These days, so many features of a motorhome rely on power. And to be fair, we’re pretty dependent on it too; imagine not being able to charge your smartphone! This means it's extra important that you understand how to power your motorhome, and learn techniques to make power last the distance. In this guide, we’ll break down how to power your motorhome in a simplified way. This will ensure you don’t get caught out in the dark when you’re next on holiday.
In this guide we’re answering all your motorhome power questions:
Let’s get started!
Most motorhomes have 2 main batteries. One battery is in the engine and powers the starter motor just like your regular car, the other is a 12V deep cycle battery. This 12V battery is one way to power your motorhome, the other is by plugging your motorhome into shore power at a campsite.
240-volt power or shore power as it’s known is power supplied from a campsite shore power unit. Being a lot more powerful than your 12V deep cycle battery, shore power can power more energy-hungry items like your microwave. Shore power is also the easiest way to charge your 12V battery while also directly powering your motorhome at the same time. Once you’ve found a shore power unit at the campground where you’re staying, there are a few steps to safely connect to it.
This is a switch that can be found on the underside of the power unit. It’s good to switch it off before plugging in for safety and to avoid overloading.
Your power cord can usually be found under an access cover on the side or rear of your motorhome. Simply lift the cover to then pull out the power cord. Next to the access cover, it should also detail which amps your RV requires. The standard for RVs in Australia is 15amps.
Most shore power units in Australia provide a 15amp socket, so simply plug it in.
Once the cord is connected, turn the power station on and you’re good to go. When it comes time to unhook the cord, be sure to turn the shore power unit off again first.
Often called a house battery, a 12V deep cycle battery powers most of your RV including house lights, stovetop ignition, and water pump when you’re away from the campsite. Due to the size of the battery, your 12V deep cycle battery will normally last 2 to 3 days before needing to be recharged. Make sure the 12V battery isolator is on to draw power from it. This isolator is a square looking switch that has a large knob that you can easily turn to the ‘on’ position. For a more in-depth guide on different types of batteries read our helpful guide on batteries, chargers and related systems.
Although it’s convenient to power your motorhome directly from shore power whenever you can, sometimes you’ll need to rely purely on your 12V battery when you’re out exploring. Here are different ways to charge your 12V battery other than with shore power:
Some RVs have a built-in generator already, but if yours doesn’t, a generator can be a handy item to have if you’re travelling far. Essentially, a generator plugs into your RV and acts the same as shore power does. Although not quite as powerful, it’s very effective at charging your 12V battery and running most appliances. Just note that sometimes an external generator can be quite loud. Because of this, sometimes it can keep you and neighbouring campers awake at night.
Especially in sunny Australia, solar panels are becoming more and more common for charging 12V batteries. In fact, one of the most popular modifications we’re asked to carry out at KEA is to install extra solar panels. Solar panels are particularly efficient as they are always charging when the sun is out. It is worth noting though that solar panels can only charge your 12V battery and not power your motorhome directly.
See how much a solar panel could cost along with other handy modifications and refurbishments on our website.
To check your 12V battery level, see the DC volts battery monitor that will already be installed in your motorhome. The monitor is usually located along with your other electrical switches.
A well looked after 12V battery should last a good 6 years. How long your battery lasts however will depend on the type of battery you have, how often you use it, and what kind of appliances you’re using it for. To make the battery life last longer, try not to completely drain and then recharge it often. Instead, try to drain it only about halfway before charging it back up again. To know when it’s time to replace your 12V battery, look for things like:
A battery inspection is one of the many things an experienced RV expert will check when servicing your RV or providing a pre-trip tune-up. It’s worth getting your vehicle checked and serviced regularly to stay on top of your battery health, and the overall condition of your vehicle.
Just like at home, there are so many ways you can save power. How far you’re prepared to go in the name of energy saving is really up to you. Here are some top tips on how to save power:
Check seals and doors to ensure heat isn’t escaping along with making sure your walls are well insulated. RV skirting is also helpful to insulate the floor. Preventing heat from escaping means you won’t need to rely on your motorhome’s power as much to stay warm.
Dry camping is when you stay in your RV without using its power and water. For some people, they prefer this as they feel closer to nature. As you’d imagine, it also means not using power from your 12V battery.
A good way to save power is to install more efficient LED lighting in your motorhome. It may seem simple, but also turn off lights when you’re not using them. If you’re reading a book before bed, why not use a head torch.
Whether it’s a fridge or microwave, you can always choose to buy energy-efficient appliances. On that note, try to avoid using unnecessary appliances and technology to begin with, or use sparingly if you know you want to be off the grid for a few days.
You don’t always need to cook with your RV’s built-in cooking equipment. Take along a small gas cooker, portable bbq or use communal cooking areas at caravan parks to create a feast without relying on your 12V battery. If cooking outside, be sure to practice fire safety and obey all campsite guidelines and fire bans.
Knowing how to power your motorhome is an important skill to have, especially if you’re travelling long distances not staying at a campsite every night. For some people, dry camping is a lot of fun. But for most, the point of owning a motorhome is to still have some home comforts while you’re out exploring. If you play your cards right, your small 12V battery can take you far. If you’re looking to upgrade or get your first motorhome, see our range of new and refurbished motorhomes. Ask our experts for advice on which model is best for you at a KEA certified dealership today.
Learn more about your motorhome with our helpful how-to guides.