Why an RV Surge Protector is Needed for Motorhomes and Campers

No matter what size or type of RV, it’s imperative to protect its’ electrical system by using an RV surge protector. It’s one of the wisest investments that protects its’ electrical system, components and appliances. But also, a surge protection system will protect anything you plug into your motorhome or camper from minor damage to catastrophic failure or even fire. This includes all of your valuable electronic gadgets computers, digital devices or anything else you plug into your electrical system.

Why an RV Surge Protector is Needed for Motorhomes and Campers

Always On Liberty - RV Surge Protector

We were not compensated by any brand to write this article or showcase our #1 pick. We bought our surge protectors with our own money. However, this blog article contains affiliate links.  Full disclosure here.

What is an RV Surge Protector?

When you hear the words surge protector, you probably think of those electric bricks with multiple outlets on one end with a heavy duty plug on the other end that you use in your home. However, those are NOT RV surge protectors we’re going to talk about in this article.

An RV surge protector is an electrical system protection device that transfers power from an electrical source or power pedestal to your RV. It kind of works like a filter for your RV’s electrical system. 

There are several reasons why every RV should have a surge protector regardless if it’s a motorhome, fifth wheel, travel trailer, truck camper and even camper van. If you plug your RV electric cord into a power source, your RV needs one.

What exactly does an RV Surge Protector do?

A proper surge protector will protect not only your RV’s entire electrical system but also all of the components, appliances and electronic devices. It prevents unpredictable voltage spikes and power surges from entering your RV.

Not having a surge protector is taking a big risk. Without warning, your RV runs the risk of catastrophic failure, costly electrical system damage. Plus, you risk damage to everything that you plug into your RV’s outlets. Worse, without being hooked through a surge protector, your RV runs an even greater risk; FIRE!

What causes power surges or voltage spikes?

Campground Electric Pedestal

There are a few culprits that cause dangerous voltage spikes and power surges.

Firstly, if lightening strikes the power pedestal, your RV’s entire electrical system may get fried.

Secondly, a lot of campgrounds and RV parks have outdated power pedestals that have faulty wiring and/or old breakers.

Thirdly, a campground’s power grid may not be able to handle the electrical load due to larger RVs with extensive requirements (such as multiple AC’s, etc.).

And lastly, depending on where your campsite is located in relationship to the campground’s power grid, your RV could be on the receiving end of dirty electricity. In other words, if your campsite is furthest from the campground’s electric supply, your camper has potential of receiving voltage spikes, electrical surges and sudden drops. This is predominant during the summer when RVs use multiple air conditioners. All of which puts an incredible strain the campground’s electrical supply.

Hard Wired EMS or Portable Surge Protector?

Once you get your RV, you’ll need to consider whether you want a hardwired or portable surge protector.

If you have a high-end motorhome or fifth wheel, you may not want to deal with constantly plugging into a portable surge protector at the pedestal. Then you’ll want to invest in a hardwired electrical management system or “EMS”However, a custom EMS installation will run you a couple hundred dollars or more.

But, on the flip side, there’s some positives in hardwired EMS surge protection units. First, they typically provide more monitoring options including bluetooth technology. Second, permanent EMS surge protection units are not subject to theft as it’s secured inside your RV. Third, you’ll never have to worry about forgetting it when leaving your campsite. And last, EMS units aren’t exposed to the weather elements. You don’t have to go outdoors to plug, unplug or read error codes.

Once installation is complete, your RV EMS constantly monitors for errors constantly without interruption. All of that said, hardwired surge protection systems do come with a heftier price tag for the convenience.

But, there are more affordable portable surge protectors that will do the job just as well but with less bells and whistles. The advantage of portable RV surge protectors is they can be transferred from one RV to another. Should you be thinking of upgrading or downsizing RVs later, having a portable surge protector will save you money. And of course, portable surge protectors are less expensive than hardwired surge protectors.

Depending on the model will determine different protection features. Some higher-end portable surge protectors may offer bluetooth monitoring. You can pair it to your smartphone and see error codes on your phone rather than going outside. Also, some brands and models may offer a longer warranty period.

