Note: This article was written in consultation with Joel Mancewicz who has a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering.
In 2023, purchasing a portable RV generator is a popular option for travelers. Chances are, you’ve got a lot of questions. “What size generator do I need for my RV?” or “What is the best RV generator?” If you need to learn more about RV generators and troubleshoot problems, or even figure out how big of a generator you need to run an RV AC or 2 ACs, I’ll cover that too.
RV parks have become more crowded and getting a reservation sometimes requires you to book your campsite months in advance. This overcrowding and high prices make boondocking a much more appealing option for many. However, chances are you still want to have the comforts of home, including electricity while you’re exploring.
While most motorhomes come with an onboard generator as a standard feature, campers with generators are sometimes harder to come by. Fortunately, if you already have a camper but lack a generator, there are many portable generator options to choose from.
In this guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know about portable RV generators to help you get out there and enjoy RVing wherever you want to go. No being limited by the need to have hookups.
If you already know about generator basics, you can skip ahead to the best portable RV generators in 2023.
What is an RV Generator?
RV generators provide a reliable source of power on the go, eliminating the need for you to search for campgrounds with electrical hookups every night or worry about running out of battery power during extended stays off-grid. Some generators, like propane or solar generators, provide cleaner energy sources instead of gasoline or diesel fuel. This means they can help reduce emissions.
Can You Camp Without an RV Generator?
Yes, it is possible to camp without an RV generator. If you plan to boondock, camping without a generator may require some additional effort as you’ll need to plan for electricity and power needs. With no electrical facilities nearby, you can rely on your RV’s batteries for 12 volt powered items such as lighting. You can also use a 12 volt to 115 volt power inverter to run small loads off your RV’s batteries. However, depending on the size of your batteries, and what you are running, you may only have power for a day or two.
There are also many RV parks, state parks, and national parks that offer hookups for your RV. You don’t need a generator if you want to stay at one of these.
Do I Need a Portable Generator for My RV?
Not everyone needs a generator for their RV. If you primarily or only camp at RV parks, you probably don’t need one. Generators may come in handy if the power at the park goes out, but this isn’t super common. In fact, many RV parks don’t even allow generator use since they can be loud and disruptive to those nearby. The major benefit of having a generator is the ability to boondock.
Boondocking is pretty amazing because you can see so many beautiful places without the crowds of RV parks. However, it isn’t all glamor. There is a definite learning curve and having a generator or solar power is just one thing you’ll have to investigate for successful boondocking.
If you have a generator, it may run everything you need for your RV including the fridge, microwave, and air conditioner. It depends on how big of a generator you have.
How Big of a Generator do I Need for My Camper?
When deciding on which generator is best for your needs, power consumption is a consideration. For many people, running an air conditioner off a generator is a must when off-grid camping in the summer. Most RV air conditioners draw up to 2,900 watts at startup. That means you either need at least a 3000-watt generator or you need to install a SoftStart.
A 3000-watt generator will run most things you could want in your RV. However, you can’t run multiple things simultaneously. Want to heat your lunch in the microwave? You’ll have to turn off the air conditioner first. While this is not a huge inconvenience, some people may opt for a larger portable generator. However, keep in mind, a larger generator is more expensive, uses more fuel, and is heavier.
If you aren’t sure how much power you need, most of your appliances should include a sticker with the wattage needed to run them. You can then determine how big of a generator you need by adding the wattage together for which appliances you would like to be running at the same time. Most experts recommend purchasing a generator that gives you some wiggle room for wattage. For example, if all your appliances draw 3,000 watts, a 3,500-watt generator will ensure you’re never without enough power.
Typical Power Consumption for RV Appliances
This post has a great chart regarding typical power consumption for RV appliances. However, the power draw will be specific to what you have in your RV. Most appliances should have a sticker on them that states the power consumption.
What Size Generator for RV AC?
Many people can’t imagine RVing without air conditioning. In the summer, an RV with no AC is basically a hot box. So if you want to use your RV off-grid in the summer, you need to make sure you get the right size generator for RV AC use.
According to Ramsond, RV AC units use the following amounts of power at startup and while running.
