Wednesday, September 28, 2016

An EMS Unit For Your RV

Very often on various RV discussion groups and forums someone will ask what "surge protector" should they buy for their RV.  When I see this question I have an answer all ready for them and that answer is "You do NOT want just a surge protector for your RV, you WANT an EMS unit got your RV." So what is an EMS unit?

An EMS unit is an Electrical Management System. What this does as both act as a surge spike protector but more importantly it also will shut down all AC power going through the unit and into the power cord for your RV when it senses that the voltage coming in is either too high or too low. Why is this important? AC 110/120 volt power needs to flow in a certain range of voltage with a minimum and a maximum not to do harm to an electrical system and electronics connected to it. The damage that can be done when power flows out of that range can cost a great deal to repair. This unit will shut down voltage below 104 volts and above 132 volts. This may seem like an unlikely situation to occur but at campgrounds it can be quite common. At a crowded campground with a lot of RVs pulling off the power lines of the campgrounds I have seen voltage go below 110 volts. And on the other end, at campgrounds where there are few RVs at the campground which means few RVs pulling off power at the same time, the voltage is up near 130 volts. It does not take much change to put that voltage above or below the limits.

With one of these units you also get surge spike protection so should there be a sudden spike or surge or a lightening strike to the power lines the EMS unit will clamp down and cut off that surge or strike and not allow any damage to your electronics.

Both of these functions work differently. If a spike or surge comes through, the circuit physically breaks - in fact - like any surge protector that you might use at home, the unit will become dysfunctional in all ways should it need to clamp down on a spike of surge. If that happens what you need to do next depends on which company's EMS unit you own - and I will go into that later. If there is a voltage variation high or low, the unit will shut off power only temporarily until the voltage returns to within the proper range. The unit is still fully functional and it will turn the power back on when it is safe.

These units also test the polarity of the outlet you are plugging into and will not turn on if the polarity is incorrect. This means that the campground box outlet has been wired incorrectly or a wire has come loose or is off. This has to do with the outlet being properly grounded. This is also a very important thing to be certain of when plugging into any campground. If the unit shows the polarity to be wrong, you then need to go to the campground office and tell them and you will either need to be moved to another site with a correctly working outlet or campground maintenance will need to come and repair their outlet so that it is safe for you to plug into.

These units are not inexpensive. They sell for between $250 and $350 for a 30 amp unit and more for a 50 amp unit. They also come in versions that are portable - you plug the unit into the campground box and then your RV power cable into the unit OR that are hardwired. You have the unit installed into your RV's power connection which generally means cutting your power cable inside the RV and wiring the EMS unit between the power connection and your power cord. Both work exactly the same and offer the same protection. There are two main companies that manufacture these units - a company named "Surge Guard" and a company named "Progressive Industries". It is important to know that these companies also make just surge units that sell for much less - around $100 but even though these are made for RVs you are wasting your money if you don't buy the EMS model. The added protection that it provides is worth the money you will have to pay for it. You must think of this as paying for insurance. If you never need to make a claim it was there to protect you anyway - but when you need to make a claim on your insurance it pays you back - just like the protection an EMS unit gives if or when it goes to work and does its job.

The two companies units provide the same protection and do it equally well. There is one difference between the two companies that did not exist when I bought my unit which is a Surge Guard. That difference is the warranty and that warranty is what makes the difference in my reference above. The Progressive Industries EMS unit has a lifetime warranty which apparently covers the unit if it is hit with a surge/spike. The unit can be repaired with a replacement circuit board which the company will provide. I cannot say if they will provide this without charge. With the Surge Guard unit if a spike happens the unit must be discarded and a new unit be obtained for use. This would make it seem that the Progressive Industries unit is the preferred unit to buy. Perhaps.

There are two other non-performance dissimilarities to consider if buying a portable unit. The Surge Guard has a power cable with plug coming from the top and a power cable with socket coming from the bottom. Both plug and socket have a pull handle that makes it easy to pull the unit both from the power box and off of your RV power cable. In this regard the Progressive Industries unit has a very short power cable on top with its plug and its power socket is in the middle of the unit. There is pull handle on the plug or the socket. With how hard it can sometimes be to pull RV power plugs and sockets apart those handles actually are a big benefit. The other thing to consider is that the Progressive unit has a small ring on its power cable to put a padlock through and then get that padlock somehow attached to the campground power box so that this $300 investment will not be stolen. Surge Guard has its own system which is a purchased option to prevent theft. It is a box that locks around the RV power plug and the EMS unit's socket preventing anyone from pulling the RV cord and unit apart and taking the EMS unit. I have that box and while it can be a pain in the a** to put together and lock, it does work.

