The Shocking Truth About RVs

Jul 22nd, 2010 | By | Category: RV Safety
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Please help us by taking this short survey about RV Shocks:

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We’ve been trying to locate a survey on just how many RV owners have been shocked by their recreational vehicles, but search as we might, nobody seems to have done a study. So last July we asked www.RVtravel.com to run a simple 10-second survey directed to their 85,000 opted-in newsletter readers, and this is what we found.

We asked this basic question: Have you or anyone who has traveled with you been shocked by your RV or another recreational vehicle?

  • Yes, seriously:  0.68% (7)
  • Yes, but not seriously:  21.10% (218)
  • No: 78.22% (808)

The results of the survey were alarming. More than 1,100 readers responded, with 21 percent reporting they had been shocked by their RV at some time. A few readers claimed being seriously injured.

The magnitude of the problem isn’t obvious until you apply the 21 percent shocked number against the total number of families who use recreational vehicles in the USA alone. According to RVIA.org, more than 8.2 million American families own an RV: that’s nearly one RV for every 12 households who own a car. This means perhaps 1.7 million families have been shocked from an RV, with up to 500,000 being “seriously” shocked. Now, we’re not even counting the times RVers have burned up a power plug or have blown up a microwave due to an improperly wired or worn campsite pedestal outlet.

So let’s get something straight — every shock is potentially “serious.” It’s just a matter of circumstances coming together that can then kill you or a family member. If your hands and feet are wet, it can take as little as 30 volts AC to stop your heart. How many times have you walked back from the shower and touched the side of your RV while standing on the damp ground? Ever felt a tingle then? If so, you dodged the bullet that day, but the next time could kill you or a loved one.

With that in mind, RVtravel has partnered with the nationally-recognized HOW-TO Workshops and its chief instructor Mike Sokol, a technology instructor with 40 years experience in the professional sound industry. Together, they have begun an electrical safety program called the No~Shock~Zone, and are instituting a series of online articles and training videos on RV electrical safety, which we’ll post first at RVtravel.com and then at the blog NoShockZone.org. These how-to safety articles will cover everything from how to use a digital meter or non-contact tester to confirm the campsite power plugs are wired correctly to how to check your own extension cords for proper wiring. The articles will provide quick ways to confirm you don’t have the silent but deadly Hot-Skin problem, where your entire RV is electrified.

The No Shock Zone blog will ask for your continued comments about getting shocked by your RV or the times your gear was damaged at campsites due to incorrect wiring. You can contact Mike Sokol directly at mike(at)fitsandstarts.com or visit www.noshockzone.org for more information.

A few comments from the RVtravel survey:

  • OURS CAME IN OUR FIRST FIFTH WHEEL due to an improperly installed wire in the bedroom area. Due to vibration when we were towing, the insulation slowly wore through but nothing was noticeable for about five years after we had it. Finally it shorted out all together when we had it stored for the winter and water got in through the roof and hit the weak spot. Fleetwood admitted the error and gave us some reimbursement, but we were receiving shocks from the frame for two years, and I was blaming it on a faulty switch box that I was hooked into.
  • My issue was due to a improperly spliced extension cord.
  • Several years ago we were plugged into a spot for RV visitors in a mobile home park. At 9 p.m., with only a couple of lights on, I begin to hear electricity arcing and the lights blinking. Next the plug for the microwave caught fire and then the bottom of the cupboard caught fire. The 110 breaker box was close by and I killed the juice and got the fire out. The plug at the pedestal was wired wrong and consequently defeating the auto operation of the breakers. That park paid for the damage.
  • One of the problems that I have experienced while work camping is that one improperly wired RV can make every RV on a common loop hot skinned. This improper wiring is not always the result of some shade tree mechanic doing something stupid. Found this problem at a CG and the offending rig was a brand new unit that the owner was using for the first time. It was wired reverse polarity.
  • I connected with a 50 amp at a campground that tested O. K. but when a load was applied one leg dropped off due to a loose connection and my inverter/converter relay tripped off saving damage. Here again the box was well worn and the outlet was way beyond when it should have been changed.
  • Bad plug at a KOA in Springfield, daughter got a shock going into our camper. It also messed about with the power. Called the campsite owner over and he said, “Oh yeah, was planning on replacing that plug.” He brought power to us from another outlet. After that I now check.

