RV Converters: Buyer’s Guide
The electrical system in recreational vehicles is complicated and can give you a headache if you aren’t at least an amateur electrician. With this being said, you don’t have to know everything about electricity to choose an excellent power converter for your recreational vehicle. Before jumping into what you should be looking for, let’s answer an important question.
What is a RV Power Converter, and Do I Need One for my RV?
As briefly suggested in the introduction, a RV power converter will convert 120 volt AC power down to DC power (12 volts). You need this conversion because most recreational vehicles have both AC and DC power systems.
The batteries, lights, fans, TVs, and other electronics that require a small amount of power run from the DC power system. The RV appliances and electronic devices that draw a lot of energy, such as the refrigerator, air conditioner, heater, and more runs from the AC electrical system.
So what does this mean regarding an RV power converter?
Think of a RV converter as a way to transfer power from one medium to another. For example, city power is on an AC power, but your recreational vehicles batteries are on a DC power. The power converter allows the AC power to charge your batteries and DC powered electronics, while simultaneously providing power to those AC-powered electronics in your camper.
In short, if you have an RV and plan to hook up to shore power for your power supply, then you need a RV converter.
Other Converter Scenarios
Running Your RV Off of Shore Power
With the above being said, you can run everything in your RV from the batteries without an RV power converter if you have an inverter to transform DC current to AC current. Still, you would only be able to do this temporarily. You’ll probably only be able to run the basics like lights and small electronic devices. Systems like the heat or the AC will drain your batteries quickly.
It’s much smarter to use a RV power converter to hook up to the campground pedestal at an RV park.
Using a generator for your power source is in some ways similar to hooking up to a power pedestal at an RV park. It provides AC power, so you’ll need an RV power converter to use it. Some generators are inverter generators, but you most likely won’t find any with a built-in RV converter. Keep in mind that hooking up to the campground pedestal will provide more juice than generator power, so you may still want to hook up to shore power at some point.
If you have a modern power system in your RV that uses solar power, you’re in luck. You don’t necessarily have to have a RV converter because solar power is on DC power.
But before you ditch the RV power converter idea…
Solar power isn’t anywhere as powerful a power source as hooking up to a campground pedestal. It’s also dependent on factors such as weather or environment. Solar power systems are designed to charge your RV batteries, not necessarily run your appliances and electronic devices. You may want to have an RV power converter handy in case you’re in a scenario where shore power is going to work better than solar energy.
There are DC-to-DC solar power RV converters that will increase the amount of energy that the solar panels collect. It also regulates the current so that it’s more consistent.
What You Should Look for in an RV Power Converter
Now that you know for sure that you need an RV power converter, the next step is figuring out the best way to shop for an RV converter. Price plays a significant role, of course, but it shouldn’t be the only deciding factor. Other factors you should consider are:
- Amperage (Amps)
- Battery Charging
- Size and Weight
- Safety Features
A short explanation of each follows.
One of the most significant factors to consider when purchasing an RV power converter is how many amps it is. Amps are the measurement for the current, which can be thought of as the rate that electricity flows through the RV converter. RV converters come in a range of different amps, but in some cases, the lower-amp RV converters may not be suitable.
This is because when hooking up to shore power for your power supply, you’ll have three-amp options: 50 amps, 30 amps, and 15-20 amps. On 15-20 amps, you’ll barely be able to run what you need in the recreational vehicle. Thirty amps is a decent amount, but if you have at least a 50-amp RV converter, you won’t have to pick and choose what to run.
Keep in mind that while a 50-amp power converter can work in a 30-amp hookup, the 30-amp can’t work in the 50 amp. This is another reason to go for the larger amp RV converter.
Most RV power converters will charge your RV batteries, but you should be aware which type of RV converter & battery charger you want to buy.
The first type is a single-stage battery charger. These are designed to charge your batteries quickly. The downside is that it charges at one battery voltage (one rate), and it can easily over-charge your batteries. This will lead to damage to your batteries down the line.
The second type is multi-stage battery charging. This type is sometimes called a smart RV converter charger. It charges in different stages (rates) to prevent over-charging and, consequently, battery damage, thus extending battery life. The most popular is a four-stage battery charger.
Size and Weight
Most RV converters are lightweight and small. The average weight ranges from 5 pounds to ten pounds. The size can vary a little more than the weight. There isn’t a standard size for RV power converters. Most RV converters are small, but if you have a space you plan to store it, you’ll want to measure.
As with any electronic device, there is potential for hazards like shocks or fires. Because of this, you should choose power converters that have built-in safety features. At a minimum, the power converter should have thermal/overheating protection. Other great safety features are reverse polarity protection and overload protection.
Best RV Converter: The Results
PowerMax PM3-55 55-Amp RV
Best Budget RV Option
For an economy option, The PowerMax PM3-55 has a lot of features that premium products rival. This makes it the best option for people on a budget. It is a 55-amp RV converter that offers three-stage charging for your recreational vehicle.
