How to Use a Portable Generator to Power Your RV

Whether you’re camping on Bureau of Land Management land or a beach, you’re going to need power for your RV. One of the most cost-effective ways to do that while camping off the grid is by using a portable generator. Let’s take a look at how to use one to power your RV!

What Is a Portable Generator?

A portable generator burns fuel to power an engine that runs an onboard alternator to create electricity. Many portable generators are capable of powering residential appliances or even an RV.

Portable generators can produce a limited amount of power for an extended period. You measure the energy output of a portable generator in watts. The more watts a generator is rated for, the more options you’ll have in terms of power.

Portable generators are incredibly convenient and designed for mobility. That lets them create generous amounts of power and makes them popular among RVers. You’ll have power for as long as you can keep fuel in the generator’s tank.

A red portable generator powers an RV from a safe distance.

Who Can Benefit from a Portable Generator?

Mobile repair people, construction workers, food truck operators, and farmers benefit from having a portable generator. Of course, RVers benefit as well, especially when we go off-grid.

While many portable generators are somewhat heavy, you may find the weight worth it. That generator could be the key to camping off-grid or powering essential appliances after a storm knocks out your power.

What to Look for in an RV Generator

You may have thought about getting a generator before but not known where to start. Let’s look at a few things you should consider when looking for a portable generator for your RV.

Fuel Type

The three most popular fuel sources for portable generators are diesel, gas, and propane. Some portable generators even use multiple fuel sources, which can be convenient in an emergency. 

Many RVers choose gas-powered generators because they’re often cheaper, and gasoline is usually easy to come by. One of the disadvantages of gasoline-powered generators is that they often require more upkeep than other generators. It’s also more dangerous to store gasoline than diesel or propane as it has a lower flash point and a shorter shelf life.

Diesel-powered generators are another popular option. They’re great because they require less maintenance and are more efficient. While there are many benefits to choosing a diesel-powered generator, they’re more expensive and require regular use to avoid breaking down.

One last fuel source that’s popular for portable generators is propane. Many people already have a propane tank or two around their house for grills or heaters. These generators can use these same propane tanks or connect to larger tanks, depending on how often you use your generator. Propane is much less efficient than gas or diesel fuel for powering a generator. 

A man powers up a portable generator to power up his RV.

Noise Level

Having your epic boondocking trip interrupted by a neighbor’s noisy generator is pretty much every boondocking RVer’s nightmare. When purchasing a portable generator, factor in the level of noise the generator creates while in use. The volume difference between a generator under a full load and an empty load is night and day.

Emissions

Inverter generators have proven a leap forward for portable generator technology. An inverter generator can adapt the engine’s throttle based on demand. This means generators no longer have to run full throttle the entire time, creating less excess pollution and lower fuel consumption. You’ll save money on fuel and produce less pollution when you choose an inverter generator.

Warranties

When you’re choosing to spend hundreds, possibly even thousands, of dollars on a generator, you want a quality warranty. If you’re planning to use your portable generator while traveling full-time, you’ll want to be able to use your warranty anywhere in the country. Purchasing your generator from any popular big-box retailer is a great way to ensure your warranty is valid nationwide.

Where Should You Set Up Your Portable Generator?

A common mistake many RVers make is in the placement of their portable generator. Did you know nearly 900 people died between 2005 and 2017 from carbon monoxide poisoning from a portable generator? Not all of these were RV-related, but placing a generator too close to an RV can be deadly.

When setting up your portable generator, make sure it’s in an open area. Face the generator’s exhaust pipe with the wind, so the exhaust blows away from the RV. Also, keep the generator away from any potential fuel or dry brush to avoid causing a fire. 

How to Use a Portable Generator to Charge Your RV Batteries

If your generator works for RVs, there’s a good chance it’ll come with a 30-amp electrical plug. If your RV is 50-amp, you’ll need to use a dogbone adapter to convert to a 30-amp connection. Powering your RV with your portable generator will charge your batteries, much like plugging into a power pedestal at a campground does. It can take several hours to charge your batteries, so don’t expect immediate results.

Or plug a battery charger into your portable generator and attach the jumper cables to your RV’s batteries. Verify that the charger you’re using is a smart charger and will recognize when the battery is full. If not, you could damage your RV batteries, which could be an expensive mistake.

A large portable generator can power up your RV or even a large motorhome.

What Size Generator Do I Need for My RV?

Consider your power needs when trying to figure out what size of generator you need. A 3500-watt generator is an excellent choice for running several items in your RV. It’s comparable to using a 50-amp RV on a 30-amp power service. If you use too much power, the generator will likely shut down to avoid any potential damage.

Some RVers opt for purchasing a pair of 2000-watt generators and daisy-chaining them together. A 2000-watt generator is considerably lighter and easier to move around. When daisy-chained together, two 2000-watt generators can produce a tremendous amount of power. 

A portable generator is an excellent option for powering your RV. It’s a great bang for your buck and can open the door for boondocking. Do you own a portable generator for your RV? How has owning one improved your RVing experience?

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