Roof Top Air Conditioner BTU
|RV Air Conditioner Size||Average Watts During Use||Watts Needed for Startup|
Accounting for a “safety factor” of 500 watts, since you don’t want to overload your RV AC, here is the Size Generator for RV AC units based on the BTU.
Size Generator for RV AC (7,000 BTU): At least 2,000 watts
Size Generator for RV AC (10,000 BTU): At least 2,500 watts
Size Generator for RV AC (13,500 BTU): At least 3,500– you could probably get by with 3,000 put it would stress the generator more.
Size Generator for RV AC (15,000 BTU): 4,000 watts
Another thing you can do is install a SoftStart or Easy Start on your AC unit. These items reduce the startup power your RV air conditioner draws making it easier to run your AC off a smaller RV generator.
What Size Generator for RV with 2 AC Units?
We can use the same chart from above to answer the question, “what size generator for RV with 2 AC Units”. Generally speaking, if your RV has 2 AC units they are probably both either 13,500 BTU or 15,000 BTU.
Size Generator for RV with 2 AC Units (13,500 BTU each): At least 6,000 watts
Size Generator for RV with 2 AC Units (15,000 BTU each): At least 7,500 watts
If this seems like a ridiculously large generator to bring RVing, you are right. Fortunately, you aren’t stuck hauling such a massive thing around just to stay cool. If you want a smaller-size generator for an RV with 2 ACs you should really get a SoftStart for one or both of them. Lugging around that big of a generator really isn’t functional for most RVers because of the size and weight but with a SoftStart or EasyStart you don’t have to!
One member of our Facebook Group, Cool RV Stuff recently shared that he used a SoftStart on one of his two 15,000 BTU AC units and successfully ran both off a 4,500 Westinghouse inverter generator 30 amp.
The SoftStart successfully allowed him to start up both AC units and the total wattage when running was 2,900 watts.
Installing a SoftStart means the size generator for your RV with 2 AC units is much smaller. It is also much more efficient and cost-effective in the short and long term to buy a SoftStart rather than a massive generator that you don’t really even need.
What Can I do if my Camper Doesn’t Have a Generator?
If you don’t have an onboard generator for your camper, don’t worry – there are ways to get around it. Portable generators can be a great option if you want some off-grid power. When choosing a generator, make sure that it can provide enough power for all of your needs.
To use a portable generator, just plug your RV shore power cable into the generator and follow all the instructions in the operator manual for safe use. Most generators will have a 30-amp RV plug. However, with smaller generators you may need to use a dogbone adapter to plug into the generator’s 15-amp outlet.
Kinds of Portable RV Generators
If you’re looking for a portable generator for your RV, there are several main types to choose from: inverter generators, solar generators, and contractor generators.
Inverter Generators for RVs
Inverter generators are great if you’re looking to save on fuel costs and reduce noise levels. They have an engine that adjusts to meet your energy needs, so you won’t use more fuel than necessary. Plus, they produce fewer emissions, making them a more eco-friendly choice.
You can wire some inverter generators in parallel to provide additional power when needed. Basically, this means you can double your power output. If you can get a single generator to meet all your power needs, this probably makes the most sense. However, smaller portable inverter generators are easier to transport than larger generators. Because of this, sometimes, it may make sense to run two in parallel to get the power output you need.
Solar RV Generators
Solar generators are the perfect option for RVers looking to go green! These systems use solar panels to collect energy from the sun and convert it into usable electricity. The components you need include an inverter, converter, batteries, charge controller, and solar panels. Solar generators are quiet and don’t require fuel to operate, so no extra bills or emissions!
A solar generator may be capable of powering everything you need for your RV, but it depends on your total power consumption. You should complete an energy audit to determine how much power you will need.
Likely, to power everything in your RV, including an air conditioner, you will need either a lot of batteries, a lot of solar panels, or both when using a solar generator.
Contractor Generators for RV Use
You’ve probably heard about contractor generators, which provide significantly more power than other RV generators. Most often, contractor generators are for delivering power to construction sites. These generators need to support a heavy load such as operating multiple power tools for an extended time.
You might think great, lots of power for my RV, sign me up for that. However, there are some major drawbacks to contractor generators that RVers need to consider.
