Electricity is essential to modern RV life, and while there are clever ways to get the most out of solar panels, your system is only as good as the protection you provide. You may not think about it, but protecting your RV’s electrical system is vital to the health of all the appliances connected to it.
Unfortunately, electricity is somewhat of an unstable entity. Even though it’s been more than 140 years since Thomas Edison patented the light bulb, harnessing electricity still comes with a risk.
Surge protectors are critical for RVers because they minimize that risk. When you can’t be certain about the quality of an electrical connection at an RV park, surge protectors guard against electrical surges, low voltage, and a host of other potential issues.
Do I Need a Surge Protector for My RV?
The truth is that it’s possible to RV without a surge protector – possible but not recommended. Unless you want to get your volt meter out to test the quality of the electrical service every time you reach a new campground or RV park, surge protectors are the best way to protect your RV’s electrical system.
Here are some of the electrical issues surge protectors can help to avoid:
- Faulty wiring
- Elevated ground line current
- High/low voltage and frequency
- Open ground
- Open neutral
- Reverse polarity
- Accidental 240-volt connection
- Voltage spikes
- Low voltage
You don’t have to know what these terms represent to protect your RV against them. A quality surge protector saves you the hassle of worrying about electrical problems. It provides a critical line of protection between electrical stands and your RV’s power cord and electrical system.
Does My RV Have a Built-In Surge Protector?
Your RV’s onboard circuit breakers only protect against the unintentional overload of a circuit inside the RV using a component operating inside the RV. They will not protect against issues with the quality of the power coming into the coach. Only a surge protector can do this.
Portable RV surge protectors plug directly into the power pedestal at a campsite, providing the first line of defense against electrical issues. If a dirty power supply exists, your surge protector takes the brunt of the damage, saving your power extension cord and the electrical circuits inside your RV.
At the end of the day, replacing a fried surge protector is usually more affordable than re-wiring large sections of your RV’s electrical system. And for just a little more upfront cost, resettable surge protectors won’t have to be replaced after a protection event.
That said, installing a hardwired surge guard in your RV is possible. Hardwired units save you the hassle of installing the surge protector when you arrive at a new campsite. And while they make universal surge guard locks, hardwiring a surge protector into your RV reduces the chances of someone stealing this relatively expensive RV accessory.
For help hardwiring a surge protector into your RV, contact your nearest Camping World Service Center.
How to Choose an RV Surge Protector
Once you’re familiar with surge protectors’ vital role in RV camping, it’s time to find a portable surge protector that works for your RV.
Does Your RV Need 30 or 50-Amp Service?
Your first step is to find surge protectors that match the electrical service your RV is designed for.
- 30-amp surge protectors will have a three-pronged male plug on one end and a female receptacle on the other.
- 50-amp surge guards also have male and female ends, but the plug has four prongs.
Some surge protection devices will register a fault when using an electrical outlet adapter for plugging a 30 amp RV into a 120-volt receptacle (or powering a 50-amp RV using a 30-amp service).
But using a surge protector rated for the same electrical service your RV requires is the safest way to protect your RV from dirty power.
Water is one of your surge protector’s biggest enemies. That’s why it’s a good idea to look for a model with a plastic guard covering the female receptacle. In most cases, the male end will be protected by the cover on the electrical stand.
But with cheaper surge protectors, the female end where you plug in your RV’s power cord remains exposed to the elements. This exposes that connection point to possible water damage, especially if you camp in rainy or humid environments.
Basic surge protectors are designed with small display lights. These lights will alert you to the status of your power connection. Depending on the number and color of the lights displayed, you’ll be able to tell whether you have healthy power, no power, or issues like open neutrals and reverse polarity.
More complex models offer an LED display that indicates battery voltage while also displaying the status of the connection. Some of these models even include Bluetooth technology that allows you to monitor your electrical connection from a computer or smartphone.
As you’d anticipate, the complex models are more expensive than average surge protectors. But if you’re a full-time RVer that moves around a lot and you’re familiar with the basics of electrical circuits, the investment can be worth it, as it’ll give you more info when you need to troubleshoot RV electrical issues.
How Often Should You Replace a Surge Protector?
Surge protectors are designed to last 3-5 years. Here are a few signs that it might be time to replace your surge protector, even if it’s newer than three years old:
- Wiring has become exposed.
- LEDs stop working.
- Prongs are bent, damaged, or missing.
- It has sustained water damage.
The components inside a surge protector are designed to redirect and suppress dangerous electrical currents. Over time, these components wear down, leaving your RV susceptible to electrical damage. Test and replace your surge protector every 3-5 years to ensure safe voltage protection.
Best Selling RV Surge Protectors from Camping World
Progressive Industries, Southwire Surge Guards, and Hughes Autoformer are some of the leading brands in this category. Here are a few of the top-selling surge guards:
Southwire 30-Amp and 50-Amp Surge Protectors
These surge protectors are affordable options for weekenders and part-time RVers. They are easy to use and prevent faulty power sources from damaging your RV’s sensitive electronics. Indicator lights on the units tell you whether you have power, no power, an open ground, open neutral, or reverse polarity.
Check out the 30-amp model or shop for the 50-amp surge protector at Camping World.
Progressive Industries EMS-PT30X and EMS-PT50X
Stepping things up, Progressive Industries technically labels their 30 and 50-amp surge protectors as electrical management systems (EMS). That’s because they provide additional features like built-in digital scrolling displays and the ability to pull up previous error codes when troubleshooting.
