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An RV surge protector

The Dangers of RVing Without a Surge Protector

Published on February 9th, 2021
Updated on February 17th, 2024

New RVers often overlook the importance of RV surge protectors.

In fact, many RV owners don’t know they exist or why they would need one.

Surge protectors for recreational vehicles act as a buffer between the power coming in from a campsite pedestal or any shore power and your camper. The product safeguards your RV’s electrical system and appliances.

To help you understand more about this essential equipment that every RVer should own and use, stay right here.

Inside this guide to RV surge protectors, you’ll find:

  • What is an RV surge protector, and how does it work
  • What can happen to your camper without a surge protector
  • Different types of camper surge protectors
  • The best RV surge protectors

By the end, you’ll know all the facts about RV surge protectors and why they are worth the investment, so let’s begin!

RV Surge Protectors and How They Work

A campground power hookup

A surge protector for an RV is similar in concept to the ones you purchase for your home’s electronics.

The unit looks like a short extension cord with an RV plug on one end and an RV outlet on the other, with the boxy surge protector unit in the middle.

There are models that you hardwire into your RV electrical panel, which I’ll discuss in more detail below, but most RVers go with the portable unit.

The unit plugs into a 30-amp or 50-amp shore power outlet, and then you’ll plug your RV’s power cord into the protector.

You need to purchase a surge protector that matches the amperage of your camper. If your RV is 50-amp, you buy a 50-amp-rated surge protector.

You cannot use a 30-amp protector on a 50-amp RV, as the plug-ins will not match. You can use adapters to bring power to your RV, but you’ll only have 30 amps of power to work with inside your camper.

You can use a 50-amp surge protector on a 30-amp camper if you have the right RV electrical plug adapters.

For campers with a 20-amp or fewer rating, get a 30-amp surge protector with an adapter over buying a 15 or 20-amp surge protector. Going this route ensures maximum electrical protection and allows you to upgrade to a bigger camper without purchasing a new surge-protecting unit.

The surge protector will monitor the electrical flow going through the wiring and cut power to your camper when it detects a fault.

When it comes to RV specific surge protectors, they come with a wide range of features that might be confusing to those who don’t understand the differences.

Why Going Without an RV Surge Protector Is a Bad Idea

A connected RV hookup

Do you need a surge protector for your RV?

Yes, you need a surge protector to save your camper’s appliances, devices, and wiring from electrical overload.

Power surges can happen at any time your RV is running on shore power, but even more so when you’re plugging into campsite pedestals at RV parks and campgrounds.

The damage you can expect to happen to your RV without a quality surge protector includes:

  • Frying every appliance and device on outlets if lightning strikes
  • Fires from wiring melting during electrical overloads
  • Damage to sensitive electronics from polarity issues or low-voltage

May new RV owners are either unaware of the need for a surge protector or put off buying one due to the high price tag.

The real question should be why you would risk severe damage and costly repairs to your already expensive RV?

Think of buying a surge protector for your RV as the same as the insurance you purchase for your car or home. In relation to the cost of your camper, a few hundred dollars isn’t much to pay to offset colossal repair bills if your electrical system blows.

Most novice RVers don’t know that you’ll get more use from the other features a good surge protector provides, such as detecting bad wiring in your campsite power pedestal.

While electrical power surges are rare, it’s common for campground power hookups to be faulty.

The reason for consistent wiring issues at RV parks is that workampers generally repair power pedestals. Staff will swap out breakers, install new receptacles, and replace the wiring.

What’s wrong with this? The problem is that most workampers have no experience working with electricity, especially when dealing with 30-amp, 50-amp, and 240-volt wiring.

Rarely will a campground manager hire a professional electrician to fix power pedestals because they’re always looking for ways to cut corners and costs.

After stints as a workamper myself, I’ve seen the mess some staff have made when repairing power pedestals. That thought is always at the top of my mind when I plug in at a new camping destination, and it should be on yours, too!

RV Surge Protector Types

RV surge protector types

There are two RV surge protector types on the market.

The first type offers basic electrical surge protection that will shut off the power running to your RV if lightning strikes nearby, power poles fall, or transformers send out a burst of voltage.

The second type is an RV energy management system (EMS) that is sold as a surge protector but features extra alerts for:

  • Low voltage
  • Open neutral
  • Open ground
  • Reverse polarity
  • Overheating plug or receptacle

For RVers its important to purchase the RV EMS surge protector.

The extra cost is worth keeping your camper’s appliances and any devices you plug in safe from faulty wiring issues that can damage electronics, even if it doesn’t fry your entire electrical system.

When you have a comprehensive surge protector for your RV, you can use it to check your campsite’s power system before wasting time setting up camp, only to find afterward that the pedestal’s electricity is faulty.

Take the unit and open the cover on the power pedestal. Make sure the breaker for your amperage plug is off.

Plug your EMS surge protector into the correct outlet for your 30- or 50-amp camper and switch on the breaker.

Check the display on the front of the unit to ensure all the wiring is correct, which will show by lighting up with green lights or other methods set by the manufacturer.

