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Old 07-19-2011, 07:48 AM   #1
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Converter* / House Battery Question(s)

1993 RB 2WD E250 w/ AC-DC refrigerator, no microwave, no rear A/C, single house battery.

When plugged into shore power, should the AC-to-DC converter* be on at all times? I'm pretty sure it's not working at all.

My stepson (14y/o) is here for the summer and thought it would be cool to sleep in the van instead of the living room floor so that he's not rudely awaken by me and his 2y/o sister who's up at 7:30am every morning... anyway...

I have the van plugged into a regular 15amp service in our garage via a plug adapter on the 30amp style plug/cable.

1. My understanding from reading the manual that came with the van is that when plugged into shore power, all DC items in the van are powered by the converter*. When the van is not plugged in they are powered by the house battery, correct?

2. Also per the manual, the converter* does not charge the house battery - the manual states one reason as being to not have to worry about over charging the house battery. The only way the house battery gets charged is via the alternator.

My questions come up because when I went in the van last night to start preparing it for our camping trip this coming week, none of the lights worked, but the AC outlets are all still hot. Turns out the house battery was dead-dead. I started the van so apparently the battery isolater is doing its job because the starter battery is totally fine.

The converter* has a built-in cooling fan - it was not on - indicating to me that it's doing nothing. The converter* is plugged into a GFI outlet under the rear bench seat and I did verify that the outlet is functioning correctly.

3. Even though the manual says that the converter* does not charge the house battery, is it possible that it varied from van to van? There's a heavy white wire coming out of the converter* that goes to the positive terminal on the house battery.

OK, that pretty much covers it. Any insight would be much appreciated.

the converter* in question.
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Old 07-19-2011, 08:18 AM   #2
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Re: Inverter / House Battery Question(s)

The unit you have in the picture is a convertor not a invertor.Convertors change 120AC to 12DC only.Invertors change 12DC to 120AC and can also charge the batteries depending on model.Yours should be charging the battery according to what it says on it.You can check to see if it has any blown fuses but odds are it has an internal problem.Hope that helps.
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Old 07-19-2011, 08:34 AM   #3
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Re: Inverter / House Battery Question(s)

Thanks. I do understand what it does (converts AC to DC), and I did read what it said on the front, however, I figured the SMB manual trumped what was printed on the front of the converter - that's why I'm asking as I don't have a good understanding of how SMB set up their rigs.
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Old 07-19-2011, 09:59 AM   #4
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Re: Converter* / House Battery Question(s)

I'd say the unit trumps the manual in any case. Extra or the wrong paper could have been in there, and if you've had previous owners, well you never know what they've done.

When you plug in to shore power, the 120v goes to the van outlets just like an extension cord, so the convertor is not involved in them being powered. Well extension cord with a breaker. If not labeled you can find the breaker for the outlets by flipping them until there is no power in the outlets.

The same 120v goes to the convertor and that is what it uses as it's power source. Again, it should go through a breaker, a different one than the outlet breaker. There might be a third for the fridge or microwave. The breaker being tripped or off will mean the convertor is not powered.

It's quite possible the convertor is not directly wired, but has a plug going to an outlet specifically for the convertor. If it was unplugged, this is another possibility.

Last, the convertor might have a switch. I spent a year with my invertor and never had any clue it had a switch until it wouldn't come on and I looked up a picture online. The previous owner might have turned it off to keep it from running.

Past the convertor there might be a large inline fuse, or auto-reset breaker. Either of these could be bad, but the fan in the convertor would be running. How the 12v goes, which battery it charges, whether there is a isolator involved (sounds like yes) all a different story, but it doesn't sound like that's your problem.

As for your questions, #1. No, it charges the battery and the battery powers the house 12v items. Essentially. It's all one system an a little chicken or the egg, if there is power then it's charging the battery and powering the system, you remove the battery or the 12v from a system with a good battery and you will only see a small voltage drop.

#2. I think this is backwards: alternator charges the starter battery and the isolator, isolator charges the house battery but prevents a charge from being drawn from the starter. The convertor would charge the house battery, along with powering the 12v on the house side, and not charge the starter because A) isolators don't work both ways and B) possibly to prevent overcharging (I don't buy that...)

If it were to charge the starter and not the house, the isolator would pass that charge to the house just like it came from the alternator, so effectively you would be charging both... very unlikely that's the case.

So... your house battery is probably toast. Even if it's not, due to over draining or age, the voltage is probably micro (0.3v). There is probably a threshold voltage after which the convertor won't charge the battery, so that might be your problem as well. The alternator doesn't have any such qualms, so you might run the van, verify there is voltage at the house side and then plug in the convertor (with the van running, with voltage on the house side). I've tricked my inverter into charging like that, but it turned out my battery was bad after all.

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Old 07-19-2011, 10:20 AM   #5
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Re: Converter* / House Battery Question(s)

thanks for the detailed reply Jage.

I followed everything you said... I think

All circuit breakers are on - I've flipped them on and off to see what they do. Since my stepson is in there we have an AC powered house fan so I can at least tell when the AC outlets are working.

The converter is not hard-wired on the AC side of it - the converter plugs into a GFI outlet under the bench and as I mentioned, I did verify that the outlet is good and does have power when connected to shore power.

There is a separate "fuse/breaker" on the DC side of the converter. I'm not sure how to reset it, but I did try jumping it with a screw driver - it made no change.

I did try to feel around for a power switch on the converter, but never found one.

The house battery seemed to be plenty strong prior to my stepson spending the last couple weeks in there using the house lights while camped out (not every night, but a solid 7-10 nights so far). I did notice that the water level in the house battery was a bit low so I added some distilled water 3-5 days ago.

Wondering what is the best way to trouble shoot the converter? Leave it plugged into the AC outlet, but unplug it from the house battery and see if its producing DC power via a volt meter? Will it function if it's not hooked up to anything?
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Old 07-20-2011, 08:01 AM   #6
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Re: Converter* / House Battery Question(s)

Yes you can test the convertor by unhooking it from the battery.Be aware though you can have good voltage but no amperage.To test for amperage output you need to put an amp gauge in between the battery and the convertor or use an inductive style amp gauge.Hope that helps.
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Old 07-20-2011, 10:42 AM   #7
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Re: Converter* / House Battery Question(s)

Well I'm not getting anything from the converter. I checked it's voltage while it was connected to the battery - obviously it showed the battery's voltage. As soon as I diconnected the battery, the voltage on the converter began to slowly drop until it showed nothing.

I pulled the converter out of the van and plugged it into the garage outlet and checked it's voltage on the output ports and I showed nothing, a very small amount of 'mV'

There are two ground ports that come out of the converter, one appears to be a chassis ground, the other is a battery ground. Will the converter still work if its chassis ground is not hooked up?

Dead converter?
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Old 07-20-2011, 04:33 PM   #8
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Re: Converter* / House Battery Question(s)

I think that company is out of business. If you google that model it looks like those units had similar issues like you're having. I've seen those cook batteries when a cell goes bad on the typical wet cell type battery. I would think SMB could connect it in such a way to keep the charger in the off position and have it power up when needed when you're on shore power. I'd call them to find out how it was set up, but unfortunately I think you're correct. Bad converter.
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