Campervan Electrical System

Campervan Electrical System

First Published: October 10, 2020
Post Updated: April 5, 2021
Post Author: Arron
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 charge system

The first stage of an auxiliary power system aboard a campervan is creating the initial power. Generally, this can be achieved using three different methods. It’s also worth mentioning that all three methods can be used simultaneously.

How do I create electricity in a campervan?

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

Charge System 1. Split Charge System

campervan vehcile split charge power method
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 vehicle’s primary electrical system.

How Does A Split Charge System Work?

typical campervan split charge wiring diagram
  1. Primary Electrical Connection. A cable is first connected to the vehicle’s primary electrical system. This is typically done with a direct connection to the vehicles starter battery. It is worth noting that some installers prefer to connect the cable directly to the vehicles alternator
  2. Split Charge Device. 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.
  3. Auxiliary Battery Connection. This cable is connected directly to the auxiliary power system’s leisure battery.

Split Charge Device Types

how does a split charge relay work in a campervan rv
Illustration of how a voltage sensing relay works. TOP: Engine off, contacts open. BOTTOM: Engine on, contacts closed.
  • On-Off Switch. A manual switch is a primitive way of splitting the electrical connection between your primary and auxiliary electrical system.
  • 12V Manual Relay. A 12v relay works like a manual switch, except the process is done via an electrical input (controller). Once the controller detects power, the internal contacts of the relay are pulled together creating a connection. This then allows electricity to flow from your primary electrical system (engine) to your auxiliary electrical system.
  • Voltage Sensing Relay (V.S.R). Very similar to a 12V manual 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.
  • Charge Splitter.
  • Battery-to-Battery Charger.

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

Here are two main reasons why you would install a split charge system aboard your campervan.

1. Auxiliary Battery Charging. The first reason why 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.

2. Prevent A 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.

By Installing a split charge system aboard your campervan, this will safely provide you 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.

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, the 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

  • The Engine Has To Be Running. For your split charge system to charge your auxiliary power system successfully, your engine has to be running. This could become an issue when parked up at a campsite.
  • Not The Most Efficient Way Of Charging Your Auxiliary Battery. With advancements in charge technology, alternative products are now available which will charge an auxiliary battery more efficiently than a standard split-charge device.

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 the installation is straightforward.

Products We Recommend

When it comes to installing a split charge system aboard your campervan, we 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.

ProductImagePower RatingPrice
Durite Voltage Sensitive Relaydurite_12v_relay_vsr140ACheck On Amazon
H&C Cargo Voltage Sensitive Relayhc_cargo_12v_relay_vsr140ACheck On Amazon

Charge System 2. Solar Power

campervan vehcile solar power charge method power 1
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.

Campervan Solar Wiring Diagram

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

2. Solar Cable & MC-4 Connectors. 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 connect a cable to a solar panel correctly, you use an MC-4 connection terminal.

3. Solar Charge Controller. The primary purpose of a solar charge controller 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. Fuse. As you are dealing with live electricity, installing adequate protection is a must.

5. 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.

Why do I need a solar power system aboard my campervan?

There are many benefits from installing a solar power system aboard your campervan. One of the main reasons is that you can generate electricity without being connected to the ‘grid’. As long as you have an adequate amount of sunlight, you technically have a way to generate an unlimited supply of electricity aboard your campervan. This means you can now stay in a stationary position for much longer without having to worry about running out of electricity.

Another great reason to install a solar power system aboard your campervan is the positive environmental benefits. As you are not connecting to a nations national electrical grid that typically uses fossil fuel, you are essentially not creating any harmful pollutants.

Advantages of a solar power system

  • 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.

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). Although the initial outlay may be a little more costly, you’ll soon recuperate those costs once you start generating electricity.

Read More

Read our in-depth article on solar power aboard a campervan.

Charge System 3. Shore Power (Hook-Up)

campervan vehcile shore power charge method power
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.

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 is typically guaranteed night and day. And unlike solar, you do not have to worry about the weather.
  • Mains Power System. Installing the additional components required to create a mains-power system (high voltage) aboard your campervan is a simple process.

How does a shore power charge system work?

Campervan RV Motorhome Shore Power Wiring Diagram
Campervan Shore Power Wiring Diagram

1. Power Inlet/Shore Power Cable. The first step is to connect your campervan to a land-based power source. This is achieved using a shore power cable. At one end, the cable is typically connected to a power bollard. At the other end, it is connected to a power inlet which is typically installed on the body of the campervan.

2. Consumer Box/Breaker Panel. Once the shore power is live, electricity will flow into the power inlet where it will then travel along a cable to a consumer unit (also known as a breaker panel in the U.S.A./Canada).

3. Optional Mains Power Outlet.

4. Battery Charger. The battery charger is connected via a power outlet (3) or directly into the consumer unit itself.

5. Leisure Battery. The battery charger is connected to the campervans auxiliary battery. This will now safely recharge your leisure battery.

Conclusion

Having shore power aboard your campervan is an addition to your electrical setup. Furthermore, having the ability to run appliances that require a higher voltage is a real bonus when on the road.

Products We Recommend

ProductCategoryImagePrice
Mains Power InletAccessoriesCheck Price
Consumer UnitAccessoriesCheck Price
Victron Blue 12v (10 amps)Battery ChargerCheck Price
Victron Blue 12V (15 amp)Battery ChargerCheck Price

Stage 2 – Power Storage System

campervan power storage system
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.

Leisure Battery

campervan power storage 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

Please Note. In the interest of keeping this section of this article easy to follow, when we use the term mains power, we are referring to a 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.

campervan power distribution system
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 around your campervan to each individual appliance. However, here’s where it may get a little confusing. Depending on the voltage of the appliances you intend to operate, you may want to install either a 12-volt system, a mains voltage system, or both.

Electrical System 1: 12 Volt

campervan 12v power 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. As a result, there is a large choice of electrical accessories that run specifically on 12-volts.
  • 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 System 2: Mains Power

campervan 110 230 volt 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
campervan power inverter
What is a power inverter?

A power inverter changes direct current (DC) power (usually 12V or 24V) into conventional mains alternating current (AC) power (usually 110V or 230V).

How does a power inverter work aboard a campervan?

The incoming power supply of a power inverter is typically connected directly to the campervans auxiliary power supply via a cable that is connected to the leisure battery. The outgoing power supply is then either routed directly to a plug socket or into a breaker unit for added protection. Once operational, the power inverter converts the incoming 12 volts D.C. electricity and turns this into 110/230 volts A.C.

Typical mains power system via a power inverter
campervan mains power 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
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.

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 power hook up shore power
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 adaptor 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

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

campervan shore power inverter mains electric

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)

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