While it may not seem like the most obvious accessory, an RV surge protector is an essential piece of equipment for your rig. These devices, while sometimes on the expensive side, can really pay off if there’s an electrical or voltage issue at the campground.
How to Use an RV Surge Protector
Before diving into what a surge protector is, let’s go over some basics. Your RV has a thick power cable that connects to either the 30-amp or 50-amp shore power connection at the campground. If you want to power anything other than your 12V lights, like your microwave, TV, or electric refrigerator, then shore power is a must for most RVers.
But, how do you know the power you are about to plug into is safe and won’t cause damage to your RV’s internal appliances and electronics? This is where a surge protector can give peace of mind when connecting to a power source.
There are two main types of surge protectors: portable protectors and permanent in-line protectors. Both are relatively easy to use and set up. The portable surge protector plugs into the pedestal or main power source, and you simply plug the electrical cord from your RV into the surge protector.
A more permanent solution is an in-line surge protector that always works when connected to shore power. It’s permanently connected to your shoreline and mounts inside the RV. There’s never a need to store it and no chance of it being lost or stolen. This allows you to plug your RV electrical cord directly into the pedestal or main power source.
Before plugging in your RV to a pedestal, flip the breaker off, plug in your RV, and then turn the breaker on. This ensures a good, clean power-up and eliminates the risk of shock or blowing a fuse. If you have a surge protector, turn the breaker on to verify proper power to the surge protector (some surge protectors have verification lights, some don’t). Once proper power and polarity is verified, turn the breaker off and plug your RV into the surge protector, then turn the breaker back on.
A surge protector works to protect against any voltage spikes from the source of shore power that may be harmful or damaging to the internal electronics of your RV. This is very similar to using a surge protector inside your home—however, the amount of power comes through either a 30-amp or 50-amp device designed to capture the surge of power before it reaches your RV.
Surge protectors are more multifunctional for RVers because they also help confirm that the wiring at an RV park is correct, meaning that the power is safe and won’t cause any issues to your RV when it’s plugged in. It’s not uncommon to find RV parks with weak power sources. Common causes are aged pedestals or poor maintenance. Bad power sources can create grounding issues, which can cause instant damage to appliances or devices plugged into your RV. Having a surge protector as your first line of (electrical) defense is important.
After spending money on your RV, appliances, and other electronics, it’s worth protecting them with a $50 to $150 investment. Most surge protectors also confirm correct wiring at the pedestal so you get immediate confirmation that the electrical source is safe to use before plugging in your rig.
Even with best-case scenarios and a good power source, the electric grid can be at risk. There could be brownouts, lightning from a storm, or a transformer issue that can cause problems to your internal devices. An RV surge protector is designed to shut off in situations where there is “dirty power,” insufficient volts, or surges of power. Surge protectors provide peace of mind and help safeguard your RV in the event of an electrical mishap.
If you decide to use a portable surge protector—which is the most common type—you can use a lock to prevent theft. However, surge protectors can be hard to secure based on the configuration of the pedestal, so it’s not a guaranteed solution. If security is a concern, the best option is to go with a non-portable, in-line surge protector that’s installed directly in your RV.
As previously mentioned, the term “surge protector” is not 100 percent accurate. This term describes devices that protect against high electrical surges. While this is important, most RV surge protectors also have a built-in Electrical Management System, or EMS. An EMS detects wire and voltage issues that can lead to other significant problems. Both of these functionalities are important for your RV. Since RVs get their power from multiple sources, there is a high chance of error, and having a layer of protection is strongly recommended.
How many joules you need depends on your RV, how much protection you want, and what you’re comfortable with. Joules are a unit of measure for how much energy is present, so the higher the number of joules, the higher the energy that unit can absorb. Most surge protectors have protection ranging from 825 to 3,580 joules.
Bottom line, it’s recommended to use a surge protector with the same amperage as your RV. It’s not advised to “mix and match” amps. If your RV has a 30-amp system, it’s best to use a 30-amp surge protector. The 30-amp surge protector runs on a single-leg, while a 50-amp surge protector has a two-leg system.
Popular RV Surge Protector Options
This unit is hardwired into the RV directly, so there’s no unit on the pedestal. Every time you plug your RV into power, it’s protected through this unit. It has a built-in display and 3,580 joules of protection.
This device is a good starter option as it has surge protection up to 1,050 joules and a basic EMS built in so you can confirm wiring is correct before plugging into the pedestal. The biggest drawback is that it’s designed for single-phase electrical systems, so there’s not a 50-amp option.
This unit has the highest joules protection, is hardwired into your RV, and has a remote screen to monitor the system. While expensive, there’s no chance of it getting stolen, and it’s in-line so you’ll never have to remember to use it.
This unit is a popular option among RVers. Although it isn’t equipped with low/high voltage shut off functionality, it provides wiring confirmation and surge protection up to 825 joules.
There’s no downside to using a surge protector, and the benefits can save your RV from blowing fuses, over-powering electronics, and even electrical fires in worst-case scenarios. These devices are essential for your RV and definitely something every RV owner should have on board when using shore power at the campground.
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