage RV you have
- Campground power stations
- Connecting to generators
- How Electricity works in your RV
If you want to jump to anywhere in particular, please, use the table of contents. This is a long article.
Which RV Plug Is Wired to What?
Alright. Here’s how RVs work: the standard RV amperage—the amount of current in their outlets (see below)—is 30 Amps or 50 Amps.
The first step is to identify which type of RV you have. Normally, smaller RVs are 30 Amps; they need less current to run less applications.
The rule of thumb is if you have more than one air conditioner unit, you use 50 Amps. If you’ve got a massive AC on top of your RV (something over 15,000 BTU) you may have 50 Amps, too.
If that doesn’t mean anything to you, look at the pictures.
You can also take a look at your electrical panel (aka electrical circuit breaker panel).
Like the one in your home, it’ll help you get an idea of what I’m talking about and where exactly all your electricity is going.
Now we can get into what you’re connecting it to.
(If you already know this, skip it)
Most likely, you’ll be plugging your RV into a campground. See the first header.
However, if you’ve decided to go boondocking off the grid for this camping trip, you won’t have a campground. In that case, you will need a generator for your power.
If you don’t have a generator yet, check out our crazy-thorough article Best 8 Generators for RV & Camping + Ultimate Guide to Outdoor Power.
If you are just thinking about whether or not you need one, that is the post to read. (Feel free to bookmark it and come back later.)
Back to connecting: jump to the section on connecting to generators. Otherwise…
How to Connect Your RV to a Campsite Plug Outlet
First things first, not all campgrounds were created equal. Some have power, some don’t, and some have both 30 and 50 Amps.
Important note: You cannot directly plug 30 Amp plugs into 50 Amp sockets or vice versa. You need an adapter.
If you find a campground designated an ‘RV Camp’ (or any with RV in the name), you can trust it has electricity and at least a partial hookup.
However, if the site is referred to a partial hookup, there’s no guarantee a 50 Amp outlet is available.
If the campsite is called a full hookup most sites have 50 Amps but it’s still good to check.
This is similar to what you’ll find at your campsite (minus the dock). I know, it’s a stock image—sorry!—but none of the pictures I had looked any good.
Some camps will add a 50 Amp outlet on as an extra charge (whether it’s partial or full hookups).
It’s important to know what you’re paying for! Read or skim our full guide to choosing campsites (as an RVer or regular camper).
So Called ‘Campgrounds’
If RVs aren’t mentioned in the name, there’s no guarantee electricity or water is included.
You may be left with only a fire pit and a place to park. Or nothing at all.
Make sure to check and confirm that at least electricity and water is included with your campground…unless you don’t want it. But then, I don’t know why you’re reading this post…
You may have to call the campground. I’ve found that many camping websites can be, let’s say, uninformative. And don’t get me started on how outdated they look!
So make sure that you have access to a plug-in station and you’ll be fine.
If you need regular wires to connect your RV to the power station, Camco makes quality cables that last for decades. (If you don’t believe me, peruse the 2,100+ reviews on Amazon).
Definitely go for 50 feet long. The worst feeling in the world is to park, get out of your camper, stretch, then have to get back in to move it closer to the power station.
Connecting Your RV to a Generator
Generators hold a special place in my heart. They make power wherever, whenever you need it; the ultimate tool of the RVer and the camper.
Perfect for dry camping—aka boondocking—the generator gives life to an RV, camper, trailer, or anything else that needs charge to work.
To connect your generator to your RV, plug it in, and fire it up!
There’s nothing more to it than that; I wrote this section because I wanted to point out a few common problems and offer some further reading.
It’s a pain to run out of fuel halfway through the night and wake up only to find the first thing you’ll do that morning is not appreciate the beautiful scenery right outside your door. Instead, it’s find the nearest gas station for a warm breakfast.
Or you turn on the shower, give it a moment to warm up, and then step into freezing cold water.
Make sure you remember to check your generator’s fuel level (not just the RV/car).
Oil is an essential part of any engine because it lubricates all the moving parts.
Ever heard the adage: friction generates heat? It’s true. Even in a generator. The sliding of the parts releases energy in the form of heat.
Trust me when I say there are a lot of moving parts in a generator!
A large problem many inexperienced users encounter is forgetting to remember to change the oil. Most portable generators these days come with low oil shutoff sensors, but then you still have to change the oil.