The truth is, contractor generators aren’t necessarily the best choice for most RV owners. They may provide more power, but their size and noise can be a major drawback, especially if you’re in an area with noise ordinances or want to keep your RV as quiet as possible.
That said, there are some situations where contractor generators might be the best choice. For example, if you have a larger RV that needs more power than a regular RV generator can provide. Or if you already have a contractor generator and don’t want to shell out for another smaller generator for your RV. But if you’re looking for something smaller and quieter, consider other options.
No matter which generator you choose for your RV, do a bit of research beforehand. That way, you can find the best option for your energy needs and budget. Keep reading for some of the best portable generators you can get.
Other Things to Know About RV Generators
Now that you have a basic idea of what is an RV generator and do you need a generator for camping, there are some other important things to know about RV generators
Fuel Types for RV Generators
For powering your RV, there are a variety of fuel types that can be used in your generator. Whether you’re looking to save money on gas or want an eco-friendly option, we’ve got you covered with the best fuels for your RV generator.
Gasoline-Powered RV Generator
The most common fuel type used in RV generators is gasoline. Gasoline is a relatively inexpensive option and is easy to find in most places. Gas generators are also smaller and more portable. The downside of using gasoline is that it can be noisy and produce exhaust fumes, so you’ll need to use it with caution. Never use it in an enclosed space. Gas generators also burn through fuel more quickly than other options like diesel generators.
Diesel RV Generators
Another option is diesel fuel. It is a bit more expensive but can be more efficient and longer lasting than gasoline. Diesel RV generators tend to run quieter and produce fewer emissions. That makes them a superb choice if you want a cleaner-burning engine that won’t disturb the peace (as much).
The major drawback to diesel RV generators is that they have a higher upfront cost. However, the fuel savings and lower maintenance compared to gas generators may make the initial investment worth it. It really depends on how often you plan to use your camper generator.
Propane Generators for RVs
Propane is becoming an increasingly popular option for RV generators. Propane RV generators are more expensive up front than the other fuel types. However, they’re worth the investment if you want a clean-burning and efficient engine. Another bonus of using a propane generator for RV purposes is that propane is often less expensive than gasoline.
Dual-Fuel RV Generators
Dual-fuel RV generators provide reliable power while on the road in your recreational vehicle. These generators can run on either gasoline or propane. The flexibility gives you more choices for finding fuel sources. With their quiet operation and lightweight design, these generators can easily fit into small spaces for transport.
They also produce minimal noise and vibration during use. Dual-fuel RV generators are perfect for powering electronics such as lights, televisions, and, depending on the wattage, even ACs while out on the open road. They are also great for charging batteries or providing backup power to appliances in your RV.
What is the Quietest and Best Generator for an RV?
The question, “what is the quietest and best generator for an RV” comes up frequently in this site’s Facebook group, Cool RV Stuff. Group member responses are always the same. The Predator Generator.
The 3500 Watt Predator Generator is the perfect choice for your RV. It’s powerful enough to run most of your appliances and electronics, yet still small enough to fit in tight spaces. Plus, it’s quiet and efficient so you don’t have to worry about disturbing your neighbors or wasting fuel.
With its easy-to-use control panel, you use the hassle-free electric start to easily get your unit running. And with its durable construction, this RV generator will last through years of use without problems if properly maintained.
Get the 3500 Watt Predator Generator today and enjoy all the benefits it offers.
Other Highly Rated Portable RV Generators
If the Predator generators don’t meet your needs or your budget, have no fear. There are many options for portable RV generators that are highly rated.
Champion 4500-Watt Portable Inverter Generator
This portable powerhouse is perfect for tailgating, camping trips, and all your other outdoor needs. Whether you’re running lights, charging electronics, or powering small appliances, the Champion 4500-Watt generator can do it all. And with its portable design, you can take it on the go and have power wherever you need it. Get ready to be the envy of your friends when you show up with this portable generator in tow.
Plus, it’s backed by a 3-year limited warranty and Amazon users give it an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars. You can rest assured that your portable RV generator will perform reliably for years to come. Get yours today and never worry about losing power or getting stuck camping at overcrowded and expensive RV parks again!
