best rv generator

Best RV Generators: An Independent Power Source For RV Camping

Chris Coleman

If you prefer to travel to out-of-the-way places without access to the usual campground’s electrical services, and if you have above average power needs, owning the best RV generator is an absolute necessity. Travel trailers generators will supply power to your electrical appliances, so that you won’t have to sacrifice the comfort of home while on the road. 

While some modern motorhomes come equipped with a built-in system, many do not, and sometimes the built-in unit is not powerful enough to keep up with your power consumption.

If you need to purchase your first generators for RV use or wish to replace your existing model that’s past its prime or simply unsatisfactory, there are a number of technical factors that you must consider in order to make your investment worthwhile and your buying experience stress free.

best rv generator

If you know what you’re looking for, dive right into our handpicked list of the very best RV generator models on the market, based on their specifications and in-depth RV generator reviews by full-time RVers. This list includes the most generally well-rounded and durable units, as well as a variety for different needs, be it that you prioritize powerful generators, lightweight and portable generators, or quiet ones. Also learn everything you need to know, including how RV generators work, the different types, key buying criteria, and handy maintenance tips.

Comparison Chart of Best RV Generators

NoRV GeneratorsPricesOur Ratings
1Champion Power Equipment 100263 - Best Of The Best$$$$*****
2Generac 7117 GP2200i - Editor's Choice$$$*****
3Honda EU2200i - Editor's Choice$$$$$*****
4WEN 56200i$$*****
5Westinghouse iGen2500$$$****
6Champion Power Equipment 75531i$$$****
7A-iPower SUA2000i$$****
8DuroStar DS4000S$***
9DuroMax XP4400E$$***
10Champion Power Equipment 76533$$$****
11Briggs & Stratton P3000$$$***
12Sportsman GEN4000LPC$$***

Generators for RV Use: Basics

What is it?

While camping in an RV park or campground, you can rely on the complete utility hookups available to charge your RV’s house battery bank and power your electrical appliances. However, if you prefer to travel off the beaten path and therefore won’t have access to the campground’s shore power, you will need another dependable power source. A generator for RV use is an absolute must-have.

An RV generator will supply power to your electrical appliances, so that you can enjoy the comfort of your own home. If you travel with companions and thus have higher than average power consumption, especially if you need to run power-consuming appliances like the air conditioner, the best RV generator will be your best friend that ensures you will never run out of power. 

The device can also charge your RV’s house battery bank. It is also useful in case you need a direct source of power for your 120V AC outlets, where you can plug small devices and appliances, such as your laptops and blow hair dryer, providing you with all the onboard conveniences you need. 

Who needs RV ready generators?

Every full-time RVer would swear that it is one of the first additions to their rig. That said, whether you need a generator depends on the kind of traveling you do. 

If you always stop overnight at RV parks and campgrounds, you will have access to their electrical services. This shore power is convenient and usually cost effective, and you won’t really need to invest in generators for RV use.

Another situation is that you travel alone in a small campervan or travel trailer on spontaneous weekend getaways and thus only have modest electrical needs, including some LED lights, a laptop computer or an electric water kettle. In this case, a battery pack might be an adequate option. 

In the past, RVs relied on battery packs for electrical power, however this is surely inefficient and inadequate. For small to moderate power consumption, you can also consider installing solar panels to use solar power, given that you get good weather and enough sunlight where you travel.

To be more specific, a battery pack is a viable option if you can manage with a total wattage drawn of around 100 watts, which is enough for a couple of energy-saving lamps and a laptop. A good battery pack costs around $150, but that won’t include a solar panel to charge it. Anything more than 100 watts, especially if you want to run air conditioning, then you will definitely need an RV generator. It is the only sensible option.

How does an RV Generator Work?

An RV generator works with the help of a motor fueled by either diesel or gasoline. Somewhat similar to the internal combustion engine in your car, the generator is a mechanical machine that creates combustions as a means of generating energy to keep its motor turning. The input for such a combustion include air and fuel at an optimal ratio, just like with your car’s engine.

