Dangerous Electrical Problems when Camping

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Dangerous electrical problems are way too common!

Believe it or not, the photo at the top of the page was our actual "power pole" when camping 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 actually had worse problems.

There are two main electrical problems to be aware of when camping. Both of which can be dangerous:
  • Bad wiring of the power pole at the campsite
  • Power surges that occur during a nearby lightning strike
Bad wiring at the campsite
We're all in a hurry to get things set up when we pull into a new spot while camping. While it's tempting to just plug in your RV, you can easily destroy electrical components if the power source has problems. 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)

If these items sound too technical, just know that they are all dangerous electrical problems. Any of these issues can cause damage to your RV's electrical system or the electronic devices you may use. Some of the problems could present a shock hazard. In all cases, it's best to test the power and find out if you have a problem before you connect your electrical plug.

Power Surges

The other one of the dangerous electrical problem when camping is a power surge. We spent over 30 years living in the Orlando area. Central Florida just happens to be the lightning capital of the world. We certainly understand the danger of lightning.

Two things that come along with lighting are power failures and surges. A surge is when the power voltage spikes. It happens frequently when there are lighting strikes in the area. But it can also be caused by other things, such as large electrical equipment nearby.

PLEASE NOTE: Nothing will protect you from a direct lightning hit

Minimizing the risk of dangerous electrical problems when camping

To avoid the problems that can arise from a wiring problem at the campsite, you need a device that will test the source. In addition, to prevent power surges from damaging or destroying your RV's electrical circuits or any of your electrical devices, you also need a good surge suppressor. While there are many options available, the easiest and most affordable solution is to get an inline surge suppressor with a built-in circuit analyzer. This device plugs into the campground's power pole, and then your RV's power cord plugs into this device.
Surge Guard diagrams

Surge Guard diagrams

PLEASE NOTE

We had a Surge Guard 30 Amp Portable Surge Suppressor (shown on the left above) for many years. A few years ago our trailer got hit with a bad surge. The surge suppressor took the hit and had to be replaced, but the trailer and electronic devices were well protected and unharmed. In other words, it did what it was supposed to!

When updating this article, I found that they now had a newer model. Unfortunately, there are a lot of complaints about it on Amazon. I did some research and came up with a device that operates and looks almost identical to our original one. It's called a POWSAF RV Power Defender and it has a lot of good reviews.

It's really easy to use

You can easily 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. However, if any of them are red, it indicates something is wrong with the wiring.

To use the device, you first plug it into the campsite power source, turn on the breaker, then check the indicator lights.  If they are all green, proceed with plugging in the power cord to your RV.  But if any of the lights are red, you should report the problem to the campground management.  They may have someone come and check it, or else they will generally move you to another campsite.

More expensive units

These are mid-range units. There are more expensive ones that have additional features. In particular, they have more diagnostics. Some of the devices can even correct minor problems. But we're on a budget, and a unit like one of these addresses my big concern. That is, protect the trailer and electronic devices if there is a problem.

There are also some upper end products that mount permanently insider your trailer. They are significantly more expensive and I have no experience with them. I'm sure they are good and very convenient. However, if one were to take an electrical hit and die like ours did, you'll have no electricity in your trailer until it's replaced.

Please don't take a chance with this

Protecting yourself against dangerous electrical problems when camping should be a top priority. Don't put off spending the money now and end up spending a lot more later. Be sure to send me a note if you have any questions.

- Denny

P.S. If you are on a tight budget, at least check out my other article: Low-Cost Way to Test for Campground Wiring Problems. It won't protect you against a surge, but it's an affordable way to test for the #1 electrical problem at campgrounds.

For more information or to purchase the product mentioned in this article, click the image below to access the related product page on Amazon. Thank you for supporting our sponsors and advertisers.
Travel Trailer Surge Suppressor
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Denny Johnson

Denny Johnson

My wife Fay and I live in Knoxville, TN, and we love traveling with our Casita. I created tinyTowable.com to share things we've learned along the way and hopefully help others. Be sure to check out all the information, the campground reviews, and especially the free Small Travel Trailers Beginner's Guide . If you like what you find, please subscribe to my Emails so you don't miss any future articles.
 
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This article has been revamped and updated since it was originally posted.
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6 thoughts on “Dangerous Electrical Problems when Camping

  1. Thanks for posting. After two years of use our monitor/surge protector warned us about an “open ground” and would not run power to our camper. The campground manager can to check it. Seems they had recent hurricane damage, replaced some posts and it was miss wired. Worth the money!

    1. For us too, it’s just like any other insurance. You hope you never need it, but if you do, you’re glad you have it!

    1. The one we have does not Jeff. There are more expensive ones that do. It all depends upon how much you are willing to spend. You’ll never protect against everything (like direct lighting hits), but I feel like what we use covers the most common issues.

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