AFCI Tester a Scam?

Mike, did Etcon pay you to advertise for them? No offense meant, but I just bought the Etcon AF120 ($27 @ my wholesaler) for use in my own practice because I have a couple of AFCI's in the field that are tripping without apparent explanation, and can use an AFCI tester. But I will send this one back.

It is nothing more than a 30 mA ground-fault tester. Your standard GFCI tester does the same thing only more stringently, to 5 mA. The Etcon AF120 does not test any arcing condition at all, series or parallel (which an AFCI breaker is supposed to do), or parallel short-circuit arcing condition (hot to neutral). It's just a 30mA ground-leakage detector and basic receptacle wiring checker, nothing more.

What angered me when I bought the product (before I saw your email) was the fact that Etcon touted it as an AFCI tester in big bold letters on the front, but then you had to read the disclaimer in fine print at the bottom on the back to find out what it really is: " NOTE: Does not simulate an ARC to test ARC Fault Function. Tests ARC Fault CKT Breaker Leakage Trip Function only."

I find that test products like this which lure customers into buying with claims to test a certain device, but in fact test only one limited function of that device just serve to confuse people. Electricians will use this tester thinking that an AFCI tested with it is a fully functional AFCI, capable of delivering all that is promised by that listing, and that is not necessarily so.

Etcon is in my opinion engaging in deceptive advertising to capitalize on a new market generated by the need of electricians (which is real) for AFCI testing capabilities without doing the R & D necessary to develop a real AFCI tester. They suck you into buying it by claiming it is an AFCI tester, but unless you read the fine print, you never learn that it's just a ground-fault tester.

If an AFCI breaker were nothing more than a 30mA GFCI, then the circuit breaker industry could have solved the "Arc-detection problem" 30 years ago!

Rather than advertise less than adequate products, I would hope I can look to you to expose misleading information and advertising for what it is.

Sincerely, Paul Keleher, pkeleher@theworld.com

PS. BTW, they claim patent pending on the front, but show issued patent # 3,984,765 on the product itself. ???

Mike’s Comment: Paul, an AFCI breaker acts very much like a GFCI breaker, except that it opens with the ground fault setting above 50 mA. This is not at the level to protect people from electric shock, which a GFCI does at 5 mA. The reality is that this AFCI tester does the same thing the test button on an AFCI breaker does. Misleading? No more so than the marketing of the AFCI breakers to the public!

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