RV Surge Protector VS EMS – Which is better?

When it comes to protecting your RV, which is better?

Both devices are intended for the protection against power surges it can’t handle, and both come in Portable and Hardwired solutions. They do have notable differences though and making sure you buy the right unit is essential. Otherwise, the cost to your possessions could rank in the thousands of dollars — and your insurance policy may not cover it.

RV Surge Protectors

When it comes to protecting your RV, which is better — RV Surge Protectors or RV Electronic Manage Systems (EMS)? 

Both devices are intended for the protection against power surges it can’t handle, and both come in Portable and Hardwired solutions. They do have notable differences though, and making sure you buy the right unit is essential.  Otherwise, the cost to your possessions could rank in the thousands of dollars — and your insurance policy may not cover it.

RV Power Systems — 30 Amp or 50 Amp?

Before we dig into it, it is worth mentioning that RV power systems come in both 30 Amp and 50 Amp varieties. No worries, though — there’s an easy way to tell them apart. 

If the power plug for your RV has 4 prongs, it has a 50 Amp power system. 

If the power plug has 3 prongs, however — it has a 30 Amp system.

The 30 Amp power plug may look familiar — dryer power plugs use the same design. Don’t be fooled though, plugging your RV into a dryer outlet will lead to disastrous consequences. They have different requirements, and it will likely cost you big bucks if you make this mistake.

Both RV Surge Protectors and RV Electronic Management Systems come in 30 Amp and 50 Amp varieties.

What is an RV Surge Protector?

An RV Surge Protector is a device that goes between your RV and a power source. It protects your RV against high voltage spikes and surges, as can be caused by lightning strikes.

Usually, RV Surge protectors come with user-friendly designs and are simple to operate even for beginners. Additionally, they often come either in the form of extension cables enabling easy access.

When you plug your RV into an external power source without a surge protector, you take a huge risk. A high voltage spike could fry your RV’s wiring, as well as any electronics, plugged up inside.

While some Surge Protectors do come with warning LEDs concerning various issues, they don’t do anything to stop these issues — so if the LED warning light stops functioning, your RV could be fried.

They don’t protect against everything, but they are affordably priced and should be the bare minimum you use to protect your RV. Check out the best RV surge protector reviews.

What is an RV Electronic Measurement System?

While very similar to RV Surge Protectors, an RV EMS is much broader in protection. This does push the price point up on these devices, as they have to be able to address more issues.

In addition to the High voltage surge protection offered by RV Surge Protectors, an RV EMS protects against the following:

  • Power surges
  • High voltage and low voltage
  • Open Neutral Protection
  • Open Ground Protection
  • Accidental 220V Protection
  • AC Frequency Protection
  • Reverse Polarity Protection

Any one of these issues could destroy the wiring and electronics in your RV — but electronic management systems will protect you. While a Surge Protector may warn you about various issues with a power pedestal at a campground, it won’t prevent you from using that power. 

An EMS is designed to cut off the power from the source, preventing damage to your RV.

Between the two, the EMS is the pricier option — but the protection it offers is worth it in every way.

Similarities between the two

Both are devices that come between your RV’s power systems. And they protect your RV’s power systems from high voltage power issues, which can save you money in the long run.

They both also come in portable and hard-wired varieties, which have their own advantages and disadvantages.

After that though, the similarities start to run out.

Differences between RV Surge Protectors and RV Electronic Management Systems

While they may seem like very similar devices, they’re more like an evolution of systems. RV Surge Protectors do protect your RV, it’s true — but only against a very limited route of damage.

Electronic Management Systems on the other hand, offer a much wider array of protection. They protect against low voltage issues, also known as brownouts, which can cause just as much damage as high voltage. And if the power source you plug into is unsafe for your RV, then the EMS will block the power right then and there — no worries.

The next difference is the price tag. A Surge Protector runs around $90 to $120 for a low priced portable one, while a portable EMS typically costs at least $250.

But the cost to rewire and replace all the electronics into your RV is likely to be even more expensive.

So, which should you choose?

We say EMS. While yes, the upfront price is heftier by not a small amount, it’s a small price to pay for protection. 

An RV Surge Protector may protect you against lightning storms and other high voltage events — that’s not enough.

If too many people crowd a campground’s power systems, it can cause the voltage to run low. Not all surge protectors will protect against this. And since voltage can drop or surge at any time during use, just measuring beforehand won’t help you. And that’s not even mentioning the issues a power pedestal itself might suffer. Many campground pedestals aren’t maintained properly, and when they start having issues, it’s your recreational vehicle that suffers.

With the Coronavirus pandemic forcing people indoors, we see campgrounds into the future. Stick with an EMS for your recreational vehicle.

Portable vs Hard-Wired

Now that we’ve settled on EMS being the system that will better protect you — which option should you choose? They each have their advantages and disadvantages.

Portable EMS Pros

  • Full protection from power-related issues
  • No installation required
  • Allows you to test power systems portably
  • Many models come with built-in locking bracket


Portable EMS Cons

  • Typically more expensive than hard-wired version
  • More vulnerable to theft

Hard-Wired EMS Pros

  • Usually cheaper than portable models
  • Once installed, no more worrying
  • Full protection from power related issues
  • No worrying about theft
  • Inside access for most models

Hard-Wired EMS Cons

  • If you hire an installer, will cost extra
  • You have to pull your RV up to a power pedestal to check it — no portability


To conclude, we think that a hard-wired EMS is the best case solution. While it may be a bit costlier with installation factored in, the simple fact remains that once it’s installed — you’re protected.

With the portable system, there’s always the small worry that it may be stolen, or that you might forget to plug it in before your RV. By removing this step, you’re doing the best you can feasibly do to protect your RV against power issues.

Either way, you decide to go through – we believe you should use an Electronic Management System over a Surge Protector. Better safe than sorry, especially with something so valuable.

RV EMS Management Systems

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