Campervan Electrics System

Having an efficient electrical power system aboard your campervan is an essential part of what that turns a van into a campervan.

For example, whether you require power for gadgets, lighting, a T.V, or to power the internal fan on a diesel night heater, having an efficient electrical system aboard your campervan is a necessity.

In this article, you will learn all the essential parts of a campervan electrical system, otherwise known as an auxiliary power system. Furthermore, this article will guide you in choosing the correct electrical equipment, as well as the best methods on how to maintain your system.

Campervan Electrical System

In its most basic form, the auxiliary power system found aboard a campervan can be split into three stages.

What are the three stages of a campervan power system?

Stage 1 – Charge System

Campervan Electrics Charge System

The first stage of an auxiliary power system aboard a campervan is creating the initial power.

Generally, this can be achieved using one of three methods. It’s also worth mentioning that all three methods can be used individually or simultaneously.

How do I create electricity in a campervan?

The three different charge systems available for creating power aboard a campervan are as follows:

1. Split Charge System (Vehicle Primary Power System)

Campervan RV Motorhome Caravan Split Charge System
A split charge system in a campervan is a really efficient (and pretty simple) way of generating power for your campervan electric system.
What is a split charge system?

A split charge power system is an electrical system consisting of a heavy-duty power cable, terminal connectors, and a split charge device.

When installed correctly, a split charge system will efficiently charge your campervans auxiliary power system from your vehicles primary electrical system.

How does a split charge system work?

A split charge system works by connecting a cable between your vehicle’s primary electrical system to your campervans auxiliary electrical system.

At one end, the cable is connected to the positive terminal of your vehicles starter battery. However, some installers prefer to connect the cable directly to the vehicles alternator.

The opposite end of the cable is then connected to the positive terminal of your auxiliary power system’s power storage system. This is typically a leisure battery.

Installed along the cable is an electrical component that acts as a switch. This is known as a split charge device, and its primary purpose is to allow power to successfully flow when the conditions are right.

Why do I need a split charge system aboard my campervan?

There are two reasons why you would install a split charge system aboard a campervan.

Auxiliary Battery Charging

The first reason why you would install a split charge system aboard your campervan is to charge your auxiliary battery.

As your vehicle already has a primary power system that creates 12-volt power, it makes sense to connect this system to your auxiliary system.

By doing so, you now have an efficient way to charge your auxiliary power system when your vehicle is operating.

Prevent Flat Starter Battery

The second reason why you would install a split charge system aboard your campervan is to prevent using all the power from your vehicles primary power system.

If you were to make a permanent connection from your primary electrical system to your auxiliary electrical system, you could eventually run into a problem.

When the engine is off, operating onboard electronic items will draw power from both your starter and auxiliary battery.

If you continue to do this over an extended period, there is a high chance you could use up all available power from both batteries.

As a result, you would now have used the electricity required to start your vehicle’s engine. Consequently, you may find yourself stranded.

Installing a split charge system aboard your campervan will provide a safe way to split electrical power once stationary; essentially breaking the connection between your primary and auxiliary power systems.

As a result, you now have an efficient method of preventing you from accidentally using all the power from your primary electrical system.

Split charge device types
Campervan Split Charge Relay
Illustration of how a voltage sensing relay works. TOP: Engine off, contacts open. BOTTOM: Engine on, contacts closed.

When opting to install a split charge system aboard your campervan, there are typically three systems available. These systems are based on the split charge device.

  • On-Off Switch. A manual switch is a primitive way of creating an electrical connection between your primary and auxiliary electrical system.
  • Split Charge Relay. A split charge relay works like a manual switch, except the process is automatic. Once the relay detects power, the internal contacts connect.  This then allows electricity to flow from your primary electrical system to your auxiliary electrical system.
  • Voltage Sensing Relay (V.S.R). Very similar to a split charge relay, except with the addition of one crucial feature. A voltage sensing relay intelligently monitors the incoming voltage. Once the voltage exceeds a certain level, the internal contacts connect. This then allows electricity to flow from your primary electrical system to your auxiliary electrical system.
Advantages of a split charge system
  • 12-Volt Power. As your vehicle already has a primary power system that generates 12-volt power, it then makes sense to connect your auxiliary power system into the primary system.
  • Trouble-free operation. Depending on the split charge device you choose, power will only flow under the right conditions. As a result, you’ll never use all the power from your starter battery.
  • Easy to install. If you can wire a plug, chances are you can install a split charge system.
  • Low cost. A typical campervan split charge kit on Amazon can be purchased for around £70.00 ($85.00 U.S.)
Disadvantages of a split charge system
  • Engine Has To Be Running. For your split charge system to successfully charge your auxiliary power system, your engine has to be running. This could become an issue when parked up at a campsite.
Typical Split Charge System Wiring Diagram
Split Charge Wiring Diagram Campervan
A typical split charge system using a Voltage Sensing Relay.