There are various motor designs, from the simple ones or the more complex. A simple motor powered by gasoline often has two cylinders, each containing a piston attached to a crankshaft.

The cylinders also feature an air input port and a fuel input port where air and fuel enters the cylinders, a spark plug to ignite the air and fuel mixture,  and an exhaust port, where exhaust generated from the combustion escapes. In case of a diesel-motor generator, there is no spark plug, as the machine achieves combustion using highly compressed and thus easily ignited diesel.

The two cylinders are designed in such a way that in case one of them ignites, the remaining one will start to receive air and fuel. This mechanism ensures constant firing so that the generator continuously generates power.

Best Portable Generators For RV

Without further ado, let’s dive right into our delicious handpicked list of the very best RV generator models on the market. Rest assured that all of these units are the most well-rounded with key important buying criteria in mind, so that they will deliver reliable performance for many years down the road. 

There is something for every camper in this list, whether your top priority is affordability, power output, portability, quietness or durability. That said, if you’re yet to know what to look for in a solid generator for travel trailers, jump to the next section to learn about key purchasing criteria.

1. Champion 100263 Portable Inverter Generator – Best Of The Best

Champion Power Equipment 100263
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Specifications:

  • Power Output: 3,400W (Gasoline) and 3,060W (Propane)
  • Tank Capacity: 1.6 Gallons (Gasoline) and 20 Pounds (Propane)
  • Fuel Type: Gasoline and Propane

Why It’s The Best:

You intend to pick up a propane generator but have concerns about the availability of gas cylinders at your destinations, you should take a close look at Champion Power Equipment 100263. Being engineered to run on gasoline as well as propane, the generator from Champion Power Equipment is the best RV generator in terms of adaptability. Regardless of the locations, finding fuel for Champion Power Equipment 100263 is a piece of cake. Depending on the type of fuel it uses, the output of the CPE power generator changes between 3,400W and 3,060W.

Running at less than 60 decibels, the Champion Power Equipment RV ready inverter generator is an all-time favorite of RVers that seek a calm camping atmosphere. At 20 feet, the noise from the generator would be barely audible to the human ears. Featuring integrated handles alongside robust wheels, Champion Power Equipment 100263 could be repositioned in a moment. Moreover, due to the inclusion of the quick-touch panel, it’s possible for people to regulate functions of the CPE generator through centralized controls.

As for the cost, Champion Power Equipment 100263 definitely seems to be a high-priced model at first but its splendid values totally justify the price.

After reviewing a number of generators, I chose this one. It runs as quiet as the Honda at half the cost. It has enough power to run my 30 foot travel trailer including the AC (13,500 BTU). With some instruction from Champion’s tech’s, I was able to connect the generator directly to the trailer’s propane system. I have included a short video clip and pictures. I put a 12 foot hose between the regulator and the flow valve. I put a quick connect on the trailer and on the original regulator. This enables me to run the generator on gasoline, propane bottle and the trailer’s propane system. The generator is light enough for me to lift it into the bed of my truck and it fits under the tonneau cover! These features make this generator the perfect camping generator. I do not have to carry extra fuel! The trailer’s propane system has two 20lb propane bottles. That is enough propane to run for a 3 day weekend in economy mode running only during the campground’s generator hours. My wife was very happy that we now can get the large unpowered camp sites most state parks offer without loosing any of the functions of the trailer.

This generator is also powerful enough to use as a back-up generator for my house. I have installed a 30 amp RV plug next to the sub panel in my garage. In an extended power outage, I will open the main breaker then be able to safely plug it into the house to back feed power to the furnace some lights and the refrigerator. This is a great addition to my house & camping equipment.

