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 need power for gadgets, lighting, a T.V, or for the internal fan on a diesel night heater, having an efficient electrical system is a necessity.

In this article, you will learn all the key parts of a campervan electrical system. Furthermore, this article will help you choose the correct equipment for your campervan conversion.

Campervan Electrical System

In the most basic form, the electrical 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

The first stage of a campervans electrical system is creating the initial power. Generally, you can generate the electricity required using three different methods. These methods can be used individually or work simultaneously.

How do I create electricity in a campervan?

The three methods of creating power in a campervan are:

Finally, the power leaves the charge controller and can be used to efficiently recharge your campervan power storage device.

Method 1 – Split Charge System (Vehicle Alternator)

Split Charge System In A Campervan
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 system works by diverting energy created when your engine is running. This is done via a cable that is typically attached from your vehicle’s starter battery to your campervan electrical system.

Installed along the cable is a device that acts as a switch. In most standard installations, there are three different types to choose from.

What are the three different 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.
  • On-Off Switch. A manual method that allows power to flow to from your vehicles electrical system to your campervan electrical system.
  • Split Charge Relay. Automatically allows power to flow from your vehicles electrical system to your campervan system.
  • Voltage Sensing Relay. Based on the incoming voltage from your engine, automatically allows power to flow from your vehicles electrical system to your campervan electrical system.
Do I need a split charge system aboard my campervan?

If you after a straightforward way to generate electrical power for your campervan power system, install a split charge system.

Advantages of a split charge system
    • Convenience. As your vehicle already creates a 12-volt power supply, installing a split charge system is the most convenient way to power your campervan electrical system.
    • Trouble-free operation. You don’t have to worry about using all the power out of your starter battery. As the system works by intelligently allowing the power to flow when conditions are right, you’ll never run your starter battery flat.
    • 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 power storage device, 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

Here is a very basic split charge wiring diagram you would find aboard a campervan.

    1. Engine (Alternator)
    2. Split Charge Relay
    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. The relay itself is relatively cheap, they’re 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

After searching the market high and low, these two models featured here constantly rank at the top.

Method 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 charge controller and connecting wires. 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?

Light from the sun hits your solar panel and is converted into electricity. The electricity leaves the solar panel via a wire where it flows into a solar power charge controller.

A solar charge controllers primary responsibility is to regulate the incoming voltage/current from your solar panel. This helps stop any potential issues that may damage your solar charge system.

Finally, the power leaves the charge controller and can be used to efficiently recharge your campervan power storage device.

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
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.

Method 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 a land-based electricity supply to a power inlet. The inlet is usually installed to the body of your vehicle.

Once connected, electricity will flow from the 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.

From here, electricity leaves the consumer unit where it comes to its final destination, a 110/230 volt battery charger.

This 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 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.

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.

How do you add more storage capacity to your leisure battery?

You can increase your leisure battery storage capacity by adding more leisure batteries to your electrical system.

When connecting leisure batteries together, make sure you connect them in a parallel format.

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 have an efficient method to store power aboard your campervan, you’ll now need to distribute power safely to individual appliances.

However, here’s where it can get a little confusing.

A typical campervan has two electrical supply systems:

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

12 Volt Electric Supply System

Campervan 12 Volt System
L.E.D.’s, and U.S.B. charge sockets both run off 12-volt power.
What is a 12v 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 12v 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.

110/230 Volt Electric Supply System (Mains Power)

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

What is a mains power volt 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.

Method 1 – Power Inverter (12 volts D.C. to 110/230 volts A.C.)

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 and converts 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 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. 110/230 volt Mains Power Socket Outlet
    4. Leisure Battery
What We Think
Conclusion

Using a power inverter to generate high-voltage 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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      Please Leave A Commentx
    • 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.

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 cable from your campervans power inlet to a power connection point. These are sometimes referred to as power bollards. From here, electricity travels along a wire into a fuse board. Once the power successfully passes through the fuse board, it 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 adapter used to connect to a shore connection point/power bollard.
What We Think
Conclusion

If you plan on staying at places 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 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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Head Writer @ VanLife Adventure - Cardiff, Wales, UK - Arron Murray bought his first van in 2015. After converting it into a tiny home, he went on a 7,000-mile road trip through 12 European countries. In 2018, he gave up the van for bicycle and tent, where he cycled 4,000 miles across the United States of America. Right now, he is currently fitting out a Mitsubishi Delica 4x4 van - where once complete, intends on driving it to Vladivostok (next to North Korea) and then back home.
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Jim

Really well done 👌👍

Neil

Looking at the complete diagram, when running under leisure battery power and using the inverter, wouldn’t this setup also charge the leisure batteries at the same time? Is that intentional or a mistake?

Jess Cottam

Thank you. Finally, an article that is easy to understand!