By Greg Illes
Cell phones are only one of the many devices we routinely have to charge up. From PDAs to iPods to tablets — it seems like there’s always something needing a charge.
When at home, or in the RV and hooked up, AC is readily available and we just plug ’em in, no sweat. But on the road, boondocking or camped with no hookups, it’s a different story. Nobody wants to run the generator just to charge a cell phone.
Fortunately, there are 12V socket-based chargers which will charge your device from your batteries. Unfortunately, most RVs have few 12V accessory sockets (we older folks call them “lighter sockets”), making it impossible to charge multiple devices simultaneously. Furthermore, if your device is discharged and you want to continue using it on a charger, you are restricted to the location in your RV where that lonely socket is available. Perhaps worst of all, many RV 12V sockets are powered from the chassis battery, not the coach battery. This means that charge current is draining your starting battery — not a good idea.
Good news for all — it’s easy to add extra 12V sockets. You can use socket extenders or add entirely new ones. Running a new 12V fused line from your batteries will support new sockets — but by tapping into an existing RV circuit you can save some time. Yes, there is a valid concern about overloading an existing circuit, and the total load must always be carefully considered. In my RV, I addressed this by changing over to 100-percent LED lighting (a valuable conversion in itself). After doing this, my lighting circuits were so lightly loaded that they could safely power 12V sockets.
IF YOU ARE HANDY and can use a voltmeter, it’s simple to find and tap into a circuit or even to add a new line. If you don’t feel comfortable with this, don’t take chances — ask your RV service shop about performing this task. It should not involve more than one or two hours’ labor.
The marketplace offers a truly amazing array of 12V socket products, from chargers to socket multipliers to inverters (which will give you a small amount of 110V AC for low-power needs). These range from $10-$40, and can be found in auto parts stores, Amazon, and many retailers. I’ve found it’s best to shop online, at least initially, and check the reviews carefully. There is a lot of “junk” out there and it will cause trouble and inconvenience for the unwary.
Sample products in the photo include a dual USB charger, combination extender-chargers, and cup holder extender-charger.
Power-miser thoughts: Most devices will draw little or no power once fully charged; however, all inverters and some chargers will use some power even when no device is plugged in. If you don’t want even a trickle of power going out, unplug everything when not in use.
Greg Illes is a retired systems engineer who loves thinking up RV upgrades and modifications. When he’s not working on his motorhome, he’s traveling in it. You can follow his blog at www.divver-city.com/blog.