I am frequently asked by RVers about issues arising from the L.E.D. lights in their RV. Before dealing with these issues, I will cover a little of the technical side of the industry transition to L.E.D.s which will provide some background and make resolution of the issues somewhat easier to understand.
Generally, the questions I receive divide up into two categories. Those from owners with older (pre-2014) RVs that were equipped from the factory with conventional incandescent lighting and were subsequently converted to L.E.D. lighting with replacement bulbs as shown in the sequence of photos of ceiling fixtures.
The second group are from owners with RVs that were built in 2014 and newer. The date is somewhat arbitrary since most RV makers made the transition from interior incandescent lighting over a span of time as existing fixture supplies were used up. During this transitional phase it was not uncommon for ceiling lighting to be L.E.D. while wall sconces and dinette or bathroom fixtures to contain incandescent bulbs. The point is that in the 2012 to 2015 timeframe there were RVs built with a mixture of lighting beginning with primarily incandescent lights and few L.E.D.s, transitioning to a limited number of incandescent light fixtures and a majority of L.E.D. light fixtures.
RVIA Code Requirements
This differential becomes important because those that were equipped with incandescent light bulbs, were converted by the user or owner to L.E.D.s by replacing the bulbs in those fixtures. The newer coaches were manufactured to comply with the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) code with L.E.D. fixtures installed at the factory. In North America, the RVIA is an organization that sets standards that all RV makers agree to adhere to, so that a unified wide ranging assembly code is met, allowing the RV maker to sell their product in each State and Province rather than having to meet (adapt) to the varying standards of each State and Province, which often have their own individual requirements. Until recently, there was also a separate Canadian schedule that required some extra considerations. To remove these individual requirements, the RVIA developed specifications in conjunction the States and Provinces. In addition, it does regular production line compliance inspections, then supplies to each RV maker a country specific seal to be placed on the exterior of the RV near the entrance door. For RVs that are assembled to meet the US State’s requirements, the seal is a Black circular decal with gold printing. Likewise, Canada destined vehicles have a similar Red seal. With the introduction of L.E.D. lighting, the RVIA changed their wiring requirements, reducing the size of the wiring used to supply power to these new lights. Prior to the change, the wiring had to be sized to handle the maximum power consumed on the individual circuits and if the consumer could change the bulb, then the wiring had to be sized to reflect the typical bulb that might be installed.
With L.E.D. fixtures, such as those shown in the second photo, if the fixture contained an integral L.E.D. lighting array, which could not be replaced by the consumer, then the wire size could be reduced in size to about 18 gauge, saving a large amount of copper in the wire thus lowering cost of every RV. Over time, as the number of fixtures purchased by larger RV makers increased, they could almost offset the increased fixture price by the savings in wire size reduction. Since the new lighting appealed to RV buyers, who liked the chosen light Natural White color (typically 4000-4500◦ K) and the fact that even with the lights on, the interior temperature could be maintained with less use of air conditioning, With this change RV makers could also increase the price of the RV to reflect the addition of this new feature and benefit. A win for them and the RVers buying these RVs.
L.E.D. Lights are Sensitive to Power Variations
With the above information as background, let’s return to the questions. L.E.D.s are very sensitive to sudden power surges and spikes, including those that naturally occur when a mechanical light switch is turned on, or as a result of a poor electrical connection, which increases the power requirement. Many L.E.D. bulbs and fixtures are not configured to handle such spikes; over time they deteriorate and fail. The failure may be of the complete bulb or one or more of the L.E.D. light units. They may give off no light or be flickering on and off continually. Using Corrosion Block® on the replacement bulb reduces the corrosion in the fixture.
Over the years, we’ve learned that the most critical electrical connection on a RV is not the negative connection at the battery, but the cable connection from the battery cable to the RV frame. As the RV ages, this connection deteriorates and develops rust, creating higher electrical resistance that L.E.D. lights, which draw so little power, cannot overcome. The solution is to turn off all power, both AC and DC, removing the cable at the frame connection, clean it thoroughly then apply Corrosion Block® to prevent further corrosion. Every RV more than two years old, should have this important maintenance procedure performed, to ensure dependable 12 Volt power delivery in the RV. We learned this requirement, after replacing numerous L.E.D. bulbs under warranty in the same RV. We noted that new L.E.D. bulbs rated at 60,000 hours were failing repeatedly in far less time in RV usage. When seeking a solution, we found the common issue was the deterioration this frame cable connection. On coaches on which this maintenance was performed the bulbs functioned properly. The need to replace them again disappeared. Of course, occasionally there was a defective bulb however the repeated failures in the same coach indicated something more was going on.
What if my Newer RV has a Light Failure or a Flashing Diode?
First complete the battery cable service mentioned above. If the light is still acting up, there is no ‘replace the bulb’ option. The fixture must be replaced. (Note: A workable solution follows). According to various RV owners, there have been many fixtures installed in RVs that have prematurely failed. Under warranty, the fixture is replaced, by exchanging it for a new one. Most fixtures have the wiring terminated in a plug-in connector. The challenge is carefully removing the fixture from the ceiling by prying it out against the pressure exerted by its spring steel retainers. With it removed, it is a plug and play replacement. Reportedly some makers have supplies to allow replacement of thousands of defective fixtures, so if your coach has a bad fixture, check to see if the replacement can be covered under warranty. Reportedly under the coach maker’s warranty light, fixtures are replaced at the dealer or at the Factory Service Center. Check with them for details. After the initial warranty, many manufacturers are willing to supply the fixture and let the customer replace it at their expense. I’ve heard that as many as 100,000 replacement fixtures have been stockpiled by numerous RV makers, to deal with defective fixtures.
For RVers with L.E.D. fixtures that do not qualify for warranty or after-warranty adjustments, the lighting unit will need to be replaced. We have found that a small rectangular lighting array or one of our G4 replacement L.E.D. bulbs can be modified and inserted on the top of the existing light array, after it is disconnected, to provide dependable lighting without replacing the fixture. After this modification, with the glass cover or ‘puck’ replaced, the light continues to function as it did before. Only the person making the replacement knows of the change. Contact us, to see if a suitable replacement may be available.