Replacing RV electrical outlets

Replacing RV electrical outlets

By Jim Twamley

Most RVers I hang around with have the impression that RV manufacturers do not focus on quality. They are of the opinion that RV manufacturers skimp and cut corners on material and labor in order to boost their bottom line.

I’ve been around RVs most of my life (owning several types and brands) and I would have say that for the most part they are correct in their assessment. Manufacturers seem to be more concerned about making money than satisfied customers. I can take you through any RV park in the United States or Canada and show you more dissatisfied and disgruntled RV customers than you can imagine. It’s staggering, frankly, and I hope the few RV manufacturers who’ve emerged from the economic depression change their ways and begin producing high-quality products with quality materials and craftsmanship even if it does cost a little more.

I currently own what is considered one of America’s high-end motorhomes. To be honest, I will say it is well built where it counts (chassis and box) but I still run across stuff that makes me shake my head and say to myself, “What were they thinking?” Like the electric outlets (duplex receptacles) they purchase in bulk for a few cents (exactly what they are worth).

All my coach outlets are located on one circuit (dumb). So when Mrs. Professor plugs in her hair dryer in the bathroom and I’m running the toaster in the galley the circuit trips. She’s learned to ask if the coast is clear before she turns on her hair dryer.

I had an experience with a power loss in all my electric outlets. It took me several days and help from my RV brand forum to locate the problem. One of the cheap electric outlets shorted out and it took me a while to find the offender. Once I replaced it, all was well until the others began to fail.

I replaced the outlets we use most often with heavy-duty 20-amp duplex receptacles. You get what you pay for in electric components, so spend the few extra bucks and buy something that will give you good service.

Whenever your electric outlets lose power and all your other appliances (like your microwave) are working properly, check the ground fault interrupter (GFI) outlet first. Sometimes these trip, and if you forget about them, you could spend a couple of hours trying to fix the problem when all it requires is to reset the GFI.

I also recommend using electrician’s offset screwdrivers (instead of an electric drill with a screwdriver attachment), as they will quickly crank in electric screws and won’t strip the threads like a power drill.

Staying plugged into the RV lifestyle – Jim Twamley, Professor of RVing

#RVT783

 

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15 thoughts on “Replacing RV electrical outlets

  1. Jennifer

    Was wondering if I could replace my outlets in my camper with the same ones that are sold at Home Depot.

  2. Bill Semion

    This is not on point but it is in general. I know this has been discussed before here, but i’m still looking for an answer. Should you buy new? I’m sure that’s been answered around here. Buying an RV is NOT like buying a car. It may be like buying a car about 50 years ago. You pick it up, and a week later you’re back at the dealer to fix the things the manufacturer forgot to install or mis-installed, if that’s a word. That part is extremely frustrating. Why can’t RV manufacturers get it right the first time?? Why aren’t they held to the same level as auto manufacturers? Do not give me the old saw: well, RVs are so much more complicated. Excuse me, but that’s BS. if you know how to wire something, you know how to wire something. And you should be able to wire something right the first time and every time thereafter. Or install something. Or finish something. Do not tell me anything different. That’s why we never buy new. RV manufacturers, learn your trade! Do not tell me to return in a week to fix a stove that doesn’t work. Or connect a water line that somehow was missed….or some other thing that should be checked and double-checked by the factory. I’m not buying the excuses. I’m amazed by some of the complaints I see at a site, rvtravel.com, about units that are upwards of 400K and that are simply put together sloppily, and in some cases, dangerously.

  3. Dawn

    We have trouble with our GFI outlet in the bathroom tripping and it seems to happen when we take a shower and it gets really humid in the bedroom/bath area. Could this be why it is tripping? We replaced the outlet but it still happens. You can’t push the button in until a few hours later when the humidity seems to get lower. Anyone ever have this problem and have a solution? Thanks for any help you can provide.

    1. Don Baker

      If the GFI is tripping then there is probably something at one of the outlets in the moist area that is allowing the current to track over to feed the ground fault. This could be dust, a spider web, a stray wire strand, or even a piece of electrical tape that is holding the moisture and causing the ground fault. I would check other outlets in the area that are downstream from the GFI outlet for these problems.

  4. Steve

    As a licensed electrican the terminal screws can and will loosen because the wiring is copper. Copper will expand and contract due to heat and cold. When the wiring contracts, the vibration of the RV will loosen the terminal screws. This same effect can happen in a normal house. In reference to your GFCI, the reset button is designed to be pushed in with a little resistance. If you have to push the reset in with anything beside your finger you would have a defective GFCI. I hope I answered your concerns.

  5. AC

    Can GFI’S be installed in all electrical outlets in a RV ?

    1. Don Baker

      You probably could but there is no need to. Most GFI circuits use the first outlet (closest to the panel) to place the GFI and then every outlet on the circuit downstream from there on that circuit is also protected.

  6. Bonnie Bowers

    We went to replace the ground fault interrupter located in the bathroom because we kept smelling hot burning wires. Took it off and definitely was burnt on the plastic near the screw. We were told that happened because the wire was hitting on the plastic itself. Never knew screws can come loose on these from traveling! Beware! Also the new part, we could not get button to push in on it even though we bought the right amperes. A guy at the store said they are VERY hard to push in and advised us to use a screwdriver or something to push it in. We tried, we couldn’t get it to push in. Why would they need to be made like this….??? Impossible to set!

    1. Don Baker

      Are you sure you had power to the GFI. The reset button on a GFI receptacle will typically not reset unless it is powered up. Even though I am relatively new to the RV world and learning more every day, I have been an electrician for over twenty years and have experienced this many times.

  7. John Bare

    My outlets are in one circuit, but the breaker that trips is the one on the Heart Inverter. This happens when two items as you mention are on at the same time.

  8. Paul

    Is replacing existing outlets with a 20A outlet. Aren’t the existing circuits/outlets 15A?

    1. Solar Steve

      Yes, 20 amp outlets, when you can find them, afe built a bit more durably than the 15 amp and will last better in circuits with heaters or hair drier heavy loads. But always use the screw wire connections on any outlet, never the wire push-in types that make installation easy but compromise electrical reliability.

  9. Brad Cunningham

    Have you ever dealt with the “marine” style outlets? They safely cover the wire connection but are VERY difficult to compress onto the wires without a
    Special tool. Any suggestions on how to replace one of them?

    1. Rick

      you can use a c-clamp and small block of wood on each side and gradually apply pressure until you feel it seat into the slots

  10. Charles Davis

    Seems to me you would mention the brand of the motorhome that only uses 1 circuit for all the outlets!
    If not, why not, just curious.

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