The Best RV Surge Protectors (Portable) in 2019
Comparisons, Buying Guide, and Reviews
A surge protector is simply a device designed to protect electoral devices plugged into it from voltage spikes. Surge protectors take a variety of forms and may come with additional protective features.
Top 5 Best Surge Protectors for RV Use - Comparison
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What's an RV surge protector?
An RV surge protector is simply a surge protector designed to be used as part of an RV’s electrical system or intended to stand between the RV and the shore/power grid power connection. The surge protector will either block or short to ground voltages above a set, safe threshold. It may also shut down the connection if voltage is too low. Some surge protectors provide protection, too, in case of reverse polarity or if the wires get too hot.
Some people say a surge protector isn’t worth it, it will just get fried after a power surge from a bad power outlet or lightning strike. And that is partially true. In the event of a major power surge, the RV surge protector is probably friend, and you’ll need to replace it.
However, that is the point – it is sacrificial. The surge protector was blown out so that the fuses and switches in the RV are not. It is burned out so that the power doesn’t go down the line and fry the control boards in your microwave and smart fridge. This surge protector also melts down so that the wiring and control panels in the RV don’t.
Why do you need an RV surge protector?
The first reason is to protect your electrical system from being damaged by power surges. It is better than the $80 surge protector be ruined than risk $800 or $8000 worth of damage to the RV.
A surge protector can protect your RV from your own mistakes. Some surge protectors will warn you about reverse polarity connections or shorts from loose wires. Now you have mechanical, fail proof protection for your electrical system if you make mistakes connecting to shore power or reconnecting charged batteries at the end of a long day.
There are several types of surge protectors: hardwire and portable, 30 amp and 50 amp. Let’s look at each in detail.
Different Types of the RV Surge Protectors
A hardwire surge protector is hardwired into your electrical system. It may be built into the utility closet or hardwired into a storage area. Most hardwired surge protectors have a greater capacity than portable units. In short, you get more protection when the worst occurs. If you’re hardwiring the surge protector into the RV’s electrical system, you reduce the number of plugs and connections that can become problems.
The downside of hard-wired surge protectors is that if it burns out, you probably don’t have power in the trailer until it is fixed or replaced. And getting it replaced isn’t as convenient as buying and plugging in a new portable surge protector.
It is wise to have a dealer or electrician install the hardwired surge protector. This can have the added benefit of protecting the RV from its own generator as well as shore power. Done this way, you might have the surge protector LED display inside of the RV.
Portable surge protectors are sometimes called plug-in surge protectors, since you can unplug and remove them. The upside of portable surge protectors is that they’re easy to replace or upgrade. Portable surge protectors are typically easier to bypass. The risks of portable surge protectors include accidentally leaving them behind and being stolen.
If the portable surge protector is plugged in outside next to an outdoor power outlet, your surge protector itself could be damaged by the weather. In the rare case the surge protector catches fire, the portable unit can be tossed outside or is already safely located outside.
03) 30 amp
A 30 amp surge protector is designed to connect to a 30 amp, 120 volt power outlet. If you have 30 amp service but use a 50 amp surge protector, a 50 amp surge protector will not kick in during a surge above 30 amps. This could cause them to draw more power and get damaged.
04) 50 amp
A 50 amp outlet is designed for when you’re connected to a 240 volt outlet. If you’re drawing power from a 50 amp outlet, you have to use a 50 amp surge protector; a 30 amp surge protector will kick in if connected here.
Many 50 amp surge protectors can work with either a 30 amp or 50 amp pedestal outlet if you use a dogbone adapter in between the surge protector and 120 volt power line. Some surge protectors are designed to work with both 50 amp and 30 amp power sources, but you can’t assume that a 50 amp surge protector will work with a 30 amp power outlet.
Note that you could use a 50 amp electrical management system in a 30 amp system safely while still being able to connect to 50 amp service.
