An RV generator will make your camping stays much more comfortable, especially if you tend to stay at facilities that do not provide an electrical hookup. There are several manufacturers making RV generators, so you’ll need to do some homework if you want the best combination of features and reliability versus cost. We’ll help with some of that here, but you will need to do some looking on your own too. You also need to know if your RV has been pre-engineered to accommodate a generator. As you might suspect, the newer your RV, the better the chance that this is the case. Likewise, the larger your RV, the better the odds. If you’re RV is not already configured for a generator, there are a number of ancillary items you need to buy to install first. You’ll also need to be absolutely sure that you’ll be able to exhaust the generator adequately. Remember, carbon monoxide is a deadly, odorless poison. Only use exhaust systems from the manufacturer.
RV Generators – Assess Your Needs First!
Before you start getting into the process of which generator you want to buy, you first need to determine what size generator you will need. That’s determined by how much electricity you’ll need based on all the RV accessories you'll be running. A basic sizing is to add up the wattage of all the appliances (light bulbs, hair dryer, microwave, TV, air conditioner, etc.) you would possibly use at once, add them together, and that the size of the generator you’ll need. You can find checklists online that will tell you the wattage of the different appliances. You can go overboard trying to figure this out, but you’ll save a lot of time by just adding up the biggest users and then over sizing by at least 20%. The appliances that use the most electricity are those that heat or cool. Air conditioning and space heaters are the worst, so make sure you have those accounted for when working out the numbers.
The four most popular manufacturers of RV generators are Honda, Onan, Generac, and Kohler. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look at companies like Yamaha, Gentron and DuroMax as well. All these companies make very reliable RV generators that can provide you power when you need it. However, if you eventually end up with problems, you can count on the major manufacturers to support their products very well. Personally, I wouldn’t get too hung up on a particular brand here. They are all quality products. What you need to do is calculate where you are going to get the most bang for the buck. It all boils down to a cost per kilowatt or cost per kilowatt hour (kWh). First figure out how many watts you need, and then see who offers the best price on that size generator. Remember, what you are buying here is electricity, nothing more.
You are also going to have to figure out which type of fuel you want to run. You have your choice of gas, diesel, or propane. Part of your decision here might be based on what you’re running in your RV or tow vehicle. Availability of fuel might also be a factor for you. Cost may be a consideration, too. Diesel fuel is more expensive and a diesel generator will cost than a gas generator will run. If you own one of the big diesel pusher motorhomes, it's an easy decision. Of course, diesel generators last forever too. It’s worth considering a diesel generator if you plan on hanging on to it for a lifetime. Propane prices tend to be volatile, but the long term prognosis looks good at the moment.
Fortunately, modern RV generators are relatively quiet. They have been designed to exceed the noise guidelines established by the US government. Of course, generators are never going to be completely silent, but they are now much quieter than they were even just a few years ago. Most manufacturers offer special models that are ultra quiet. I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown weary of hearing generators fire up in the wee morning hours and in the evenings when I’d really like to just enjoy my quiet surroundings.
Another issue that should be mentioned is the potential for electrical shock. While RV generator manufacturers have done what they can to make installations idiot proof, you are still dealing with electrical outputs that are potentially deadly. If you are doing an installation yourself, make sure you follow the directions to a T. If you have any reservations about your ability to do the installation properly, hire a professional electrician or have your preferred RV dealer do the install.
Believe it or not, you need to exercise your generator. You can’t just let a generator sit dormant for too long. There are a couple of issues here. Gasoline and diesel fuel degrade over time. You can’t use fuel that a year old without creating issues. Running the generator regularly also keeps the moving parts well lubricated and helps prevent excessive wear. When ‘exercising’ your generator make sure that you run it continuously for at least thirty minutes. Longer is better in this case. However, since you are burning fossil fuels, make sure that the electricity that your generator is producing is being put to use in some fashion.
One of the biggest problems with letting your generator sit unused for extended periods is fuel varnishing. Ideally, the fuel should be used or replenished every month. Fuel varnishing is a gooey residue that will clog the carburetor and fuel pump. Varnishing happens fast and it’s noticeable in generator motors because they are relatively small. A little varnishing in your car motor would probably never be noticed. The effects of varnishing might be generator surge where the motor accelerates and decelerates. This can actually cause surges in electrical voltage output. So if you’re not able to cycle the fuel as often as you should, there are additives that you can buy that will help prevent varnishing. They are relatively inexpensive and they will save you from a lot of trouble and expense if used as directed.
If you install an RV generator, you will need to control the electrical loads so as not to overload the generator. If you have done your homework and accounted for all of your electrical use, you will have properly sized your generator. Even so, there are a couple of events that occur that you need to be aware of. When your air conditioner(s) start up, they draw three to four times the wattage they consume during normal operation. If you have too many other electrical appliances running when the AC units try to start, it can prevent them from starting altogether. RV generators can also experience problems when battery chargers engage drawing lots of electricity. Fortunately, battery charge rates can be adjusted to help alleviate this issue.
RV generators can make your camping expeditions far more comfortable. If you are looking at generators but still have questions, feel free to give us a call. Our parts professionals are extremely knowledgeable and can help you make the right choice. Cheers!
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