If the light on your control panel is on, then that’s the reason your generator has problems. Otherwise you risk permanently damaging the engine. (However, some of the smarter engines will detect the problem and not start).
After years of use, it is not especially uncommon for the filter of your generator to get clogged.
Many campers don’t know this can be a problem. If everything else looks good, you can bet it’s the culprit.
Beneath I added a really short video showing how easy it is to clean the filter. It isn’t really a problem once you know how to do it.
This video is for the extremely popular Honda EU2000i (which we reviewed). That said, all manufactures put their filters in different places.
You can watch the video to get a sense of what you’re doing, then Youtube your specific generator model.
So now I hope you have a better idea of how to connect you generator and keep it running on all cylinders (both literally and figuratively).
A significant source for this part of the article was Axle Addict’s guide to Generators.
Understanding Wiring Terms
When you go to buy either a non-converting extension cable or an adapter, they’ll all be described similarly. (But not clearly!)
For example, I pulled this from an Amazon listing.
The heading might confuse you, but don’t worry. You’ll either see 30M/30F, maybe fifty, or a combination of the two.
The M stands for male and the F stands for female.
The X and Y will be 30 or 50 Amps. Nothing more complicated than that.
Something often ignored, we always say get 50′ (the ‘apostrophe’ means feet, any metric system users).
One of the worst feelings in the world is to park after a long, exhausting day of travel is to get out of your camper, stretch, then have put it back into gear to move it closer to the power station.
Get a 50′ foot cable. You will thank yourself later.
Locking vs. Non-Locking
Locking plugs can screw or twist into an outlet.
If you know you have a locking outlet, there’s no harm to get one. That said, it’s not really a big problem if you don’t have one.
It just adds some peace of mind.
Straight vs. 90° Degree
For most situations, 90 degrees is better. With 90° plug, the cord goes straight down.
First, it helps because it takes up less space and looks better.
Second, there’s less a chance you’ll trip on it. It gets to the ground a lot faster running straight down than sticking straight out.
It is important to remember how to properly pull out a plug in any situation, from iPhone charger to 50A 220V wires.
You should not pull on the cable itself. You want to grab the plug part and slide it out there.
Otherwise where the two meet will become damaged over time. For example, the computer I’m writing this on…
You can see how it’s begun to tear. I’ve been meaning to get some electrical tape to fix it but haven’t gotten around to it yet. UPDATE: I have fixed it!
Faulty or tearing wires is a major source of electrical trouble. Review our guide to fire safety.
Camco has a patented solution to tearing (one of the many reasons we recommend their products).
The handle on the backside discourages people from pulling on the wire, whether they mean to or not.
It’s especially a favorite of people who don’t like to remind everyone they RV/camp with how to unplug it correctly.
Extensions cords are a lifesaver.
Whether you have a noisy generator you want to shove deep in the woods (you could also get a quiet one) or just park aways from civilization (50 feet) you need an extension cord.
30 Amp RV to 30 Amp Service
If you’re just going from a 30A RV to a 30A service—from a generator or campground plug—you don’t have to get any special adapter.
This is the best cord we can find on the market:
50 Amp RV to 50 Amp Service
If you’re just going from a 50A RV to a 50A service—from a generator or campground plug—you don’t have to get any special adapter.
This is the best cord we can find on the market:
I’ve said a lot about adapters, so let’s get right into it. FYI: This section is from a whole article we did on converting amperage for your RV.
50 Amp RV to 30 Amp Service
The more common of the two situations is to have a 50 Amp RV and only have access to a 30 Amp plug.
It’s much less common to have a 30 Amp RV and only have access to 50 Amp (most often they’ll both be at a power station, side by side).
Using an adapter like the one below is the only safe way to convert (shrink) 30 amps to 50.
Be forewarned, however, that your large RV may not operate at full capacity. By that I mean if you’ve got multiple AC units both may not run. There’s less power running through your RV, after all.
The female 50 Amp plug end of the adapter can be connected to the male end of your RV’s cable.
The male 30A head of the adapter plugs into the service outlet.
30 Amp RV to 50 Amp Service
It’s rather uncommon, but you never need one until you do. If you have access to a 50 Amp plug but have a 30 Amp RV, use an adapter.