Benefits of the RV Surge Protector
There are people who say you shouldn’t bother with a surge protector, since it is an extra cost without a clear benefit. There is a measure of truth to this; older RVs weren’t as sensitive to power fluctuations, while the majority of powered campsites have decent power quality. It is the 5% of campsites with poor power connections, the smart appliances showing up in RVs and the high tech devices more RV owners are taking with them that make surge protectors important. What are some of the benefits of the RV surge protector?
01. Insurance for Your Smart Devices
One of the benefits of an RV surge protector is that it protects the sensitive electronics downstream from a power surge. You hope you never need a surge protector. If there is a power surge that shorts out laptops or TVs, you will wish you had an RV surge protector. It doesn’t matter as much if you only have cheap appliances and don’t care if they may get burned out. The cost of the RV surge protector and effort to install it is worth it after you’ve paid many times its cost to repair burned out electrical components. All it takes is one lightning strike or downed power line causing a surge to wipe out everything electrical in your RV.
02. Extended Life of Your Appliances
Surge protectors always protect a device from high voltage. They may also protect the electrical devices when there is low voltage; low voltage is a major problem when there are too many people connected to the power grid in the RV park.
In either situation, the motors and electronics will last longer if simply shut down than dealing with too much or too little voltage. If you’re often connected to an irregular power source like renewable power or a campsite with poor power quality, a surge protector reduces the wear and tear on motors from these power fluctuations.
If you skip the surge protector, your electric refrigerator, air conditioner and TV at a minimum risk needing to be replaced years ahead of schedule. And that is aside from the risk of a power surge blowing out a control board on a refrigerator, microwave or stove that stops it from working.
One of the benefits of a surge protector is that it can save you from blown fuses and transfer switches down the line. A surge protector takes the brunt of the load, protecting your electrical system. If it goes out, you can simply reset it or replace it. But you don’t have to worry about finding replacement transfer switches or fuses to be able to use AC appliances in your RV.
If you’re plugged into the grid somewhere with very poor power quality, repeated surges and low voltage conditions will cause electrical components and motors that are trying to operate to heat up. In theory, this increases the risk of a fire. A serious power surge through your electrical system certainly increases the risk of an electrical fire in the RV.
05. Protection from Human Error
Some surge protectors provide protection when there is reverse polarity. In short, it protects your RV’s electrical system if you accidentally wire the batteries wrong. This makes surge protectors essential for new RV owners. Smarter RV surge protectors will provide protection for open neutral or ground, something that happens if either wire in the RV pedestal isn’t connected properly. A few come with accidental 240 volt protection, saving your electrical system if you plug the RV into the wrong outlet.
What to Consider to Purchase the Right RV Surge Protector?
Realistically, there is no right RV surge protector for every situation. How much of a load are you going to put on it? What is the quality of the power source you’re going to use, and how many volts will you connect to? How much can you afford to spend? How much space do you have for the unit?
01) Amp Rating 30/50
Are you going to be protecting electronics running on 30 amps or 50 amps? You want a surge protector designed for the power level the connected items need to use.
While a 50 amp surge protector offers more protection during a major power surge, it will still send more amps down the line than 30 amp appliances are designed for. You can use a 30 amp surge protector and a 50 amp to 30 amp “dogbone” adapter to pull power from a 50 amp service.
People living in RVs have to be mindful of weight. If the surge protector is heavy, it slows you down. And a heavy model may not fit in a utility closet despite being the right size. This could force you to put in the cargo hold and come up with alternative wiring solutions. Portable RV surge protectors need to be light, too, since you have to pick it up and carry it over to the power outlet.
Let’s be honest – price matters. If you can’t afford the top of the line model, then you have to choose which features are essential and which you can afford to do without. Do you want greater protection in case of a lightning strike or reverse polarity protection if you miswire something? You may not be able to afford a unit that has both. If you’re buying a portable RV surge protector, you may want to spend less on a unit that might be stolen or left behind.
