RV Electricity – Just Ask Mike (J.A.M.): Driving over wires is a bad idea

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By Mike Sokol

Welcome to my J.A.M. (Just Ask Mike) Session, a weekly column where I answer your basic electrical questions. If you’re a newbie who’s never plugged in a shore power cord (or ask – what’s a shore power cord?), or wonder why your daughter’s hair dryer keeps tripping the circuit breaker, this column is for you. Send your questions to Mike Sokol at mike (at) noshockzone.org with the subject line – JAM.


Dear Mike,
While watching the news here in northern California they were showing a RVer using his RV generator to power his and neighbors’ homes. There were power cords laying across the street and I’m not sure this happens but i would expect cars drive across the cords.

I’m hoping the cords are the proper gauge for the load and distance. Bu it would seem to me to be a bad idea to have cords unprotected from car tires like that. Shouldn’t a cord cover of some sort be used? —Tom Hart

Dear Tom,
Yes, you are 100% correct. It’s a very bad idea to be driving vehicles over unprotected extension or shore power cords, especially on asphalt or concrete. Doing so will cause the wiring insulation to collapse and begin to break the strands of copper wire. Eventually you’ll have a short circuit or a fire from overheating, neither of which is good. So protecting your cables from traffic is important.

Enter the Yellow Jackets

When I used to do rock music shows where we had to run power and signal wires through the crowd and over driveways, we also brought along cable ramps called “Yellow Jackets,” named so because they were always black and yellow for visual warning.

While these used to be terribly expensive to purchase (considering I would sometimes need 150 feet or more of cable coverage), the new generation of mid-duty cable ramps are pretty affordable, with a 3-pack of 40″ ramps (or 10 ft. worth) costing about $70 delivered.

Protect your cables from tire damage

You need to protect your cables from this sort of damage. So it’s best to get your power wires into some sort of protective cable ramp that will prevent them from damage. As you can see from the picture, the cables are nestled in their own little compartment which can be driven over with most vehicles.

These particular cable ramps are rated for vehicles up to 11,000 lbs. per axle, which should be good for most traffic. Now, I’m not recommending these particular ramps for placement across a busy highway or intersection. If that’s what they need to do, then the price goes up by a factor of 10x or so for heavy-duty versions that fire trucks and semi-trailers can drive over.

Of course there are cheaper ways to accomplish this same thing by using a pair of 8 ft. 2×4’s with a plywood cover. That’s how we used to build cheap cable ramps for theaters that didn’t have the money for the professional version. I’ll draw up a diagram later on how to make your own on a budget, but in the meantime it’s hard to beat these factory-built cable ramps which get high ratings on Amazon.

OK, everyone. Remember that electricity is a useful and powerful force, so we all need to pay attention to safety precautions while using it.

Let’s play safe out there….

Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 50+ years in the industry. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.
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Jim Barrett
8 days ago

Mike

Can you characterize the difference between the Micro-Air EasyStart 364 Soft Starter ASY-364-X20-IP and the SoftStartRV SSRV3T by NetworkRV? I am interested in one of these for my RV Travel Trailer AC. I appreciated you review and write-up of the SoftStart but was wondering about the Micro-Air EasyStart.

Thanks

Frank Engstrom
11 days ago

Hi Mike, I love your informative write-ups. Thank you. In this response on Generator cords you might have mentioned the danger of powering a house when the mains are off? The homeowner MUST turn off the main breaker supplying his house so as not to back feed the downed power line! Very important safety precaution!

Mike Sokol
7 days ago
Reply to  Frank Engstrom

If you want to power your house from an RV generator it’s a code violation and (possibly) illegal to use any kind of male to male backfeed cord. You should install a properly wired generator inlet on the exterior of you house that has a proper main circuit breaker lockout or transfer switch. Much more on this later.

H Daniel Richards
11 days ago

Hi Mike great advice to protect extension cords. I ripped a 8 ft piece of PVC in half and placed that over my RV power cord and wrapped Velcro over PVC and power cord. The cord is plugged into a 30 amp circuit.
I moved my trailer closer to the outlet as I noted. the cord was getting hot. It was to long, so I cut it down to a little over standard RV cord
The xoes used same gauge wire as an RV cord.

WEB
11 days ago

These are all fine and dandy when you are prepared, but in a emergency situation where you need something on the fly, just take any 2×4, 2×6 or similar and tape the extension cord to the side (one on each side if needed). As the tire comes to the board, it is protected by the height of the board (1½ in.). Remember it is only temporary…

Joe
11 days ago

If you need to run wires across a place where vehicles or pedestrians travel the yellow jackets are great. If unable to afford them then try to find a way to run them overhead and high enough that traffic will clear and always make sure as Mike has said that they are of sufficient gauge for the anticipated load.