As a tag-team duo, our previously reviewed Hughes Autoformer and our Progressive Industries PT50C Electrical Management System (EMS) are title contenders! Along with our newly replaced TRC auto transfer switch, some of these items overlap in their duties and the protection they give, but this is one area where “too much” may not apply.
What is it?
This is a device that protects your RV from a number of hazardous electrical conditions. It constantly monitors the incoming power and if it deems it safe, will then pass it down to the rest of your RV.
What does it do?
The most basic function is protecting your RV from power surges and spikes. Like all other surge suppressors, this is a sacrificial unit that will absorb the spike/surge to protect whatever is down the line. What separates an EMS from a surge protector is it’s ability to monitor the quality of the power coming in and automatically disconnecting if the power falls outside of its tolerances. Among other things, the system constantly monitors voltage, polarity, and lost/open neutral protection. Basically, it takes all the responsibility off you and it stays on constant watch for electricity that could be harmful to your RV and everything inside it – more time for perfecting your margarita recipe!!
Why do I need one?
Most RV’ers learn either from first-hand-experience, or second-hand stories, that RV parks don’t always supply the best or most stable electrical connections. Many of the reasons why were discussed in my review of our Hughes Autoformer, but let’s just say that going unprotected is a bet that this gambler wouldn’t make. Some of these conditions aren’t immediately noticeable or destructive, but over time they have a cumulative effect on everything that has a wall plug – that’s A LOT of (expensive) stuff! Beyond the current that is coming in, many power pedestals in RV parks can become faulty and can cause big damage before a user would have time to react. An EMS will check that your pedestal is wired correctly before allowing any power to touch your rig.
What’s it like to use one?
Pretty damn simple. Progressive makes two different versions of their EMS: hard-wired or portable. The hard-wired version is mounted in the RV and has the connections wired into and out of it. The portable version uses the standard RV power plugs. It has a male connection on the incoming end and a female socket on the outgoing side. Usually you’ll see this connection made directly to the power pedestal and then the RV’s power cord plugs into the EMS – it’s simply an in-line monitor. There are pros and cons to both versions. We chose the PT50C portable version for it’s flexibility and easy troubleshooting ability. The hardwired version is nice because it is installed once and then hopefully you never have to look at it again, but if it does need attention, it can be a more involved process. The portable version is certainly more accessible to anyone looking to “borrow” your property, so it would be advised to secure it using the provided metal bracket that Progressive installs.
Actually using it is as simple as plugging in the connections, flipping the pedestal breaker, and letting it run its diagnostics. For the technically curious folks, you can watch it’s scrolling display to see what it’s learning – it shows voltage, frequency, amperage, and any applicable error codes. It has an initial delay of 136 seconds or 2:16 (I have no idea where that time comes from, but I would have to think there is a reason). This means that when you flip on the pedestal breaker, it will monitor the connection for 2:16 before passing power down the line. This 2:16 delay applies anytime that incoming power is interrupted (like during a power outage). After that, it’s business as usual. If it detects a condition that warrants cutting power, it will display an error code that corresponds to a table printed on the unit. If that condition occurs and clears itself, the display will show a “previous error” (PE) code so the user knows what caused the issue. The PE code is cleared once power is removed from the unit.
Progressive makes the portable and hard-wired versions for both 50 amp and 30 amp connections. For 50 amp, the display will show values for both incoming power lines that a 50 amp connection has (line 1 and line 2). The 50 amp unit is perfectly fine to be used with step-down “dog bones” if you need to go to a 30, 20, or 15 amp connection. You would use your adapters as usual and then plug the unit into the 50 amp connection. Since anything less than 50 amp only has one hot line, the 50 amp model will show both lines, but they will be identical since it’s simply splitting one line.
For the details of the protection tolerances, what it monitors, and all other specs, please visit the Progressive Industries product page.
What has our experience been?
I’m glad you asked! Overall, a really good one. When we bought this coach, the owner included a Surge Guard 50 amp EMS. This was very nice as it’s not an inexpensive item. Late last year I began having issues with power cutting out and it quickly escalated to the Surge Guard being fried – it literally began to smoke. This may or may not have been caused by a faulty power pedestal. Either way, I was left with an unusable, expensive, worthless, plastic box. After you get used to having the peace-of-mind that these devices create, you’ll want to have it all the time. So, I began researching a replacement. It didn’t take long before I found a definite trend of folks endorsing Progressive Industries products. Not only did the product receive rave reviews, but the company seemed to really stand behind their product. Progressive warranties these units for LIFE to the original owner!! As long as you use it correctly, don’t abuse it, don’t get it involved in a natural disaster, you’ll never have to buy another EMS. This even extends to repair or replacement for units struck by a power surge or spike – that’s pretty awesome! On top of that, Progressive Industries offers technical support SEVEN days a week and after-hours. If you call after their office closes, you leave a message and they will follow-up. In our experience, this follow-up has occurred within an hour – impressive.
Our original unit worked flawlessly for about nine months until one day it began indicating extremely high voltage – it was reading in the 250V+ range. A quick check with a multi-meter let me know this was erroneous. I called Progressive (after hours) and found that this is common for units which have had water intrusion. Turns out the casing is weather resistant, but not waterproof. I was asked to send in my unit and about a week later I received it back. Unfortunately, about two weeks later while hooking up at a state park, I had the exact same issue. I called right at 5PM (closing time) and was promised a replacement to be sent overnight the following day without having to send in my faulty unit first. This time I decided to not wait for water to find its way into my EMS. I decided I would get the best of both the portable and hard wired versions by splicing the portable unit into my 50 amp power cord inside the electric bay. This kept it out of the weather, away from thieves, but removable within seconds if needed. To do this, I simply cut my power cord a couple feet from the origin, attached a male plug to that end and attached a female socket to the other end. In essence, I made the coach’s power cord very short (about 3 feet) and made an extension cord out of the remainder. Thus far, this setup has worked really well!!
Wrap it up already!
Yeah, I know… I talk a lot about very little, but this stuff IS important. I was very naive about electrical knowledge when I got into RV’ing. I basically just tried to mimic what I saw everyone else doing. This worked out ok, but through trial and error, I feel much more equipped now to handle any curve-balls that get thrown my way – you know they’re coming!!
If you’re in the market, this particular EMS retails at just over $430 – yikes! Luckily, it can easily be found online for closer to $300 – little less yikes! Amazon was our source when we purchased 🙂
If you have any other questions about my setup or your solution, feel free to Contact Us or leave a comment below!
See you on the road!
Ryan, Kim and Jet