RV power cords are one of the under-appreciated pillars of your motorhome or trailer. Without them, most of the comforts of your RV would be impossible to enjoy.
But all too often, RVers are unaware of the important details that set one cord apart from another. So we’re taking a deep dive into this seemingly simple but essential piece of RV equipment.
What Are RV Power Cords Used For?
RV power cords are your rig’s lifeline to the power grid. They connect your RV electrical system to a home, campground, or RV park electrical system. This provides the shore power you need to run all of your RV’s systems. These power cords are also responsible for charging your RV’s batteries for future electrical use when not plugged into shore power.
The Different Types of RV Power Cords
When it comes to RV power cords, it’s not a “one size fits all” situation. Depending on your power source and rig, you’ll need to make sure you have a suitable cord. Here are the three varieties.
If you’ve ever used a home power cord before, you’re familiar with the 15-amp variety. These plugs have three prongs, two narrow vertical ones with a circular ground wire beneath.
While very familiar to the average person, they’re also the least common for use in RVs. The reason for this is simple. They just can’t provide as much power as most RVers need. They’ll generally be used by small camper or van-style rigs when you do find them.
The next step up is the 30-amp cord. These are physically larger than 15-amp versions and also carry more power. They include two flat slanted prongs as well as a circular ground wire.
Thirty-amp cords are most often used with smaller RVs like some Class Bs and Class Cs. They carry enough power to run just about any RV system, though you may run into capacity issues running many things at once.
Fifty-amp cords are the top dog when it comes to RV power cords. These large cords include four prongs: three vertical flat ones and circular ground.
While 15-amp and 30-amp cords rely on just one “hot” prong to carry the current, 50-amp cords use two “hot” prongs to provide additional power. This design allows 50-amp cords to help power large Class A and Class C RVs and bigger fifth wheel models.
How Long Are RV Power Cords?
RV power cords commonly come in 25-foot or 50-foot varieties. This should be sufficient for just about any hookup or power supply situation. However, you can also find lengths between those options. Unfortunately, you probably won’t find a longer cord, though.
All About Adapters
Your RV electrical kit isn’t complete without an adapter or two. Unfortunately, you may not always have access to the right type of outlet for your rig. For example, you may be moochdocking at a family member or friend’s home and only have access to 15-amp outlets for your 30-amp RV. Or you might stay at a campground that only has 30-amp sites left.
Here’s where adapters come in. They’ll allow you to plug into shore power even if the outlet isn’t quite right. You’ll only have access to the amount of power from the outlet, so even if you use your adapter to plug your 50-amp cord into a 30-amp receptacle, you’ll need to limit yourself to 30 amps of usage. There are two primary styles of adapters you should know about.
Dogbone adapters take their name from their distinctive shape. They’re bulbous on the ends and skinny through the middle, much like those old cartoon dog bones. You’ll plug your cord into one end of the adapter and plug the other end into the outlet. Their flexible midsection makes it easier to plug in regardless of the angle or position of the outlet.
Puck adapters resemble a typical hockey puck. They plug directly into the outlet, essentially covering it up and providing a space to plug your RV power cord into. Because of this design, they may not work in every situation.
Can You Plug RVs Into Regular Outlets?
The short answer is yes, but with a significant “but.” Even 30- or 50-amp rigs can use adapters to plug into a typical 15-amp outlet and draw some power.
Unfortunately, you’ll be extremely limited in what you can run at any one time, and some higher-usage appliances like air conditioners or microwaves likely won’t work at all. This may work in a pinch, but if you’re planning on regularly plugging in at a location, it may be worth upgrading to a dedicated 30-amp or 50-amp power source.
Pro Tip: This is the right way to plug in your RV at home →
How to Stay Safe When You Plug In
Power surges don’t just happen in homes. They can also happen to RVs and leave you with significant and expensive damage to your rig’s electrical system. Just like you protect your home electronics with a surge protector, you should do the same with your RV.
RV surge protectors keep you safe from more than just surges. If you travel frequently, you may never be sure about the quality of the power hookup you’re connecting to. Surge protectors will keep your rig safe against poor wiring, low voltage, or other issues resulting from a hookup that’s not up to par.
What to Look for When Buying an RV Power Cord
Before you head out to buy a power cord, make sure to keep these crucial elements in mind. Let’s take a look.
In many cases, your RV power cable will be relatively unprotected from the elements. It will face sun, wind, rain, and perhaps even snow, depending on your travels. Make sure your new cord can stand up to the weather over the long term. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in the dark and shopping for a new cord before you know it.
Are you trying to charge up from a distant outlet at home? Or are you consistently staying at RV parks with convenient power hookups near your site? You know what cord length you need better than anyone, but don’t forget about this element when buying.
If in doubt, it’s better to go longer rather than shorter. A few extra bucks upfront can prevent a lot of stress down the line.
Some RV power cords are, unfortunately, quite stiff. While this may not seem like a big deal, it can be a serious frustration wrestling with these long, heavy-duty cords time after time, both to plug them in properly and wrap them up again after. All else being equal, you should opt for a choice that’s as easy to handle as possible.
Pro Tip: Check out these shockingly reliable electrical accessories for your RV →
Get the Right Power Cord
RV power cords may seem simple, but they provide one of the most important comforts of your rig — electricity. Whether you have a 15-amp van, 30-amp trailer, or 50-amp Class A, you now know how to pick the right cord for your needs and buy one with the quality you deserve.
And every time you turn on your lights or fire up your air conditioner, say a little thank you to your humble RV power cord. What kind of power cord do you use?