Basic tips related to caring for an RV’s shore power cord and connections.
By Shelly Buell
At home we turn on a switch and expect power to engage. This is the bargain we make with a local power company. As long as we pay the bill, they provide the voltage. Exactly how the electricity arrives at that lamp or wall outlet is generally not a matter of great concern. Getting shore power to a motorhome, however, requires a hands-on approach to the shore cord. With proper care and maintenance, you can help to assure a good connection each time the vehicle is plugged in.
Prior to positioning the motorhome into a campsite, perform a visual inspection of the outside power pedestal. It is advisable to park close enough to the source to avoid the necessity of an extension cord, as any additional connections may reduce the available power supply and possibly damage sensitive electronic components. Excess cord also can create a safety hazard for anyone walking around the exterior of the motorhome. Once the connections are lined up, extend only as much cord as necessary to reach the connection, and never allow the power cord to lie in standing water while plugged into shore power.
An adapter may be necessary to convert the end of the shore power cord to available amperage at the power pedestal. Do not exceed the amperage or voltage allowed for individual motorhome operation. Wipe dust from the adapters after each use and store them in a dry location.
Before plugging into shore power, confirm that the pedestal’s breaker is turned off. Plug the connection straight in, equally aligning all prongs before making the connection. Be sure the cord end is secure in the outlet. If the pedestal experiences a power failure, do not attempt a fix, other than switching the breaker on and off a few times. To prevent personal injury and potential damage to electronics inside the motorhome, let the campground management restore service.
For safety’s sake, disconnect the shore cord from the power pedestal during lightning storms. A lightning strike to the pedestal can cause considerable damage to the motorhome’s electrical system.
To properly disconnect from shore power, turn off the breaker first and then unplug the cord. Do not forget to remove the adapter, if one is attached. Wipe away dust from the cord and carefully inspect the casing for signs of wear and tear, burns, melted rubber, or discoloration.
Detachable shore power cords (from the motorhome’s receptacle) require frequent handling, and the wire connections should be inspected at least once every six months for signs of looseness. Before examining the cord, completely remove it from the power pedestal and the motorhome inlet. With the appropriate screwdriver, remove the two screws located at the motorhome’s end of the plug. Slide down the cord collar to allow access to the wires. Carefully examine each wire and confirm it is secure. Just one slightly loose wire can cause electrical problems inside the motorhome. At the power pedestal end of the detached shore cord, closely inspect the terminals for signs of melting or discoloration.
Loose power cord connections also can cause high amperage, heat buildup, and “phantom” problems inside the motorhome. Shore cords rated for 50 amps and 30 amps should have the connections tightened twice each year. To do this, unplug the shore cord and, using a small straight-blade screwdriver, remove the screws at the end of the cord. Slide the collar down. With the correct size screwdriver, tighten the screws at the wire locations (four screws on 50-amp cords and three screws on 30-amp cords).
Once the shore power cord is inspected, leave the motorhome unplugged and disengage the generator and inverter. Remove the front cover of the 120-volt-AC panel and check for loose connections that can occur from road vibration.
Power cord reels are designed with stop collars near each end of the cord. Listen carefully while operating the power cord system. A change in motor sound is an indication to release the in-out switch before damage occurs to the system. Battery power and a fuse are required to operate the power cord reel. Low voltage or a blown fuse may render the system inoperable. If a fuse shorts and a new fuse continues to blow, manually retract the power cord.
Some style shore cords run from the service bay down through a floor access, allowing the motorhome owner to close the door and conceal the cord. Use extra caution to avoid overlooking the cord before driving away, which could damage the cord, the floor, and the service bay.
If you inadvertently back over a shore cord, or drive away from a power pedestal with the cord still attached, consider this a good time to buy a new cord. Don’t risk relying on a damaged cord. Compromised electrical cords can result in costly repairs to motorhome components.
When you take the motorhome in for troubleshooting and service, always be sure to bring along the shore cord, to rule out any wiring problems inside the cord.
There is never a good time to lose electrical power. Take the time to learn proper operation. That, in combination with regular maintenance, will go a long way toward guaranteeing power is always there at the touch of a switch.
Editor’s Note: A faulty power cord can pose a fire or electrocution hazard. If you are not completely comfortable in your ability to perform these inspection and maintenance procedures, contact an electrician or RV service professional.