Permission to re-post this article granted with credit to RVtravel.com.

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34 Comments to “The Shocking Truth About RVs”

  1. Dick Kuykendall says:

    Mike.
    I read your first article on RV Travel and found it very interesting and informative. It was well presented and the graphics were easily understood.
    Keep up the good work. I look forward to your next article in RV Travel.

    Dick Kuykendall
    Gig Harbor, Washington

  2. mike says:

    Thanks for the new series you are starting with RV Travel weekly newsletter, the water and electricity explanation made a lot of sense…

  3. George McKinney says:

    I just finished reading your 1st installment on RV electrical safety at RVtravel.com. I was an electrician for 32 years and this article is worded perfectly for the everyday RVer. Thanks for educating everyone who reads these articles.

  4. Ralph Bowen says:

    Good series, so far. Looking forward to each article. Many good points and well worth reading. Thanks

  5. DFBARRETTSR says:

    VERY INFORMATIVE, NEVER KNEW LARGE BLADE WAS NEUTRAL SMALL BLADE WAS HOT. WORKED ELEC. FOR MANY YEARS SO YOU CAN TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW WAYS… THANK YOU

  6. otrider53 says:

    I’m learning a lot and you make it very understandable. Thanks for bringing it to a level that even non-mechanically minded folks can get. I look forward to reading the next article in the series. Thanks so much! Pam

  7. Jerry Bartholomew says:

    I’m 75 years old and I knew all of these things, but during the years much of this has faded due to old age. I guess they faded because you don’t run into these problems as much as you once did. Your articles are refreshing my memory. Keep up the good and informative work. Great articles. Jerry B.

  8. Gene De Lash says:

    I find your articals very informtive, I do have a question In your 5th artical you talk and show a wire gauge. I have looked several places and can not find one . could please tell me were i can get a wire gauge??
    Thanks Gene

  9. […] The No~Shock~Zone: Understanding and Preventing RV Electrical Damage— Part 1 Copyright Mike Sokol 2010 – All Rights ReservedIf you’ve read the survey we did last July at http://www.RVtravel.com, you know that 21% of RVers who answered the survey  have been shocked by their RV.  What follows is the first in a 12-part series about basic electricity for RV users and how to protect yourself and your family from shocks and possible electrocution. Review the 21% report at http://new.noshockzone.org/15/ […]

  10. C. Scarpa says:

    Dear Mike,
    Love your videos and articles – i have one question re: Hot Skin issue – i have a Surge Guard – Model 34730 made by TRC – and it ‘inferred’ that it would protect against the RPBG situation – am i incorrect? Thanks.

    • Mike Sokol says:

      Actually, it WILL NOT protect you from an RPBG (Reverse Polarity Bootleg Ground) outlet. It won’t notify you there’s an RPBG outlet causing a high-current hot-skin, nor will it disconnect your RV from an RPBG induced hot-ground/hot-skin even if it did trip off for some other reason. I have confirmed this with the manufacturer’s engineering consultant, but don’t think their promotion department has gotten the message. Maybe you should send them a link to my articles on the subject at http://www.rvdoctor.com/2001/07/friends-of-gary-mike.html and http://ecmweb.com/contractor/failures-outlet-testing-exposed. These articles show that there are no standard test procedures using a 3-light outlet tester or even a $300 Ground Impedance Tester that will find an RPBG. However, an RPBG is easily discoverable using a $20 NCVT (Non Contact Voltage Tester). See http://new.noshockzone.org/rv-electrical-safety-part-iv-–-hot-skin/ for my article on testing for an RV hot-skin using an NCVT.

      Mike Sokol

      Just a few more things to add. I definitely DO recommend some sort of voltage/surge protector for ALL RVs. While none of them will protect you from an RPBG, that mis-wiring condition should only be found in older (pre 1970’s) wiring, such as a friend’s garage receptacle you use for shore power while parked in their driveway. It’s next to impossible for someone to mis-wire a modern campground with an RPBG. However, ALL campgrounds are subject to power problems such as open neutrals, open grounds, reflected hot-skin voltage, reversed polarity, over-voltage, under-voltage, and surges/spikes from lightning and big motors.