If price isn’t an issue for you, then start looking for the units that have all of the features you want. And note that this could include being smaller, lighter, smarter or simply improve the power quality that comes in off the shore line.
Surge protectors have several potential sources of noise. One would be the fan that keeps the unit cool if it has a fan to reduce the odds of overheating. A possible source of noise is buzzing as power passes through it; some models just make that noise. Many surge protectors have low voltage and overvoltage warning indicators.
Do you want a flashing light, a noisy alarm or a combination of both? Don’t forget to check whether or not the alarms respond correctly; you don’t want to buy a surge protector that generates a noisy alarm after a fraction of a second voltage drop. Some units take things a step farther by having padded feet so that the unit doesn’t make a lot of noise as it vibrates while you’re driving.
One way to connect a surge protector to the RV is to have it permanently wired into the RV. If you do this, the surge protector has to fit into the RV’s utility closet or be connected somewhere else. In these cases, a compatible surge protector you can just plug and play is worth the extra cost. If you’re going for a portable surge protector, you want something that can easily plug into both shore power and your RV.
06) Joules Rating
The Joules Rating of a surge protector tells you how much energy it can absorb before it fails. Higher ratings mean it can handle more energy before burning out. If you’re afraid of a major power surge like a lightning strike, you want something with a higher joule rating. If the surge protector is there to protect sensitive electronics you need a higher joules rating.
07) LED Display
Most new surge protectors have LED displays to share critical information. They may give you a clear readout regarding voltage levels. Is the power coming in constantly just below the burn out level? Is the power level fluctuating from high to low? Some surge protectors give extra information like the unit’s temperature and manage power coming in from multiple sources.
08) Plug and Play
Plug and play refers to how easily the surge protector connects to the grid. The ideal surge protector doesn’t need extra plugs, connectors or adapters. You can just take it out and plug it in. The worst case scenario requires buying connecting screws, adapters, wires and trying to figure out how to put it all together.
Surge protectors are designed to be sacrificial; it burns out so that other, more expensive electrical components in the RV do not. Consider how hard it is to get replacement fuses or switches if the surge protector burns out.
This is especially important if the surge protector is hardwired into the RV, since you don’t have power until the surge protector is replaced. If you have a portable surge protector, you may just throw the burned out unit away – and then you’ll want to find a replacement just like it so that there’s no learning curve.
Recommended Top 10 Best RV Surge Protector Reviews
01) Surge Guard 34850 Portable Model with LCD Display - 50 Amp
Editor Rating: 4.5/5
This is a smart RV surge protector. It can monitor power levels and respond appropriately, minimizing the risk of anything being damaged by power fluctuations.
This Surge Protector can automatically reset itself when the power comes back on or when it shuts down power to the RV to protect systems downstream.
It can protect your electrical system from reverse polarity mistakes, whether your own wiring mistakes or a badly wired pedestal.
The unit is more expensive than average but middle of the pack on price when you take the “intelligence” into account.
The LCD screen tells you when you have power, when things are risky (the caution light) and the “surge” light. The “surge” light means the surge protector is burned out and you no longer have protection.
This is a 50 amp surge protector, strong enough to protect heavy appliances like washers and dryers. It is lightweight and rather compact, though it is long. And it is suitable for any RVs that use 50 amp power.
The manufacturer has poor customer service if the unit is faulty. If you want to have the surge protector repaired, it is hard to get quick service from the manufacturer. The smart device displays what is going on, but it has a tendency to fog up, and then it is hard to read.
02) Progressive Industries Portable RV Surge Protector
Editor Rating: 4.5/5
This surge protector is middle of the pack in terms of price; there are more expensive and cheaper units on this list.
One of the benefits of this model is the security locking bracket that comes with it, helping you secure it from theft.
It is designed to be left outside in all weather. You don’t have to worry about protecting it from the rain while hoping it can protect your electronics from a lightning strike.
It is rated to handle -40°C to 105°C; it won’t shut down from over-heating because you’re parked in the desert.
