The shocking truth about RV shore power problems

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Few people underestimate the dangers of an incorrectly wired home electrical system, yet RV owners routinely tolerate problems that would raise red flags if they happened at home. From seeing heat-browning and melted plastic around the shore power connection to a light “zap” when touching the RV, warning signs that something is wrong should be taken seriously before someone is injured or something catastrophic happens.

Here is advice from SmartPlug Systems, a Seattle-based company and a pioneer in RV shore power safety.

AC current from the campsite’s shore power pedestal flows through the shore power cable and into the RV through the inlet. If the plug or cordset have been compromised — such as by pitting, corrosion or physical damage — it creates resistance. This is the primary pitfall of traditional twist-type connectors with thin metal blades.

The situation is somewhat like a slow-moving river that suddenly has to squeeze through a small hole: an enormous amount of pressure is exerted. The result for the plug is massive heat generation that can build to the point of starting a fire. A brown singe in the plastic insulation around the connection is a telltale warning that this is happening.

The SmartPlug was developed specifically to counter the drawbacks of traditional shore power equipment. Available in 15, 30, 32 and 50 amp configurations, it uses a pin and clip design that plugs straight in to avoid damaging internal components and provides 20 times the metal-to-metal connection over twist-type connectors to ensure maximum electrical transfer. Because of its unique asymmetrical shape and multi-point locking system, there’s no aligning the L-shaped blade or fumbling trying to get the sealing ring to thread.

“I recommend the SmartPlug without reservation,” said RVtravel.com’s Mike Sokol, noted expert on RV electrical safety and author of No~Shock~Zone RV Electrical Safety. “It’s by far the easiest plug to use and certainly the safest.”

The adage “water and electricity don’t mix” is more than applicable to a campground that’s exposed to the elements. When plugging in, first switch off the power pedestal’s breaker and avoid standing in water or on wet ground. And while it’s difficult to do with a twist-type connection, only use one hand to make the connection. This avoids having one’s body become part of an electrical fault, where the current path would be up one arm, through the heart and down the other arm or legs to complete the circuit.

LIKE A HOME, RVs rely on the EGC (equipment grounding conductor) for electrical safety, which is typically known as the ground wire. If there’s a break in the RV insulation resulting in contact with any metal, a fault current should be created which will trip the circuit breaker. However, if the EGC connection fails due to corrosion or a loose connection in the plug, it can manifest itself as what many may assume is static electricity or even an arm-numbing shock. Both scenarios should be taken seriously and addressed immediately since a heart can be stopped by less current than it takes to power a small nightlight bulb.

Plugging an inexpensive, commonly available three-light outlet tester into each outlet in the RV will identify problems. They typically have three colored lamps and a chart that, depending on the sequence, will display open ground, open neutral, open hot, reversed hot/ground, reversed hot/neutral and correct wiring. If the problem began after a piece of equipment was added, it may be easy to correct. Otherwise, a trained RV technician should be consulted.

“Just like in a home, there are DIY jobs the average RV owner can easily undertake and then there are those that require specialized training,” explained Sokol. “Bringing in a qualified technician to troubleshoot and correct an electrical problem will not only save a lot of time but could also prevent someone from being injured.”

Learn more at the SmartPlug Systems website or at Amazon, where you can order.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Did some brief research on the Smart Plug system. What an outstanding product!

    Amazon carries all the products. If you want a NEW Complete 30 Ft. 50 Amp Cord, made up with the Smart Plug, it will cost you a WHOPPING $505.00. Much cheaper to convert your existing cord, using Smart Plugs Combo set. Around $200.00. This is of course you feel comfortable rewiring your Electrical Cord!

    I really think this is a GREAT System for your RV.

    I will be looking into converting soon.

  2. “It’s by far the easiest plug to use and certainly the safest.” Mike Sokol, noted expert on RV electrical safety and author

    I would challenge this statement as a shameless plug for the smart plug system. I use the same type plug sans the latching system made by Conntek http://www.conntek.com/index.asp It has all the same safe properties that the smart plug has just without the latch. It is much cheaper than the smart plug but you get the same blade and clip connection that the smart plug has.

  3. Mike,

    This should be interesting and generate (no pun intended) a lot of interest. Many RV’ers have seen ads for the hard start capacitors which claim to help the AC compressor on their RV’s start easier with less amp draw. In a facebook post the other day, you actually stated that these hard start caps increase the amp inrush, not reduce it. SO… I am confused. The added cap gives you more amperage to get the compressor motor started. Does this mean it takes more amps from my power source to make this happen? I recently tried one of the Hard Start caps on my 15K BTU Dometic AC unit. Using my clamp on amp meter, I saw an increase in the amps at start up and I could hear it in the generator I was using. A 3500 watt generator – not an eco inverter type. The geni runs the unit fine with or without the hard start cap. The argument is adding the hard start cap will allow you to start and run your AC unit with a smaller generator. Given what I saw on the AMP meter, I am confused how this would work. Is it the inrush surge is so much shorter in duration that the smaller generator can handle it and not trip out. Can you shed some light on this? The other option is the soft start controller, but as most people like to look at things, the hard start capacitor is much less expensive.

    After your comment on Facebook, I am sure I am not the only one who is scratching their head wondering what the story is!

    Thanks in advance, I enjoy your comments and articles.

    Steve Peterson

    • Yeah, I thought these “soft start” conversions on a/c units were supposed to allow me to use my 2000 watt generator to run the a/c. They’re not cheap, and not a DIY install if you’re not handy with electricity (which I’m not). So far, I haven’t run into anyone who has done this, so I have no live feedback on whether they love them or not.

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