It weighs 7 pounds and measures 9.5 x 7.8 x 3.5 inches and with mounting flanges it is simple to easily install and hardwire into your RVs electrical system.
The PowerMax PM3-55 has your favorite basic features, such as LED indicator lights and a quiet-ish cooling fan. It also has other features that make it attractive. For example, you have the option to choose between three-stage charging or fixed voltage charging. It also has all three protections (reverse polarity, thermal, and overload) along with a two-year warranty.
Overall, it’s an excellent power converter for just about any recreational vehicle. There is one thing we would like to see the manufacturer work on. The fan, as we said before, is quiet-ish. However, it does cycle on and off a little too frequently. Eventually, this can become annoying if you have to hear it all day. However, this is a small sacrifice for an affordable unit with great features.
- Three-stage or single-stage.
- Three major protection systems.
- Can be wired in series or parallel.
- Fan is annoying.
Arterra WFCO WF-9855 55-Amp T
Best RV Power Converter – Lightweight Option
- Quiet operation is assured as the cooling fan runs only when required by the electric load
- Fully insulated DC connections are made for protection with an open-top design for ease of use for fast and nearly effortless installation
- Model WF-9855; Bulk Mode (Quick Charging Voltage): 14.4V DC
- Output: 55 Amps DC
- Input: 105-130 VAC, 60 Hz, 940W
RV converters aren’t heavy, but if you want the lightest high-quality power converter, then the 55-amp WFCO WF-9855 is a great choice. Weighing only 4.33 pounds, it’s straightforward to handle. It measures 11.6 x 6.5 x 4.3 inches, which is a good, average size.
The WF-9855 is a versatile, deck-mount unit. It’s FCC Class B compliant and has overload and short circuit protective features. It’s a three-stage battery charger with insulated DC connections. The WFCO WF-9855 is easy to install, so if you’re looking for a hassle-free option, this is the one.
One thing to note about this product is that the parts don’t seem to be as “high-quality” as others. We’re not saying that it’s not a good product, but it just seems to be made of cheap parts. However, since it comes with a two-year manufacturer’s warranty, you can rest assured that the parts are covered.
- Automatic shut down.
- Easy installation.
- Covered DC inputs.
- Parts seem to be cheaper than others.
- Mounting holes are smaller than average.
Progressive Dynamics PD9260CV
Best Heavy-Duty Construction
- Built-in Charge Wizard
- Reverse Battery Protection
- Low line Voltage Protection
- High Voltage Protection
- Built-in Accessory Port For The Converter Status Remote Pendant (Pendant Not Included)
The Progressive Dynamics PD9260CV is a 70-amp converter that is very powerful. It’s a top-quality product and is constantly rated highly. It’s also lightweight and small, so it’s easy to handle and will fit just about anywhere. It measures 9.15 x 7.38 x 3.6 inches and weighs 5.8 pounds. Despite being lightweight, it is made of a heavy-duty steel encasing that is very durable.
The PD9260CV has a few extra safety functions than the previous power converters. These include low line voltage protection, electronic current limiting, reverse polarity protection, high voltage protection, and thermal protection. It also has a smart cooling fan that runs at variable speeds depending on the units needs.
The most impressive feature is the built-in charge wizard, which essentially makes it a three-stage battery charger. It can connect to a remote pendant, which allows you to monitor the charge level and switch between stages manually.
The only concern we have about this product (and it’s not a significant concern) is that at the price range, it should be a four-stage battery charger. However, this doesn’t affect the performance at all.
- Remote pendant allows manual control.
- Variable-speed cooling fan.
- Made in the USA.
- High quality, heavy-duty construction.
- Doesn’t have fourth stage.
- Remote pendant is a separate purchase.
IOTA Engineering DLS-45
Best RV Converter Charger
- Quickly and effectively charges batteries
- Designed to withstand low transient AC line voltage
- Current limit and thermal/overload protection
- Low operating temperature
- Compatible with the IOTA IQ4 Charge Controller
The IOTA DLS-45 is a remarkable piece of equipment and can easily be labeled as the best of the best. It’s a 55-amp converter that provides efficient and clean power. There is one recurring statement in the positive reviews about this product – that it works well for a very long time. You probably won’t need to use the two-year warranty.
At five pounds and 9.7 x 6.7 x 3.4 inches, it’s small, lightweight, and easy to handle. It has all the safety features you can think of, such as electronic current limiting and protection against short circuits.
Rest assured it also has also has the capability for four-stage charging. It is compatible with a smart charge controller called the IQ4. The IQ4 triggers the four-stage charging, so you’ll want to pick this up along with the DLS-45. If you are in the market for something to safely charge your battery bank, then the IOTA may be just the type of converter you are looking for.
Everything about this product is excellent, but the fact that the four-stage charging isn’t built-in is a little awkward. However, since the charge controller works well, we can overlook this little hiccup.
- Extremely durable.