This unit is moderately lightweight; it weighs just over four pounds or two kilos.
The product has a lifetime guarantee, but getting them to honor that warranty is almost impossible. The issue is compounded by the company sometimes sending returned items to new customers. Those units tend to be duds.
The unit has a very low joules rating. It doesn’t provide a high level of protection.
03) TRC Surge Guard 44260 Entry Level Portable Surge Protector - 30 Amp
Editor Rating: 4.5/5
The TRC model 44260 surge guard is an ultra-cheap surge protector. In fact, this is the cheapest surge protector on this list.
It is a basic 30 amp surge protector, while the listing above is for 50 amps.
It provides 2,100 joules of surge protection. The low rating is offset by the fact it can tell you if the pedestal is mis-wired so you don’t connect to a power pedestal guaranteed to burn these out.
It automatically tests for open group, correct polarity and an “open neutral” due to poor wiring. Note that it doesn’t have high ground protection.
This is a sacrificial surge protector. If it stops a surge, it may literally melt. You then have to remove it, possibly included melted plastic. This model also tends to last one to two years, at best.
The LCD indicators are not very bright, so it can be hard to read in any lighting.
04) Progressive Industries 313.1168 SSP30X Smart Surge Protector - 120V/30A
Editor Rating: 4.5/5
This surge protector costs a little more than the TRC brand model. It is also a little smarter. This surge protector can indicate when it is dealing with open ground, open neutral, and reverse polarity.
It tells you when these conditions are discovered or occur. It also tells you when it fails due to a surge.
You don’t have to wonder if the last power surge just burned it out and rendered it useless. The indicator lights are easy to read.
This surge protector offers 825 joule and 22,500 amp surge protection; that’s extremely high given its cost. It is a 30 amp, 120 volt surge protector, so don’t use it with 240 volt, 50 amp lines.
This surge protector is weather resistant; it is safe to use exposed to the elements. Unlike some other units, it also has thermal protection. It is rated to work in -40°C to 105°C. It won’t shut down because you left it on hot asphalt on a summer day.
The model is small and compact. It is easy to transport and has a rugged carry handle. The company promises a lifetime guarantee but doesn’t deliver on it.
The unit is not universally compatible. It doesn’t work with all transfer switches and other components.
05) Surge Guard Model 44270 Entry Level Portable Surge Protector - 50 Amp
Editor Rating: 4.5/5
This is a very cheap surge protector when you realize it is designed for 50 amp, 240 volt lines. It offers a high level of surge protection, 4200 joules.
While it is listed as an entry level surge protector, it automatically tests for the correct polarity, open ground and open neutral conditions.
It is lightweight, though it does not fold up. It weighs about two pounds or one kilo.
The cover is designed with a padlock connector so you can prevent others from stealing it.
The plug itself is hard to pull out once you’ve plugged it into a pedestal. That is despite an “easy-T” pull handle that’s supposed to make this easier.
It doesn’t offer any protection when it encounters low voltage. Nor does the unit handle exposure to the elements well. This surge protector really needs to be sheltered from heavy rain.
06) Camco Dogbone RV Circuit Analyzer With Power Grip Handles
Editor Rating: 4.5/5
This 50 amp surge protector is one of the cheapest models on this list. It has a long thin profile that supports convenient storage almost anywhere. Note that it is 30 inches long, so it may need to be stored along with your extension cords.
It has easy to read diagnostic lights for being able to tell if there are problems with the power pedestal before you plug in your shore power line.
It also has the ability to store its prior error code so that you can tell what has happened. The display lets you scroll through the history of errors and data on the power connection.
It has relatively high surge protection; it is rated at 4200 joules. One weakness of this product is that it doesn’t clearly indicate when the surge protector has burned out and needs to be replaced.
It is weather resistant but not weather proof. One downside of this model is the fact that it is prone to fail during the pouring rain, even though this is when you’re most likely to be hit with lightning and need a surge protector.
