Can campground ‘cheater box’ really provide 50 amps?

Can campground ‘cheater box’ really provide 50 amps?

Dear Mike,
I recently acquired a setup which has a 30-amp plug on one side and a 20-amp plug on the other. I was told that if you plug in one side to a 30-amp source and the other to a 20-amp source, you will end up with 50-amps. Is that right? There’s no brand name on it, so I assume they are homemade. — Jerry M.

Hey Jerry,

Thanks for your question. This is one of those confusing things that sort of works, but is not exactly to code. Basically this “cheater plug” is designed to obtain as much power as possible from a pedestal that doesn’t have a 50 amp receptacle. That’s so you can plug in your 50-amp RV shore power and operate all the appliances. That’s right, it’s supposed to grab power from both the 20-amp and 30-amp outlets on the pedestal, and feed it into your 50-amp shore power plug.

So, does it work and is it safe? Well first, lets review how much power is available in a typical campground pedestal. If you use a standard 30-amp to 50-amp adapter plug (like on the left) to plug in your 50-amp shore power line, you’ll be limited to 30 amps total, which will be split between both sides of your RV’s 100-ampere electrical system. Yes, that’s right! Even though we call it a 50-amp plug, it’s actually 50 amperes times 2, for a total of 100 amperes. That’s why it’s so easy to trip a 30-amp breaker on a pedestal using a 30-to-50 amp dog-bone adapter. Your RV really wants 100 amperes of current to operate everything at once.

Now does the cheater plug at the top give you more power? Well, it could except for the fact that most 20-amp pedestals are GFCI based, and the unbalanced current caused by the two neutral sides being tied together will likely cause it to trip immediately. But if you do plug it into a non-GFCI 20-amp receptacle it should work. It will provide 30 amperes of current to one side of your RV’s circuit panel, and 20 amperes to the other side. That adds up to 50 amps total, which still might not be enough power to run everything you want at the same time. However, be aware that a lot of 20/30 amp pedestals can only supply a total of 30 amperes of current. They expect you to plug into the 20-amp outlet OR the 30-amp outlet, NOT both at once.

And is it safe? If we just consider amperage draw, it should be. Even if both the 20 and 30 amp outlets are on the same power leg (which is likely), there’s only a maximum of 50 amps of return current possible on the neutral. And the neutral wire on a 50-amp RV plug is designed for that much current. However, if you use something like a cheap-heat system in your RV connected across both legs of the shore power for 240-volts, it’s possible to back-feed 120-volts across the cheater plug. And that indeed could be dangerous if one of the plugs is pulled out of the outlet. 

I just don’t think cheater plugs like this are worth the risk since you might not be able to control exactly what’s plugged into them. It’s really better to find a 50-amp pedestal and be completely safe.

Let’s play safe out there…

Mike Sokol

##RVT814

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5 thoughts on “Can campground ‘cheater box’ really provide 50 amps?

  1. Richard

    We don’t have a Cheater plug but occasionally I will run a 15 foot ( no longer than that) extension cord from the fridge to the pedestal but that is usually when we are having problems tripping the 30 amp circuit breaker because we forget we are not on 50 amp and overload it. If you are away from the RV and the 30 amp trips your fridge will still keep running as the 20 amp will still be on.
    Richard.

  2. Grannie

    HELLO…..Notice the name: “CHEATER”? That makes the person using it the CHEATER! By trying to cheat you endanger the property of the campground and often make the pedestal unusable to the next camper. And the CHEATER never suffers the consequences. Shame on cheaters.

  3. Phil Wood

    A quick heads up Your 50A is usually a 240V system which is 120VAC each leg which is OK since you use only 120 VAC in the rig. The problem is when the 30 A and the 20A are on different legs-so be sure that you check the voltage before you hook up. I have a 30 A rig and use a 50 A pigtail. I had a problem with a park recently where the 30 A would crater on voltage at a little over 20 A so I could use only one AC.

  4. Robbie

    I’ve been using a cheater plug for years. Yes, sometimes it won’t work if there is a GFI circuit, and you’ll trip the breaker immediately. I’ve had no problem at all running two air-conditioners when needed off a 30 amp and 20 amp plug combined.

  5. Darrel

    Not to mention a true “50 amp” site is actually 100 amps. 50 amps per leg.

    If the cheater actually works at all, it’s 20 amps on one leg and 30 amps on the other, with campground and pedestal wiring likely sized for only 30 amp total draw.

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