Eco Flow Delta Portable Solar Generator
Are you searching for a portable RV generator that offers silent, off-grid power solutions? Look no further than the Eco Flow Delta Portable Solar Generator! This portable and lightweight generator can keep your appliances running smoothly wherever you are. Plus, with the ability to add more solar panels, you can recharge on the go.
With the Eco Flow Delta Portable Solar Generator, you can say goodbye to noisy gas or diesel-powered generators for good! Although it is more expensive than other portable generators, you won’t have the ongoing cost of fuel to worry about. Plus, purchasers are satisfied and have given this RV generator 4.6 out of 5 stars. So why not invest in a portable RV generator that will keep your outdoor excursions powered up and peaceful?
Honda 3000-Watt Portable Generator
This generator is the perfect addition to any adventure, offering an incredibly quiet experience with great power! You can trust that it will handle most 13,500 BTU air conditioners. However, if you want extra peace of mind, investing in a Soft Start or Easy Start is also a great choice. With its 4.6 out of 5-star rating this portable generator will meet all your needs! So, make the Honda 3000-Watt Portable Generator a part of your next outdoor adventure – you won’t regret it.
Safety Considerations for RV Generators
RVing is an exciting way to explore the outdoors and see new places. But before you hit the open road, it’s important to take some necessary safety precautions when operating your RV generator. Make sure you always follow manufacturer recommendations when operating your generator. Failure to do so could cause injury or even death.
To ensure that everything runs smoothly and safely, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Make sure your RV generator is in good working order. This includes checking for proper oil level and fuel source before each use. It’s also important to inspect the exhaust system, fuel lines, and spark plugs to ensure they’re all functioning properly.
2. Some people recommend you don’t run your RV generator while you’re sleeping or away from your vehicle. While generators can run for long periods of time, if you choose to run your generator overnight there are some steps you should take. Esure all windows and vents in the RV are closed and have a carbon monoxide detector that is in proper working order. Be sure to check your owners manual to make sure it is safe to run your model all night long.
3. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when operating your RV generator. Read up on how to properly operate and maintain your generator before taking it for a spin. This will help you avoid any potential damage or harm that could result from improper use.
4. Try to park your RV or place a portable generator in a well-ventilated area when running your generator. This will help to keep exhaust fumes from accumulating and prevent accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Joel once had the generator running short-term when the power went out while we were parked at his parents’ house in the driveway. The generator on our RV was close to a wall and the carbon monoxide detector in the RV sounded the alarm.
Additional Generator Safety Tips for RVers
5. Avoid overloading the generator, as this can cause it to shut down and create a fire hazard. When a generator is overloaded, the engine will first try to keep up with the power demand. This can cause the generator to overheat. It will also bog down and eventually stall. A bogged down generator will not produce a clean 115 volts which can cause problems with your electrical system.
For this reason we recommend always using an EMS RV surge protector with your generator. Sometimes you may need to operate only certain appliances at once. For example, if you want to run the microwave you may need to turn off the air conditioner first. Not overloading the generator will also help it last longer and run more efficiently.
6. Manufacturers rarely design portable RV generators to be operated in the rain or snow. Monitor the weather and turn off and store your RV generator properly if there is precipitation.
7. If you are camping somewhere dry, use extreme caution with where you place your portable generator. The last thing you want is for a spark to ignite a wildfire outside your front door.
By following these basic safety tips, you’ll be able to enjoy your RVing experience with no worrying about unwanted accidents or injuries.
RV Generator Maintenance
RV generators can be a great asset when RV camping, and proper maintenance is key to keeping your RV generator running properly. In this guide, we’ll discuss how to perform general maintenance and checks on it.
When preparing for RV camping season, it is important to do a pre-season check on your RV’s generator. This checklist should include checking the fuel lines and filters, oil levels, spark plug condition, battery connections, and overall wiring of the RV. Additionally, make sure you properly lubricate all moving parts.
Once RV camping season has begun, you should routinely check your RV’s generator for any signs of wear or damage. Change the oil and filter regularly to ensure the RV generator is running optimally. Industry experts recommend changing the oil every 100-200 hours. How frequently you change the oil will depend on how much you use your generator. Last, inspect the wiring and connections to make sure that everything is securely in place.