Shared by Peteski

Pros:

  • Low-noise operation
  • Lifetime technical support
  • Convenient electronic ignition

Cons:

  • Pricey
  • Some customers report fuel leaks

2. Generac 7117 GP2200i Inverter Generator – Editor’s Choice

Generac GP2200i
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Specifications:

  • Power Output: 2,200W
  • Tank Capacity: 1.2 Gallons
  • Fuel Type: Gasoline

Why This Is An Editor’s Choice:

Versatile and flexible, GP2200i from Generac gives a rock-solid performance in a wide range of camping settings. While its power output is certainly unexceptional, the Generac power generator still meets the electricity requirements of typical recreational vehicles. Since Generac GP2200i is made to be parallel-ready, you may connect two generators together for twice the output. By making use of the TruePower technology, GP2200i is able to generate stable currents too so it’s an outstanding match for delicate devices.

To facilitate operations in the outdoors, the generator from Generac is designed with a handy integrated off/run/choke knob. Therefore, GP2200i is highly sought-after by RV enthusiasts that like straightforward power generators. Through the catchy status lights on Generac GP2200i, you could tell the conditions of the generator with a glance. The combination of a rugged build in-handle and a lightweight construction lead to top-notch handling characteristics as well.

One interesting thing about GP2200i of Generac is that it possesses an economy mode. If engaged, the economy mode of GP2200i would reduce fuel consumption and extend runtime. As a result, to RVers that prioritize fuel economy, Generac GP2200i is one of the best portable generators for camping money can buy.

The Generac GP3000i is a great little generator. I almost didn’t buy it because I couldn’t find any reviews. I’m glad I did – It’s quiet, light weight, easy to operate, and powerful enough to run the 13,500 BTU A/C unit in my Airstream. I can’t comment on reliability or durability yet, but Generac has a good reputation so, I’m not worried about that.

This is the second generator I bought this summer. The first was a lower cost open frame generator (NOT a Generac) which leaked oil like crazy and was so loud the campers in Shenandoah National Park applauded when it turned off.

In looking for a replacement, I really wanted something quiet and powerful enough to run the RV A/C. So far the Generac meets all my expectations.

+ Light weight ~ 59lbs. It’s pretty similar to lifting a dumbbell. It can be done with one hand.

+ Super Quiet – is an accurate description. At 20 feet it’s slightly louder than ambient noise.

+ Power – it barely surges when starting the Airstream A/C (2-3 second surge) and then normalized almost instantly. It had no trouble running the A/C and everything else in the trailer concurrently (running the microwave at the same time as the A/C is too much).

+ Easy to start – typically starts in one easy pull.

My only complaint (and this is small) is that I had to buy a RV 30 amp adapter to connect to the Twistlock Outlet. It was ~ $12.

Shared by Brian V.

Pros:

  • Fair price
  • Lightweight body
  • Nice status lights

Cons:

  • Mediocre delivery service
  • Quality control needs some work

3. Honda EU2200i Quiet Portable Inverter GeneratorEditor’s Choice

Honda EU2200i
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Specifications:

  • Power Output: 2,200W
  • Tank Capacity: 0.95 Gallons
  • Fuel Type: Gasoline

Why This Is An Editor’s Choice:

Capable of running an assortment of appliances, EU2200i of Honda is well-liked by RVers from novices to veterans. Being an inverter model, EU2200i consistently delivers clean energy which is a major plus for those that carry lots of sensitive electronics while traveling. In addition, the power generator from Honda is quite light so you could move it around as you see fit. That is why once it comes to portability, Honda EU2200i is considered to be unmatched in its price range.

With a compact but ample tank, EU2200i boasts a sublime runtime compared to the average generators on the market. Hence, Honda EU2200i is deemed to be the best RV generator for extended applications by a lot of reviews. In use, the Honda generator is quiet: its noise level tends to stay below 60 decibels. Unsurprisingly, RVers that desire peace of mind after a long day on the road hold EU2200i in high regard. Also, thanks to the integration of user-friendly controls, you don’t have to be a generator expert just to operate EU2200i of Honda.

To reassure Rvers about the quality of EU2200i, Honda back its power generator with a 3-year warranty. If you want to have an insurance policy then Honda EU2200i would be your best bet.

