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Damaging campground electrical problems are way too common!
Believe it or not, the photo above was our actual "power pole" at a campground near West Yellowstone. It is certainly the most questionable power source we've ever run into at a campground. We have, however, found better-looking power poles that had problems.There are two main electrical problems to be aware of at campgrounds:
- Bad wiring of the power pole at the campsite
- Power surges that occur during a nearby lightning strike
Bad wiring at the campsiteWe're all in a hurry to get things set up when we pull into a new spot. While it's tempting to just plug in your electrical hookup when camping, you can easily destroy electrical components if the power source is bad. With a 30 amp circuit (what's common with most small travel trailers), the main problems that can exist with the electrical source are:
- No power
- Not properly grounded
- The neutral line is open
- The polarity is reversed
(In addition to these potential electrical problems, the 50 amp circuits used with larger trailers and RVs have the additional concern of no voltage on line 1 or line 2)
Any of these problems can cause damage to your RV's electrical system or electronic components you may use. Some of the problems could be dangerous and present a shock hazard. In all cases, it's best to test the power and find out if you have a problem before you plug in your electrical hookup!
Once you know everything is okay and you're connected, you also need to be prepared for electrical surges. We live in Central Florida which happens to be the lightning capital of the world. Two things that come along with lighting are power failures and surges. A surge is when the power voltage spikes. It happens frequently if there is a lighting hit nearby, but can also be caused by other things, such as large electrical equipment nearby.
PLEASE NOTE: Nothing will protect you from a direct lightning hit
Surge Guard diagrams
There are a lot of good products available at a wide range of prices. The product we use is the Surge Guard 30 Amp Portable Surge Suppressor (shown on the left above). It's a mid-range priced unit, that should cover the majority of the problems that can be prevented. We've been using one for several years and are very satisfied. It has great reviews on Amazon (you can read here).
It's very easy to tell if you have a wiring problem when using a product like this. The device has three indicator lights that show the status of the power source. If all the indicators are green, you are good to go. If any of them are red, it indicates something's wrong with the wiring. (Our trailer uses a 30 amp circuit, but there is also a 50 amp model available should you have a larger RV that requires a 50 amp power source, as shown on the right above).
To use the Surge Guard you should first plug it into the campsite power source, turn on the breaker and check the indicator lights. If they are all green, you can proceed with plugging in the power cord to your RV. If any of the lights are red, you should report the problem to the campground management. In our case, any time we've had a problem the campground has always been willing to move us to another campsite.
Protecting yourself against a bad electrical hookup when camping should be a top priority. Don't hesitate to spend the money now and end up spending a lot more later. Be sure to send me a note if you have any questions.
P.S. If you are on a tight budget, check out my other article: Low-Cost Way to Test for Campground Wiring Problems. It's an affordable way to test for the #1 electrical problem at campgrounds.