If you see any indication of wiring faults, immediately head up to the RV park office to change campsites. If there are no other sites available, either insist on a refund and move on or wait for staff to fix the pedestal.

Verify with your surge protector that the fix is correct before ever plugging in your camper. RV parks will rarely cover damage you incur from their inadequate power systems, so don’t take risks.

As major electricity surges are relatively rare, it’s these other features that can save your RV from slow damage if you’re unaware wiring or voltage is bad because you don’t own a surge protector with EMS technology.

I will estimate that I encounter wiring problems at campgrounds around 15% of the time, which is often enough to feel my $350 RV surge protector was worth every cent.

The cost is certainly less than what it would be for me to replace my laptop if electrical issues arise.

RV Electricity Review of Surge Protector Types (Video)

Should You Buy a Hard-Wired or Plug-In RV Surge Protector?

Which style of surge protector you use for your RV is up to you.

A hardwire unit installs inside your camper and, therefore next to impossible to steal.

The downside is that you’ll need to pay an electrician to install it correctly, especially if your camper is under warranty. You’ll also need to pull out and connect your RV power cord to check for safe wiring at the campsite.

A plug-in surge protector is more affordable, and you can take it with you if you upgrade to a new camper with the same amp rating.

You can quickly check the power situation at any campsite without opening doors and dragging out the power cord. You can also check the power pedestals of fellow campers who don’t own a surge protector so they can plug in safely.

The downside is that these units are easy to steal unless you buy the locking accessory cable.

The choice comes down to what system works best for your needs. I find the portable plug-in unit convenient and straightforward to use.

What Is The Most Important Features of Any RV Surge Protector?

Three features are critical to look for when buying a surge protector for a camper.

The first important feature of an RV surge protector is the Joules rating. This rating is how much energy the device absorbs during a power surge and dissipates the heat without burning up.

The higher the Joules, the more protection your RV surge protector will provide. You should find this number on the packaging or the device.

The second crucial feature to investigate is the surge protector’s response time. Once the device senses a surge or fault, how long does it take for the unit to shut down?

Response time may be a bit harder to locate. Progressive Industries shows all of their surge protectors have a response time of under a nanosecond, which is impressive.

The third feature is weather protection. Portable RV surge protectors are out in the elements while you’re camping, and any water and moisture penetration can damage the unit.

Look for models with covers and tight-fitting plugs for the best results.

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TIP: Add an extra layer of weather protection by wrapping electrical tape over the gaps between the plugs and cords so water can’t seep in when camping in humid or rainy locations.

The Best Surge Protectors for Recreational Vehicles

Protect Your RV Electrical System (Video)

The two big names you’ll see over and over when shopping for RV surge protectors are Progressive Industries and Southwire (Technology Research). There are several smaller companies with units on the market as well that have quality products.

I’ve put down what I consider to be the best surge protector options in the hardwired, EMS, and basic models below to help you with your search.

Best Hardwired Electrical Management System (EMS)

Progressive Industries EMS-HW30C/50C

Progressive Industries Hardwired RV Surge Protector, 30 Amp EMS with Remote Display and Fault…
  • Maintain electronic safety – This 30 Amp RV Surge Protector by Progressive Industries is a real guard for your RV electronics. Its…
  • Prevents costly damage – With a 30A/120V/3,600W rating, EMS-HW30C can absorb surges of up to 1,790 joules. This surge protector…
  • Powerful fault detection – As a 30 amp surge protector for RV, EMS-HW30C can protect against over/under voltage, open…
  • For the outdoors – This heavy duty surge protector can withstand harsh conditions through its thermal protection feature. Its…
  • Proudly designed in the USA – Progressive Industries engineers and manufactures a wide range of high-quality electrical solutions…

Joules: 30A/1790 50A/3580

Protects against:

  • Power surges (multi-mode protection)
  • Low and high-voltage
  • Open neutral
  • Open ground
  • Reverse polarity
  • Accidental 240V detection
  • Frequency fluctuations
  • Surge failure indicator

This unit features a built-in and remote display for easy monitoring, along with adjustable time delay and previous error code readings. This model is thermally protected and comes in a compact shape easy to mount inside your RV>

TRC Surge Guard 35550 50-Amp Surge Protector

Surge Guard 35550 Hardwire Model – 50 Amp
  • Automatic reset on power restoration
  • Multi-mode surge suppression
  • 128 second reset delay protects A/C compressor
  • 3850 Joules of power surge protection
  • Easy installation

Joules: 3850

Protects against:

  • Power surges
  • Low and high-voltage
  • Open ground and open neutral
  • Reverse polarity
  • Miswired pedestal

This unit mounts in the bay of your RV, which protects it from the elements and theft. The reset-delay feature adds another layer of protection for your AC compressor during power spikes or other problems that could otherwise cause damage.