Pros:

  • Nice manufacturer warranty
  • Undemanding handling
  • Dependable and portable

Cons:

  • Slightly expensive
  • A couple of generators arrive damaged

4. WEN 56200i Portable Inverter Generator

WEN 56200i
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Specifications:

  • Power Output: 2,000W
  • Tank Capacity: 1.2 Gallons
  • Fuel Type: Gasoline

Why We Love it:

Coming at a reasonable price, WEN 56200i is well-received by RVers that wish to purchase decent power generators without having to spend a fortune. Able to produce a pure sine wave, the WEN generator minimizes harmonic distortion and lets RVers safely use laptops, cellphones, tablets and other vulnerable electronics.

With two three-prong receptacles, one 12V DC receptacle and a 5V USB port, 56200i could power various applications simultaneously. Additionally, WEN 56200i is parallel-ready so if you need more than 2,000W, feel free to link two generators together.

The EPA-certified 4-stroke OHV engine of the power generator from WEN is potent but it works quietly as well. In fact, because of its low noise level, lots of RVers find 56200i to be the best RV generator on the market for RV campgrounds. If you engage the eco mode, WEN 56200i would make even less noise as its engine automatically adjusts fuel consumption to match plugged-in items. To protect the integrity of the generator, WEN design 56200i with low-oil and low-fuel automatic shutdown.

Regarding handling, the lightweight WEN generator boasts a useful carrying handle that allows users to relocate it at will. Thus, the portability of WEN 56200i tends to get favorable remarks from experts and experienced RVers.

Pros:

  • Clean power
  • Light and compact
  • Customer service is responsive

Cons:

  • Inconsistent performance between generators
  • The oil tank should be overhauled

5. Westinghouse iGen2500 Portable Inverter Generator

Westinghouse iGen2500
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Specifications:

  • Power Output: 2,500W
  • Tank Capacity: 1.0 Gallons
  • Fuel Type: Gasoline

Why We Love It

Packing a fuel efficiency superior to traditional power generators, Westinghouse iGen2500 proves to be second to none in its class once it comes to runtime. While it only possesses a modest 1-gallon fuel tank,  iGen2500 may run continuously for 10 hours which makes it a fine choice for long-running applications.

Thanks to the informative LED Data Center, users could grasp essential details such as remaining runtime, fuel level, output and so on with a glance. Like most modern-day generators, iGen2500 of Westinghouse features low-oil shutdown and overload protection

At slightly over 45 pounds, the power generator from Westinghouse is relatively light and since it contains a built-in handle, its portability is top-notch. In use, the overall noise level of Westinghouse iGen2500 sticks close to 50 decibels so it should only cause negligible disturbances.

Furthermore, as an inverter generator, iGen2500 works well with a wide range of delicate electronics. Boasting an output of 2,500W, the Westinghouse generator is a capable model but if more power is required, RVers always have the option of paralleling two generators.

Being ready-to-use out of the box, Westinghouse iGen2500 could be used shortly after arrival. Hence, many RVers think of iGen2500 as the best RV generator for expedient power.

Pros:

  • Marvelous runtime
  • Superb safety features
  • Sturdy carrying handle

Cons:

  • Less than ideal customer service
  • A few generators experience start-up failures

6. Champion 75531i RV Ready Portable Inverter Generator

Champion Power Equipment 75531i
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Specifications:

  • Power Output: 3,100W
  • Tank Capacity: 1.6 Gallons
  • Fuel Type: Gasoline

Why We Love It

By incorporating the time-tested recoil start mechanism, Champion Power Equipment 75531i could power on in an assortment of settings. Also, as the CPE generator makes good use of the Cold Start technology, turning it on in low temperatures is a walk in the park.

That is why once it comes to off-roading in challenging conditions, 75531i is by all accounts the best generator for RV money can buy. Since the controls of 75531i from Champion Power Equipment concentrate at one spot, you could conveniently manipulate its key operations

Arrive fully assembled, the generator of Champion Power Equipment just needs gasoline as well as oil refills to start working. Due to its first-class fuel efficiency, 75531i is able to run uninterruptedly up to 8 hours with a full tank. If you wish to preserve fuel and extend runtime further, it’s strongly recommended that you engage the economy mode. That would make the engine of Champion Power Equipment 75531i automatically adjust to match changes in the electrical load and enhance the fuel economy noticeably.