These are the models to look for from each company -

Progressive Industries  - Model EMS-PT30C (This is the 30 amp portable.)
Surge Guard - Model 34830

When you plug in the EMS unit there will be a delay before it passes power through to your RV. The delay takes about two minutes and 15 seconds - and those can be the longest two minutes and 15 seconds to wait to see if all is well and you have power. The delay is there as a feature and more protection should the unit stop power because of a voltage variation and not just start back immediately which if an air conditioner had been on and is still turned on, the power restarting will not damage the air conditioner.

I will conclude with a recent experience we had at a campground recently. We were plugged in and in for the night. The Surge Guard was connected and working. We were inside watching television. All of the lights were on and the air conditioner was running. We had been in for about an hour and a half. Suddenly, the television went off, the air conditioner stopped and when I looked over to the microwave the display was dark. The lights were all on - and it took me a minute to realize that the AC power was out - the lights stay on because they are powered - even when plugged in - by the coach (RV) batteries. Why was the power out? My first thoughts were that there was something wrong with the Roadtrek. I went through what it could be inside and was not coming up with anything. I then decided to go outside and see if someone walked through our site and tripped over our power cable pulling it out of the box. We had no power about ten minutes when I got outside and saw that the Surge Guard had power coming into it but the connection light was flashing. One of two things had happened. There was a voltage variation and the Surge Guard shut off power to protect us or the campground lost power and the power had come back on and the Surge Guard had to go through its delay to put power back into our RV. Power came back and all worked again. Later, very early in the morning, power went out again - and then came back on. I went to the office that morning and told them and they were aware that the power had gone out all over the campground - and we were assured that it would be fixed. Did the EMS unit come into play in this incident? Maybe. Did it remind me that one must always plug in at a campground using an EMS unit? Absolutely!

Some feel that they don't want to pay what an EMS unit costs? Some say that they have never had a problem. I am reminded of what Dirty Harry said - "Feeling lucky?" I know RV owners who have had had the EMS unit do its job and saved them from expensive damage. I also know of RV owners who wish that they had one when they found out what the repair bill was to replace most of the electrical system in their RV after a voltage variation. You decide. Maybe you will be lucky. Maybe you will not.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Driving In New York State

Meryl suggested that I write an article about what it is like to drive in New York State. What I will share with you is based on years of actual observation and experience. When we are traveling every so often we encounter people who say that they are planning to visit New York - not necessarily New York City - and we share with them what I will share with you all in this article. What I will write may be humorous but I assure you it is all real.  I am sure some of you have started reading this and are thinking well I would never go there anyway - and I will say right up front, I can't blame you for that. I can't avoid driving in New York - I live here.

New York State has all of the traffic laws that most other states have. You can make a right on red - AFTER a full stop. There are stop signs. There are traffic lights. There are speed limits. In fact in much of the state the speed limit is a maximum of 55 mph and not the usual 65 mph that is found in other states - and in some of those states some interstate highways have been increasing that to 70 or more. There is a "handsfree" cell phone law - you can't drive with a cell phone in your hand. There is also a "no texting" law while driving - which one would figure is just common sense but no, that is not the case. So what makes driving in New York State a problem? Well, most New Yorkers look upon the traffic laws as ONLY A SUGGESTION.

Huh? What? Yes. Let's take an obvious law - stopping at a red light. Why do you stop at a red light? Because there are vehicles going across that intersection non-stop while that light is red. In New York, red lights are taken by so many drivers as just a suggestion to stop - and so often they don't. This has led to a number of red light cameras that are placed to stop this but apparently also paying the traffic ticket received in the mail is also just a suggestion.  The same thing happens with stop signs - and not just with "rolling stops" where a car comes slowly up to the stop sign, hesitates, and then keeps going. Here some feel that the stop sign really does not apply to them and they just keep on going - no hesitation, no looking - no stopping.

Speed limits are another suggestion. While few actually drive at 55 mph, driving within the 5 mph "allowance" over that is not enough and it is not uncommon for cars to be going at 70 or 80 or faster - and sometimes doing 70 on a residential avenue. (The four lane avenue that I live on is one example of that.) Not only do cars speed on the limited access highways but they also race - weaving in and out of traffic. Generally in groups of two or three cars - when one car speeds past you and weaves between the lanes, expect at least one and likely two more to follow. And it does not matter if this is during the day, during the evening, at night, or late night - during the week or on a weekend. "Accidents" are constantly in the news here about deadly collisions, cars flying off the road, etc. Some may be attributed to driving under the influence of alcohol but not all - and more often they are the result of driving way to fast on roads that were never intended for that type of speed. It continually surprises me when there needs to be an investigation about what caused these accidents. A quick look at the photo of the destruction immediately says someone was driving way too fast. Yes, these types of accidents happen everywhere - but in New York the attitude of - "these laws do not apply to me" and that the laws are only a "suggestion" result in so many.

