IsDons articles and blog

Problems with the electrical system

Category: My second slide-on campervan. Published: 23 Jun 2009

The following items comprised the power system in my new slide-on campervan:

  • Most appliances run from 12-volt.
  • Air conditioner and microwave oven run only on 240-volt.
  • 240-volt, 15-amp power cord.
  • Batteries: 2 x 100-amp, 12-volt, lead acid.
  • Solar panels: 2 x 120-watt Kyocera.
  • Specialty Concepts solar power photo-voltaic charge controller.
  • Elixir power converter/charger model ELX-35-240:
    • Provides 12-volt power to appliances directly from batteries when external power supply is not connected,
    • Automatically switches to converting 240-volt to 12-volt when external power supply connected.
    • Charges batteries when connected to external power.
    • Contains AC breakers for each circuit (separate circuits for air conditioner, microwave, everything else).
    • Contains fuses for all 12-volt appliances.
  • Switch to enable vehicle alternator to charge batteries.

I had a number of problems with this configuration and a few changes were made...

Inverter installed

When I picked up the van the first and biggest problem was that the power points only work when plugged into mains power, meaning I'm not able to use the computer when I'm out bush. I very quickly arranged to have an inverter installed so I now have two sets of power points -- one lot that run when connected to 240-volt power and the others that run from the solar system.

  • Inverter: Motormate PS-300 regulated pure modified sine wave, 300 watt.

DVD player

The first time I tried watching a DVD a message appeared on the TV, stating "driver must not watch while driving" and it refused to play the DVD. I found the DVD player hadn't been correctly wired so I had to fix that.


During my first use of the van out bush -- in the Flinders Ranges, SA -- I found the solar power system didn't appear to be giving me enough power. The plan was that this was supposed to give me more power than the solar power system in my first van but it appears to be less.

My first use of the computer for several hours managed to drain the power supply to a level that caused the fridge to stop -- which I decided was probably not a good thing. I found that voltage needs to remain above 11.7 to keep the fridge running.

I spoke to Trailblazers who thought there may have been a problem with the configuration of the power controller.

Before this issue was resolved...

The power controller explodes

I was in the caravan park at Arkaroola, outback SA, when the battery charger exploded. There was a loud bang, after which it appeared that the batteries were no longer being charged and all the appliances were working off the batteries rather than the 240-volt power. I was in the middle of nowhere and not planning to be anywhere near a town until I got to Alice Springs in a couple of weeks. After discussions with Trailblazers we agreed to get the battery charger fixed and the batteries fixed or replaced, or whatever needed to be done, when I got there.

For the first few days in the caravan park in Alice Springs power was a problem. I was plugged into 240-volt power but most of the appliances couldn't use it -- but the power points worked so at least I could use the computer! The van was parked in the shade so the solar panels were pretty much useless. I had to buy a battery charger just to keep the fridge running.

The power controller was sent up from Alice Springs and an auto-electrician had been arranged to install it. The auto-electrician had been told by Trailblazers that it would be simple to replace the controller -- "unplug the old one, plug in the new one -- a 5-minute job". He pulled the old one out of the wall, looked at the wires behind it and then used language that I don't! He said it would be best if I come back in a few hours.

A few hours later I picked up the van. Everything should be fine now. I plugged into the caravan park power. Batteries appear to be charging. Fridge, radio etc are working fine. All good. Plug the computer into a 240-volt power point. Fuse blows. Something wrong with the computer? Plug it into the power point coming from the inverter. Works fine. Plug something else into 240-volt power point. Fuse blows. Something wrong with the power point. Rang the auto-electrician who installed the box. He used language that I don't! I took the van back and he fixed it.

Batteries again

Replacing the power controller was supposed to fix the problem with the batteries running down too quickly. It didn't! The first time I went bush the power supply still went down too low as soon as the sun was off the panels. This hasn't got anything to do with the 240-volt stuff. Didn't think it did, but fixing one was supposed to have fixed both problems.

I took the van back to the auto electrician who installed the new power controller to check that everything was as it should be. He said everything appeared to be working as it should and suggested I go across the road and talk to the solar power people. I did. They also said everything appears to be working as it should, but the batteries were only 50-amp and I need 100-amp -- which is what I thought I had in the first place. I rang Trailblazers and they told me the batteries are 100-amp. Now I'm confused. I did some more research on solar power on the Internet -- in particular investigating batteries. The more I found out, the more convinced I was that the batteries were the problem.

Rang Trailblazers again and we had a long conversation about batteries. From what I'd read and been told, AGM or gel batteries were best for my needs, but I had lead acid batteries, which he said were better, and his paperwork indicates that the batteries I had were the right ones. But he agreed that, because everything else had been tested and appeared to be working fine, that the batteries must be the problem so we need to replace them. I said I wanted AGM or gel -- he wasn't happy when I told him I could get them in Alice for $500 each, so he arranged to get some sent to me.

When the new batteries arrived I thought they were much more likely to do the job required, they're bigger and heavier than the old ones -- swapping them over nearly killed me!

Next time I went bush I used the computer all day and the batteries coped well. My power problems had finally been resolved...

Power controller stops working again

...well, I had no power problems for the next six months or so anyway!

The battery charger and power converter decided to stop working again. Everything in the van appeared to be fixed -- I was in a caravan park in Darwin for a few months and it all seemed to be fine but after leaving Darwin the next time I plugged in at a caravan park -- in Alice Springs -- it decided to stop working again. I was headed towards Melbourne so I got it checked out there.

The power converter/battery charge had blown itself up again -- this is the second one I've had. Trailblazers have had less than 1% failure with these things -- they've had 7 duds in 7 years and I've had 2 of them! So this time they installed a separate battery charger.

Happy now

Power was the biggest problem when I first got the van, but I now haven't had a problem for a couple of years. These problems were annoying at the time they happened, but once resolved I'm very happy with the van.

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