In terms of aftermarket support, users of the CPE generator receive a 3-year limited warranty and free lifetime technical assistance. All in all, Champion Power Equipment 75531i is an outstanding investment in the long run.

Pros:

  • Noise level is low
  • Splendid reliability
  • Rugged foldable handle

Cons:

  • Barely acceptable shipping
  • Mediocre quality control  

7. A-iPower SUA2000i Portable Inverter Generator

A-iPower SUA2000i
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Specifications:

  • Power Output: 2,000W
  • Tank Capacity: 1.1 Gallons
  • Fuel Type: Gasoline

Why We Love It

From recreational activities to power blackouts, A-iPower SUA2000i is a generator that you could consistently count on. Accompanied by a vigorous engine, the generator of A-iPower offers a power output of 2,000W, adequate for multiple applications.

In addition to that, the noise reduction design of SUA2000i guarantees a low noise level. One neat feature of A-iPower SUA2000i  is that unlike other RV-rated generators, it’s possible to parallel two SUA2000i for twice the output without having to use an external parallel kit.  

To keep things simple, SUA2000i uses a multi-switch that manages all of its functions: fuel, choke and engine. Because of that, most RVers would master the control of the A-iPower generator in the blink of an eye. SUA2000i from A-iPower comes with one 12V multifunction port and two 120VAC outlets (one 20A and one 30A). In the case you need to charge your electronics (phones, laptops, tablets and so on) then all you need to do is fit a USB adapter to the 12V port.

As for the runtime, the generator of A-iPower should run for well over 8 hours with a full fuel tank. Since A-iPower SUA2000i packs a built-in fuel gauge, you could tell if it needs a gasoline refill.

Pros:

  • Quiet
  • Long-lasting
  • Adaptable and portable

Cons:

  • Sub-par delivery
  • Several generators arrive with missing parts

8. Durostar DS4000S Portable Generator

DuroStar DS4000S
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Specifications:

  • Power Output: 4,000W
  • Tank Capacity: 3.96 Gallons
  • Fuel Type: Gasoline

Why We Love It

Possessing a huge fuel tank, DuroStar DS4000S of DuroMax may keep typical applications running continuously for half a day. Thus, regarding runtime, few power generators of recreational vehicles nowadays outperform the DuroMax power generator.

Moreover, with an output of 4,000W, DuroStar DS4000S is capable of meeting the power requirement of high-draw appliances, heavy-duty tools and others. Finally, thanks to the all-metal construction, the generator from DuroMax holds up well against a wide range of abuses.    

Engineered with two 120V 20A household outlets and one 120V/240V 30A twist lock, DuroStar DS4000S would fit the camping setups of most RVers. A voltmeter is included on the generator too which makes determining the output a breeze.

As for the noise level, the integrated sound muffler of the DuroMax power generator ensures quiet operation so you could enjoy yourself to the fullest. To prevent damages, DuroStar DS4000S employs a low oil shutoff that puts a stop to everything if it notices that the oil is low.

About the weight, DuroStar DS4000S is cumbersome at 105 pounds. Nonetheless, if you want to improve the portability of the generator, it’s a good idea to pick up the optional wheel kit from DuroMax.

Pros:

  • Resilient
  • The price is fair
  • Top-notch output and extended runtime

Cons:  

  • Portability is slightly limited     
  • Aftermarket support seems to be inadequate

9. DuroMax XP4400E RV Grade Gas Generator

DuroMax XP4400E
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Specifications:

  • Power Output: 4,400W
  • Tank Capacity: 3.96 Gallons
  • Fuel Type: Gasoline

Why We Love It

Utilizing MX2 technology, DuroMax XP4400E allows RVers to power applications flexibly: people could opt to run the DuroMax generator at both 120V and 240V. If you need full power then feel free to run XP4400E at 120V only.

