How Hidden Electrical Connectors Cause RV Breakdowns… Like The Day My RV Air Conditioner Went Out

by Curtis

Air Conditioner, Predicaments And Emergencies

Living full time in a 22-year-old motorhome presents all sorts of challenging situations that will have you scratching your head and often wondering where to turn next.

Over the past year, I have learned a lot about what makes my 1993 Pace Arrow Turbo Diesel tick, and what it takes to keep moving on down the road.

Imagine it being the hottest day on record in the past 18 years, and in the middle of the afternoon the air conditioner quits. It was just like someone turned the switch off.


That’s where I was just a couple days ago — hot and humid with no A/C.

First – Use A Multimeter To Find The Source Of The Problem


This type of scenario is why I’ve always said the most important tool any RVer can have with them is a multi-meter electrical tester.

The shroud is held on with 2 screws, and within a minute or so I had determined there was no electricity going into the RV air conditioner.

The incoming power wires were disconnected, and a standard household male extension cord plug was installed to the A/C leads. Using a quality extension cord, the RV air conditioner was plugged into a nearby wall receptacle. In less than 5 minutes, I was once again being bathed in cool air.

Second – Determine Why It Happened

The next day, it was time to troubleshoot the issue and determine where the power went.

All the circuit breakers seemed ok, and using the electrical meter I determined that, indeed, all of them had power going through them.

Naturally, the wiring was installed during construction — so actually doing a visual inspection of the wiring was impossible.

There had to be a break somewhere between the circuit breaker panel and the air conditioner itself.

The problem could be where other devices tap into that circuit. However, since the motorhome had been sitting still, having a wire actually break or short out would be highly unlikely.

The next step was searching out all GFI (Ground Fault Interrupter) receptacles. All were working fine. So it seemed the only choice was to:

  • Disconnect the circuit involved.
  • Tape off both ends rendering it harmless.
  • And install new electrical cable from the circuit breaker to the A/C.

It’s not the easiest task in most RVs — because usually there is no provision for running wiring above the ceiling without doing damage to the ceiling material. I was prepared to use surface-mount wiring to run across to the nearest overhead cabinet where the remainder of the wiring installation could be hidden.

It was during this search for a route to take with the new electrical cable that, completely by chance, the actual problem with the wiring was found.


A Word About Hidden Electrical Connectors On RVs…

In automotive accessory installation, the one connector almost universally used (and by quality technicians equally hated) is the infamous Scotchlok connectorIt’s a quick and easy way to couple an additional wire to an existing wire without stripping insulation and soldering the junction — which, in reality, is the only quality way to join 2 wires.

The problem with these connectors is they come loose and fail with the vibration of driving.

RV manufacturers, in all their wisdom, decided that when the cable going the front A/C was found to be 5 feet too short, they would use the equivalent of a large heavy-duty Scotchlok connector to join the needed additional footage to reach the A/C.

To make matters worse, this connection was hidden behind a panel with no documentation indicating its existence. RVs don’t come with wiring information, and after 20+ years there is no one to ask about much of anything, nevermind wiring issues.


Third – Fix The Problem

The RV air conditioner is the heaviest electrical draw, which meant that the current had to cross through this poor connection. This created heat — enough to partially melt and distort the plastic case of the connector.

The actual repair was simple and straightforward: remove the Scotchlok connector and solder the connection properly.

It took an hour’s worth of work to correct a potentially flammable situation.

Once again, the air conditioner is operating normally on the original electrical wiring — no parts required, just taking the time to do it right.