Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Camper Electrical Part 1

So electrical is a big part of any camper. Let me start by saying the Uhaul's come in two models: CT13 and VT16. Mine is a CT13 and so that's what I'll be talking about here. Though much of this is the same across many campers. It can also be confusing unless you understand that there are 3 electrical systems in these small campers:
  1. AC (120V on a 15 or 30 amp circuit). This is your normal household current and the receptacles in the camper look like a typical household plug. If you're not plugged into shore power then your items that rely on this won't work.
  2. DC (12V). This is the items in the camper powered by your battery and converter. Most of the internal lights, fans run off this. This is the same 12V power as your car. Unlike in your car where you have an engine turning an alternator to produce the electrical current, campers have a converter. It's a device that converts the AC to DC and charges the battery. 
  3. Trailer lights (brake, turn, running). While the AC and DC systems are connected by the converter, the trailer light wiring is totally isolated from the other systems. It's power comes from the tow vehicle via the 4-, 5-, or 7- pin adapter that you hook up when towing. It includes the brake lights, turn signals, and running lights. 
I started with the AC system. One reason is because I was replacing the dorm fridge in my unit. These units originally came with just an ice box. But mine, like many I've seen, had been ripped out in favor of a fridge. I happened to have a slightly larger, stainless model that I used to use at my office at my old job. I had it in storage since I changed jobs and decided to replace it cause it looked better than the old brown one the previous owner had installed. 

I also had been having an issue during our first two trips with the thermal circuit breaker popping. After carefully adding up the amps I was using when it popped, I was way under 15 amps. So this led me to the conclusion after a little research that the old thermal breaker was worn out. These breakers do tend to pop at lower and lower voltages as time goes on. So 30 yrs later, this breaker was shot. I managed to find a replacement online. So I ordered one of those to install.
utility hookukp box on driver side of Uhaul camper with water and electric

So first things first. Shore power comes via an electric cord that is stuffed inside the shell. It comes out the utility port on the driver side. You pull it out to plug in. When you're done, you can push the cord back into the wall of the camper. I may end up replacing the cord in the future if I decide to upgrade to a 30 amp system. If I do, I'll replace it with 10-3 type SJOOW electrical cable.
electrical diagram of Uhaul CT13 camper from manual
Inside electrical outlet box in Uhaul CT13 camperThe power cord goes up to an electrical box where the single outlet and pop-out circuit breaker are on the side of the cabinet over the sink. There is another cable that goes out from this box to the converter (to convert the AC to DC to charge the battery and run the lights/fans while plugged into shore power). The previous owner of mine had run another cable from her down to the area below the sink with a female plug on the end to plug the dorm fridge into.

thermal pop-out button circuit breaker on Uhaul CT13 Camper
First thing before you begin working on AC is to make sure you're not plugged into shore power. Next I took off the outlet and separated it from the box. Then unplugged the circuit breaker and replaced it with the new one. I got a Sea Dog 15amp thermal push button breaker. I had to widen the hole a little bit as the diameter of the new one was a big larger than the old one.

extension cord with outlet box in cabinet below sink in Uhaul CT13 camper
I decided a few more outlets would be helpful. After cutting the fiberglass to widen the fridge area to fit my new larger fridge, it's a messy job and I'm afraid I may not be as skilled at patching holes in fiberglass. So I wanted to limit holes. I picked up an 8-ft, 4 outlet shop extension box from Lowes. I liked that it has it's own circuit breaker built-in and an on/off switch. I connected this to the extension from the top cabinet. I cut a hole in the sized of the cabinet under the sink (it's plastic and easier to deal with). I then put a couple screws in and hung the box on high on the back wall of the cabinet. We don't use that cabinet for much and nothing tall so it was a good spot. I plugged the fridge into that box and it leaves me with 3 outlets without having to install boxes and face plates.

As a side note, I cut a piece of an old rubber car floor mat and riveted it to the side of cabinet over the hole I had cut. I then slit the rubber so I could pass the plugs through. It was a quick way to cover the hole and hopefully provide a little insulation and better looking to me than an open hole.

I'm happy with the outcome. I may go back and upgrade to a 30 amp system at some point. The new pop-out circuit breaker fixed the problem I was having. I'll dive into the other electrical systems in the future as I tackle them.