Powered by a robust OHV engine, XP4400E of DuroMax is able to consistently deliver an outstanding output of 4,400W.  As a result, once it comes to running applications that require lots of power, the generator from DuraMax is the best generator for travel trailer.

Approved by EPA as well as CARB, DuroMax XP4400E is also loved by quite a few eco-conscious RVers. Being environmentally-friendly, the DuroMax power generator would match the emission regulations of RV parks. Since it integrates surge protection, XP4400E is safe from power surges, a major plus if you have concerns about unstable currents in camping grounds. Last but not least, as DuroMax XP4400E comes with helpful handles and wheels, moving it around is a cakewalk.

Regarding cost, the power generator from DuroMax is available at a relatively affordable price so it’s an economical model. You have a tight wallet? Then it’s widely advised that you think about adding  XP4400E to your shortlist. 

Pros:

  • Run quietly
  • Well-built and portable
  • Good values for the price

Cons:

  • A couple of generators seem to have seizing issues
  • Customer service certainly needs some work

10.  Champion 76533 RV Ready Portable Generator

Champion Power Equipment 76533
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Specifications:

  • Power Output: 4,750W (Gasoline) and 4,275W (Propane)
  • Tank Capacity: 3.4 Gallons (Gasoline) and 20 Pounds (Propane)
  • Fuel Type: Gasoline and Propane

Why We Love It

So you like Champion Power Equipment 100263 but desire more power? If that is the case then you should consider checking out Champion Power Equipment 76533. Boasting a marvelous 4-stroke engine, the power generator of CPE guarantees an output of  4,750W on gasoline and 4,275W on propane.

Assuming that its fuel tank is full, 76533 would power your camping appliances for 9 hours straight. In the case that you prefer to run it with a 20-pound propane tank, the Champion Power Equipment generator runs up to 10.5 hours without interruptions.

Made to use electric ignition, the generator of Champion Power Equipment lets RVers power it up through a push-button. Hence, 76533 tends to be held in high regard by people that don’t want to struggle around recoil start generators.

Also, secured by Volt Guard, outlets of Champion Power Equipment 100263 (one 120V 30A locking, one RV 120V 30A and two household 120V 20A) would prevent power surges from damaging applications. Featuring a noise level of around 70 decibels, the CPE generator creates a peaceful camping atmosphere.

About emission, Champion Power Equipment 100263 is EPA and CARB-compliant so you don’t have to worry about toxic fumes. However, you should still set up the power generator of CPE in well-ventilated locations. 

Pros:

  • Sublime durability
  • Reasonable price
  • Informative manual

Cons:

  • A few RVers report oil leaks  
  • Lifespan varies between generators

11. Briggs & Stratton P3000 RV Ready Inverter Generator

Briggs & Stratton P3000
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Specifications:

  • Power Output: 3,000W
  • Tank Capacity: 1.5 Gallons
  • Fuel Type: Gasoline  

Why We Love It

For RVers that desire an RV inverter generator that could power multiple applications at the same time, Briggs & Stratton P3000 is undoubtedly a superb model. With four 120V household outlets, one 120V 30A outlet, one 12V DC outlet and one USB port, P3000 may run an assortment of appliances simultaneously.

In the case you find the 3,000W output of the Briggs & Stratton generator inadequate, it also features a parallel port that allows you to parallel generators together for more power.

Since it’s an inverter generator, P3000 gives a good account of itself while powering laptops, phones, tablets and similar sensitive electronics used by RVers. Using the LCD screen, you would be able to grasp the operational details of Briggs & Stratton P3000 with a glance.

By making use of the innovative QuietPower technology, the noise level of the generator from Briggs & Stratton in use is comparable to a normal conversation. Therefore, if you wish for a calm camping experience, P3000 is the ideal generator for you.

Thanks to the inclusion of a telescoping luggage-style handle and big wheels, the portability of Briggs & Stratton P3000 is often deemed to be outstanding. You could the generator all over the place without breaking a sweat in the process. 

