Do I Need a Surge Protector for My RV?

Many RVers consider surge protectors an essential RV accessory, while others go lifetimes without ever using one. Although the internet makes it easy to research nearly anything we need to know about RVing, people are still asking – “do I need a surge protector for my RV?”.

Surge protectors aren’t necessary for RVs to function properly, and they can come with a hefty price tag. At the same time, the protection they offer your RV can save you the money and stress of having to deal with an electrical problem while traveling.

Surge protectors guard the electrical appliances in RVs from damage that can occur due to power surges, low voltage, and other electrical issues. While some surge protectors only guard against spikes in the electrical current, others will protect against the breadth of electrical issues you may experience when camping.

This article will explain what surge protectors do and why you may need one for your RV.

What is a Surge Protector?

Surge protectors serve as buffers between an electrical post and the electrical equipment on your RV and monitor the electrical current in the alternating current (AC) circuit. In the event of a voltage spike, the surge protector cuts off the current before it can reach the RV and damage any appliances or electrical equipment.

Many established campgrounds have electrical hookups for campers to connect to. The problem with connecting an RV to a public power post is that you won’t always know the conditions of the hook-up that you’re plugging into.

Old or unmaintained posts may have faulty wiring, or there may be an excessively high draw of electricity across a busy campground. Although a faulty electrical connection could cause serious damage to your RV, a surge protector can prevent it.  

Surge Protectors vs EMS

Surge protectors come in many varieties. They vary in the degree of protection they offer as well as in their cost. EMS is a specific line of surge protectors, though the name is commonly misunderstood as a broader category of devices.

A surge protector is a blanket term for all devices that protect against power spikes and other electrical issues. Surge protectors that only offer protection from power spikes can be purchased new for less $100, while more expensive models may protect against the full range of possible electrical issues that an RV could encounter.  

An EMS, short for Electrical Management System, is a specific product line created by Progressive Industries. Just as “Kleenex” has become synonymous with resealable plastic bags and “Post Its” is synonymous with sticky notes, “EMS” is commonly used to refer to a type of surge protector that offers full protection for your RV. However, it is technically the name of a product line, and the misuse of the term can be confusing.

How Do Surge Protectors Work?

A surge protector works as a buffer between the power pedestal and your RV. It plugs into the outlet on one end and into the RV on the other, allowing it to read the current before it reaches your vehicle. If the surge protects detects a problem, it will either alert you or cut off the current before it can cause damage.

Possible electrical issues that can occur while plugged into a faulty power pedestal and cause damage to your RV to include:

  • Power surges
  • Low voltage
  • Open ground
  • Open neutral
  • Reversed polarity

Some of these can cause immediate damage, while others will damage equipment over time. Although surge protectors can cost up to several hundred dollars, damages caused by faulty electrical hookups can cost significantly more in the long run.

Power Surges

Power surges are one of the most common electrical malfunctions. They are caused by sudden spikes in the voltage due to lighting, electrical shorts, or faulty wiring. Extensive power surges have the potential to cause severe damage in an instant, while multiple smaller spikes can cause devices to become damaged over time.   

Surge protectors guard the electrical devices on RVs by redirecting any excess current either into the ground to keep what reaches the RV at the preferred voltage, or by cutting off the current altogether.

Low Voltage

Low voltage is another common electrical issue, though it may not be as evident. Low voltage is frequently a result of an increased total draw from all connecting electrical posts, such as when every RV in the campground is running its air conditioning unit at the same time.

Damage from low voltage occurs when devices are made to run on less power than they require, which in turn causes equipment to overheat over extended periods of time.  Not all surge protectors will protect against low voltage, but those that do will be able to detect it and to cut it off to prevent overheating.

Open Ground, Open Neutral, and Reversed Polarity

Open ground, open neutral and reversed polarity are all conditions that can occur due to age, damage, or faulty wiring. Depending on how many amps your RV is drawing, these electrical issues could lead to overheating, long-term damage, and even fires.

When a surge protector or EMS that protects from all common electrical issues is used, it will alert you of incorrect voltage and cut off the electrical current before it can reach and damage the equipment in your vehicle.

Choosing the Right Surge Protector

Choosing the right surge protector is dependent on the following factors:

  • The type of RV you own
  • How you like to travel
  • Your budget

The first thing to consider is which type of surge protector will work with your RV. RV surge protectors come as 30- or 50- Amp models, which are the two main electrical services that RVs run on. Smaller RVs with few appliances and a single AC unit usually run on 30- Amps, while larger motorhomes and trailers with multiple AC units and appliances like a washer and dryer will run on 50-Amps.

You can check the power plug to determine which system your RV uses. Those with three pins indicate a 30-Amp system, while four pins indicate a 50-Amp system.

Another consideration should be how you like to travel. Surge protectors are especially useful for those who enjoy traveling to campgrounds they haven’t been before as well as those who travel during peak seasons. On the other hand, those who prefer boondocking or those who tend to visit the same campground regularly may not have the same need for one.

Since the cost of a surge protector can be triple digits, another consideration is your budget. While they aren’t cheap, damages to your RV can be much more costly. If an expensive surge protector is not currently in your budget, but you feel you need one, a basic model can still protect your RV against unforeseen spikes and is likely worth investing in.


Plugging into a public power source comes with a risk, but not while using a surge protector. If you ever connect to power pedestals while camping with your RV, then a surge protector is a smart idea.