RV generator basics

RV Generator Basics

Campers have used electrical generators to visit the woods for decades. What is an RV generator, how does it work, and what can you do if it doesn’t work? These are a few of the questions to cover in RV Generator Basics.

RV Generator Types

RV Generator Basics
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RV generators have a simple job: convert combustion power into electrical power. RV generators are fueled by gasoline, diesel, or propane (LPG) and their output is 110-volt alternating current (AC) like the electricity that powers your home.

Campers and tailgaters use generators to power appliances, air conditioners, lighting, computers, and other equipment for life’s conveniences away from home.

RVers use one of two types of generators: built-in or portable. The advantage of a built-in generator (called a Genset) is that it’s ready to use. It’s connected to the onboard fuel source and the output is connected to the travel trailer or motorhome’s 110-volt electrical system. Turn it on and outcomes electrical power.

A portable generator requires that fuel be added and an electrical cord be plugged in to receive the generated electricity. Tenters use portable generators for the same reason they prefer tents: portability.

RV Generator Operation

RV Generator Basics
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As explained in RV Electrical Systems, the measurement of electricity (the flow of electrons) is called current and is measured in amperes or amps (A). Voltage (V) is the pressure that moves the electrons along the wires.

The generator output is measured in watts and kilowatts. A watt (W) is a measurement of energy that’s equal to one amp of current powered by one volt of electrical pressure. The formula is W = A × V. 

The electrical output on RV generators ranges from 2.5 to 17 kilowatts (2,500 to 17,000 watts).

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What is the best size generator for your RV? The answer depends on how much electricity you need to power your camping lifestyle. You can’t run a 1,000 watt (1 kW) microwave from a 600-watt generator.

Add up the watts needed for the appliances you use and you’ll have an estimate of the generator output required. Make sure the generator output exceeds your power needs.

For example, an RV air conditioner uses 1,200-2,000 W, a coffee maker about 900 W, a computer about 100 W, and an electric heater uses about 1,500 W.

RV Generator Troubleshooting

RV Generator Basics
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Most RV generators are trouble-free. However, problems can arise. Here are some practical tips for a long and productive RV generator life.

  • Get an owner’s manual on your generator to make sure you know how to safely operate and troubleshoot it.
  • The number one problem that RV generators face is: lack of use. Make sure you run your generator at least an hour a month to fight internal corrosion.
  • Follow manufacturer instructions for oil change, fuel filter change, and fuel age as they can greatly impact operation.
  • Make sure your generator has a spark arrestor if using it in a national forest or where a brush fire could start if the generator backfires.
  • Be aware that RV generators don’t operate the same at sea level as they do atop a 6,000 foot mountain because fuel mixes with air to combust. Air is thinner at higher altitudes.
  • Respect the law and your RV neighbors. Don’t use your generator if nearby campers are sleeping.

RV Basics: RV Generator (Video)

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