What is the difference between a 50amp and 30amp RV Surge Protector?

RV Electrical Outlet and Plug 30amp vs 50amp

RV surge protectors come in two amperages; 50amp or 30amp. 

Larger motorhomes and towable RVs that have larger 50amp electrical systems will require a 50amp RV surge protector. 50amp RVs use twice as much energy as 30amp RVs which makes it a no brainer to ‘go big or go home’ philosophy when buying surge protection for your RV.

Whereas, smaller motorhomes, camper vans, truck campers and travel trailers will only require 30amp RV surge protector. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that because you have a smaller RV with less power demands that you should opt for cheaper surge protection. Keep in mind, quality is key. This is not the place to go cheap.

Important to know, a 50amp surge protector can be used on a 30amp RV only if the proper electrical adapter (also known as a ‘dog bone’) is used. And vice versa. Otherwise it won’t provide the proper electrical system protection.

RV Electrical Adapter – 50 Amp Male To 30 Amp Female Adapter

50 Amp Male To 30 Amp Female Electric Adapter

RV Electrical Adapter – 30 Amp Male to 50 Amp Female Adapter

30 Amp Male to 50 Amp Female Electric Adapter

What if my RV Surge Protector throws a code signifying a power surge or voltage spike?

First and foremost, know how your surge protection device works. Some operate differently than others. So, it’s imperative to read the manufacturer’s manual to know what each code means and how to rectify the electrical issue.

Do I need an RV surge protector if I boondock exclusively?

Personally, you should prepare for all circumstances. While you may boondock off grid, there may be times you’re forced into a campground or RV park. Or, if your RV is being serviced by a repair center or RV dealership. We recommend having some sort of surge guard protection just in case.

Is an RV surge protector needed if I use a generator?

A surge protector is not required for using a generator. However, it really depends on how comfortable you are with plugging in your RV’s electrical cord into your generator.

Case in point, when we powered our former fifth wheels’ electrical system using our two portable 2000 watt inverter generators, we opted not to plug our electrical cord into our surge protector. The generators, even when paralleled for more power, did not have the potential for voltage spike. Also, both generators had built in breakers for protection.

That said, if you don’t feel comfortable doing the same or you’re unfamiliar with your generator’s voltage output, use your own discretion. And, always  do your diligent research to ensure your generator is matched with your RV’s electrical needs.

So, now that we’ve learned about the ins and outs of why your motorhome or camper needs electrical system protection, let’s see which RV surge protector we recommend.

Our Pick: Southwire Surge Guard 34931

We’ve used the Progressive Industries EMS-PT50X on both of our former fifth wheels. And now we now use Southwire’s Surge Guard 34931 on our small Winnebago View motorhome. So, we’ve been able to fairly evaluate both brands. The clear winner for us is Southwire Surge Guard 34931 for many reasons.

Southwire Surge Guard 34931Surge Guard 34931 provides one of the highest levels of electrical protection for your 30amp RV. This PORTABLE unit provides 4200 joules of surge protection.

Why Surge Guard?

Southwire’s Surge Guard family of power protection devices are designed to protect your RV’s electrical system and sophisticated electronics from the dangers of faulty electrical power. Comparing to other surge protector brands, they offer the most joules of protection and lifetime warranty.

Southwire’s Surge Guard products continuously monitors and displays voltage and amp draw (RMS) as well as low and high frequency protection.

  •  Surge Guard features:

      • Includes anti-theft lock ring on cord
      • Multi-mode surge suppression
      • Commercial-grade, brass receptacle
      • Automatic reset on power restoration
      • 10 second countdown startup sequence
      • 128 second reset delay protects A/C compressor
      • LCD display (English)
      • Convenient Easy-T-Pull™ handles
      • Compatible with 40301 Bluetooth® LCD Display

Surge Guard protects against:

      • Power surges
      • Open ground
      • Open neutral
      • Elevated ground line current
      • Low (<102V) and high (>136V) voltage
      • Overheating receptacle
      • Reverse polarity
      • Miswired pedestal
      • Low and high frequency protection

The Surge Guard 34931 has an amazing lifetime warranty that includes connected equipment coverage. That means if this surge protector fails to do what it is intended to do and damage occurs to equipment in your RV, Surge Guard will pay for those damages according to their warranty.

