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A surge protector is one of the most critical pieces of equipment you will need for your RV. These devices are also some of the most misunderstood. Before purchasing a surge protector for your camper, it is essential to research and learn how an RV surge protector is designed to function.
To understand a surge protector’s role, you must know what types of wiring issues can potentially damage your RV’s electrical system. Wiring issues include open neutral, reverse polarity, and open ground.
Two issues that cause the most damage to campers’ electrical systems are surges and brownouts. RV electrical systems operate on 120 volts of electricity. A surge occurs when the voltage suddenly increases to over 132 volts. A brownout occurs when there is a decrease in voltage. Drastic increases or decreases in voltage will damage your camper’s electrical system.
Standard Surge Protectors vs. Electrical Management Systems
How does a basic surge protector work?
There are two basic types of surge protectors designed for campers. The first is a general surge protector, and the second is an Electrical Management System with surge protection. These two types of surge protectors are very different, and you must know the difference when making your purchase.
General surge protectors will identify wiring issues such as reverse polarity, open neutral, or open ground. While the surge protector identifies a wiring issue, it does not protect your camper from the issues. These surge protectors will not shut down power to your camper. Basic surge protectors inform you, but they do not necessarily protect you against brownouts or surges.
What is an Electrical Management System?
Having a surge protector is better than having no protection at all for your rig. However, we recommend that you invest in an Electrical Management System (EMS) surge protector. An EMS surge protector costs significantly more, but it actually protects your camper. An EMS system will shut down the electricity to your camper whenever a surge or brownout occurs. Cutting off the electricity to the camper is important because this ensures that your camper will not suffer damage.
Brownouts are more common than you would expect, especially in campgrounds with older electrical setups. A full campground of RVs running their air conditioners during summer heat can significantly drain the electrical infrastructure. This drain will cause a serious decrease in voltage across the campground and can result in substantial damage to your camper’s electrical system.
An EMS surge protector will also shut down the electricity going to a camper when it recognizes a wiring problem in the electrical source.
Choosing a Surge Protector
When purchasing a surge protector, ensure that you buy one that matches your RV. 30 amp campers require 30 amp surge protectors and 50 amp RVs need 50 amp surge protectors.
Basic Surge Protectors for your RV
There are three different companies that we recommend when it comes to general surge protection. We like the models made by Southwire, Progressive Industries, and Hughes.
The Southwire 44260 30A and 44270 50A use a combination of light patterns to identify electrical concerns such as open neutral and reverse polarity. These models reliably identify wiring problems before you plug into your camper.
We also like the Progressive Industries SSP-30XL and SSP-50XL. These models have built-in covers to provide extra protection in the rain. Like the Southwire models, Progressive Industries also uses a light pattern to indicate wiring problems.
The Hughes Autoformer PWD30 and PWD50 models use light patterns to identify wiring issues. Additionally, these models have the added benefit of connecting to your phone via Bluetooth. You can use the app to identify problems, which can be easier than reading the light patterns depending upon lighting at the campground.
EMS Surge Protectors for your RV
For EMS surge protectors, our favorites are also the Southwire, Progressive Industries, and Hughes models. All three have anti-theft tags so that you can use a cable lock (Check it out on Amazon) to secure them.
Finally, the Hughes Autoformer PWD30-EPO and PWD50-EPO are similar to the other two models. They do not have rain covers, but they do connect to your phone via Bluetooth so that you can quickly check the status of your electrical connection.
Precautions When Using Surge Protectors
External surge protectors and EMS systems require a few precautions to ensure their safety. External systems plug directly into the campsite electric pedestal and hang down, which exposes them to the elements. It is essential to ensure that there is a good connection between the surge protector and the pedestal, as well as between the surge protector and your power cord. A loose or dirty connection will cause resistance to build, creating high heat and possibly cause a fire. We recommend cleaning the prongs on the surge protector and your power cord with an electrical contact cleaner such as DeoxIT D5 (Check it out on Amazon). Cleaning the prongs every time you use the protector only takes a minute and can keep your family safe.
Surge protectors are designed to be used outdoors; however, we recommend taking precautions in the rain and the wind. We had an issue with our surge protector while camping in windy conditions. The wind caused the surge protector plug to loosen and began coming out of the pedestal. The loose connection caused high heat to build up, which resulted in our protector cord melting. Fortunately, we caught it, and our camper was not damaged. Use a bungee cord to keep your dangling surge protector from moving around in the wind. When it is raining, we cover our pedestal and the electrical connections with a large garbage bag to prevent them from getting wet.
Internal EMS Surge Protectors
EMS models can be purchased that are hardwired inside of your camper. A hardwired EMS system is convenient since it is already installed, and you do not have to attach the external model to the pedestal every time you set up your camper. Another advantage of the internal model is that it is more secure since it is installed inside the camper and less likely to be stolen. A disadvantage of the internal model is that it will probably require professional installation.
All three companies that we prefer also offer internal models. Be sure to choose either the 30 or 50 amp model, depending upon whether you have a 30 or 50 amp camper.
The Surge Guard 35530 Hardwire and 35550 50 Amp Hardwire, as well as the Progressive Industries EMSLCHW30 and EMSHW50C models, are suitable for internal installation. However, we like the Hughes PWD30-EPO-H and PWD50-EPO-H models because, like Hughes’ other protectors, they connect to your phone via Bluetooth. The Hughes models let you monitor the unit no matter where you have it installed inside your camper.
RVs are a significant investment and require taking precautions to ensure that they are safe and remain in good working order. No matter which surge protector you choose, it is critical that you have something in place to protect your camper, and more importantly, to protect you and your family.
Do you use a surge protector? Has one saved you significant damage to your camper? We would love to hear from you. Please drop us a line in the comment section below.