07) Progressive Industries Model HW50C Hardwired EMS Surge Protector - 50 Amps
Editor Rating: 4.5/5
An EMS is an electrical management system. This is a step above the standard surge protector, though the Progressive Industries model HW50C unit is a surge protector.
The unit is smart enough to detect reverse polarity, open neutral and open ground conditions and respond appropriately to protect your surge protector and anything downstream.
The surge protector has 3580 joules of surge protection. It can protect your system against both 120 volt and 240 volt lines.
Unlike many surge protectors, it offers AC frequency protection, as well. If you’re very concerned about power quality, this is best RV surge protector for you.
It is rated for temperatures from -40°C to 105°C. It isn’t going to shut down because it is exposed to a hot desert sun.
One of the reasons people by this product is because of the lifetime warranty the manufacturer advertises. The problem is that the full warranty only applies if an RV dealer installs it. Install it yourself, and you get, at best, a limited warranty.
08) Progressive Industries Model SSP30 Smart Surge Protector
One of the attractions of this model is its low price. It is compact and lightweight. The unit is truly plug and play; you can plug any RV power line into it and plug the end into any power pedestal.
Be careful that the male plug is securely in place. It has a tendency to slip out, but then again, it is easy to plug in.
This unit clearly indicates when the wire polarity is reversed and warns you of other potential problems.
What’s the downside? It is a strong meter and level indicator, but it has very low surge protection. It is better as a 30 amp than as a 50 amp surge protector.
If the item fails because you expected much better surge protection than it provides, the company doesn’t honor the warranty. If you’re looking for just a polarity checker, you can find much cheaper meters elsewhere.
09) Surge Guard Model 35550 Hardwire - 50 Amp
Editor Rating: 4.0/5
This moderately expensive surge protector, model 35550 by Surge Guard, has a number of beneficial features.
It automatically resets when the power comes back on so that you don’t have to reset it when power is restored; that’s useful during brown outs or a thunder storm.
The Surge Guard has a 128 second reset delay that ensures that the power system resets don’t burn out your air conditioner.
It has a mid-range level of power surge protection: 3850 joules. That would be good for a 30 amp surge protector, but this model is designed for 50 amp power lines.
The unit itself is easy to install, though it is designed for permanent installation in the coach. The wiring doesn’t fit in all terminals, and if this occurs, you want a professional to take care of the problem. It is “plug and play” for units with a built-in telecom jack.
At 5.5 pounds or around 2 kilograms, it is neither the lightest nor heaviest on this list. The unit shuts off when it detects power surges, low or high voltage, reverse polarity and open ground.
10) Technology Research Model 40240 50 Amp Surge Guard with LCD
Editor Rating: 4.0/5
The model 40240 surge protector is designed for 50 amp power lines. It provides 3350 joules of protection. Don’t use this on a 30 amp line.
The biggest downside is its price. This unit is expensive.
For some buyers, the fact that it can be shipped outside of the United States is the reason why this is the best RV surge protector on this list.
Many other products can’t be shipped outside the U.S. The upside is that it is easy to install. It is surprisingly small given its capacity. However, it is heavy.
The unit can detect and protect against low voltage (102 volts), high voltage (132 volts), open neutral, open ground, high frequency AC power, low frequency AC power and reverse polarity. It comes with a basic LCD to indicate the current state of the power connection.
One interesting trait of this surge protector is that it has “multi-mode” surge protection. It could neutralize one power surge without blowing the fuse.
This means it isn’t a sacrificial lamb; it could continue to protect your RV when exposed to several surges in sequence or at other times.
Understand what features matter most to you when shopping for an RV surge protector. Not only does the unit need to match the amps and voltage of your power connection, but it needs to provide enough protection to give you peace of mind. Features like plug-and-play when hardwired into a coach or power quality history depend on what you want and need from it. Issues like alternating current protection only matter if you’re concerned about protecting sensitive electronics.
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