These EMS models protect against power surges, voltage fluctuations, and faulty pedestal wiring. They’ll provide protection if you accidentally plug into a 240-volt outlet and alert you to issues like open ground, open neutrals, and reverse polarity.
Find more details on the 30-amp EMS or learn more about the 50-amp model.
Electric, water, and sewer are three of your RV’s essential systems. Do your best to safeguard your electrical system and RV appliances by investing in a quality surge protector. And if you’re still learning the ins and outs of RV maintenance, check out our downloadable RV ownership and maintenance booklet!
What other questions do you have about selecting the right surge protector for your RV? Ask away in the comments below.
Does a 50amp and 30amp surge protector work on portable generators too?
We use a surge protector like the south wire model. But, on our last trip I noticed our fan in bedroom would run fast for a bit then run normal. It did this the whole time we were camping? Fan mostly gets used at night to help circulate AC. Does this mean our surge protector is not working as it should?
Here is a situation I don’t like: I pull into a campground site. The office is closed, as is the nearest Camping World. I hook up the surge protector, and it alarms a power problem. What do I do next?
Is it safe to use a 30 amp EMS in a 50 amp outlet with a dog bone? I see nothing in the article about this.
What kind of lock would you use with the EMS-PT30X to prevent it being stolen off of the pole?
This article covers several park electrical system issues, but one that I have seen that is also costly and perhaps more likely is electrical voltage sags (low voltage). Sags occur when the power demand is high and the voltage drop in the distribution line of the parks electrical system is substantial. Sags cause motors in AC, furnaces, and other utilities to run hot, shortening the life of the motor. While surge protectors detect many park electrical system issues, many are helpful against sags.
Some kill power to the RV, which, of course will prevent motor heating. Autotransformers protect against sags by stepping up the voltage to normal levels. If the sag is severe enough, they will cut off power to the RV. Autotransformers also protect against surges.
My trailer is set up for 50 amp service. If I pull into a park that only has 30 amp and I put a 50 amp surge protector on in my 30 amp reducer will it still do what it supposed to do
Some inverter generators will have an open ground, and some will have the ground tied to the neutral. If the surge guard reads the open ground it may not allow power through it. There are products available (Southwire is a reliable brand) that ground the neutral to fix this issue. They are called generator plugs, grounding plugs, or neutral-ground bonding plugs.
Hopefully this helps, but let us know if you have additional questions!
A stand-alone surge guard can be considered a rudimentary EMS, but they do not alter the incoming power or manage it in any way other than to shut it off in the event it exceeds preset limits. As such, most surge guards can be used with a 30 to 50 amp adapter. Just remember that, with this adapter, you no longer have a 50 Amp coach. It has been limited to 30 Amps and care must be taken to maintain power usage in the coach below this level.
Hopefully this helps, but please reach out if you have any additional questions!
This particular model is equipped with a metal tab on the power cord that allows the user to pass a cable lock through the tab and around the park pedestal and, if equipped, through the security tab on the park pedestal. You can find cable lock options among our selection of hitch and trailer locks: https://www.campingworld.com/hitch-tow/trailer-towing/hitch-trailer-locks
Keep in mind, however, that these locks are a theft deterrent and will not stop a well-trained and equipped bad guy.
Hope that’s helpful!
An onboard EMS system will actually measure the two separate sine waves from L1 and L2, and if they are slightly out of sync with one another, the system determines you are plugged into a 50 Amp outlet. Since a 30 to 50 adapter jumpers L1 to L2, the EMS will see precisely identical timing of the sine waves and automatically limit the coach to 30 amps.
The EMS cannot distinguish a 30 Amp outlet from a 20 Amp outlet, so the user must manually select the 20 Amp option on the operator interface. So long as the correct input amperage is selected, it should be safe to use the adapters as the EMS will shut off excess loads.
A stand-alone surge guard can also be considered a rudimentary EMS, but it will not alter the incoming power or manage it in any way other than to shut it off in the event it exceeds preset limits. As such, most surge guards can be used with a 30 to 50-amp adapter. Just remember that, with this adapter, you no longer have a 50 Amp coach. It has been limited to 30 Amps and care must be taken to maintain power usage in the coach below this level.
Hopefully this is helpful, but please don’t hesitate to reach out with additional questions!
I reached out to our technical team because this was a great question! Unfortunately, your fan alone wouldn’t be a reliable diagnostic tool for your surge protector’s performance.
Many things can cause this type of issue, so your best bet is to contact your nearest Camping World service center for a complete and thorough inspection. Regardless of the true cause, it is not normal and must be corrected immediately for safety’s sake.
Most commercially available surge guards are not line conditioners, and simply monitor the voltage and maybe the frequency of the incoming power. If it should exceed preset limits, the power will be shut down, not modified. So, in the case of the fan that speeds up and slows down, if the power at the pedestal was varying but stayed within the limits, the surge guard would not shut off.
I do hope that’s helpful and please do not hesitate to reach out in these comments with additional questions. This link might help you find the service center nearest you: https://rv.campingworld.com/rv-service-maintenance
Oof, that’s a tough one. In situations where you suspect the campground’s power supply could cause damage to your RV’s electrical system, erring on the side of caution is a safe bet. If you can make it through the night using your RV’s internal batteries or generator, it will allow you to seek additional troubleshooting assistance when the campground office and your nearest Camping World open again!
You are correct Michael and this is a great addition!
Thank you for your thoughtful response!