RV Electricity – Just Ask Mike (J.A.M.): Please buy a digital meter

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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,
I have a ???? RV and it is or is not doing ???? and can you tell me how to fix it? —A reader

Yes, this is a compilation of the types of questions I get every week. And following is what I usually say to get started:

Dear whoever,
Do you happen to have a digital meter? Can you measure the battery or shore power or whatever voltage? Please send a picture or two of what you’re measuring. And can you be a little more specific about what’s really happening? —Mike


Dear Readers,
Okay, I’m being serious now. Do yourselves a favor and buy some kind of digital meter next week. It doesn’t have to be fancy and it doesn’t have to be automatic anything. A basic, manual, digital multimeter from Klein, Southwire, Amprobe or Extech will do just fine. [Editor: Here are several on Amazon.]

I know that the neat old analog meter your dad gave you from his toolbox is cool. But please just get a modern $25 digital meter and keep it in your RV toolkit.

Now, it would be great if you actually knew how to use a meter prior to the next time you have an electrical problem. But even if you don’t take the time to learn about it, there are lots of smart members on my RVelectricity Facebook group who can walk you through the process of measuring the converter DC voltage, or show you how to check the pedestal AC voltage, or teach you how to measure a fuse to see if it’s blown.

The reason why you need to do this is your RV home on wheels is actually … a home on wheels. And those wheels let you take your RV most anyplace you like. And in the process there’s lots of vibration and heating/cooling cycles that your bricks and sticks home doesn’t have to put up with. That causes a lot of wiring do-dads to loosen up and stop working.

And while your stationary home was probably connected to the electrical grid decades ago after inspection, your RV might have been hooked into a completely new electrical last week or even this morning. And you can’t count on the guys who wired that pedestal to do it correctly. You see, RV wiring is just different enough from home wiring to allow a residential electrician to make some serious mistakes.

So if you want to enjoy the RV lifestyle as much as possible, please consider investing in an inexpensive digital meter, or even better still, a 3-piece meter kit you can get from any big box store or Amazon. I have a bunch of Fluke and Southwire meters on my test bench, but Klein and others also make nice meter kits for less than $40 that should help get you going the next time something goes wrong and you’re calling for help in the middle of nowhere. [Here are some on Amazon.]

Yes, we’re here to help you and enjoy doing it, but please give us the info we need to safely help you troubleshoot your electrical problems.

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.
Join Mike’s popular and informative Facebook group.
And you don’t want to miss Mike’s webcasts on his YouTube channel.

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Tom Amrozowicz
3 months ago

I’m sure I have the ultimate digital meter, FLUKE, no selector switch. just on and off, reads a/c, d/c voltages, resistance, just use the probes.
works great, way smarter than the operator. It was a gift from my son, an appliance repairman.

DAVE TELENKO
3 months ago
Reply to  Tom Amrozowicz

Ok where can you buy one of those Fluke meters that has NO settings, just on/off love that idea, would make it easier for those who have issues understanding all the setting!
Snoopy

Joe
3 months ago

The inexpensive meters are OK but it’s the leads and probes that concern me. After a while the insulation on the wires breaks exposing the wires. Please, please inspect the wires and probes before checking any voltages above 50 volts. Also consider not checking the pedestal voltage while standing in water or wet ground. I have a very heavy education in the electrical industry and wear class 0 electrician gloves any time I have a meter in my hands while testing live circuits above 50 volts. I remove them once I know the circuit is dead and I have control of the breaker. Class 0 rubber insulated gloves can be found on the web, starting at $50.00

Thomas
3 months ago

I find that the “free” meter from harbor freight works well enough for everything the average person would need. Hardly ever use my Fluke 87.
Warning: read up on how to use it before using it.
So many of my friends set it to ohms and then use it to test voltage. Guess what you now have? JUNK. you’ve blown some electronic in the meter.

Drew
3 months ago
Reply to  Thomas

Most meters today are fused so you saved it from the junk pile. My Centek meter from Harbor Freight has a useful feature. When you make a selection on the dial, the plug sockets light up and flash- indicating the proper place to plug in the probes.

Glenn
3 months ago

I wholeheartedly agree! If people would buy and learn how to use a meter it would make their life so much easier. All they have to do is check out your tutorials.