Sometimes no matter how long you’ve been at something and how much you think you know, there’s always more to learn. Unfortunately, sometimes those lessons have nasty surprises no matter how much research you’ve done before a purchase.
I’ve been fulltime RVing since 2001 and I don’t think I ever heard of an Electrical Management System (EMS) when I first took off. But when I traded for a newer 2012 motorhome with many more electrical and computer driven bells and whistles, I started hearing more about the potential for disaster due to low or high voltage spikes.
Experienced and more knowledgeable RVer friends I really respected said they wouldn’t be without this kind of protection. They talked about reverse polarity, open neutral and open ground issues, and although I mostly had no clue what that all meant, it sounded like I should be protected from them anyway. I understood the need for a surge protector for my computer, so I started doing my due diligence research to protect my motorhome’s electrical components.
Nick Russell’s blog post “How Much Is Your Life Worth?” was persuasive with the question he answered:
“Why do I need an EMS? Don’t campground power outlets have to be up to code?” I don’t know what the local codes may be, but judging by the number of bad power pedestals we’ve encountered in our time on the road, I’m sure a lot don’t meet the standards. I have seen a lot of RVs damaged by both high and low voltage, and the cost or replacing things like TVs, microwave ovens, and air conditioners, plus the possibility of those appliances shorting out and starting a fire, is a lot more than the investment in an EMS system.”
I watched this easy to understand YouTube video that explained how it works and what you are protected from.
So I was sold on the necessity (and I certainly didn’t want a “hot skin condition”), but what exactly is best for me and my motorhome?
I discovered there is a range of choices, from simpler surge protectors for less than $100 to full protection electrical management system with remote display in the $300 range.
I decided to buy from RV Safety Accessories because I saw good recommendations from friends and it turned out I had camped next to owner Daryl years before and when I got back in touch, he offered me a discount. Plus I liked the fact that they offer 7 day a week tech support to their customers. I noticed later, though, that they no longer carry what I bought, but here’s the relevant info:
Hard wired vs. portable choice: The Amazon reviews for the hard wired model HW50C were almost unanimously positive. But having to pay for installation steered me toward the portable model EMS PT50C and the reviews for it were even a little more positive.
I appreciated Daryl’s opinion on other considerations in making this choice:
“Both offer the exact same protection and the same Lifetime warranty. The only difference is location of the unit.
Advantages: No extra charge for installation; can take it with you if you trade rigs.
Disadvantages: Suggest you lock it (though theft is not really a problem); cannot be serviced on the road – must be shipped to factory for service because it is sealed for waterproofing; one more thing to “plug in.”
Advantages: Easily serviced – can be serviced on the road because it does not have to be waterproof; Always on – no need to plug anything extra in; secure, not necessary to lock.
Disadvantages: Extra charge for installation; can’t easily be transferred from rig to rig.”
Other friends told me they liked the portable model since they could more easily test other poles within a campground if a problem was indicated. This made sense to me, so that part of the decision was made.
I told Daryl that another friend of mine who had the exact unit I was considering wrapped a black plastic bag around it to protect from rain and he said that was not necessary. As long as the unit does not lay on the ground, it is “weather resistant” so rain should not be an issue.
I asked about security and how it looked like it could easily be stolen. He told me that a lot of campground pedestals have a metal lid where you could insert a padlock once plugged in. But he also advised carrying a bicycle cable to wrap around the pedestal and unit and secure with a padlock, so I got both and so far, so good in that regard.
So, everything seemed to be working well for about six months when I was hooking up in a new campground and for the first time, I got an error message instead of the all clear code.
Of course, I had just arrived, hungry and road-weary and was not amused that electricity wasn’t coming through to the motorhome. Error code E-3 means high voltage, so I checked with the office who told me somebody had just left that site that morning and as far as they knew, they had no problems in the campground. I checked three other poles and got the same error, but with different voltage readings, so I called Progressive and thankfully actually got a live person, Kathi, who took me through a few troubleshooting steps and finally concluded that I would have to send it in for repair. She said they had been having problems with the seals letting in moisture but they were doing something new now that addressed that issue and that would be done during my repair.
OK, filed under Although I wasn’t thrilled that I had to get it packaged up and deal with post office lines during the holidays, I did that and just tried to laugh at my luck with the extra bonus this was Friday afternoon after post office was closed, so add 2 extra days to the four day repair time she estimated.
I turned to my Facebook friends for sympathy and to whine a bit and posted: “It took me forever to get settled in my new spot because my Progressive Electric Management System kept giving me high voltage error. Called Progressive and they asked if I could see condensation in the little reader window and there was. They say it’s water resistant if not placed on ground and it wasn’t, so I’m not impressed that I have to hassle with returning it and I’ve only had it since June.”
Friends replied with their own experience with similar units:
A fulltimer friend, Darrell of Goza’s Wanderings, sent this picture of his setup with his comments:
“I’ve used mine constantly for two years without any problems and it has laid flat on the ground before. Does yours look like mine? Mine came with warnings about not laying flat, but there are times when there is no choice in campgrounds with low pedestals. Mine has saved me several times.” (Click pictures for larger images.) The bottom part is the lockbox he got to secure it.
I noticed he had the Technology Research Corporation (TRC) brand and when I was initially researching what was out there, I looked to see what people were saying since TRC and Progressive were the major brands on the market. I came across an Amazon review comparing the two products. Since the reviewer had owned both brands, what he said was pretty persuasive, including the fact that Progressive is made in America and offers a lifetime warranty vs. 1 year. Other TRC reviews I saw were not as positive as Progressive’s, so at that time I was confident I had made the right choice.
