Avoiding Dangerous Campground Electrical Problems

Much of the information on this site is only my opinion. Use it at your own risk. -Denny
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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 campsite
We'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!

Power Surges

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

Minimizing the risk with campground electrical problems

To avoid the problems that can arise from a wiring problem at the campsite, you need a device that will test for the various problems. In addition, to prevent power surges from damaging or destroying your RV's electrical circuits or any of your electrical components, 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 the device.
Surge Guard diagrams

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.

- Denny

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.

Denny Johnson

Denny Johnson

Denny loves traveling with his wife Fay in their Small Travel Trailer. In addition to all his blog articles, he's developed an entire website about Small Travel Trailers, including a free Beginner's Guide to help those just getting started. Please Subscribe to my Emails so you don't miss any future articles.

30 Amp Model
50 Amp Model

6 thoughts on “Avoiding Dangerous Campground Electrical Problems

  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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