- Excellent customer service from IOTA.
- Super clean DC power.
- Four-stage charging only with the controller.
- No manual control of four-stage charging.
IOTA DLS-30 Engineering Power
The Best RV Converter Charger – 30 Amps
If you’re in the market for nothing stronger than a 30-amp unit, the IOTA DLS-30 is an excellent choice. Although it may not perform at the same level as higher amp versions of the DSL-series, it performs well enough for someone who needs 30 amps or less.
It’s a single-stage unit with 13.6 volts DC output. It’s compatible with the IOTA IQ4 smart charge controller to turn it into a multi-stage battery charger. We like the fact that it only uses 400 continuous watts so you can reserve even more power for the things you need the most.
The DSL-30 is like a “step-down” version, so it’s only about 80% efficient. Another thing to consider is that it only outputs 13.6 volts for the bulk stage instead of the preferred 14.4, but it will still give your acid batteries a good, fast charge in this stage.
- Can be used as a multi-stage battery charger.
- Has all four major protection systems.
- Quiet cooling fan operation.
- Only 80% efficient.
- Low voltage output.
PowerMax PM4-55 Power
Quietest RV Converter
- 55 Amp DC Power Output
- Built-in 4 Stage Smart Charger
- Reverse Polarity, Overload and Thermal Protection
- Quiet Cooling fan
- UL and CUL Approved
PowerMax makes excellent products, and the PM4-55 is no exception. Although it’s very similar to the PM3-55 converter, the big difference is that it’s a four-stage instead of a three-stage charger for your RV batteries. It’s a high-quality, 55-amp converter that is simple to install and use. It’s a good, quiet piece of equipment that will give enough power to your recreational vehicle to run multiple applicances such as the air conditioner.
The PM4-55 has reverse polarity, overload, and thermal protection. It has a very sturdy construction and could take a few bumps from traveling on the road. It’s very efficient and works well. It’s a little bigger and heavier than typical, but it’s not unmanageable at all. It weighs 6.45 pounds and measures 12.3 x 9.1 x 5 inches. The only issue this might cause is that it can’t fit into certain spaces.
There is one apparent hiccup with this product. It’s advertised as a four-stage, but it only automatically adjusts to three stages. The last stage must be set manually using a digital voltmeter. This can be difficult, especially once the unit is installed.
- Durable, rugged construction.
- Quiet fan.
- Built-in smart charger for your batteries.
- Fourth-stage takes a manual adjustment.
- No low voltage protection.
Progressive Dynamics PD4655V
Most Safety Features
- Charge Wizard 4-stage charging system built-in dramatically increases battery life
- This converter/charger will not boil the battery
- Intelligent way to charge and maintain your RV battery
- Easy to install
- Replaces these converter sections: Parallax/Magnatek 6355, Parallax 7355, Parallax 8355, Parallax #7155, and WFCO 8955
The Progressive Dynamics PD4655V converter is a replacement converter that can replace damaged converters of different brands. It’s a 55-amp converter and can be considered an upgrade to most of the converters on the market. It’s highly efficient and much more advanced than your average converter.
The converter is a bit on the large side. It measures 13.25 x 8 x 5.38 and weighs around 10 pounds. It features many protection systems, including thermal, over-voltage, under-voltage, thermal, and reverse polarity. It also has electronic current limiting. It features Progressive Dynamics’ Charge Wizard, which is their fancy way of saying automatic four-stage charging.
While this is the new and improved version of the Progressive Dynamics converters, it’s a bit pricey to say that it’s only a replacement part instead of the whole system. However, the quality and performance are worth every dollar.
- It is one of the best on the market.
- Variable-speed fan.
- Batteries reach 90% in six hours or less.
- Only comes as a replacement part.
- Fan is noisy.
Go Power! GPC-55-MAX Converter
Most Trusted RV Converter Brand
- 4-stage battery charging
- Great for battery banks with up to 6 batteries
- UL listed
- Compact design to fit in small spaces
- Includes 15 ampere male plug for easy installation
Selecting a great brand is just as important as choosing an excellent converter. Go Power! is a brand that consistently gets high reviews about their products. Many of their products often come pre-installed on many recreational vehicles. They are a trusted brand, so you’ll most likely be safe when investing in the GPC-55-MAX converter.
This 55-amp converter is a true four-stage converter that will quickly charge your batteries while protecting it from damage. It’s great for lead acid battery banks of up to six RV batteries. It also comes with a 15A male plug for easy installation. The converter measures 12.7 x 9 x 5.1 inches and weighs five pounds.
We’ll point out that the fan on this converter can be a little noisy. It’s also not completely clean – you may hear a low noise in some of your electronics. However, it’s not so bad that it’s a deal-breaker.
- Works for up to six batteries.
- Charges wet cell batteries to fully charged.
- Male 15A plug makes installation a breeze.
- Fan is a little noisy.
- May have some static in electronics.
Last update on 2020-07-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API