Here is a super simple split charge wiring diagram you would typically find aboard a campervan.

  1. Engine (Alternator)
  2. Split Charge Relay (in this case, a V.S.R)
  3. Inline Fuse
  4. Leisure Battery
What We Think
Conclusion

Installing a campervan split charge system is the ‘go-to’ method for the majority of campervan conversion builds.

Depending on the device, a split charge relay device itself is relatively cheap, are super reliable, and installation is straightforward.

Question
  • Will you be installing a split charge power system aboard your campervan? If so, why?
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Products We Recommend

When it comes to installing a split charge system aboard your campervan, we strongly suggest you go for a voltage sensing system.

Although this may be the most expensive option out of the bunch, we feel the benefits outweigh the slightly higher cost.

V.S.R.

2. Solar Power Charge System

Campervan Solar Power System
A solar power system aboard a campervan is a great way of creating electricity for your campervan. And best of all, they’re good for the environment!
What is a solar power system?

A solar power system is an electrical system consisting of one or more solar panels, a cable, and a charge controller.

When installed correctly, a solar power system successfully creates a safe and efficient supply of electricity from the sun.

How does a solar power system work?

A solar power system is generally compromised of four main electrical components. Each component plays an essential role in a solar power system.

1) Solar Panel

The primary purpose of a solar panel is to generate electricity. This is achieved by turning particles of sunlight into electricity.

Without getting too technical, a solar panel is made up of many photovoltaic cells. Photovoltaic simply means they convert sunlight into electricity.

2) Solar Cable

The primary purpose of a solar cable is to enable the transfer of electricity created from the solar panel to additional devices and power storage components. To correctly connect a cable to a solar panel, you use an MC-4 connection terminal.

3) Solar Charge Controller

The primary purpose of a solar charge controllers is to regulate the incoming voltage/current from your solar panel. This device helps prevent any potential issues that may damage your solar charge system.

4) Leisure Battery

The primary purpose of a leisure battery is to efficiently store electricity created by a solar power system. This electricity can then be used later on.

Do I need a solar power charge system aboard my campervan?

A solar power system is an excellent addition to your campervan electrical system if you plan on doing a little more off-grid camping. As long as you have the right amount of sunlight, you technically have a way to generate an unlimited supply of usable electricity for your campervan electrical system.

Why should I install a solar power system aboard my campervan?
  • Free Unlimited Energy. Solar power is an excellent way of adding power to your campervan electrical system. After all, it’s basically free electricity!
  • Environmentally Friendly. You’re not creating harmful emissions that are being released into the air when producing solar electricity.
  • Cost-Effective. After your solar panels have been installed, operational costs are low compared to other forms of power generation.
Typical Solar Power System Wiring Diagram
Campervan Solar Wiring Diagram Schematic RV
A super simple solar power system aboard a campervan.

Here is a very basic solar power wiring diagram you would find aboard a campervan.

  1. Solar Panel
  2. MC-4 Connectors
  3. Charge Controller
  4. Inline Fuse
  5. Leisure Battery
What We Think
Conclusion

Having solar power aboard your campervan is a great way to create electricity. We really like the fact that you can simply park up and have access to an endless amount of electricity (obviously this depends on the weather and time of day depending) And though the initial outlay may be a little more costly, you’ll soon recuperate those costs once you start generating electricity.

Question
  • Will you be installing a solar power charge system aboard your campervan? If so, why?
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Products We Recommend

To see the products we recommend, click the link below.

3. Shore Power Charge System (Hook-Up)

Campervan Shore Power System
Having the ability to power high voltage appliances aboard your campervan can be beneficial.
What is a shore power system?

A shore power charge system is an electrical system consisting of a mains power inlet, consumer unit/breaker panel, 110/230 volt battery charger and connecting wires.

The system allows you to charge your campervans power storage device via a battery charger that is connected to a land-based power source.

What is a land-based power source?