Pros:

  • Quiet operation
  • User-friendly statistics screen
  • Parallel-ready and portable

Cons:

  • A bit pricey
  • Quality control could use a few improvements

12. Sportsman GEN4000LPC Generator

Sportsman GEN4000LP
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Specifications:

  • Power Output: 4,000W
  • Tank Capacity: 20 Pounds
  • Fuel Type: Propane  

Why We Love It

For many campers, RV air conditioners are indispensable appliance while on the road, especially in hot season. To power RV AC, you must have a generator powerful enough for it and Sportsman GEN4000LPC would be your best choice in that case. Being reviewed as the best generator for RV air conditioners, Sportsman GEN4000LPC received positive reviews from campers. With an output of 4,000W and a runtime of 10 hours, the generator from Sportsman is an excellent choice once it comes to powering A/C. Furthermore, as GEN4000LPC runs on propane, its fuel burns cleanly which reduces CO2 emission. In addition, the lifespan of propane is superior to that of gasoline so you could store a couple of propane tanks on your recreational vehicle.

The OHV recoil-start engine used by Sportsman GEN4000LPC is strong but it operates silently at the same time. Because of its low noise level, the Sportsman power generator is well-received by RVers that plan trips around camping round with strict sound regulations.

Accompanied by a regulator gas hose, Sportsman GEN4000LPC is by all accounts ready-to-use out of the box. Despite the fact that GEN4000LPC is slightly on the heavy side, several RVers could manhandle it without much difficulty.

As for the safety features, the generator from Sportsman packs auto low oil and low fuel shut-off that suspense operations before things get ugly. Because of that, there is no need to check up on the fuel and oil level from time to time.

Pros:

  • Nice warranty
  • Powerful engine
  • EPA-approved emission

Cons:

  • Cumbersome
  • Long start cord

How to Choose the Best Generator for RV Camping

Since the world of RV generators is vast and diverse, and on top of that they are quite expensive, you should first determine your priorities and decide on shortlisted models that best suit your budget and needs. In order to get the best out of your money, get familiar with the most important buying criteria when looking for the best generator for RV

Electrical Capacity, or Size

If you want to get the most out of the appliances on your rig then it’s of utmost importance that you give output some thoughts while assessing power generators. In the case that you don’t have a lot of things that run on electricity around, you may settle for models with standard outputs. 

On the other hand, if you own multiple high-draw devices such as microwaves, air conditioners, fridges, vacuum and hair blow dryer, you must prioritize high-output models. 

The more power you want, typically the more expensive the generator you will need. Make sure that it can supply more than enough power to run all your electronics without having to drain your available fuel supply completely, especially if you often travel to hard-to-get places where fuel stations are stretched out. 

best generators for rv

Such is crucial in making sure you will not get stranded in the middle of nowhere with an empty fuel tank. Do note that the more modern recreational vehicles often have the majority of luxuries often present in households, that is power-consuming appliances including vacuum, dishwashers, ovens, microwaves and air conditioning.

To make sure the generator you get is sufficient for your power needs, the safest measure is to calculate your average daily electrical consumption, and buy a generator with enough electrical capacity or power output to supply your power demand. 

To assess your daily total wattage drawn, you need the wattage drawn from every single electrical appliance that you often use on a daily basis. The running wattage and starting wattage of every electrical device is marked on its label somewhere. Look at the labels of all the devices and appliances you plan to run at a given time and add up the wattage. 

Note that devices with electric motors, including the air conditioner, fridge and dishwasher typically have a much higher starting wattage than running wattage, since more power is needed to get the motor up and running. For instance, a small RV refrigerator’s starting wattage might be 500 to 900 watts, while it only needs 180 to 600 watts to keep running.

Therefore, it is safest to have a generator that is powerful enough to supply at least the total starting wattage of your appliances, or else you’ll just have to make sure to turn on only one appliance at a time. Allow for the fact that you’ll probably never run everything at once, but don’t underestimate by too much. You don’t want to be watching TV and lose power the moment someone turns on the bathroom light.

For example, a small RV refrigerator needs 500-900 starting wattage and 180-600 running wattage. A blow hair dryer is quite power demanding, with 1,500 starting wattage and 1,300 running wattage. A vacuum requires 1,000 starting wattage and 400 running wattage.

