Guide On Using A RV Battery Disconnect Switch

Are you the proud owner of an RV but find yourself uncertain about the RV battery disconnect switch — whether you have one, what it’s for, and when to use it?

Don’t fret, as this dilemma is a common one among RV enthusiasts. Here, we’re dedicated to clearing up any confusion about the RV battery disconnect switch of your RV setup.

Guide On Using A RV Battery Disconnect Switch

RV battery disconnect switch is part of a feature not that many people are aware of with your RV, and it can cause power to be cut off between the 12 volt lights and appliances, as well as your battery bank.

There are quite a few questions people have about the RV battery disconnect switch, and all of it is going to be included here and answered.

We are going to cover what the purpose of your RV battery disconnect switch is, as well as where the battery disconnect switch is located on your RV.

We will also give you information on when you should be using your battery disconnect switch to get the best results from it.

You might not have an RV battery disconnect switch, so we will tell you if you need one, and also how to install it if you choose to invest in one!

If you understand all of the aspects of your battery disconnect switch then you will actually be able to extend the lifespan of the batteries that you are using in your RV, and this can save you a lot of time and money in the future.

So, if you want to save this effort in the future, and get better use out of your RV batteries, then keep reading to get all the information you need!

How Does Your RV Battery Disconnect Switch Work?

The easiest way to grasp what an RV battery disconnect switch does is that it is essentially a backwards fuse that is in your electrical breaker box.

You can turn it off and this will allow all the power to run to your outlets, to your lights, and the power to the boards for your appliances as well. Or, you can instead turn it on, and this will shut off the power flow. 

For your battery disconnect switch, if the power is not 110 volts like your breaker box, but instead it is 12 volts of power that is generated by your RV house batteries.

This is so the switch is a convenient and simple way to terminate the power of your batteries when you are reaching the power panels as well as the lights that are inside your RV.

So, when the control is turned on, it will stop power from getting to the converter and will stop charging the house battery of your RV.

If you did not have the switch, the only way to stop power being charged from the RV battery would be manually or disconnecting the cables.

Should Your RV Battery Disconnect Switch Be Turned On Or Off?

It is a common debate for RV owners whether you should keep your RV battery disconnect switch in an on or off position, however, the answer is actually a lot more simple than a lot of people assume.

Generally speaking, you will want the battery disconnect switch to be in an off position the majority of the time.

This can confuse people, especially those who are new to using their RV, since the on switch is actually what turns off the power flow. So, if they are connected to shore power, they do not need to worry about the battery power anyway.

However, you will find that most RVs will actually need shore power, as well as the 12 volt battery power as well.

This is because it powers a lot of other devices like, the refrigerator, the water pump, your furnace, and some of your air conditioners.

This is because when your shore power is not available, your current from the 12 volt battery system is what is keeping your appliance boards working, and what is sparking the propane for your water heater system.

You might not be able to get some appliances working if the switch is on and even on shore power, so keep this in mind.

One of the most notorious examples of this is how RV refrigerators need the 12 volt displays panel to be able to trigger the 120 volt powered compressor to be able to run and then keep your food cold.

This means that if you keep the battery disconnect switch on and you are connected to the shore power, your power could still run out and this would be a big issue.

You can also find that a lot of other RVs have some of the lights exclusively connected to your 12 volt system, so even if you are connected to a 120 volt power, these lights will still not work if you have your battery disconnect switch turned on.

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Will Your RV Battery Charge When Plugged Into Shore Power?

Yes, if you were not aware, your RV is charging the house battery when you are connected to shore power.

You will have a converter which will take on the 120 volt power, and will then lower it to a safer level, and then this will charge the battery of your RV.

However, if you turn on the RV battery disconnect switch, then you will not be able to charge your battery.

So, if you end up with a low power or a dead battery, this can cause issues when you eventually disconnect from the shore power and try to use an appliance connected to this system.

Something you want to keep in mind is ensuring that you have the best quality RV battery converter possible that features plenty of stages.

This will make sure that your house battery is full for as long as possible, but you do not have to worry about the charge boiling over when you are connected to shore power.