Generally, land-based power is classified as power coming from a countries national electric grid. Depending on the county you are in, this is either 110 or 230 volts.

However, it is also possible to generate land-based power using an external generator. For instance, these generators may be powered by diesel or renewable energy sources such as wind or solar.

How does a shore power charge system work?

The first step is to connect your vehicle via a hook-up cable to a land-based electricity supply.

Once connected, electricity will flow from the campervan power inlet to a connected consumer unit (or known as a breaker panel in the U.S.A./Canada).

A consumer unit is the single most crucial electrical device when connecting to shore power. In fact, not only will it protects your electrical appliances from any potential damage, but more importantly, it will protect you from an electrical shock.

Connected to the consumer unit is a 110/230 volt to 12-volt battery charger. This is then connected to your power storage device.

Once operational, the battery charger will now efficiently recharge your campervan power storage device.

Advantages of a shore power charge system
  • Convenience. Having the option to just ‘plug-in’ your campervan to charge your onboard power source is extremely convenient.
  • Guaranteed Power. As you’re connected to a countries national grid system, power will be pretty much guaranteed night and day. And unlike solar, you do not have to worry about the weather.
  • Mains Power System. Installing the components to create an additional mains-power system aboard your campervan is a simple process. More on that later in this article.
Typical shore power charge system wiring diagram
Campervan RV Motorhome Shore Power Wiring Diagram
Campervan Shore Power Wiring Diagram

Here is a very basic shore power wiring diagram you would find aboard a campervan.

  1. Mains Power Socket Inlet
  2. Consumer Unit
  3. Mains Power Socket Outlet (optional)
  4. Battery Charger 
  5. Leisure Battery
What We Think
Conclusion

Having shore power aboard your campervan is an excellent way of adding additional power. Furthermore, having the ability to run appliances that require a higher voltage is a real bonus when on the road.

Question
  • Will you be installing a shore power charge system aboard your campervan? If so, why?
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Products We Recommend

Stage 2 – Power Storage System

Campervan Power Storage Power Bank Leisure Battery
A leisure battery is a very efficient way to store power aboard your campervan.

Now you have a way to produce power in your campervan, you’ll inevitably need a method to store all this power. For this, you use a leisure battery.

What is a Leisure Battery?

Campervan Leisure Battery
A campervan leisure battery holds all that important energy you’ll require to power your appliances and gadgets.

A leisure battery is an essential part of a campervan electrical system. It is used to store all generated power for 12-volt appliances and equipment in a campervan.

These batteries are specially designed to provide a steady level of power over a prolonged period. They are used by the L.E.D’s, T.V., U.S.B charge sockets as well as similar electrical components.

Stage 3 – Electrical Supply System

A Typical Electrical Power Distribution System Aboard a Campervan
Remember, each and every build will be different. Choose the best method that is right for you.

Now you know how to safely create and store power aboard your campervan, all that’s left is to distribute the power safely to each individual appliance when required. However, here’s where it can get a little confusing as campervan can have two different electrical supply systems that operate at a different voltage.

What are the two types of electrical supply systems on a campervan?

Glossary: In the interest of keeping this article easy to follow, the term mains power refers to your counties national nominal domestic voltage. This is the voltage that is typically delivered to a domestic property (house) via the national grid (power grid, hydro). In the majority of countries around the planet, this is either 110, 120, 230 or 240 volts A.C.

Electrical Supply System 1: 12 Volt System

Campervan 12 Volt System
L.E.D.’s, and U.S.B. charge sockets both run off 12-volt power.
What is a 12 volt electric supply system aboard a campervan?

A 12-volt electric supply system is a network of low-voltage power components that works independently from your campervans native electrical system.

This power supply system is installed in the majority of campervan conversions.

Why would you use a 12 volt power system in a campervan?
  • Availability of 12-volt appliances. The nominal onboard voltage aboard your campervan is 12-volts D.C. Items such as the horn, lights, E.C.U and stereo all run of a 12 volt supply.  Furthermore, there are millions of vehicles around the planet, all running on a 12-volt system. Therefore, it makes economic sense for manufactures to develop appliances just for this voltage.
  • Your vehicle has a native 12-volt system already in place. As your campervan has a native 12-volt system onboard, creating an additional 12-volt campervan electrical system to power all 12-volt appliances is a relatively simple process.
  • 12 volts is safe. Generally, electricity lower than 50 volts is classified as safe for human contact. Conversely, we must stress: Always be cautious when working with any type of live electrical equipment. Always wear appropriate protective equipment.
How do you connect your appliances to a 12v power system?

