Powering up your campervan – The difference between 12 volt and 240 volt
Many people don’t understand the different uses and requirements for 240 volt and 12 volt in a campervan or caravan and you don’t want to spend money on features or products you won’t be able to use so here’s a quick rundown of the two:
240 volt power is what you have in your house and run your normal household appliances from. A normal rectangle shaped double powerpoint socket that you plug appliances into at home is 240 volt. A microwave for example, can only run on 240 volt. The issue with 240 volt in your campervan is that you can only use it when your van is ‘plugged in’ to an external power source – 240 volt power in a caravan park. Without this you will not be able to turn on your microwave or use any other 240 volt appliances.
A 12 volt power supply can be used without ‘plugging in’ your campervan to an external power source as it runs from your van’s inbuilt leisure battery. Surprisingly, camping fridges, TV’s, laptops and mobile phones run on 12 volt and do not drain much power from your battery. 12 volt power outlets look like the cigarette lighter socket in your car – and to use them you’ll need an adaptor called an ‘inverter’ which is about $50, the size of a coke can and available from electrical shops like Jaycar:
Which one’s for me?
If you hate caravan parks and know you will spend most of your time in National Parks and ‘free camping’ it may not be worth getting 240 volt power set up for your van. Then again, it’s always worth keeping re-sale value in mind, in which case making sure the van is correctly set up for 240 volt power from the beginning will mean a microwave can be added later down the track if future potential owners prefer.
Be careful with appliances that are traditionally 240 volt but have been manufactured for the camping industry in 12 volt. Things like a 12 volt kettle will take about 20 minutes to boil and drain a lot of power from your main battery. Some mini 12 volt hairdryers can be the same. It’s worth asking the question before you purchase any 12 volt camping items as sometimes it might just be easier (and quicker!) to do things the old fashioned way!