When To Use Your RV Battery Disconnect Switch

So, since we have discouraged you so far from using the battery disconnect switch in most circumstances, when do you need to turn it on so you can disconnect the power from your batteries?

Turns out the main time you should turn your battery disconnect switch on is when your RV is in storage, (see also: 12 Best Storage Solutions For Your RV)or any time it will be out of use for more than a week,

You will also want to cut the power to the house batteries if you are working with your RV appliances, or if you are working on the electrical system, this is for the sake of your safety. 

The main time you want to be using your battery disconnect switch is when the 12 volt batteries are at risk of draining for no reason since the RV is not in use, Your 12 volt batteries will drain over time if you are not actively using it, and this is because of the parasitic load which is pulling smaller amount from the power on devices like a TV (see also: Should I Put A Plasma Or LCD TV In My RV?)antenna or a carbon monoxide detector.

If you choose to switch the battery disconnect switch on when the RV is not in use like this, this will slow down the power flow from your house battery and this will stop it from draining over off periods like this.

It will also stop the battery overcharging when you have your RV in storage as well. You can find some people like to have the RV plugged in between uses, however, this can cause the converter to go bad or for the battery to overload.

If your battery runs down too low, or if it overcharges, this will make it fail, and this will lead to a pretty expensive replacement and can also damage other aspects of your camper like the deep cycle batteries as well.

This means that using your battery disconnect switch at the right time becomes a key part of maintaining your RV correctly and will ensure that your RV lasts for as long as possible and does not get damaged over time!

Should Your Disconnect Switch Be On Or Off When Towing?

So, when you are towing your RV, should you keep your battery disconnect switch on or keep it off.

The battery power of your RV is actually pretty critical when you are towing a trailer, so when doing this, you never want your power to disconnect when travelling by turning the battery disconnect switch on.

So, you want to keep your battery disconnect switch off when you are towing.

For example, if you run into an emergency when towing and your trailer unhooks from the vehicle towing, the trailer will not be able to use the electric brakes it needs to if you do not have the 12 volt power running.

If your battery disconnect switch is also turned on, your batteries are not able to get charged while it is towing as well.

Do You Use Your Battery Disconnect If Your RV Has Solar Panels?

You will actually find that RVs that use solar panels tend to rely on batteries more than those which spend time camped using standard shore power.

There are quite a few RV enthusiasts who actually like to dry camp,(see also: Boondocking – Making It Work) and do this by using solar panels which will allow them to do longer trips while staying off the grid, and to do this, keeping your batteries full is crucial.

But, if you are leaving your battery disconnect switch on, then no power will be flowing from your solar panels into the battery bank.

One of the best things you can do if you are an RV owner who uses solar panels is to get a battery tender which works with your solar panel control system.

This will allow your batteries to take in as much power as they need without any chance of an overload!

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Where Is Your RV Battery Disconnect Switch?

So, now you know what the battery disconnect switch, you might want to know where to find it so you can have better control over your RV.

The location of the battery disconnect switch will depend on the type of RV that you are working with, as well as if the battery disconnect switch was included with the camper or if it was an add on feature.

Inside Your Camper

If you think your battery disconnect switch is inside your camper, you will want to look for labels that say battery or battery disconnect, and they will usually be near a red switch.

This switch is usually near the other power panel parts, or will be in a cabinet or wall area that is close to your battery compartment!

Inside Your Battery Compartment

Your battery disconnect switch will usually be inside the storage compartment for the batteries for your RV. This compartment will usually have an exterior door which will lead into it, and this is usually near the back of your RV.

Occasionally, if you have a smaller trailer, the battery will be closer to the front instead and can be found near the hitch. This will usually be inside a metal or plastic bin and the switch will be on the outside so it is easier to access.

On Your Battery Bank

If your battery disconnect switch was an after market inclusion, then this will usually be found near or on what of the batteries that are in your bank.

This switch might sometimes have a lever or a knob on it which you will need to pull for the on position, and depending on the design of the switch, and how much space is on the battery, its controller will usually be on or next to the negative or positive terminal of your battery!

Also, it will depend on how many house batteries you have in your RV, as well as how they connect, when it comes to finding your after market battery disconnect switch.