When I spoke with Daryl at RV Safety again, he also said he had heard about the problem with the seals and that they were redoing them. When I gave the readings I was getting off to him, he said the indication of high voltage was so high that the whole park would probably be fried if the readings were true and agreed the problem was with the unit.
I sent it out via 2 day mail on December 7. On December 14, I got a notice of shipping from FedEx estimating that my package wouldn’t be delivered until December 18. Since this was way beyond what I expected, I called and later spoke with Progressive customer service representative, Anthony. I told him I thought the repair wouldn’t take that long. As a fulltime RVer, it’s not always easy to provide an address for return when I might not be in the same place for almost two weeks. He said they always use ground shipping unless the customer pays for it. He said four days meant that’s how long it would take them to fix it, not turn around time. OK, even though inconvenient, I can chalk that up to my misunderstanding.
I also wanted to know what had been done to keep the same thing from happening again. Kathi had said that they were aware of some bad seals but were now replacing them with something different. Anthony said this was not the case, and that most people think water gets in through the top of the unit. But he said sometimes the back is not installed correctly, causing the gasket not to fit perfectly, leading to water penetration. They have to open the back of the unit to replace the defective circuit board and they replace the gasket at the same time, but they weren’t really doing anything different now. This leaves me a bit worried that I’ll have to deal with the same thing again in the future.
I could tell he wanted to be helpful, so I asked Anthony if there was anything else he recommended to keep this from happening again. As a fulltime RVer, my EMS gets constant use, meaning it is frequently in the rain. The only thing he said was I could get a 50 foot, 50 amp RV extension cord and run that from the pole to the inside bin of the RV where the EMS would be protected. But it just doesn’t seem right to me that I’d have to spend so much more money, besides dealing with another long and heavy cord and if that were necessary, they should reveal that before purchase. He said other people had rigged up some kind of umbrella or plastic covering that didn’t completely envelope the EMS. I told him I thought it was the company’s responsibility to change the design, reveal the problem, or come up with an alternative after-market solution, but it shouldn’t be left to the customer to come up with something on their own. He said the company is exploring options, but nothing concrete is being done at the moment nor is there a deadline for one.
We discussed the difference between “waterproof” and “weather resistant” but I told him that if they say you can use these outside and don’t need extra protection for the rain as long as it doesn’t lay on the ground, that should mean I can use it outside even when it rains, no matter the semantics.
I told him I totally understood that despite our sometimes unrealistic expectations that things we buy will work perfectly, when they don’t, it’s the way a company handles those issues that can make or break a customer relationship and how they perceive the company.
When he asked what I was still dissatisfied with, I told him I thought that since I had the unit less than six months and had used it strictly as recommended, they should at least cover the $17.25 postage and insurance fee to send to them for repair. Anthony told me they don’t do this. But to the company’s credit, he did call me back later to say if I sent the receipt, they would issue a check to reimburse me for this charge. I appreciate this, but I still think it should be a regular company policy if the unit fails within the first year.
Wrap Up: So, overall, I’m not sorry I bought this product. I do believe in the need for it and wouldn’t be without one now from everything I’ve read.
But it’s obvious the company knows there’s a problem with water penetration on the portable units and it’s not an isolated occurrence. I think they either need to come up with a solution or be totally upfront about the potential problem on their website and through their distributors. If I had the full information and experience I have now, I would have opted for the hard wired unit.
A lifetime warranty is good in that they’ll repair the problem, but the hassle of the procedure is something I don’t think should be such a burden on the customer, especially with no assurance the problem won’t keep repeating.
Overall, I’m disappointed in how soon this product failed and the possibility it will again, but I don’t think there’s one thing about RVs that doesn’t have unexpected problems way too frequently.
But since I’m still in love with the lifestyle, if not the manufacturers, I guess I’ll keep on truckin’. 🙂
12/21/15: Anthony at Progressive called to let me know they are actively exploring different options to solve the water penetration problem, but they want better than a mediocre fix, so there’s no estimate on when that might happen. He also emphasized this was something that didn’t happen all the time, and they do think it’s a periodic problem in the manufacturing stage when the gasket is not seated properly. He offered to replace mine with the new model when they figure out the fix and I appreciate that. I’ll keep this page updated in that regard.
He did say that any solution a customer might want to try should not include opening the back of the unit in any way because breaking that seal would definitely void their lifetime warranty.
9/8/16: I sure was thankful I had this system today. This morning, my electricity went out and after confirming it wasn’t just a thrown breaker, I noticed the EMS had Error 6 (Line 2 Low Voltage). I tried it on another pedestal next door and did not get that error. The maintenance man came and replaced the 50 amp breaker, but it still gave the same error. He tried to tell me the reason why I didn’t get an error on the other pedestals is that it wasn’t plugged into coach. So I called the place where I bought it and he informed me that the maintenance guy was wrong – the EMS checks the pedestal and the coach doesn’t have to be plugged in. I just thought I’d pass this little experience along in case somebody else comes across this kind of misinformation. I changed sites and all is well now. But obviously, that pedestal developed a problem and instead of it damaging my motorhome, it shut everything down first. I was a little resistant to spending that money last year, but it probably paid for itself today!
Your Two Cents Welcome!
I’d love to hear from you with your own experiences or questions, so please feel free to comment below.