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Low Voltage Wiring Tips


There are a few handy tips when working with wiring. Wire itself isn't all that complex. It consists of a basic conductor covered by insulation. The insulation keeps the current inside the wire so that it doesn't short circuit. An RV only runs on 12 volts so it's not a real critical issue as to insulation. You can go with the standard GPT style of primary automotive wire or the GXL style. The GPT insulation is thicker and has a dull finish to it. It is not as resistant to high heat so it's best to not use it in an engine compartment. The GXL insulation is thinner but it is better. It has a glossy finish to it and is very resistant to heat. The actual size, or wire gauge, of the wire determines how many amps it can carry. Refer to the Wire Gauge Capacities table for more details on that.

Tools Required:

Now that we know what wire is, we should probably begin with a list of tools that you will need in order to to handle wiring tasks. We'll list 3 levels - basic, intermediate, and advanced. The basic selection is for those who want to fix a simple repair but don't want to get into too much troubleshooting. The intermediate set is for those who want to handle the simple repairs themselves and are willing to have a basic understanding of the electrical system and take a few troubleshooting steps themselves. The advanced set is for those who want to be able to do almost all of the wiring tasks on their RV, including adding custom features. The more tools you have, the easier this task will be.

Basic Tool Kit:

12 volt Test Light
Multi-purpose Wiring Crimper/Stripper Tool
Diagonal Wire Cutters
Screwdriver set with Interchangeable Bit Tips
Electrical Tape
Nylon Cable Ties
Spare Fuses

Intermediate Tool Kit:

All of the above items - plus:
Multimeter (Volts/Ohms)
Needlenose Pliers
#2 Phillips Screwdriver
Soldering Gun and Solder
Selection of Wire Terminals and Crimp Connectors

Advanced Tool Kit:

All of the above items - plus:
Clamp-on Ammeter
Professional Wire Terminal Crimping Tool
Cordless Drill with Magnetic Bit Tip Holder
Complete Dedicated Screwdriver Set
Heat Shrink Tubing
Heat Gun or Small Butane Torch to Shrink Tubing
Misc Jumper Wires with Alligator Clips

Service Tips:

Now that you have your tools you might want to consider the fact that you can cause even more damage if you don't know what you're doing. Whenever possible, try to have a wiring schematic of the item you are going to be working on. By reading this diagram first you'll gain a better understanding of how it works before you start poking around.

Whenever you need to remove or repair a device be sure to turn off the power to it's circuit. If there is no on-off switch then remove the fuse to kill the circuit before trying to disconnect "hot" wires.

When you need to replace a wire always leave plenty of extra. Whenever you measure an existing wire and cut a replacement the exact same length it will invariably be too short. Just pull plenty of extra wire. It's not that expensive and you can always cut it shorter but it's pretty hard to make it longer once it's been cut.

Wiring that is exposed to the elements will corrode in a very short time. If you need to make a splice in an exposed area make the best possible splice you can. Just twisting the two ends together and wrapping some electrical tape might get you back on the road but it's only a temporary repair at best. The best method is to solder the connection then place a heat shrink tube over the splice and melt it into place. Be sure to slide the tube over the wire before you solder it though or else you won't be able to get it on. If you can't solder it, then the next best thing is a good crimp connection. Be sure to wrap the joint up with plenty of electrical tape to keep corrosion out if you need to do that. Ideally you'd run your wire into a compartment that's not exposed to the elements and make your crimp connection there.

When testing for power with a test light you need to be sure that the alligator clip is getting a good connection to ground. Once you have the clip connected, find a known hot source and see if the test light will light up. If it doesn't, you don't have a good ground connection.

If you are checking for continuity with your ohmmeter be sure that there is no 12 volt power on the area you are testing. If you apply power while in ohms mode you'll blow your multimeter.


Submitted by Mark Quasius - 2/23/06

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