Changing the RV generator’s oil is an important task to maintain its longevity. After all, your RV won’t be of much use if it can’t power up! The process is simple and doesn’t require more than a few tools. First, you’ll need some fresh oil that is the right type and grade for your RV generator. Then, find the RV generator’s oil drain plug and unscrew it with a wrench to allow the old oil to escape.
Make sure you have something underneath the RV generator to catch the spilled oil, like an empty pan or bucket. Be sure to properly dispose of used oil. If your generator has an oil filter, be sure to replace the old filter prior to refiling the generator with oil. Once you have drained all the old oil, use a funnel and pour new RV generator oil into the RV generator until it reaches the full line on the dipstick. Finally, replace the RV generator’s oil drain plug and you’re done!
The entire process should only take about 20 minutes. So don’t forget to keep your RV generator in good shape. Change its oil regularly and your RV will be ready for all kinds of adventures!
Essential Tools for RV Generator Maintenance
– Oil Drain Pan: RV generators require regular oil changes, and an oil drain pan is essential for draining the old oil cleanly.
– Funnel: To add fresh oil to your RV generator, you’ll need a funnel that fits securely in the fill hole.
– Multi Meter: A multimeter can test RV generator systems for proper voltage, electrical short circuits, and ground faults.
– Pliers: A pair of pliers will come in handy for loosening wires, nuts, and bolts when performing RV generator maintenance.
– Socket Wrench Set: RV generators often have multiple sizes of fasteners which require a socket wrench set to help you reach hard-to-access spots.
– RV Generator Manual: RV generator maintenance will be easier if you have the manufacturer’s manual handy. It contains information on how to properly care for your specific RV generator.
By having these essential tools on hand, you can maintain your RV generator and keep it running smoothly at all times.
Frequently Asked Questions About Portable RV Generators
It can be confusing to decide which type of generator is the best for your recreational vehicle, so I’ve put together this FAQ section to help you out. Here, you’ll find answers to the most common questions about RV generators. Whether you’re just starting out in the RV world or are a seasoned pro, we hope this guide serves as a helpful resource!
Does a Generator Charge the RV Batteries?
Yes, RV generators can charge RV batteries. Onboard generators typically require a built in transfer switch to activate the RV’s electric system and link it to the generator. However, a portable generator is essentially no different from plugging into shore power. This means no extra hardware is required. When running, the generator can supply power to not just appliances and lights in the RV but also its battery charging circuits. This allows them to charge RV batteries for use when not plugged into a power source.
Can I Use a Portable Generator When it is Raining?
It is possible to use a portable generator when it is raining but only when taking the proper precautions to protect the unit. A portable RV generator should never be exposed to rain or snow as it can damage the machine and cause potentially dangerous malfunctions.
If you must run your portable generator when it is raining, you need to use an operational generator cover. You can’t use any old cover, it must be specifically designed for when your generator is in use. Read your owner’s manual to ensure you can operate your generator with a cover and purchase the operational cover for your specific unit. Below is an example product, but you will need to find one that fits your specific generator size and model.
Does Altitude Impact Generator Functioning?
Altitude can have a big impact on RV generator performance. RV generators are designed to operate at sea level, so running them at elevated altitudes can cause decreased efficiency and power output. If you’ve ever been camping or RVing at high altitudes, you may have noticed that your RV generator wasn’t working as well as it normally does.
This summer, Joel and I ran our portable RV generator frequently in Michigan without issue. When we arrived in Utah, we immediately noticed the impact of altitude. The generator was getting much more bogged down and consumed fuel more quickly than it had at near sea level. This was true even with no changes in our power consumption.
As a general rule, the power output from a portable generator decreases by about 3% for every 1000 feet you go about the rating for the unit. If you have a mechanical (non-inverter) generator, you may also need to make some manual adjustments on your generator for use at high altitudes.
The reason generators are less efficient at high altitude is that they use oxygen. At higher altitudes, there is less oxygen available, meaning that RV generators need to work harder to produce the same amount of power.
