'Round The Campfire

How to maintain an RV generator

More from Outdoor Living Newsletter July Outdoor Living Newsletter
RV generator on a picnic table at campsite, in front of a Fifth Wheel
Taking time to maintain your RV generator will keep you from unwanted problems during your camping trips.

Owning an RV generator offers a lot of benefits for you and your family. For one thing, it means that you're able to generate your own electricity so you don't have to limit yourself to RV parks and campgrounds that provide electric hookups. Also, if the electric hookup in the campground you're staying gets shut down because of a power outage in the area or because of bad weather, your RV generator can still keep your electric appliances working, especially those that you need for medical reasons.

Like all other kinds of electric equipment, RV generators need to be checked and maintained on a regular basis. If not, you may experience a lot of problems during your camping trip that can range from something as frustrating as your RV generator not starting to something more dangerous like the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning and fire hazards. For more information about carbon monoxide poisoning, including symptoms and treatment, check out the link.

Regular Maintenance Schedule for your RV Generator

Whether you are a full-time RVer or only manage to squeeze a few camping trips during the holidays, you need to do a thorough check-up on your RV generator. That's because weather and storage conditions can have an effect on your RV generator. The rule of thumb is that the frequency of your check-up should be proportional to how often you go camping using your RV. If you're a seasonal or full-time RVer, make sure to do a thorough check-up on a monthly basis. If you just go camping during the holidays, a check-up every six months will be enough.

One way to keep track of your RV generator's maintenance schedule is to keep a maintenance notebook. After you do a complete and general maintenance check, there are some steps that you'll need to do more frequently than others; so follow-ups can be done in a timely manner.

RV Generator Maintenance Tips

Maintaining an RV generator can seem very overwhelming, but it is actually a lot easier than it sounds. Here are some RV generator maintenance tips that you can do right in the comfort of your own home.

1.  Clean your RV Generator

Before you do anything, make sure that you first clean your RV generator. It will be make it much easier to inspect your generator to find if there is anything that's amiss. Cleaning your generator before you doing anything will help you find if there are any leaks and where they are coming from.

2.  Inspect the Exterior

After cleaning, your next step is to check the outside for any corroded parts, loose and damaged wiring and bolts, and clogged lines. If you found any corroded parts or damaged bolts, take note of these and refer to your manual for the exact description so that you can have them replaced. If there are any lines that are clogged, blow some pressurized air into them to clear them. As for the damaged or loose wiring, if you're not really experienced doing any electrical work, it's best to simply bring this to a service center to have an expert fix this.

3.  Do an Oil Change

How often you change the oil of your RV generator greatly depends on how frequent you use it. It is recommended to do an oil change every 200 hours if you're a seasonal or full-time RVer. Otherwise, do an oil change once a year.

Get a bucket and place this right under the oil drain plug. This is the square-shaped plug located at the bottom of your RV generator. Open this using a crescent wrench and turn this counter-clockwise. Allow the oil to drain into the bucket. Once there is no more oil dripping, replace the oil drain plug, making sure that you seal this tightly. Pour the new oil through the oil fill plug located on the top of your generator, following the capacity instructions listed by the manufacturer of your portable generator. You can find this information in your RV generator's manual.

4.  Replace the Spark Plugs

One of the main reasons why RV generators don't work properly is because the gap in the spark plugs have accumulated a lot of carbon deposits, making it more difficult for it to generate the "spark" and get the generator fired up and running.

Change the spark plugs once a year. It is not really advisable to try to clean the gaps between the spark plugs because if it is not done properly, it can cause the tips in the gap to get misaligned. Consult your generator's manual for the specifications of the spark plugs to get.

5.  Add Fresh Fuel

This step is very important if you don't use your portable RV generator regularly. Fuel - whether it is diesel, gasoline or propane - lose their effectiveness after six months. Keeping them stored in your generator will not only cause it to develop problems over time. It also increases the risk of your generator becoming a fire hazard. Drain the fuel from your generator and fill this up with fresh fuel every time that you'll do your maintenance check to make sure that it's ready to go on your next camping trip. Check your manual for how to drain and add new fuel as this can vary slightly depending on the model and type.

6.  Check your Generator's Battery

The next thing to do is to check the battery of your RV generator. Remove the vent caps and check the electrolyte levels. Replenish the electrolyte solution in each of the cells so that they are full.

After replenishing the electrolyte solution, the next thing to do is to check for the specific gravity of your generator's battery. This will let you know whether or not you should replace its battery. Generally speaking, RV generator batteries only last up to 3 years, but with extra care, you can actually extend the life of your RV batteries well beyond its average lifespan. You can check out our article on how to maintain your RV battery to learn how to do this.

To check for the specific gravity of the battery of your RV generator, you'll need to have a hydrometer. You can get this in your local RV parts and accessories or in auto shops. If you replenished the electrolyte solution in your battery cells, make sure that you run your generator first to charge the battery and then allow this to sit for about six hours before testing. Take a reading from each cell and note it down. The specific gravity reading of a battery that is still in good condition should read between 1.235 and 1.277 on all of the cells. Subtract the highest and lowest specific gravity readings you've noted down. If the difference is 0.050 or higher, then it is time to replace your generator's battery.

7.  Inspect for Leaks

Start the generator and keep it running for 15 minutes, paying attention to any possible leaks that might happen while it is running. If you notice a build-up of oil underneath your portable RV generator, this means that its crankcase breathers are venting out an oil mist along with the fumes. You can easily remedy this by installing a recirculating breather that you can buy in hardware stores.

Caring for Sensitive Parts of your RV Generator

Once a year, you'll need to have certain parts of your RV generator inspected to make sure that they are properly calibrated and still in good condition. These include the fuel pump, turbocharger, fuel injectors, automatic voltage regulators, and the alternator. This part is best left in the hands of a professional. Schedule an appointment with a certified RV generator technician to do the testing, repair and replacement if needed.

Storing Your RV Generator

Proper storage is essential in taking good care of your portable RV generator. Before you store your generator, make sure that you thoroughly clean this to remove dirt and fluids on its exterior. Leaving these on your generator can cause different parts to deteriorate faster, requiring you to replace them more frequently. Drain away any excess fuel that may still be present in the fuel tank to minimize any potential fire hazard. Finally, choose a storage area that is dry and free from dirt and moisture.

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For visual assistance on maintaining your RV generator, here's a nice video to watch:

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