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Articles on Electric Vehicles

April 17, 2022
Paul Gipe

How do You Charge an EV at an RV Park? And Why Would You?


There may be times driving an EV when a charge is needed and there are no commercial stations nearby that’s when charging at an RV park may be necessary. Knowing this can save your bacon—or at least a tow.

In the early days (we began driving an EV seven years ago), charging at an RV Park was common. There were few commercial charge stations even in California. Drivers on a road trip then needed to know where they could charge and how to do it.

Mobile or Emergency Charge Cable

Most EVs come with an emergency or mobile charge cable known as an EVSE in the trade (Electrical Vehicle Supply Equipment). It’s usually packed in the trunk. Some drivers never use anything but the charge cable that came with the car. They use it to charge at home.

Others never unpack it as they may never need it. The EVSE that came with our 2020 Bolt is still in its plastic wrapper. We use a wall-mounted ClipperCreek HSC 40 to charge at home. On a road trip where we might encounter problems, we carry a high-power mobile charge cable that’s capable of charging the Bolt at its maximum. We’ve used this cable to charge our EVs at RV parks several times in the early days. Now we hardly ever use it and that’s the way it should be.

Some Necessary Electrical Jargon

Like charging at home, you can charge at an RV Park on Level 1 or Level 2.

Level 1: 120 Volts

In North America, all mobile charge cables can charge at Level 1. This uses the common household receptacle that is rated for 120 volts at 15 amps. For safety reasons, you can only draw 12 amps continuously on a 15 amp circuit.

Power = V x A = 120 V x 12 A = 1.44 kW

To charge at this level is painfully slow, requiring up to 60 hours to fully charge a Chevy Bolt with a 60 kWh traction battery. Thus, they’re only useful in an absolute emergency or if you need to top up overnight.

In an emergency you can figure that this will give you 4 miles of range per hour. Though that may be all you need to get to the nearest commercial station.

It can get worse if you’re not paying attention. The Chevy Bolt defaults to only 8 amps on a 120 volt circuit. In this case you get slightly less than one kW per hour. The driver can override this default and set the charge level at 12 amps, charging at 1.4 kW. Do so only when you know the wiring on the circuit is up to code.

Level 2: 240 Volts

RV Parks have utility hookups and often these include 240 volt, 50-amp service for powering the air-conditioning load on big RVs. That’s more than most EVs need.

Our Bolt charges at home on a 40-amp circuit. The wall-mounted EVSE delivers 240 volts at 32 amps continuously until the car is charged.

P = V x A = 240 V x 32 A = 7.7 kW

This can charge the car seven times faster than Level 1. It would “only” take ten hours to charge a Chevy Bolt to full on this circuit.

You can figure that every hour on a 32-amp Level 2 will add 24-30 miles of range.

Travel Trailer TT-30

To complicate matters, many older RV Parks have a third receptacle, the TT-30. This outlet was designed for older Travel Trailers that required 30 amps service at 120 volts. If you have the right adapter you could use this receptacle to charge at Level 1 but your EVSE may not draw more than 12 amps.

Plugs are Specific

Each plug is designed to mate only with its specific receptacle. This protects the circuit and the user.

Most mobile charge cables in North America come standard with a NEMA 5-15 plug for use with 120 Volt, 15 amp circuits. Some mobile EVSEs are capable of charging at Level 2 as well as Level 1. They will require special adapters.

Most modern RV parks will have a NEMA 14-50 receptacle for 240-volt charging at up to 40 amps continuously. This will require a special plug adapter for the mobile charge cable.

Not All RV Parks are EV Friendly

If you think you’re going to need to charge at an RV park, call first. Not all are EV friendly. Some are hostile. First ask if you can charge, then if they have a NEMA 14-50 RV hook up, and how much it costs. We’ve paid 10$ per charge, but the cost to charge can range from $20-$30. Remember, if you need it, whatever the cost it’s worth it.

Filter PlugShare

To find RV parks that have allowed charging in the past, search PlugShare. Set PlugShare’s to filter out all stations except those that use NEMA 14-50 outlets.

 

PlugShare works because it’s crowd-sourced. Users post their experience charging so you can get a sense of whether it’s a place you want to use or not. There’s usually a description of the RV park, what they require, and what they charge.

240-Volt Mobile Charge Cable

Some modern EVs are now being shipped with 240-volt mobile charge cables. Some mobile charge cables that were designated 120-volt can be adapted to work safely at 240-volts.

When we began road tripping in an early day EV (a Nissan Leaf with a puny 24 kWh battery) we needed a mobile charge cable that would work at 120 volts or 240 volts and charge the car as fast as it could. So we bought a Jesla high-power mobile charge cable from QC Charge. We considered this an essential piece of gear and never left on a road trip without it.

Our Jesla came with a 19-foot charging cable, a 240 volt NEMA 14-50 adapter plug and a 120 volt NEMA 5-15 adapter plug. The adapter plugs are specially designed to fit only the Jesla cable. The reason for this is that each plug includes a resistor that tells the EVSE how much current the plug can safely draw. The NEMA 14-50 adapter, for example, can draw up to 40 amps.

This was an expensive piece of hardware then. There are cheaper versions available now.

Ground Faults

Something to watch for at RV parks are ground faults. The wiring at some RV parks is not up to snuff. We found this to be the case at one RV park where we encountered a ground fault. Our mobile charge cable wouldn’t work and we needed a charge to get home.

The EVSE flashed a code that said something was wrong. I read the EVSE’s accompanying troubleshooting guide—carefully and identified a ground fault. We tried another campsite and it displayed the same fault.

Fortunately there was another RV park nearby where we got the charge we needed without any further problems.

Summary

Utility hook ups at RV parks can be a lifesaver when you really need them. But using them successfully to charge requires doing your homework beforehand. We recommend practicing first so there are no surprises when you do need them.

 

 


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