To connect your appliances to your power system you would install a fuse box. Therefore, a fuse box is a brilliant way of adding multiple 12-volt connection points.

Slide 1: Fuse Box + Integrated Negative Bus Bar

Simply connect a positive and a negative cable from your leisure battery to the corresponding terminals on your fuse box.

Slide 2: Fuse Box + Separate Negative Bus Bar

If your fuse box does not come with an integrated negative connection block, simply install a separate negative bar with multiple terminals. These are known as a bus-bar.

Electrical Supply System 2: 110/230 Volt System (Mains Power)

Campervan Mains Power System

What is a mains power electrical supply system?

A mains power electrical supply system is a network of high-voltage power components that works independently from your campervans native electrical system.

What is a mains power electrical supply system used for?

A mains power electrical supply system is used to power high-voltage appliances. For example, items such as hair irons, hairdryers, microwaves and T.V’s all operate on a high-voltage power system.

Do I need to install a mains power electrical supply system aboard my campervan?

You should only install a mains power electrical supply system aboard your campervan if you intend on operating high-voltage appliances.

Advantages of a mains power electrical supply system aboard my campervan
  • Run High-Voltage Appliances.
  • Constant High-Voltage Power Supply. Installing shore power aboard your campervan gives you the ability to power your campervan for an indefinite period.
  • Charge Leisure Battery. By installing a mains-powered battery charger, you can simultaneously run high voltage power while charging your leisure battery.

How do I generate mains power electricity aboard my campervan?

Creating an efficient mains power electricity aboard your campervan is typically achieved using one of two methods.

Mains Power Method 1 - Power Inverter

What is a power inverter?

A power inverter is an electronic device that changes direct current (D.C.) to alternating current (A.C.). In a campervan, this is typically 12 volts D.C. to 110/230 volts A.C.

How does a power inverter work aboard a campervan?

A power inverter is typically connected directly to your leisure battery. Once operational, the inverter converts the incoming 12 volts D.C. connection into 110/230 volts A.C power.

Advantages of a power inverter:
  • Ability to generate mains power without having to be connected to shore power. This is called ‘off-grid’.
Disadvantages of a power inverter:
  • Can only operate effectively as long as your leisure battery remains above a specific voltage.
  • Each inverter has a maximum power threshold. If your appliance draws more power than the inverter can create, the system will momentarily shut down.
Typical mains power system via a power inverter

Mains Power In A Campervan With A Battery Charger Wiring Diagram

Here is a super simple mains power wiring diagram you would find aboard a campervan.

  1. 12 volt D.C. to 110/230 volt AC Power Inverter
  2. Consumer Unit/Breaker Box
  3. Mains Power Socket Outlet
  4. Leisure Battery
What We Think
Conclusion

Using a power inverter to generate mains power aboard your campervan is ideal for travellers who like to remain off-grid as much as possible. An inverter system is reliable, relatively inexpensive, and will power a good selection of appliances for a reasonable length of time. However, as your power inverter operates directly of your leisure battery, you will have to monitor your leisure battery charge level.

Question’s
  • Do you plan on installing a power inverter to generate mains power aboard your campervan? If so, why?
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  • If you currently use a power inverter to generate mains power aboard your campervan, what is some great advice you can give to other readers?
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Products We Recommend

Power Inverters

After an intensive search across the internet, we found a brand called Krieger. Taking a closer look at some of the models, they offer everything you would expect in a power inverter.

Furthermore, all the models we have suggested have adequate inbuilt protection.

Mains Power Method 2: Hook Up Connection (via Shore Power)

Campervan RV Caravan Motorhome Power Shore Hook Up

What is a hook-up connection?

A hook-up connection is a method of directly connecting to a land-based power source via a power inlet that is typically installed on the side of your campervan.

How does a hook-up connection work?

You first connect a specially developed cable from a power inlet fitted on your campervan to a power connection point. These are sometimes referred to as power bollards. From here, electricity travels along your connection wire, then into your campervan, where it will finally come to a connected breaker box.

Once the power successfully passes through the breaker box, electricity then travels along another wire where it will come to its final destination, a power outlet.

