Installing a power inverter in your camper van is a great way to add functionality to your camper’s electrical system. Running AC electricity allows you to charge and power a wider range of devices and can even help you charge your house batteries when parked next to shore power.
Inverters for camper vans come in all different shapes, sizes, & installation complexities. If you’re looking for something headache free and easy to install, there are inverters for you, too.
In this post we will quickly outline some of the benefits of installing an inverter in your camper and provide step-by-step installation instructions so that you can run 120v AC power (or 240v if you’re in Europe/Australia/etc) in your camper van.
So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!
Table Of Contents
Benefits Of Installing A Power Inverter In A Camper
If you’re still questioning whether or not to install an inverter in your camper, we think the answer is clear. You should go for it!
Right away, the benefits are clear.
Inverters Power Your 120v Devices
Being able to generate AC power (120v electricity) means you’ll now be able to power a wider range of devices than if you relied on a 12v system only. This includes being able to power:
- Instant Pots
- Electric Toothbrushes
- Induction Stoves
- Water Heaters
- Hair Dryers
Of course, the more power hungry the device, the larger your inverter will have to be.
'Some' Inverters Charge Your Batteries From Shore Power
Not all, but many higher-end power inverters are also chargers. This means these inverters come with an ‘AC IN’ connection which allows you to plug into shore power to charge your camper batteries.
This is a useful functionality to have if you plan to park in an RV campsite (or even on the driveway of your house). Simply run an extension cord from your inverter to an external socket to charge your batteries.
But First, Do You REALLY Need To Install A Big Inverter In Your Camper?
To be honest, installing a large inverter in your camper is a big decision. Inverters aren’t cheap, they take up valuable space in your van, and they can take time to wire everything correctly.
For some people, a large inverter is clearly the way to go. Perhaps they want to run a hot water heater or an induction stove. But for other people, having a large inverter may not be worth the effort.
If your only reason for installing an inverter in your camper is to simply power a laptop or other similarly low-wattage devices, getting a heavy-duty inverter may not be so wise.
If that’s the case, there are several great, portable alternatives available on the market today.
Space Saving, Simpler Inverter Alternatives
On Amazon, Bestek provides a series of great quality, portable inverters that are perfect for camper vans.
Our large Victron inverter was pulling too much power to be left on all day to power our laptops so we ended up buying a 300w Bestek inverter and we now use this small inverter much more frequently.
Best of all, when we’re not using our portable inverter, we simply store it away.
What We Like
- No wiring needed: Simply plug in or clamp to your batteries (or bus bars) and it’s good to go.
- Portability: Simply pack the inverter away when you’re not using it. No wires, no fuss.
- Price point: Significantly less expensive than a larger inverter.
- Pure sine technology: Safe for your more expensive devices, like laptops & cameras.
What We Don't Like
- Cannot charge batteries: Meaning you cannot connect these inverters to shore power to charge your 12v batteries.
- Power limitation: Not suitable for anything above 1000-1200W.
If the above portable inverters aren’t for you, then keep reading. We detail how to install a formal power inverter/charger in a camper van below.
Installing An Inverter In A Camper (Diagrams Included)
In this section, we will go ahead and describe how to install an inverter into a camper van.
When integrating an inverter to your existing camper 12v electric system, it’s important to know that most inverters have at least THREE types of connection points. For inverter/chargers, there will be FOUR.
- Connection To House Batteries
- AC Out (this is the 120v produced by the inverter)
- AC In (connection to shore power for inverter/chargers only)
However, though the connection points are generally the same, the method of connection for every inverter can be different.
Below, we will look at two different inverter/charger models to see their connection similarities and differences.
Example 1: Victron Multiplus (Most Complex)
We own a Victron Multiplus 2000VA Inverter/Charger. It’s a wonderful inverter that has kept up with our energy needs. But in terms of installation, a Victron unit is probably one of the most complex.
Below is an example of our Victron Inverter/Charger. We list out the four connection points here.
What you can see in the above image is that the AC IN and AC OUT require you to wire individual 12 AWG wires to their respective slots.
This makes installation more difficult, but is better suited if you want to install your own sockets throughout your camper van.
Example 2: AIMS Inverter Charger (Simpler To Install)
What you can see in the above image is that the AIMS 600W inverter/charger is considerably more simple to set up that a Victron inverter.
The AC OUT section already comes with two outlet sockets provided. Simple plug your laptop or power strip into these sockets and you’re good to go.
Also, the AC IN section already comes ready to accept an extension cord from shore power.
Ok, Time To Install An Inverter...
We break down the installation into four steps (or three steps if you don’t have an inverter/charger).
Step 1: Connect Inverter To Battery (Or Bus Bars)
The first step is to connect the inverter to your 12v batteries.
But if you followed our 12v system post, you’ll remember that we don’t actually connect any devices directly to our batteries. Instead, we connected our 12v batteries to bus bars, which are electrical distribution blocks.
Now, when we want to connect anything “to our batteries”, we simply connect them to our bus bars instead. Doing it this way helps to keep all our connections neat and tidy.
Ideal Wire Size
Because an inverter/charger will be distributing quite a bit of current (especially when charging from shore power), we suggest using 2/0 AWG wire to make this connection. Simply crimp on a 3/8″ wire lug onto each wire end and connect to your positive and negative bus bars.
Tools & Products Needed
Step 2: Connect Inverter (AC Out) To Sockets
Connecting an inverter to sockets is optional but can make your camper van interior feel more like a real home.
For a quicker installation, you could simply hard wire a power strip into the AC OUT section.
But if, like us, you want to install real sockets into your van’s walls, keep reading below.
Inverter To Circuit Breaker
Circuit Breaker To Sockets
Finally, coming out of the circuit breaker box, the 12/3 wire is then wired to all the sockets in the van.
Tools & Products Needed
Step 3: Ground Your Inverter
With a single piece of 12 AWG wire and two ring connectors, connect the ground terminal on the inverter to an appropriate grounding location on your vehicle’s chassis.
To find grounding locations on your van’s chassis, you can do a simple Google image search with your vehicle model. Below are the ground points for those who own a Ford Transit.
We grounded our inverter by connecting to point #31, according to the image below.
Step 4: Connect Inverter (AC In) To Shore Power
If you opted to purchase an “inverter/charger” combo, you have the option to charge your house batteries from shower power.
Even if you do not intend to stay at RV parks, having the option to plug into shore power is a nice capability and doesn’t require much extra work.
Inverter To Power Inlet
Tools & Products Needed
Conclusion: Installing An Inverter Is Just One Piece Of The Electrical Puzzle
If you’ve gotten this far then congratulations on successfully installing an inverter in your camper van!
If you did it while also installing sockets into your van walls then that’s a fantastic achievement. The whole inverter installation process took us more than a week to complete and wasn’t easy!
But setting up the inverter is just one piece of the puzzle when putting together your camper van electrical system. For more, check out our other posts below.