The female 30 Amp plug end of the adapter can be connected to the male end of your RV’s cable.
The male head of the adapter goes into the service plug.
How Do Adapters Work?
We also cover this in a full article dedicated to RV adapters and even more thoroughly later in the article.
And there you have it! Generators work the same.
All that’s left is to teach you what’s really happening and what all these wirings and outlets are doing with your electricity.
Explaining RV & Camping Electricity
This article (and website) is all about giving the RVers and campers the tools they need to have a good time.
But what’s also important is understanding what’s going on, both to fix problems as they arise, but also to have an appreciation for everything that allows the pleasure RVing and camping.
What About Voltage?
Voltage in the United States is standardized at 120 Volts. For both 30 Amp RV plugs and 50 Amp plugs, it is the same 120 Volts.
What’s the Difference Between 30A RVs and 50A RVs?
What that question is really asking is: how do you take voltage and current to make power? With the power law, of course!
Power (watts) = Voltage (volts) * Current (amps) = V * i
i is current in the above formula. Think of i as the intensity of the electricty.
120 V * 30 Amps = 3,600 Watts
120 V * 50 Amps = 6,000 Watts
240 V * 50 Amps = 12,000 Watts
Thing is, 50 amp RV plugs are what’s called 120-240 split phase service. What it means is that two parts of the plug both offer separate 50 Amp / 120 Volt circuits.
It also means that 50 Amp RVs don’t just have 6,000 Watts of power running through them, they have double that—12,000 Watts of power. Big increase, right?
Power In Terms of Plugs
The 2 hot lines (black and red) both carry 120 volt 50 amp service for your RV to use. The neutral is the return, in layman’s terms.
The orange ground often is connected to just that: the ground. It’s a safety measure to prevent buildups.
For more information…
In this picture…
- Green is ground
- White is neutral
- Red is one 50 Amp 120 Volt
- Black is one 50 Amp 120 Volt
How Do Electricity and Adapters Work?
In order to understand electricity, you need to know electric basics.
Amperage is the amount of water flowing through the river. Voltage is the speed of the river.
What the adapter does is limit the strength of the current by safely controlling how much can pass through. It also converts a 30 Amp head to a 50 Amp head.
In terms of the water example, a converter cord cable safely narrows the river from 50 Amp—say, 50 gallons of water—to only let through 30 amps—30 gallons of water.
Think of it like a dam, letting only a set amount of current through so the river doesn’t flood.
Here’s an example that helps me think about it. If it already makes sense to you, don’t read it. It’ll probably confuse you. Skip my long explanation.
But if what I just said makes no sense whatsoever, maybe it’ll help
What Is Current?
Without getting too technical, amperage is the amount of current flowing through a circuit. Think of it like a river. The wider the river—the more water—the more power.
What Is Voltage?
If you’re curious, voltage is the speed of that river. The faster it flows, the more electricity. Think about it as the difference is pressure between two parts of a circuit.
The problem with the waterfall example is that height has nothing to do with electricity.
Try to imagine a circuit of water with a waterfall. Doesn’t work, does it? Not unless you find a way to make the water flow uphill.
That’s what the battery does. Then the rest of the circuit becomes the downhill slope. Except—sorry about all the exceptions—the slope doesn’t matter, nor does the length of the circuit.
All that matters is the difference between the pressure at both ends of the battery.
RV Plugs Explained (In Video Form)
I put this in at the end for anyone who prefer video to text or want a summary. This guy does a good job of explaining what’s going it.
For Electricians Looking for More Info
So, this article covers the majority of the basic RV wiring dilemmas.
However, if you are a capable electrician you may find some of the information on this page not technical enough. Here are a few links for further reading:
A 30 Amp wire normally has standard 120V to accompany it for a total power of 3,600 Watts.
A 50A circuit is 240V because it has 2 live 120V wires running through it.
A 30A wire at standard 120 Volts means it has 30A * 120V = 3,600 Watts
A 50A cable has two standard 120 Volt live wires running in it, meaning it really has 240 Volts. So the power is then 50A * 240V = 12,000 Watts
There you have it! I hope you learned a lot, got an extension cord, adapter, or both…and maybe even a generator!
It means the world to me, if you read this all the way through.
If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or want to suggest a topic please send us an email at [email protected].
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