If you want a simple rule to follow, you want to look for the battery disconnect switch in your negative cabling line as this is a good place for a grounding break which will be between your batteries and the chassis of the RV.

If you cannot find the battery disconnect switch then your RV just might not have one, however, they are not too difficult to add, and are pretty cheap!

Do You Need Your RV Battery Disconnect Switch?

As we have mentioned throughout the guide, having a battery disconnect switch is not a feature you need for your RV, however, it is definitely helpful and worth having.

Your battery disconnect switch is a good way to stop your battery from accidentally discharging, as well as stopping any battery overload, as well as maintaining the integrity of the battery, and makes it so you do not need to manually detach your cables if you want to cut power flow.

You will also find that getting access to the batteries in your RV can be pretty awkward with most RVs having them inside a solid container which is bolted in place.

They can even be set pretty far back in their compartment as well.

This makes getting into the high space to carry heavy batteries incredibly annoying, so just having a battery disconnect switch to save you from all this effort is much more convenient. So, if you do not have one, how do you install it?

How To Install An RV Battery Disconnect Switch

As we mentioned, the process of installing your own battery disconnect switch is not too hard, however, if you are not confident in your ability after reading this guide, we recommend getting the help of a professional.

You will also want to make sure that there is no power running when working, and that you are wearing proper protective equipment. Also, try to clean corrosion and debris before you start working!

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Buy The Right Switch For Your RV Battery Load

Make sure you know the voltage output for the house battery and make sure the battery disconnect switch you buy matches this rating.

If you get this wrong the switch might fail when in use and this can cause more harm than good. Also, depending on how far the battery disconnect switch is from the batteries, you might need to buy extra cables.

Disconnect Your RV Battery

Locate the cables on your disconnect switch posts and use your wrench to remove the ones which bring power to your battery bank and the one which attaches to the switch.

You want to remove the negative cable first and reinstall them last to avoid any shorts. 

Disconnect Your Negative Cable Terminal Then Wire The Switch

After the terminal has been removed from the negative post, install the cable switch between your battery terminal and the line to the converter box. Make sure the control position is in the on position when you are installing.

Make sure you are following the directions that came with your battery disconnect switch so you are getting it right for the brand you are working with.

Some of these brands will even have video tutorials on their manufacturer pages so you know exactly what you are doing when working with their product.

Mount Your Battery Disconnect Switch In Your RV

Make sure the battery is mounted in a convenient position so you can easily access it!

You will find that this is quite often done on the sidewall of your battery compartment, however others sometimes drill holes to mount it so you will have easier access inside the camper, or sometimes on the battery housing box.

Reattach The Terminal In Your RV Battery Negative Post

Once the switch is in place and has been mounted, you want to get the end of it and reattach this to the terminal back onto the negative post.

Once you have done this you want to check again that the battery disconnect switch is in the on position, this will prevent any power flow until you are ready for it as turning it off when setting it up could be dangerous.

Reattach Your RV Battery Cables To The Poles And The Test Switch

After this you want to reattach your loose cables on the positive and negative poles that you had removed and to put them back in the right positions.

Then, once you are sure it has all been set up properly, you want to move the switch to the off position.

As you know, when the switch has been turned off, your power will be able to run through your battery, so make sure to test to see if this is working.

There will usually be a simple indicator of this, like the lights that are powered by the 12 volt system working. Once this is done, you can be confident that your battery disconnect switch has been set up properly.

Summary

Hopefully this guide has given you all the information you need about using an RV battery disconnect switch. They are not too difficult to set up, and having one can improve the lifespan and usability of your RV batteries.

This can save you a lot of money in the long run and makes it so your RV will last longer as well! If you are not confident in your ability to set up the battery disconnect switch, make sure to get aid from a professional!

Eddie Meyers
author avatar
Eddie Meyers
My name is Eddie, and I am an RV enthusiast! I have enjoyed traveling all my life, and want to give my family the same opportunities to see as much of the world as possible. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered how great RVs can be for vacations with a young family. Here at RV Lifestyle Experts, I want to share my experiences, the tips I’ve picked up along the way. I hope that our guides can encourage you to try the RV lifestyle. I promise you that you won’t regret it!
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