When you buy an RV, the dealer most likely tried selling you the extended warranty package, amiright? A great way to get the electrical protection you need for all your expensive electronic equipment in the RV is to get an RV surge protector.
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What is an RV Surge Protector
There are really 2 versions of surge protection. First, there is the basic surge protector which protects against electrical surges from a power source. There is also the more advanced option called an electrical management system, which I prefer. This kind protects against quite a few more electricity issues.
Both models are available as portable units as well as hard wired.
The portability surge protectors plug into the power pedestal at RV parks, then you plug your RV electrical cord into it to connect your RV. Unlike portable units, you permanently mount the hard wired units in your RV. When you get to your RV spot, you simply plug your shore cord into the power supply as normal.
The surge protector protects your RV from an electrical surge that can be sent through the power pedestal. This can be from a lightning strike or a malfunction with the power pedestal or even the electrical lines sending in a surge of electricity. Rather than frying your RV, the surge protector blocks that from ever coming into your RV.
Electrical Management System
Even better are the power protection models that are out there. These are surge protectors with a bit more sophisticated technology to protect against much more than just electrical surges.
The EMS models safeguard against things like low and high voltage. Normal A/C voltage is 120, so if the electricity you are plugged into gets below 104 volts or above 132 volts, power will be cut from your RV to protect appliances and electronics that could be damaged.
Other things the full protection models protect against are mis-wirings at the power pedestal. The EMS can tell if the the pedestal is wired backwards or there is no ground. It will then cut power and not allow this potentially dangerous situation to enter your RV. It’s a very affordable insurance policy to own.
EMS’ are usually more expensive than surge protectors just because they offer so much more protection. I feel going the EMS route is definitely worth it because we’ve seen so many power issues during our time on the road.
Portable units are nice because they easily plug into the power pedestal and your RV. You don’t have to do anything special to make these work, just plug and play. They are weather resistant so sitting outside is not an issue.
They offer the same protection as hard wired units, so no difference there.
Many portable units come with a metal ring around the cord part of the unit so you can use a chain or bike lock to secure it when you leave your campsite.
Hard Wired Units
Hard wired units require a bit more effort up front to get them working, but also have some advantages over the portable units.
You will mount the hard wired unit somewhere near your shore cord. This can be in a bay where your cord comes into the RV or it can be closer to your breaker panel. These units are typically not weather resistant, so they need to be out of the elements.
After finding the right spot for the install, you cut the shore cord and wire it into the EMS shore power input terminals, making sure that is the end coming from the power pedestal. Wire the other end (which goes to the breaker panel) to the coach load output terminals inside the EMS unit.
After the unit is wired properly and mounted securely, it is ready to operate. It’s a set and forget kind of install.
Even though installation is a bit trickier, after it is installed you don’t have to worry about theft, forgetting to plug it in at a campsite or accidentally leaving it at a campsite either.
Most hard wired units come with a remote digital display since typically you won’t see the unit very easily. The remote display will show any error codes as well as how the unit is operating for your information.
Hard Wired Unit Note
One thing to keep in mind with the hard wired units is that if there is an on-going power issue at your campsite, but you are willing to live with the risk of going unprotected, you can’t easily unplug or side step the hard wired units.
Progressive Industries does offer models that have a bypass switch integrated into it. This switch will disable all features of the EMS system except the surge protector. This is a great feature if you are ok with running your RV on 103 volts, but still want surge protection.
Why You Need A Surge Protector
You need a surge protector to block any power surges that may get sent to your RV. This may be from a lightning storm or a malfunction with the power grid. That surge of electricity will do a lot of damage to any appliance or electronic equipment that is plugged in.
The circuitry in your air conditioner or your RV fridge is rather delicate and a surge will definitely fry the circuit boards. There’s really no way of telling when this will happen, so the only real preparation you can do is to have a surge protector that is always monitoring for that sort of thing.
Since the EMS’s also filter out any “bad power”, you reduce your risk of damaging electronics that are sensitive to that. You’ve heard the term “brown out” which is when voltage drops either intentionally or unintentionally by the power source.
This happens quite frequently in areas prone to wildfire risks in the summer or places that see unexpected high demand for electricity. The power companies will drop voltage to lessen the strain on the system which can cause a lot of damage to sensitive electronics in your rig.
Buying an EMS may cost a few hundred dollars, but when you compare that to the cost of a rooftop air conditioner or a new fridge, it’s a relatively small investment.
There 2 brands that I recommend using when looking at RV surge protectors and electrical management systems.
Progressive Industries is a major player in the RV surge protector market. They offer many different models depending on your particular RV and your preferences.
They have both surge protector and EMS models as well as portable and hard wired units that come in both 30 and 50 amp.