      I’ve personally evaluated the surge/voltage protectors from TRC and Progressive, and find that they DO protect your RV from those all too common power conditions in campground pedestals. But as I’ve written in my EC&M and RV Doctor articles, the entire electrical industry seemed to be unaware of RPBG mis-wiring until I started writing about it and doing demonstrations last year. And I’m not talking about just the RV industry being uninformed, the entire electrical metering industry was unaware of RPBG mis-wiring as well.

      I believe this lack of RPBG awareness is due to the fact that all bootleg grounds (and their evil twins – RPBGs) are a violation of the National Electrical Code, and thus have not been carefully analyzed. However, I live in a 1920’s house and found half of the wiring that was redone sometime in the 70’s had been mis-wired with RPBG receptacles. Since then I’ve found RPBG receptacles in a number of rental units, churches, boat docks and home garages. And I’ve not yet done a formal study looking for RPBG receptacles, only casual testing where I plug in my sound and seminar gear.

      What makes RPBG mis-wiring so dangerous is that anything with a ground plug connected to one will appear to operate normally, yet have its chassis electrified to 120-volts with a high-current hot-skin. This condition can go hidden for years or even decades until an unsuspecting user touches the hot-chassis appliance and a ground source (such as a kitchen sink) at the same time. The result will be a substantial shock and possible death by electrocution.

      As I noted on my hot-skin article linked-to above, the easiest way to check for ALL hot-skin conditions is by using a Non Contact Voltage Tester (NCVT) to test the pedestal outlet for proper polarity and no ground voltage BEFORE plugging in your RV’s shore power connection, then quickly testing your RV for a hot-skin AFTER plugging into shore power. This only takes seconds, and could potentially save your own life or the life of a friend, relative or a even stranger who comes to visit your RV while standing on the wet ground.

      Mike Sokol

  11. Michele Kreutz says:

    Our trailer is only 4 years old and this last vacation I experienced little shocks all through the kitchen area. The bath was fine. Just wondering what this could be. Thank you.

    • Mike Sokol says:

      Please describe what kind of trailer you have and under what circumstance you were feeling this shock.

      • Michele Kreutz says:

        We have a Heartland Sundance fifth wheel, about 33 feet in length. I was shocked while touching the oven handle as well as closing the kitchen aluminum blinds. Anything metal I touched would do it. I got to where I wouldn’t touch a thing unless I grabbed a kitchen towel first. Like I mentioned, we’ve never had this before last summer. Couldn’t be a problem with the RV Parks because it happened at all of them. Thanks for sending your number. My husband will contact you on this.

  12. Bill Proctor says:

    I admire your professionalism and commitment to informing and protecting the public. Thanks for all you are doing.

    After watching several of your videos, I purchased a Fluke VoltAlert 1AC A II. It says it works for 90-1,000 Volts AC. In your videos, you indicate that about 40 volts gets to a dangerous condition, so now I’m afraid this particular VoltAlert won’t protect us. Please advise what model I should get, if another model is really needed. Thank you again.

  13. Valerie says:

    Thank you so much for you series of articles. I am coming to your series five years after you began them, and as a new conversion RVer, I have a lot to learn, and am grateful for every reliable source I find. Your articles are easy to understand and very enlightening.

    • Mike Sokol says:

      Even though it’s rated for 90 to 1,000 volts, that’s on a very small surface. It will indeed beep at potentials as low as 40 volts on any reasonably large surface more than a few square inches. And if an RV is hot-skin energized to 120-volts, it will beep from up to 2 feet away. Quite scary the first time you encounter it, but that’s when it will save your life. So bottom line is, yes you do have the correct tester.

    • Mike Sokol says:

      You’re very welcome. Please pass this important information on to everyone you meet online and on the road.

