Imported RV electrics issues
The electrical systems of privately imported RVs cannot be trusted to be fully compliant. Their owners often wrongly believe they are. They cannot legally be sold unless remedied. This article explains why privately imported RV electrics issues need expert checking if you are considering buying.
Lovely rig – but not electrically (and otherwise) compliant in Australia.
Current legislation enables intending owners to buy, import and use RVs that have 110-volt wiring and appliances. The original buyer can have an electrician install a 230-110 volt transformer. Plus basic safety components. This does not, however, make it 100% electrically compliant. For reasons unclear, the original buyer can use that RV. It cannot, however, be legally sold. Nor even offered for sale. Not all owners realise this. As a result, many non-compliant RVs have been sold. This leaves sellers (and buyers) in a tricky legal position.
This particularly affects imports (not just private) prior to 2010. Some commercially imported (in Queensland) had forged or flawed compliance papers. See Imported RVs. This is known by regulatory authorities. Many require electrical certification upon re-registering. That is not possible, however, unless made 100% compliant.
Imported RV electrics – the basic issues
Many private imports have a 230-110 volt transformer mentioned above. Original cabling, outlets and 110-volt appliances, however, remain. This RV may be connected to a 230 volt supply. But only by the original buyer.
Within Australia, it is illegal to sell any 110 volt items likely to be used domestically. In this context ‘domestically’ includes RVs. Because of this, using a 230-110 volt transformer cannot provide electrical compliance. In some states, doing so is a criminal offence.
The original private importer can thus legally use a non-fully compliant RV. That importer cannot legally resell it privately (in Australia) unless made 100% compliant. It can be sold to a dealer. The dealer is then legally obliged to ensure 100% compliance.
Obtaining compliance is costly. It may not be financially feasible. A dealer may thus declare insolvency to avoid payment. Then restart the next day under a new name. (That is known to have happened). You cannot use or resell that RV until it’s compliant. You cannot even give it away. Unless compliant it must literally be destroyed.
Imported RV electrics – fixing the problems
Ensuring full electrical compliance necessitates total rewiring. It requires double pole circuit breakers and socket outlets. It requires an RCD and a compliant inlet socket.
Many such RVs have a 110-volt to 12-volt ‘converter’. This will need replacing by a 230-volt to 12-volt converter. There are, however, better alternatives. Caravan & Motorhome Electrics shows why and how.
Private RV imports have many other non-compliant features (particularly over-width). Thoroughly check before buying. If overwidth it may not be possible to remedy it.
These issues often surface if re-registering in another state or jurisdiction.
Imported RV electrics – legislation summary
Each Australian state and territory individually administers the legal (electrical) provisions
These are of the Electricity (Consumer Safety) Act 2004 and the Electricity (Consumer Safety) Regulation 2006. They include the sale of mains supplied electrical appliances and equipment. Approval schemes in the various states are substantially similar.
Certification by NSW Fair Trading relates only to electrical safety. That does not, however, imply that a certified article is endorsed. In Queensland, the issue is handled by the Electrical Safety Office of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General. South Australia’s is by the Office of the Technical Regulator. Tasmania’s is by Workplace Standards of the Tasmanian Department of Justice. Western Australia’s is by EnergySafety. In the NT – it is by NT Worksafe. In the ACT by its Planning and Land Authority.
Victoria’s is complicated. There, EnergySafe Victoria declares an RV to not be an ‘electrical installation’. It does not define what it is. It implies an RV is an ‘electrical appliance’. These do not installation certification. They must, however, comply with Australian Standards. Unless made 100% compliant, an import still cannot so comply.
The Electricity (Consumer Safety) Act 2004 provides for the prohibition of any article that is unsafe. Or likely to become unsafe. It may compel remedial action (including recall). Legislation concerning sale and approval of electrical articles exists in all Australian states and jurisdictions.
Imported RV electrics issues relate to the electrical installation. Also, all that is run from it. All electrical goods sold in Australia must meet specific requirements. That, in NSW, is the Electricity (Consumer Safety) Act 2004. Such Acts cover electrical items known as ‘Declared Articles’. The Acts and listings of such articles vary from state to state. That of NSW is typical of all states. It includes almost every electrical item used in RVs. Privately imported RVs are almost certain to have Declared Articles. They can legally be used by the original buyer. None may legally be resold.
The associated definitions and use of ‘sell’ are extensive. They include auction or exchange, offer, agree or attempt to sell, advertise, expose, send, forward or deliver for sale. They further include: cause or permit to be sold or offered for sale, hire or cause to be hired, and display for sale or hire. This puts the reseller of any non-compliant RV at risk.
Imported RV electrics – the safety issues
The legal requirements are based on known safety issues.
Electrical systems in US and Canadian RVs differ substantially from those locally. An imported RV cannot be made compliant by simple changes.
Local requirements are in AS/NZS 3000: 2018 and AS/NZS 3001:2008 (as Amended in 2012). The latter is the main one concerning RVs.
Electrically isolated transformers are legal in some circumstances, e.g. 110-volt scientific equipment. Generally, anything electrically connected to such a transformer must be approved and certified. Moreover, contrary to some vendor claims – no 110 volts 60 Hz ‘Declared Article’ has such approval.
Isolated transformers are intended to power only one Class 1 device at a time. (A Class I device has its metal chassis or enclosure connected to earth.) It is unsafe to so power two or more Class 1 appliances simultaneously. Such usage is forbidden by AS/NZS 3000:2007 as Amended in 2012. Section 7.4.3. Furthermore, that item states ’all live parts of a separated circuit shall be reliably and effectively separated from all other circuits, including other separated circuits and earth.’
That many so-equipped RVs may have several such Class A appliances may be overlooked by regulators. Insurers, however, are aware of it. They may thus reject claims resulting from a related incident. A Senior Electrical Inspector confirmed this.
I am not a licensed electrician. I do, however, have extensive experience in electrical systems design and engineering. The text of this article was checked and approved by a senior Electrical Safety Inspector (in his private capacity). This article takes in his suggested changes and clarifications.
Amendments may be made to the Electricity (Consumer Safety) Act 2004, or the Electricity (Consumer Safety) Regulation 2006 at any time. The information contained in these notes may thus become out-dated. For more detail see Section 3 of the Electricity (Consumer Safety) Act 2004.
Imported RV electrics – further information
The main and overriding electrical standards involved are AS/NZS 3000:2018. See also the RV-related AS/NZS 30001:2008 as Amended in 2012.
The main structural and on-road issues are covered in Travel Trailer and Motorhome Compliance.
My other books include the Caravan & Motorhome Book, Caravan & Motorhome Electrics, the Camper Trailer Book, Solar That Really Works (for cabins and RVs) and Solar Success (for homes and properties). About the Author – Bio.
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