Do You Need a Surge Protector for Your RV?


RVs often have complex electrical systems including multiple batteries, generators, inverters, and converters. Surge protectors can protect all that from damage from a defective pedestal at a campground. But really, do you need a surge protector for your RV?

Here’s what I learned from using my RV:

A surge protector is a worthwhile investment for RV owners. While major electrical problems at campgrounds are rare, minor issues are common. A surge protector can test for common problems and protect your RV from getting damaged and would pay for itself in just 1 night connected to a defective pedestal.

But that’s not all there is to know about surge protectors!

So in this article, we get into some stats about how often campgrounds actually have defective electricity hookups. But we’ll also explain the difference between a regular surge protector and the much fancier EMS (energy management system). They look similar, but do a few more things and cost a lot more $$.

Just keep reading to learn more.

How often do RV campgrounds have bad wiring?

Minor electrical problems at campgrounds are common such as a faulty ground wire. Major electrical issues such as shorts, open neutral, or large power surges tend to happen to frequent campers about once every 2 years.

So it’s not crazy frequently. But just 1 major incident could cost you way more than a surge protector.

While it’s tempting to just plug into the campground power, it’s important to make sure there aren’t any problems before you plug into your hookup. Plugging into a bad hookup can damage your electrical system or electrical components and appliances. Some issues can present a shock hazard.

Problems that can arise at the electrical source are: no power, not being properly grounded, an open neutral line, or reversed polarity.

So that’s why I own, use, and recommend a surge protector.

The easiest and most affordable solution is a portable surge protector with a built-in circuit analyzer. This will plug into the campground’s power pole, and then your RV’s power cord plugs into the device.

This one from Amazon analyzes the circuit to identify any problems.

It checks for open ground, open neutral, correct polarity, and reversed lines/ground. This makes it super easy to determine if there are any electrical issues that could damage your RV before the damage is done.

This is the same one I own, and it has hundreds of great reviews and almost 5-stars total. And it’s just a little over $100 bucks, so it won’t break the bank.

CLICK HERE to see the current price on Amazon.

If you are new to the RV world, you’ve likely heard the terms RV and motorhome. You’ve probably also wondered what the difference is between the two terms.

Simply put, an RV is any type of recreational vehicle, including both motorized and non-motorized vehicles. But there’s a big difference between trailers, motorhomes, and 5th wheels. Luckily, I cover it all in this recent article.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

What kind of surge protector do I need for an RV?

RV owners should get a basic surge protector for smaller, less complicated RVs, and consider using an EMS protector for larger or more complicated RVs.

A basic surge protector protects your RV from an electrical surge that can be sent through the power pedestal, usually in the form of a lightning strike.

Energy management systems (EMS) are a bit more sophisticated. A surge protector of any kind provides valuable insurance against making repairs or replacements due to electrical issues.

Choosing the right RV surge protector or EMS product is pretty easy. Costs vary but start at about $100 and go up from there depending on the level of protection.

You can get a 50-amp or 30-amp. But it’s easy to get adapters to go from 50-amp down to 30-amp, or even 110-v if the shore power doesn’t match yours.

The converter, microwave, refrigerator, and water heater all have circuit boards that can be damaged in a power surge if the voltage isn’t right or if the polarity is reversed.

Surge protectors will block surges of electricity from ever reaching the RV.

But they will also show you (but not necessarily protect you) from faulty wiring such as open neutrals, reverse polarity, etc.

EMS safeguard against voltage that is too high or low. It also protects against open neutrals, and reverse polarity. So they are similar but an EMS just takes it a step farther.

What’s the difference between an RV surge protector and an EMS?

Basic RV surge protectors protect your RV from power surges and show you faulty wiring such as open neutrals or reversed polarity. An energy management system (EMS) takes hat further by protecting the RV from low or high voltage, and open neutrals.

So, there are two types of surge protectors:

  • RV surge protectors
  • RV energy management systems (EMS)

The cost difference is not insignificant though.

While a standard surge protector is usually around $100 bucks, an EMS can often be $300 or above. Personally, I bought a standard surge protector.

But if you own a luxury RV or one with a complicated electrical system, or if money is no object, considering getting this EMS on Amazon.

It’s got over $8,000 reviews, almost 5-stars, and is an Amazon’s Choice product!

As an RV owner, you know that most RVs have a battery for the motor, just like a car battery. But they also have a battery, or even multiple batteries, to power the inside of the RV, too.

So what’s the difference between these batteries? Does one set charge the other? Can I jump the engine from the house batteries?

Just read this recent article to learn about the differences between the coach battery and the chassis battery.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

How do I secure my RV surge protector?

Most RV surge protectors and EMS protectors have a security locking bracket attached which is large enough for a small chain and padlock chained to the pedestal at the campground.

But the best way to secure your surge protector, if you are staying long-term, or using one at home, is to invest in a hard-wired model.

The hardwired model is more expensive, and you may have to hire a professional to install it. But it is a “one and done” kind of thing.

Meaning, once it’s installed, you won’t have to worry about it again.

If you aren’t interested in hard-wiring your surge protector, there are other ways you can keep it secure. One of the cheapest ways to secure your surge protector is a simple chain and padlock.

You can use a bicycle chain or purchase a chain from your local hardware store. You can also use a locking cable. Simply wrap the chain or cable around the surge protector and the power post and lock accordingly.

You can also purchase a lockbox specially designed to keep your surge protector safe. Look for a model that is heavy-duty, easy to install, and large enough to accommodate various sizes of power cords and plugs.

What is the best RV surge, protector?

The SURGE GUARD 44290 Surge Protector is the best basic surge protector. It is well-rated, inexpensive, and offers surge protection, a heat sensor for overheating plugs, as well as quickly displaying issues such as open ground/neutral, and reversed polarity.

CLICK HERE to see it on Amazon.

This one is a 120/240 volt 50 amp surge protector. It analyzes circuits to identify power supply status. It checks for open ground, open neutral, correct polarity, and reversed lines/ground.

Within a few seconds of plugging it in, three LEDs give you the current state of the power supply. If you get three green lights, you’re safe to plug in your RV.

It is weather resistant with a rainproof cover. It also has a surge protection indicator and thermal sensor to indicate overheating at the power pole.

It’s super easy to use – just plug it in, look for the three green lights, and plug in your RV. It’s at an excellent price point, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your RV is protected.

If you have a 30 amp service and want this surge protector, you’ll need to get a 30 amp adapter such as this one on Amazon that I use when I find myself at a campground that only offers 30-amp service.

Did I answer everything you want to know about whether you need a surge protector for your RV?

Every RVer should have some sort of voltage protection.

Just one voltage surge to an unprotected RV can cause thousands of dollars of damage to the RV’s electrical systems and appliances.

Every time you plug into a power pole, you are taking a risk.

There is protection available for every budget and every RV. Don’t take the risk of damaging all of your electrical components. Don’t forget to purchase a lock for your surge protector! Investing in voltage protection just makes financial sense.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell travels on and off with his 3 daughters in a Newmar Baystar Class A Motorhome. He writes extensively on both RVs, campgrounds, parenting on the road tips, remote learning & schooling, and much more!

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