Do Outlets Work in an RV While Driving?

You're sitting at the wheel, desperate for a hot chocolate, so you ask your boy Johnny if he wants to make you a cup. But will the microwave work when you're not hooked up?

One of the best aspects of owning an RV is even while you’re driving in it, other members of the family can still enjoy the luxuries that it offers. Powering certain electrical devices and whatnot is one such luxury that can be enjoyed in an RV…but can that be enjoyed while the rig is in motion?

In other words, do outlets work in an RV while driving? When you think about how an RV’s electrical system works, the RV needs to be powered via an electrical hookup plug. So, that would then mean it would be pretty much impossible to be able to utilize the outlets while on the road.

Not the case, friends, as there’s another electrical system in your RV that can save the day…the 12-volt DC electrical system.

An RV has two electrical systems

Indeed, as mentioned, past the 120-volt AC electrical system, an RV also has a 12-volt DC electrical system. The 120-volt system is the one that needs to be powered via an electrical hookup plug (or via a generator), and this is the one that will allow you to use the RV’s electrical outlets.

The 12-volt system, on the other hand, is powered via a battery or multiple batteries. This is going to power things such as your furnace, water pump, the start-up on your water heater, and so on and so forth. Basically, even while boondocking or on the road, the RV batteries can power anything that runs off of 12 volts.

Do outlets work in an RV while driving?

Image credits: Unsplash

Okay, so the purpose of explaining the two different electrical systems was to point out that the key to using your outlets while driving is via the battery or batteries. However, how can you do this if the batteries are powering the 12-volt system and not the 120-volt system needed to use the outlets?

The answer is quite simple. What you need is a power inverter. The concept of a power inverter is very simplistic as it takes 12-volt direct current and converts it to 120-volt alternating current. Are you seeing how this is going to work?

Basically, when your RV is plugged into shore power or if a generator is powering the rig, a source of 120-volt AC electricity is being brought into it. This power will allow you to utilize the outlets inside to power devices that need 120-volt AC power.

When shore power is not available and when you’re relying on a battery bank to provide power, you then need an inverter to change the 12-volt DC electricity to 120-volt AC electricity to be able to utilize the outlets on the road.

Don’t get an inverter and a converter mixed up

Image credits: RVing Know How

Do outlets work in an RV while driving? Yes, you just need to use a power inverter…and not a converter. The reason we bring this up is it’s quite easy to interchange the two devices. And what’s ironic is the fact that the two machines do the exact opposite functions.

As you would then guess, an RV converter is going to take 120-volt AC power and convert it to 12-volt DC power. For the purposes of this question, you’re not going to need to worry about getting a converter.

Is it worth it to buy an inverter?

The ultimate question is this. How often do you see yourself or other members of your family needing to use the outlets in your RV while it’s on the road? Now, even when you’re boondocking, an inverter can come in handy to allow you the same luxury.

However, while boondocking, you can also choose to run a generator to power your RV. If you prefer camping at an actual campsite most of the time, as well, you’ll simply be able to rely on shore power most of the time.

If you like to fly off the grid often and like to utilize your outlets while driving, a power inverter could become one of your best investments. The next logical question then becomes, what size inverter are you going to need?

Inverter size depends on a few factors

The best way to determine the inverter size you need is to look at some important factors that can help to decide it.

  • The size of your battery bank: If you don’t have a very large battery bank, you’re not going to be able to run high-power devices for very long using an inverter. Due to this, if you do have a small house battery bank or a single battery, the needs (or wants) for an inverter are going to be much smaller.
  • The devices and appliances you wish to run: Ideally, it’d be best to avoid running a lot of devices at the same time when utilizing inverter power. With that said, think about some of the devices that you’d like to have running while driving. Coupling this with the size of your battery bank can help to give you an idea of how big you’d need your inverter to be. Oh, and also pay attention to the start-up surges that some devices will require to run as some of them will be quite high.

Final thoughts

If you were to attempt to use one of the outlets in your RV while on the road, not hooked up to shore power, and without a generator powering the RV, nothing would happen. Unless, of course, you were using a power inverter to convert the 12-volt DC power to 120-volt AC power.

Thus, answering the question of do outlets work in an RV while driving. Quite an easy question to answer, quite frankly, but the decision now of whether or not you should go out and buy one is another ordeal. After all, power inverters aren’t exactly cheap.

Due to such, a lot of decision-making will need to be made. A power inverter can be an amazing investment for some RVers, but others may look at it as a giant waste of money. Regardless, if you want to use your outlets while on the road, it’s the best choice.

Default image
Tyler Jones

Tyler is much like a swiss knife. Even though he has a degree in Computer Science, he knows almost everything there is to know about camping. He has been writing for HeadlessNomad since 2021 and has contributed with over 100 articles. If you have an outdoor-related question, then Tyler much likely knows the answer.