Now, combine this with someone with a cell phone in their hand. Whenever you see a car driving radically in New York, if you come up close to see the driver, there is either a cell phone in the hand at the ear or the driver is looking down from the wheel at a phone with both hands on it with fingers running across the phone keyboard texting. It happens that we were in a serious accident a few years ago stopped at a corner in a left lane to make a left turn with traffic coming toward us in the opposite lane. A car came speeding up behind us - well over the 40 mph speed limit - and slammed us from behind. We were lucky to be able to walk out of the car. Our car was totaled with the rear of the car crushed into the backseat. Had anyone been sitting in the rear they would have been dead. I am still not sure - right to this moment - how we got out of that car alive. The young driver of the car that hit us was also able to get out of his car that was crushed in from the front. He said - "I didn't see you." Really?    A bystander who saw the whole thing came over from the sidewalk and asked him - "Were you on your cell phone?" Some hesitation and stumbling of words - "I have Bluetooth." The police came - and made no note of my suggestion that he was on his phone. A few days later speaking with someone in the neighborhood who knows the family of this driver, I was told that the guy was texting while he was driving when he hit us. We let the police know - but that did not seem to matter.

It all sounds crazy or maybe not. The other day we were on our way to go to the post office. Next to the post office there is a bank and there were police swarming all over the bank's parking lot, around the bank and in the bank. We went to the post office and when we came out we saw that the police were still at the bank - two police cars just in from the street exit (one way only out) from the bank's parking lot and they had put up Crime Scene yellow tape across the exit of the parking lot.  While we were getting ready to leave the post office parking lot - separate from the bank's lot - we watched not one, but two cars at different times try to pull into the bank's exit from the street and through the crime scene tape. We had to laugh because, you see, in New York crime scene tape is JUST A SUGGESTION.

It is also important to know that if you are going to come to New York - anyway - be aware that there are many limited access roads that you cannot drive on with an RV - even one as small as a Roadtrek or other Class B. In New York State - the description of motorhome fits the description of the interior of a Roadtrek or other Class B. The laws about these roads are very specific and if you are on one of these roads and come upon a "State Trooper" - the NYS police who cruise the state highways to enforce traffic laws - you will be stopped and likely go home with an unwanted, souvenir, NYS traffic ticket.  NY is not an RV friendly state - there are few RV dealers, few who even know what an RV is, and fewer who have actually seen one up close. There are also limited access roads designated "parkways" that have posted maximum heights on their entrances. Here on Long Island both the Southern Parkway, which runs along the South Shore of the Island, and the Northern Parkway, which runs along the North Shore of the Island, have signs posted at no entrance for vehicles over 7' 10" - which by the way stops even non-converted Sprinter vans from going on these parkways. The problem is on those two roads there are overpasses that are lower than 7' 10" including one posted at 6' 8". But you don't have to worry about this - unless you have the attitude that no motorhomes are permitted on parkways is just a suggestion, you won't be on either of these roads and risk ripping the roof off of your 8' 10" or taller Roadtrek or Class B. And please be aware that regular car GPS units will direct you on these roads - and in my brief experience with a Rand McNally RV GPS that will take you right on these restricted roads also. (I say brief experience because the first thing I did when I got one was have it route my on Long Island and it went right onto the Southern Parkway. The GPS was returned the next day.)

I have focused on motorhomes here - as for trailers - if it is not a truck limited access road you cannot go on it with any trailer or if you are towing anything.

What roads can you go on - local roads that are not posted with any height or weight restriction, roads, bridges, and tunnels that are not posted with propane or hazardous material restrictions, "Expressways" are OK, "The Thruway" is OK, a "Turnpike" is OK. a "Highway" is OK.

Unfortunately if you are in New England or are going to New England there is no way to completely avoid New York State - short of going west, going up to Canada and coming back down around NYS - but you are going to have to go back the same way. Just be careful. Just be alert. And expect the unexpected. I won't even go into the condition of the roads but I always know when we are traveling that we are either out of New York or back in New York because in New York you bump, bounce, shake and rattle as you roll in a Roadtrek (or I am sure other Class Bs or motorhomes). So if you come, welcome to New York!