Advantages of a hook-up connection
  • Unlimited Power. Providing that the electricity supply is reliable, you will have an endless amount of high-voltage power.
  • Plug-In & Relax. Travelling on the road can sometimes be hard. Knowing you can simply plug in your van for power can be a significant relief. Once plugged in, you can simply forget and enjoy your time.
Disadvantages of a hook-up connection
  • Physical Connection. You have to remain in a static location while connected to a land-based power source.
  • Additional Equipment. You will have to purchase an additional connection wire with the correct adapter that is used to connect to a shore connection point/power bollard.
Typical mains power system via a hook-up connection
Campervan Mains Power via Hook-Up System
Campervan Mains Power via Hook-Up System

Here is a simple wiring diagram of a mains power system via a hook-up connection that you would find aboard a campervan.

  1. Power Inlet
  2. Consumer Unit/Breaker Box
  3. Mains Power Socket Outlet
What We Think
Conclusion

If you plan on staying in locations that have accessible power hook-up points, then installing a hook-up system aboard your campervan can be extremely beneficial. Even more so if you plan on running electrical appliances that require a high rating of power (air-blown heaters for instance).

Having said that, having a hook-up system will come in handy more than you expect. Having a way to plug your campervan into any power socket can be super convenient when travelling.

Question’s
  • Do you plan on installing a hook-up system to generate mains power aboard your campervan? If so, why?
    0
    Please Leave A Commentx
  • If you currently use a hook-up system to produce mains power aboard your campervan, what is some great advice you can give to other readers?
    0
    Please Leave A Commentx
Products We Recommend

There is no particular model we can recommend you as this will depend on your specific requirements. All we can suggest is to make sure the inlet is fully water-tight.

Can I install both a hook-up system and a power inverter?

Yes, you can install both a hook-up power system and a power inverter.

To do this, you would have to install a 2-pole switch that allows you to select the appropriate incoming 110/230v power source.

  • When connected to shore power: Switch to hook-up power.
  • When off-grid: Switch to your onboard power inverter.
Products We Recommend

Complete Campervan Wiring Diagram

Campervan RV Wiring Diagram
Campervan RV Wiring Diagram

Here’s a complete wiring diagram for a campervan. Everything you need for an efficient system. All of the links will take you to the products we recommend.

Split Charge System - (1-3/GREEN)

1. Engine (Alternator Power)

This is where the power will come from for your split charge system.

2. Split Charge Relay

We believe the best split charge relay you can choose which is more than capable for most applications is a voltage sensing relay (V.S.R.). Make sure to read out our full article where we cover all different split charge methods available for a campervan.

3. Breaker Switch

Fitting a breaker switch in your system here will give you the option to completely isolate the split charge system. This is a great additional safety feature.

Solar Charge System - (4-7/BLUE)

4. Solar Panel

5. Solar Charge Controller 

6. MC-4 Connectors

7. Breaker Switch

Fitting a breaker switch here gives you the option to completely isolate the solar charge system. This is a great additional safety feature.

Mains Charge System - (8-9/RED)

8. Mains Power Inlet

9. 2-Pole Changeover Switch

Use this switch to change power input from inlet to inverter.

Power Storage System (10-14/GREY)

10. Leisure Battery

Read our full article on leisure batteries.

11. Common Bus Bar (Positive)

A bus bar is a great way of keeping your install clean and simple. Make sure you buy a bus bar that is rated for your system.

12. Common Bus Bar (Negative)

13. Inline Fuse

14. Breaker Switch

Fitting a breaker switch here gives you the ability to completely isolate your electrical system. This is a great additional safety feature.

110/230 Volt Mains Power System (15-18/YELLOW)

15. 12-Volt D.C. to 110/230 Volt A.C. Power Inverter

Having an inverter here will allow you to generate a high-voltage power supply when you’re not connected to shore power.

16. 12 Volt Battery Charger

17. Consumer Unit/Breaker Panel

Here is where you will either receive mains power via shore power of your power inverter (15).

18. Breaker Switch

Fitting a breaker switch here gives you the ability to completely turn your battery charger on and off. You would turn it on when you are connected to shore power and off when running of your leisure batteries.

19. Mains Socket Outlet

12 Volt Power System (19-23/PURPLE)
Disclaimer:

All information in this article has been independently verified by an electrical engineer. Additionally, we know every campervan conversion is going to be different. Please use this article as a guide only. Always refer to manufactures instructions and carry out appropriate research before starting your own electrical installation.

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