We currently are using their EMS-PT50X model. This model is a portable unit that works with our 50 amp RV. I love it because it is easy to plug in and use as well as offers all the protection I need for my 5th wheel.
Upon plugging in, the unit will take 128 seconds to detect any electrical issues before allowing power to pass through to the RV.
On the portable units, there is a rolling display of the current electrical status. Since we have a 50 amp model, it will show information on both legs of electricity.
First will be Line 1, showing the voltage and amp usage. Next will be Line 2, also showing voltage and amp usage. Next, the display will show the frequency of the electrical signal. Finally, if there are any errors or any previous errors.
Progressive Industries EMS Specs
Some of the protections the Progressive Industries EMS units offers are the following:
- 3580 joule rating surge protection
- Less than 1 nanosecond response time
- Over (>132v)/under (<104v) voltage protection
- Open ground, open neutral, reverse polarity detection
- Accidental 240v protection
- A/C frequency protection
We’ve had this unit for several years and it has worked great, cutting power to the RV when there is an issue and keeping our appliances and electronics safe.
Progressive Industries customer support is amazing as well. They offer phone support to troubleshoot issues as well as replacement when a unit is defective.
They offer a lifetime warranty on their products which is a great feeling since they are a bit of an investment.
The portable units come with a metal ring on it that is used to secure the unit to the power pedestal with a chain or bike lock. You should lock it up to reduce the chance of it getting stolen.
I previously reviewed a Southwire Surge Guard Model 34931 when we were in our 30 amp travel trailer. We previously had the 34830 model and Southwire has made some very nice improvements in the 34931.
This particular model protects against:
- Power surges
- Low (<102v) and high (>136v) voltage
- Open ground, open neutral, reverse polarity
- Overheating plug or receptacle
- Miswired pedestal
- High neutral
It’s a great feeling knowing I’m protected from all of these potential issues. Living in several campgrounds over the past few years, we have seen many potential problems related to electricity.
One campground would continuously drop under 100 volts in the early evening during the summer. This was because most people had their air conditioners going and were either running their microwave and some sort of electrical heating device to cook food.
This really could have damaged my refrigerator because RV fridges are sensitive to improper voltages.
I have also seen power pedestals that have had open grounds. The surge guard will not allow power through to your RV and will display the error message on the LCD display.
Southwire Surge Guard Set Up
Using Southwire’s Surge Guard was extremely easy. All I had to do was plug it into the power pedestal, then plug my RV cord into it and after a short delay, the surge protector kicked on and was protecting my RV. It continuously displays the voltage that is coming into the RV as well as the amount of amps I’m currently using.
Another great thing about this surge protector is that you can use it when converting down in power. We are able to park in a family member’s driveway and use a dog bone to step down from our 30 amp RV connection and plug into their 20 amp household receptacle.
I plugged the surge protector into a dog bone adapter and still works great. Also, staying under the 15 amps the receptacle is rated for is easy since I can see how many amps I’m using.
This model has LED lights on it that indicate when there is an issue, such as a surge or if the RV is on. Simply check the lights to see if you are protected.
Some of the improvements they have made in this model first off is the physical shape of it. It’s quite a bit smaller than the previous boxy-shaped model. I really appreciate this as storage space in my RV is at a premium, so the smaller the better.
They also cut down the delay from 128 seconds to about 4 seconds after you plug the unit in. This is a small thing, but I really like the fact that I don’t have to stand there for 2+ minutes watching it count down before I know the power is good and the RV is on.
They’ve also added a plastic ring around the top wire portion of the unit. This is a security ring so you can lock the Surge Guard to the power pedestal using a chain or a bike lock. This is a great addition because these units aren’t cheap and it’s nice knowing you can secure it using a lock when you leave your campsite.
Wireless LED Display
Another very cool feature of this Surge Guard is that it is compatible with a wireless LCD display. You easily mount the display somewhere in your RV so you can monitor the electricity without having to go out to check the surge protector.
Setting the display up is a breeze as you just put in some batteries and turn it on. It will find your Surge Guard (you can verify this by matching the numbers on the unit with the ones that show on the display). You then simply turn off power to the Surge Guard and turn it back on to complete the pairing.
Now you can monitor your power status without having to leave your rig!
This model is available in both 50 and 30 amps.
Surge Protectors In Action
So what happens when your surge protector is tripped or you hit a time of low voltage and the EMS system cuts power to your rig?
In either case, your rig will be protected and the bad power will be stopped before it enters your rig. An error code will show on the display depending on what caused the problem. Here are the error codes for each brand.
