How to Install a Power Inverter in a Camper

Ah, camping! A wonderful way to relax, unwind without the distractions of everyday life. It can be a complete luxury to some, but at some point, nearly everyone will want the assistance of electricity to power a stove, a refrigerator, a microwave.

And then, after several days of being off the grid, one will probably want a full charge on their phone to check Twitter or Instagram (that breakfast cooked over an open fire won’t post itself!) or perhaps stream some Disney+ whilst sitting in front of a roaring fire and hearing the owls hoot.

This is where a power inverter comes in. Not only will it charge your necessities, but with the right inverter, you can stay off the grid but still be connected.

Your camper becomes a home away from home, indeed. The inverter will allow your main appliances to be run from your camper’s leisure battery for longer life and reliable power.

As few, but not all, campers come with an inverter already connected, but you’ll need to decide what type is the best for you and then follow the steps below for installation. 

Determine the Inverter you Need

  • Type

First, you’ll need to determine the best type of inverter for your camper. You can choose from either an integrated model, which is best if you’re trying to update a charger or a converter. Or the standalone unit which works best if you have a large charging unit and various appliances that will need to be charged.

  • Size

An inverter will increase the DC power supply, which runs off your camper battery. When your camper is connected to an electrical grid from a campground or your house, it will be running electricity through a converter. So, you first need to determine just how much power is going to be required to run your appliances whilst roughing it away from modern civilization.

Naturally, your inverter will be priced according to size, so the larger the inverter, the more expensive it will be. Just because you can buy the largest inverter, doesn’t mean you’re buying the best inverter for your specific camper and your needs. Generally, it is advised that you buy the smallest sine wave that will meet most of your needs. Bigger in this case is not the best, as your inverter will be still using electricity, even when you’re not.

Most campers recommend a 1000 or 2000 watt inverter at minimum, but only you can determine just how much wattage you will require. We'd recommend future proofing your power needs and going much higher such as a 6000 watt or more power inverter. You’ll also want to keep in mind that your electrical items will require more wattage than expected, so it is best to add a buffer of 250 watts to your overall wattage use. Additionally, you should consider that starting up will cause a surge of nearly double your regular wattage.

  • Modified versus Pure Sine

When modified inverters were invented years ago, they were an effective money saver, as pure sine was expensive. Today though, sine inverters are reasonably priced and will effectively maintain charge to all items, while modified inverters will not. Consider also that a modified inverter will not work effectively with any item on a timer, such as coffee makers.

If you're planning on camping then we've pulled together a whole guide to help you choose the right power inverter for camping.

Step-by-step instructions of connecting the inverter

Now that you’ve determined the best inverter for your camper, you’re ready to install it yourself! Fortunately, this is a relatively simple process.

If your inverter is small (around 75 watts) you can simply plug it into your cigarette lighter and your job is done. Congrats!

Realistically though, most inverters for your camper will be larger, which means that the inverter will need to be wired as close to the battery as possible to reduce voltage drop. The actual action of connecting the inverter to the electrical side requires careful attention.

Your first connecting option would be to use wire. When using wire, it’s most efficient to use the largest wire possible that will fit your inverter terminals, as it will lose the least amount of wattage. Lost wattage is lost power. A simpler method would be to connect your battery to the inverter using large battery cables.

While wiring the inverter, ensure that your converter is off while the inverter is on. Otherwise, you are simply pushing the currents back and forth from inverter to converter.

Routing the output power of the inverter to the camper is where things can get complicated. There are several methods of connecting the output power to the camper so you can use the inverter.

First, would be to simply change the outlets and have the outlets connected to the inverter via extension cord. This means you need to plug an extension cord connected to the inverter directly into whatever needs power. Simple and effective. The downside would be having a cord lying about that you could trip over and would have to plug and unplug so it wouldn’t always feel permanent.

The second method is more difficult in a camper where the walls are thin and rewiring could be difficult, but you could rewire all the outlets to connect directly to the inverter. Or you could use a surface mount wiring to avoid destroying the walls in your camper.

Unfortunately, this method would require a large overhaul on generally thin, camper walls. On the bright side, it then means your outlets always connect to the inverter and power would be continuous.

Emphasis on safety

As with any projects, wiring the inverter should be done carefully to ensure that the power does not all rush to deliver power to one outlet at one time. That would possibly destroy whatever is plugged into the outlet.

Additionally, poor maintenance or installation could also cause the inverter to be a fire hazard, so always ensure everything is carefully maintained and connected.

Special features to be aware of

Many inverters have a fan in them, and this fan will need to be cleaned occasionally to rid it of dirt. Additionally, if the batteries mounted directly on the inverter leak, they will cause damage, so it is best to use a battery that are sealed to avoid damage. Additionally, an inverter is susceptible to damage from high heat or water, so care must be taken to ensure the inverter remains cool and dry.

Campers have two different types of batteries - engine and leisure battery. An engine battery runs for short amounts of times at a higher voltage and is then recharged by the alternator. Yet, once an engine battery dies, it must be replaced.

A leisure battery will not give off as much electricity, but they can run for longer amounts of time, and they can also be recharged by a variety of different means 

Using these guidelines to install your power inverter in your camper will allow you stay connected whilst escaping it all. Or at the very least, it will give you the power to choose your level of connectivity with the outside world.