Best Portable Electrical Management System (EMS)

Real-World Example of Why Your RV Needs an EMS (Video)

Progressive Industries EMS-PT30X/50X

Progressive Industries EMS-PT30X RV Surge Protector W/Fault Detection — 30-50 Amp Electric...
10,191 Reviews
Progressive Industries EMS-PT30X RV Surge Protector W/Fault Detection — 30-50 Amp Electric…
  • ELECTRONIC SAFETY MAINTAINED: Ensure the safety of your Progressive Industries surge protector electronics with the 30 Amp RV…
  • COST-EFFECTIVE RV SURGE PROTECTOR: Rated at 30A/120V/3,600W, the EMS-PT30X can absorb surges up to 1,790 joules, safeguarding your…
  • ROBUST FAULT DETECTION DEVICE: Equipped with advanced fault detection capabilities, including over/under voltage, reverse…
  • DESIGNED FOR RV OUTDOOR SURGE PROTECTOR USE: Built to withstand the RV outdoor surge protector environments, this heavy-duty surge…
  • USA-ENGINEERED HIGH-QUALITY SURGE PROTECTOR: Manufactured by Progressive Industries in the USA, this surge protector W/ portable…

Joules: 30A/1790 50A/3580

Protects against:

  • 3- or 5-Mode Surge Protection 30A/50A
  • Over/Under voltage protection
  • Surge failure indicator
  • Open ground and open neutral
  • Reverse polarity
  • Current indication
  • Accidental 240V protection
  • A/C frequency protection

This unit features a weather-protection design, along with a locking tab, scrolling digital display, and plug-removal tab to reduce strain. The bonus of this unit is the additional protection for 240v appliances.

Southwire/Technology Research 30-A Surge Guard Model 34931

Technology Research Corp 34931 Surge Guard 30A Portable Wireless Surge Guard
  • Low and high frequency protection
  • Includes anti-theft lock ring on cord
  • Multi-mode surge suppression
  • Commercial-grade, brass receptacle
  • Automatic reset on power restoration

Joules: 2450

Protects against:

  • Power surges
  • Low and high-voltage
  • Overheating receptacle or plug
  • Open ground and open neutral
  • Reverse polarity
  • Elevated ground line current
  • Miswired pedestal
  • Low and high-frequency protection

The LCD display, continuous voltage and amp draw monitoring, automatic reset, 10-second start-up, and integrated locking loop increase ease of use. You can also connect the unit to the 40301 Bluetooth display so you can monitor your RV’s power from inside the rig.

Camco 50-Amp Power Defender CAM55313

Joules: 4200

Protects against:

  • Power surges
  • Low and high-voltage
  • Open neutral
  • Open ground
  • Reverse polarity

The unit is weather-resistant and features easy-pull tabs for removal from the socket, LED indicator lights, and a bright yellow color to easily spot even in the dark. This surge protector is big and heavy, but is super-reliable.

Best Basic RV Surge Protector

Progressive Industries SSP-30XL/50XL

Progressive Industries SSP-30X RV Surge Protector – 50 Amp to 30 Amp RV Adapter – Circuit…
  • Maintain electronic safety – This 30 Amp RV Surge Protector by Progressive Industries is a real guard for your RV electronics. Its…
  • Prevents costly damage – With a 30A/120V/3,600W rating, SSP-30XL can absorb surges of up to 825 joules. This surge protector…
  • Powerful fault detection – As a 30 amp surge protector for RV, SSP-30XL can warn you against dangerous connections, such as…
  • For the outdoors – This heavy duty surge protector can withstand harsh conditions through its All Weather Shield assembly, thermal…
  • Proudly designed in the USA – Progressive Industries engineers and manufactures a wide range of high-quality electrical solutions…

Joules: 30A/825 50A/1650

Protects against:

  • Power surges
  • Surge fault indication
  • Lost/Open neutral
  • Open ground
  • Reverse polarity

For a basic unit, this surge protector offers good coverage for many common RV electric issues. The locking tab and weather-resistant design are great features users appreciate.

Hughes Autoformer PWD30 Surge Protector

Power Watchdog PWD30EPO, Bluetooth Surge Protector with Auto Shutoff, 30 Amp, Portable
  • Replaceable Surge / Spike Module: Should a large spike happen, surge module is completely replacable instead of replacing the…
  • Wirelessly Monitor voltage, amperage, and wattage on your smartphone in real time using our free mobile app! Oldest and most…
  • Protect your applicances with a buil-in 90-second power-on delay after a fault is detected and resolved.
  • Complete LED Park Power Diagnostics with wireless fault alerts ensure you are aware of any hazardous park power conditions.
  • Customizable Alert Thresholds to warn you when conditions fall outside a specified range.

Joules: 2400

Protects against:

  • Power surges
  • Low and high-voltage
  • Open neutral
  • Open ground
  • Reverse polarity

This surge protector offers a very high joules rating for a 30A unit and can also connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth Power WatchDog mobile app. Being able to get alerts and monitor voltage and power draw when you’re away from the RV provides peace of mind.

The downside of this unit is it doesn’t protect and shut down power against low voltage situations.

RV Surge Protectors – Worth the Cash? (Video)

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