By Russ and Tiña De Maris
In the classic monster movies, the mad scientist zaps his new “creation” with a huge blast of electricity — and it all goes bad from there. As RVers, the wrong kind of voltage can raise all kinds of problems for us; and it’s not just any voltage to worry about, but low voltage.
Old RV parks often have an old electrical system that may well be underrated for the needs put on it by present-day RVs. If the electrical system voltage is consistently below 104 volts it can cause damage to RV electrical and electronic gear.
Your air conditioning system is one of the most easily affected. It takes a set amount of power to operate and it MUST have it. If the voltage is low, then the unit will still function but it will run hot. This puts a huge strain on the compressor motors and given enough trouble, something’s gonna break — and it won’t be cheap to fix.
HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF? Buy, install and use a power line monitor. You can use yours as an added safety benefit against bad electrical wiring at the RV hookup. One inside the rig watches the monitor as another plugs in the power at the pedestal. The inside person verifies that the power monitor shows “good” wiring — no reverse polarity, no “no ground” situations — any of which can lead to safety issues. Other RVers take the safety a step farther: Using the appropriate adapter, they plug their monitor directly into the power outlet on the campground pedestal, getting a “read” on the power even before plugging their RV in. The latter is a smarter approach.
Camping World sells a fancy power line monitor for about $65. If you don’t want to spend that much, then use your digital voltmeter. Set the meter to monitor AC voltage and carefully plug the probes into the large, rectangular blade slots of one of your wall outlets as shown. Check the voltage that way, but don’t leave the meter probes plugged in unattended! An alternative would be to build yourself a “plug in” cord set, using a wall plug, some “zip” wire, and a set of plugs to fit your meter. If you already have a digital voltmeter — or even if you don’t (but they’re really inexpensive) — you can build your own power line monitor for a whole lot less than buying one.
Editor: Here are some digital multimeters at Amazon.