Because of decreased oxygen levels, RV generators don’t operate as efficiently as they do at lower altitudes. You may need to complete your RV generator maintenance more often at higher altitudes.
If you find yourself at high altitudes frequently, it could also be a good idea to purchase an RV generator designed for higher altitudes. These will be better equipped to handle the strain. With proper maintenance and use, RV owners can still enjoy their RVing adventures at higher altitudes.
How Long Can I Run My Camper Generator?
If you’re wondering, “How long can I run my camper generator?” the answer is, it depends. Factors that impact generator run time include your power use and what generator you have. It also depends on how well you maintain it. Some camper generators can run for 24 hours if you take care of them and refuel them as needed. However, more commonly you can run a generator for about 6 to 16 hours at a time.
Before running your camper generator for a long period, it is important to properly maintain it. Be sure you have enough oil and fuel and keep the generator in a well-ventilated area. This will help prevent overheating.
What to Do If an RV Generator Won’t Start?
There are a few common issues that can help solve the problem of what to do if RV generators won’t start. If you have a dirty or clogged fuel filter, your generator may not run properly. So check the fuel filter and replace it if needed. Replacement of the fuel filter is also needed regularly to prevent issues before they arise.
Another reason you may run into an RV generator that won’t start is if you have a bad glow plug for diesel generators or a bad spark plug for gas generators. If the spark plug becomes damaged or just gets worn out, your generator won’t start.
If neither of these solutions works, there could also be something wrong with your generator’s carburetor. Diesel generators don’t have a carburetor but in gas-powered generators, you may need to check for dirt or debris. It is also possible you may need to entirely replace the carburetor.
If you still can’t figure out what to do if the RV generator won’t start after all this, there may be an electrical issue. Look at the wiring to see if there is any damage or loose connections. If you don’t see any obvious problems, you may need to enlist the help of a professional to service your machine.
Regardless of what the problem may be, never try to repair your RV generator if you don’t have the knowledge or experience needed to do so safely. If you aren’t comfortable servicing it yourself, you may need to take your generator to an RV mechanic to get it fixed.
How to Quiet Generators When Camping?
When camping, there are several steps you can take to quiet your generator. First, face the exhaust away from your RV or camper. This will help to prevent the noise from echoing off of nearby surfaces. Additionally, if possible, move the generator as far from your RV as you can while being considerate of any camping neighbors.
Placing the generator on a soft surface such as grass or dirt will also help to absorb sound and reduce noise pollution. For those looking for an extra quiet option, get the smallest generator you can that will power your needs. Larger generators tend to be louder too. Follow these steps and enjoy a peaceful camping experience!
RV and Camper Generator Etiquette
When you’re RVing it is important to follow proper etiquette so you don’t disrupt others campers. This extends to RV generator use as well. Here are a few things to keep in mind when using your portable generator while RVing.
1. Respect Other RVers – Make sure your RV generator is not too loud for those around you, and that it does not disturb other campers in the area.
2. Be Considerate of Your Surroundings – Use RV generators only in designated areas or where they won’t disrupt wildlife or nearby residents.
3. Keep Generators Away From Open Flames – Never use an RV generator near open flames such as fire pits, grills, etc., as this can be dangerous.
4. Maintain Proper Ventilation – Always make sure there is adequate ventilation when running an RV generator.
5. Follow Manufacturer Guidelines- Read up on your specific model’s guidelines for proper operation and maintenance of your RV generator to ensure its longevity and safety.
6. Keep your RV generator clean and well-maintained.
7. Follow local laws and regulations for RV generator use.
8. Educate yourself on proper safety protocols for operating an RV generator.
9. Respect other campers by not running your RV generator too early or late in the day.
10. Understand RV Generator Noise Regulations – Check the RV park’s noise regulations before using a generator and be sure to follow them.
Parting Thoughts About Portable RV Generators
In conclusion, portable RV generators are great for any camping or road trip adventure. They are easy to use and provide a reliable source of energy to power all your devices. With the variety of different sizes and features available, it’s easy to find one that will fit most recreational vehicles and meet your needs. Plus, they are much more affordable than traditional onboard generators, making them a great money-saving option. Investing in a portable RV generator is the perfect way to stay powered up while on your outdoor adventures.