This week I explain why it is essential for every RVer to get a meter kit. One reason is so that if you have a question, one of the really smart moderators or admins of my RVelectricity Facebook group can help you figure out the problem.
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.
I’ve had more than a dozen inquiries in just the last week about various types of power failures in RVs. Some were due to the batteries dying from a failed converter. At least one (maybe two) of them was because the circuit breaker feeding the charger was tripping due to more current going to the batteries than the breaker was rated for.
Several of them had hot-skin conditions they discovered by being shocked. One hot-skin was from a broken ground pin in an old extension cord. And the other hot-skin shock was from an ungrounded outlet in the garage of a pre-1960s building.
The solution – Get a meter (kit)
Why is this important? Well, electricity isn’t something you can easily guess at. And if you expect me (or my really smart team of moderators and admins of my RVelectricity Facebook group) to help you figure out your problem, we need measurements.
The triple-header of meter kits
Several manufacturers now offer simple digital meter kits for around $30 or so, and I’ve found these products to be reasonably accurate and easy to use. These are great tools to pack with you on the road. Let’s break down the three different things that typically come in one of these kits.
This is the centerpiece of any meter kit, a basic digital meter that can measure AC or DC volts and resistance. Yes, they can also measure current if you’re very careful, but there are better (and safer) ways for the general public to measure the amperage than current wires and splicing meter leads into it. So let’s stick with AC and DC volts, as well as simple resistance, shall we. To read about how to use a digital meter to measure an outlet, please click HERE
This little gadget has two amber lights and one red light. By plugging this into a standard 15- or 20-amp outlet (or using a proper adapter), you can get a quick reading on outlet polarity, grounding and open conductors. I’ll be the first to admit there are lots of failures it won’t detect, but as a basic test it’s pretty darn good. Read what all those lights mean HERE.
Non-Contact Voltage Tester
This is my favorite piece of passive test gear. I say passive because you don’t have to disconnect anything before testing with a NCVT. In fact, you don’t have to even touch the item in question to see if its skin and chassis are energized. I just had a reader find a hot-skin voltage on his RV that made his NCVT light up and beep from 2 feet away. That certainly will get your attention. Read more about how to use one with this video.
Here are the kits I can recommend
I like this kit from Southwire which you can get from Lowe’s or Amazon for about $30.
And here’s a similar kit from Klein tool for about $40 on Amazon.
Either of these meter kits should serve you well, and will help us assist you with any RV electrical problem.
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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