Progressive Industries Error Codes
- E0 – Normal Operating Condition
- E1 – Reverse Polarity (hot and neutral wires reversed)
- E2 – Open Ground (no ground wire connection)
- E3 – Line 1 High Voltage (line voltage above 132V)
- E4 – Line 1 Low Voltage (line voltage below 104V)
- E5* – Line 2 Voltage High (Line voltage above 132V)
- E6- Line 2 Voltage Low (Line voltage below 104V)
- E7 – Line Frequency High (line frequency above 69Hz)
- E8 – Line Frequency Low (line frequency below 51Hz)
- E9 – Data Link Down (call technical support)
- E10 – Replace Surge Protector Module (call Progressive Industries Tech Support)
*Code only apply to 50 amp models
Southwire Surge Guard Error Codes
- REPLACE SURGE – Surge expended
- OPEN GROUND – Open ground
- REVERSE POLARITY – L1 or L2 wired to neutral or ground
- L1 HIGH WAS 137V L2 HIGH WAS 137V – Voltage > 136
- L1 LOW WAS 99V L2 LOW WAS 99V – Voltage < 102
- NEUTRIP WAS 65A – Current > 130%
- L1 AMPS WAS 56A – Current > 110%
- RECEPT OVERHEAT – Overheating plug/receptacle
- GND HIGH WAS 35V – Abnormal voltage on ground
- OPEN NEUTRAL – Open neutral on coach side
- FREQ HI DETECTED – Frequency > 70
- FREQ LO DETECTED – Frequency < 54
Then after the conditions stabilize and the cause of the issue goes away, the EMS system will run through its 128 or 136 second reset delay and if all things are good, power will be restored to your rig.
On the Progressive Units, it will show the previous error code so you know there was previously a problem that is now resolved.
Progressive Industries VS Southwire Surge Guard
With these 2 brands, which one would I recommend? That’s a good question. They both provide very similar protections for each product line. The surge protectors are very similar, so are the EMS units.
The quality of build is very similar as well. Both are very well made and both offer excellent all-weather protection. They both have rings that allow you to lock them up for security reasons and they both have a rolling screen with electricity info on it.
The Southwire Surge Guard does offer a few nice touches that Progressive does not offer on the portable units. One is the bluetooth display that can be mounted inside. I do like the fact that I can monitor the electricity from inside my rig without having to go outside to check it.
This is especially useful when we’re on a 30 amp connection and I am using several large appliances. Say the air conditioner, electric water heater and the microwave. I can see the amount of amps we’re using and if we get close to 30, I can power things down so we don’t trip the breaker.
Another nice touch is that it takes only 4 seconds to come online. It’s not a huge deal, but not waiting over 2 minutes is nice.
Those are nice touches, but I like that Progressive offers a tighter range for the low/high voltage protection, I feel safer that our sensitive electronic equipment won’t get damaged.
We’ve had friends at the same RV park, one using a portable Progressive EMS unit and one using a Southwire surge guard. The Progressive unit kept cutting power because of low voltage as it should where the Southwire unit just died. It may have been a defective unit, but it was a good comparison for me.
Progressive Industries does offer an all weather cover for the RV plug in to the unit. This is nice because it will protect the connection from the elements or even sand or dirt blowing around that can work its way into a loose connection.
I’ve also had a unit replaced by Progressive that was very easy. They asked a few questions on what was going on, I tried a few troubleshooting things and after that they authorized a warranty replacement and sent me a new unit. They provided shipping for me to send back the defective one.
I never had to deal with Southwire’s return policy, but looking on their website, it looks like they have a very similar warranty for their products.
Which Should You Buy
First determine if your RV is 30 or 50 amp.
Next, think about the other potential risks that can cause damage to your RV from electrical problems. The basic surge protectors do a great job of protecting from surges, but in reality there is much more to worry about than a surge.
I recommend going the EMS route since we’ve seen many more low voltage and pedestal miswirings that we have actual surges. Many campgrounds are a bit outdated and usually the electrical system is the first to show its age. Being protected against this is invaluable.
After you decide if you want just surge protection or a full power protection, then decide if you want to take the time to hard wire the unit in your rig. I’ve always gone the portable route, which has served me well, but I do get concerned about having our unit stolen.
If I ever have to get a new one, I would buy a hard wired unit so it would be permanently mounted and I wouldn’t have to deal with the portable unit each time we move to a new campsite.
Pick A Brand
After deciding which type of surge protector you want, then just decide on the brand. I don’t think you can go wrong with either Progressive or Southwire. The features, protections and even price are all very similar so both are a great choice.
I’ve been happy with both and wouldn’t have a problem buying either brand in the future if I need a new unit.
If you own an RV, owning an RV surge protector is a must. It’s a small investment that protects all of your expensive appliances and electronics in the RV. You can’t go wrong with Progressive Industries or Southwire Surge Guards as they are both great products!
A surge protector is a must for any RVer along with these other RV Must Haves!
Where To Buy
Order yours today by clicking the Amazon links below.
*Disclosure: Southwire provided an RV surge protector to review for this post. All opinions expressed are my own.
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