Though we have the portable Surge Guard 34931 made specifically for 30amp RVs, there is also the portable Surge Guard 34951 for 50amp surge protector manufactured for larger motorhomes and fifth wheels.

Southwire Surge Guard 34951Surge Guard 34951 provides one of the highest levels of electrical protection for your 50amp RV. This PORTABLE unit provides 4200 joules of surge protection.


Southwire also has hardwired surge protection units; Surge Guard 35550 for 50amp RVs and Surge Guard 35530 for 30amp RVs.


Other interesting Southwire Surge Guard FAQ’s and basic RV electrical protection.

Our 2nd Place Pick

When we owned our fifth wheels, we really didn’t research as much as we do 8 years into our RV lifestyle. We went strictly from word of mouth and opinion of others. That said, Progressive Industries was the most recommended at the time. So, we picked the Progressive Industries EMS-PT50X for 50 amp electrical system.

Progressive Industries all-in-one surge protectors are portable devices that have both surge protection and pedestal testing in one unit. Simply plug the device into the power pedestal to check the quality of your power and then plug in your cordset. You can continue to monitor the quality of power while your RV is connected and surge protected.

We noticed though that Progressive Industries has different warranties on their portable versus hardwired surge protection units. Also, their surge protectors provide less joules of surge protection which leaves holes for errors and fault intrusion. That said, Progressive Industries is still an industry leader in surge protection devices for RVs.

Progressive Industries EMS-PT50XProgressive Industries EMS-PT50X 50 amp PORTABLE RV electrical management system surge protector provides 3580 joules of surge protection. 1 year warranty.
Progressive Industries EMS-PT30XProgressive Industries EMS-PT30X 30 amp PORTABLE RV electrical management system surge protector provides 1790 joules of surge protection. 1 year warranty.
Progressive Industries EMS-LCHW50Progressive Industries EMS-LCHW50 50amp HARDWIRED surge protection with integrated display provides 3580 Joules and 10 error code readings. 3 year warranty.
Progressive Industries LCHW30 RV Surge ProtectorProgressive Industries EMS-LCHW30 30amp HARDWIRED surge protection with integrated display provides 1675 Joules and 10 error code readings. 3-year warranty.

How to protect your portable surge protector against theft

Unfortunately, one of the most stolen items while camping are portable surge protectors. But, you can make it difficult for sticky fingers to steal your unit by locking it up.

Newer campground electric power pedestals may have a cover that you can lock your surge protector using your own padlock. Older RV park or campground power pedestals may not have that option.

However, most portable surge protection devices come equipped with a metal bracket in which you can thread a strong cable lock through and secure it to the power pedestal securely.

RV Surge Protector Lock - Strong Cable Lock with Alarm
    • LONGEVITY: 3 AAA batteries last up to 5 months use with low battery indicator in the app will warn you when power is <20%.
    • ALARM:  Vibration, breakage, disassembly and cable clipping triggers alarm at 110db to deter theft.
    • ROBUST: 7 braided steel (each is made of 19 braided steel) combined with rust-protective vinyl increase cut resistance for a long time use. 

Final thoughts on RV surge protectors

When it comes to your RV electrical system, you can either pay now or or pay later. Be aware, if you choose the latter, you’ll be paying tenfold. You’ll end up with the headache of rewiring your RV’s electrical system and replacing all of your components and electronics. Just as important, is the time you’re going to lose camping and RVing.

Whichever surge detection device you decide, we highly recommend taking the time to thoroughly research which will be best for your RV. Each manufacturer offers various joules of protection, some have bluetooth capabilities and monitoring systems and other features.

So, your best option is to protect your RV’s electrical system, all of its’ electrical components, appliances and everything else that’s plugged into your RV by plugging into an RV surge protector first before plugging into the power source. “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”

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Always On Liberty - RV Surge Protector-2

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