'Round The Campfire

What Sort of Generator Should I Get for My RV?

More from Outdoor Living Newsletter January Outdoor Living Newsletter
Green RV generator housed in RV compartment
Getting the right RV generator means you can stop without electric hookups

An RV generator allows you to power your vehicle's systems and appliances reliably from any location. With a generator, you do not have to worry about finding stops with available electrical power outlets. Generators provide RV users with greater freedom and the capability of exploring options that they could not consider without a generator.

Choosing the right RV generator requires a little work since there is a wide range of products on the market. You want to have equipment that fits well into your requirements. An RV generator is more sophisticated and expensive than a regular portable generator, which is another good reason to choose carefully.

Start by Determining Your Power Needs

Before you start shopping for an RV generator, you need to know how much power you normally use while traveling in your vehicle. In this way, you can easily eliminate generators that do not produce enough energy and those that go well beyond your needs.

Check for the voltage and amperage of appliances and accessories on your RV. Normally, the air conditioner uses the most power on the vehicle. To determine the power requirement, use this formula: Watts = Volts x Amps.

Once you have the watt requirements of all systems and devices in your RV, add all of them up to determine your total RV power requirements. Note that some systems like the air conditioner have different starting and running wattage. Use the starting wattage for the device with the highest power demand, like the air conditioner, added to the combined running wattage of all other appliances to calculate your minimum wattage requirements.

Selecting a Fuel Type

After determining the power needs of the RV generator, then you can choose the fuel type that you prefer. The normal fuels used for RV generators are gasoline, diesel and propane.

Gas and diesel generators can be convenient because many RVs have separate generator fuel storage tanks. You may also be able to use fuel from the regular fuel tank for the RV engine.

Propane is less polluting than gasoline or diesel and it also has the advantage of being quieter than gas generation. The run time and power capacity of propane generators, though, is less than that of gasoline or diesel.

If you are really interested in eco-friendly power generation, you can consider options like biodiesel, fuel cell, wind and solar energy generators. Each of these systems has their own advantages although some like solar and wind work better with battery storage.

While solar and wind systems use free "fuel" with no emissions, they can only generate under certain conditions. For example, photovoltaic panels do not generate at night, while wind turbines require windy conditions. However, battery storage can help compensate for this unreliable generation. Some green RV users combine systems, for example, a solar generator with a biodiesel generator, so that they always have access to power.

Selecting a Brand and Style

RV generators differ from conventional generators used by contractors in that they run much quieter. They are generally more reliable; however, they are also more expensive. A normal generator may be too noisy for many RV parks and campgrounds.

A number of manufacturers offer RV generators including Honda, Kipor, Yamaha and Subaru. These generators have decibel ratings for quietness. You will want to choose a generator that meets your power requirements and also provides the right level of noise comfort.

RV generators also differ in their start mechanisms. Some use keys for electric start while others use a lawnmower-like pull start. You can even find remote start options that use wireless communication, similar to a TV remote control, to start the generator electrically. In this way, you do not have to venture out of the RV during the night or in bad weather to turn the generator on or off.

Some other RV generator features to look for include:

  • Enclosure - Does the RV generator come with its own enclosure?
  • Parallel Cables - With this option, you can combine the power of two generators using parallel jacks.
  • Fuel Tank Capacity - If you are depending on the fuel tank that comes with the generator, then fuel tank size will determine how long you can run the generator. Calculate how long you will prefer the generator to operate between refueling. This will allow you to know what size fuel tank you will need.
  • Safety Features - Some common safety mechanisms include automatic high oil pressure shutdown and automatic fuel safety shutoff.
  • Maintainability - RV generators differ widely in engineering design. Some may be difficult to maintain because crucial systems are hard to access. More sophisticated electronic starting and fuel pump systems may also require professionals for maintenance and repair.
  • Accessories - Some generators may come with accessories like mufflers, harnesses, cords and adapters. Make sure extension cords are long enough for your needs.
  • Warranty - Does the RV generator come with a warranty? Read the warranty carefully so you know what it covers and for how long.

If purchasing a used RV generator, it is a good idea to have an auto mechanic check out the condition of the equipment first.

Using Reviews and Ratings

One way to determine the quality of products and companies is to check out product reviews and ratings. Almost every product has such reviews somewhere on the Internet such as GeneratorDepot.US.

These reviews and ratings often come from customers although some companies, organizations and websites also review products. Using these types of recommendations is a great way to check if products are reliable and to find out what type of customer service the dealer and manufacturer provide.

While reviews of some products may provide mixed messages, it is usually possible to get a good idea of the product after reading a number of them. Another option is ask fellow RV users for details on their experiences using RV generators.

Many online discussion forums, blogs and chat rooms focus on recreational vehicles and their use and they provide consumers with the opportunity of asking others about their experience with specific products. Normally, the participants in these forums are more than ready to offer advice if they have knowledge related to a particular RV generator.

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