      Safe travels…

      Mike Sokol

  14. Bill says:

    We have only been RVing about 30 nights. Fortunately, I came across your website and read it, then bought a multimeter to test voltage at the box and a Voltalert. Tonight, I figured we have a hot/neutral reversal! I notified the camp owner, who said he has not had one person before bring this condition to his attention. He was able to fix it rapidly, and thanked me. So I’m really going to keep up the habit of checking voltage before plugging in! Thanks again!

  15. Phil says:

    Mike, I’m in an RV park in Mexico. Went to a benefit dinner at a restaraunt in the park and took my NCVT as my date. It was pouring rain and the tables and the band were under tents. The ground was soaked and puddles were everywhere. When the band was set up (2amps and 2mics) both mics set my NCVT off from about 2in. away. Is this normal or abnormal? Power came from a long 15amp extension cord that ran into the bathroom. That plugged into a cheap 3-prong power strip and then to the amps. The show went on and no-one got seriously shocked. One musician told me he felt a little tingle if his lips contacted the mic.

    • Mike Sokol says:

      Yes, this was a VERY dangerous condition, and certainly not normal. Since it set off your NCVT from 2″ away, it was likely close to full line voltage, perhaps 90 to 120 volts. Most likely there was a failed ground connection in an extension cord somewhere, and since all instrument amplifiers leak a little current to their chassis, this open ground can cause anything from a tingle to an electrocution. In fact, I teach using an NCVT to check all microphones and guitar amps for voltage on stage prior to every show I run sound at. And just like any RV, if you feel a shock from a microphone or guitar, that’s a definite sign that a EGC safety ground has been compromised, which is certainly dangerous.

  16. Danny Thomas says:

    Mr. Sokol,

    Just discovered your site. I’m a Carriage Cameo (2008) owner with a question posted on a forum where I’m a member. Is it a best practice for the landing legs of a 5th wheel to be grounded, and why?

    Hope this is a good place to ask.

    With your permission, I’d like to pass on a link to your site and the response to this question.

    Regards,

    • Mike Sokol says:

      Actually, putting jacks down on the ground will do little or nothing to “ground” your RV. What you need is a solid chassis connection to the safety ground EGC (Equipment Grounding Conductor) in the pedestal’s power outlet, and that EGC wire is connected back to the service panel’s Ground-Neutral-Earthing bonding point. By code this needs to have less than a 1-ohm impedance connection to the bonding point so that it can trip circuit breakers quickly in the event of a short. Even if you drive in a local ground rod, that will likely have a ground impedance of 100 ohms or so, insufficient to trip a circuit breaker. Jacks on the ground are likely to have an impedance to earth of up to 1,000 ohms or so, thereby making them useless for actually “grounding” your RV. The quick answer is that it really doesn’t matter if you have jacks up or jacks on the ground. You need a solid ground wire in your shore power plug to keep your RV safe from shock.

  17. Thanks for sharing this. My family has been looking for an RV lately and this is something I’ll have to ask some questions about. I wonder if the dealers even have any idea. I’ll find how which ones truly know their business and with ones don’t.

  18. Jeremy Davis says:

    I find this information amazing. My family has talked about renting an RV for a trip but this article makes me re-think this. What have the RV manufacturers done or recommend to fix this issue?

    • Mike Sokol says:

      RV’s are generally very safe. You just have to be careful what you plug into. With a few simple precautions you should never feel a shock or be in any danger. Remember to check tire pressures and loads, make sure your hitch is properly rated, and don’t overload your tow vehicle. Checking for proper voltate is just one more thing that will keep you and your family safe while on the road.

  19. Bill Sander says:

    When wiring a 50 amp receptical and testing the two hot connections, can they vary 2 volts? One side reads 124 volts and the other side reads 122 volts. Is that normal?

    • Mike Sokol says:

      Yes, that’s perfectly acceptable and expected. Now if you’re reading 5 to 10 volts difference between legs, then I would concerned that there a big imbalance in the current draw. Still nothing horrible, but a hint that the system upstream wasn’t wired exactly right.

      • Bill Sander says:

        Thank you very much. I just wanted to make sure I wired it correctly. When looking at the receptical I wired the two hots from the 50 amp breaker to one on the left and one on the right, the common on the bottom and the ground on the top. When I received the variation of two volts I thought I had done something wrong. Thanks again!

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