If you need to power an air conditioner, start your calculations from there, as the air conditioner is often the most power consuming device in your RV. The minimum wattage of the generator you need should at least be equivalent to your air conditioner’s surge wattage or starting wattage. 

A 10,000 BTU air conditioning unit usually has a starting 2,200 wattage and only 1,100 running wattage. A 13,500 BTU unit requires 2,900 starting wattage and 1,300 running wattage while a 15,000 BTU unit requires 3,400 starting wattage and 1,500 running wattage.

Consumption

To perform as designed, generators need to be kept well-fueled which is why consumption rate is a major consideration. All in all, if you pick up a power generator that drinks fuel like you drink water, you could have a hard time fueling it.  

A bit of planning for fuel refilling is always crucial on every long trip, especially if you’re going somewhere far out of town off the beaten path, where you might have to travel a long distance for fuel. You have to figure out how often you will need to add fuel to the generator. 

So to avoid a potential logistic headache, it’s strongly recommended that RVers choose models with reasonable fuel consumption rates. The best RV generators available for purchase nowadays even feature eco-modes designed to reduce consumption rates once engaged. While in this mode, the generator actually throttles depending on the demand on power instead of running at a constant rate. 

Also, take note that open-frame generators tend to burn fuel significantly faster than portable ones. An open frame type generator is primarily designed for installation within a walk-in shelter, which provides easy generator maintenance, and the body design leaves the engine exposed. 

This type of pen-frame models operate using consistently high-power output rates, thereby consuming more fuel. In this case, it would be more economical to invest in two portable units that run in parallel. More on the different types of generators for RV in later sections. 

Noise

In use, power generators tend to make some noises but certain models on the market make less noise than the rest. Hence, if you prefer to have an undisturbed night’s sleep after a long day behind the wheel, you should grab a quiet generator for camping. 

It’s also worth noting that various camping grounds for recreational vehicles, particularly National Parks, have regulations regarding the sound levels of generators. The noise limit is typically 60 decibels at 50 feet from the source.

That means if you use a generator that proves way too loud, few locations would welcome you and your RV. The best RV generators on the current market are relatively quiet, but you’ll want to make sure.

Protection

For your peace of mind, you should look for a generator with surge protection for extra protection against electrical mishaps – a total headache when you’re in the middle of nowhere. This helps prevent electrical overload that could damage your appliances or portable devices. 

While you’re at it, you might find a model also with built-in GFCI, which stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters. This technology adds an extra layer of safety, cutting power in a fraction of a second and guarding against electrocution.

Portability

It is also necessary to decide on the portability of the generator, particularly if you want to use your generator someplace other than your RV. Think about the generator’s size and weight. Some RV generators have wheels to facilitate easy setup.

Another crucial factor that you must consider early on is to decide whether you will need a portable or a permanent unit. The portable one is, of course, that, which you can easily move from one place to another, while a permanent unit is permanently installed into your RV and cannot be detached.

The permanent or onboard generators are usually more common in Class A motorhomes and fifth wheels, since campers who go for these classes of recreational vehicles are typically investing in a long term or permanent second home on wheels.

Most RV owners prefer portable generators because of their versatility. Aside from providing power to run your essential appliances in your RV, it can also be useful for tailgating or during power outages. Plus, since a generator for RV costs hundreds of dollars, you would want to keep it when you go buy a new recreational vehicle. 

Many of the best portable RV generator models in the market today also provide a paralleling capability, making it possible for two units to operate together at the same time, supplying two times as much power. This is what the majority of full-time campers do to run their air conditioners, especially 13,500 BTU or 15,000 BTU units, on top of many other power-consuming appliances in case they opt for portable generators for RV.

Emission

Like noise, you must pay attention to emission if you wish to buy the best RV generator for your vehicle. For your well-being, you need to stay away from models that release harmful exhausts into the surroundings during operation. 

Look for the best generator for RV that claims CARB and EPA Compliance. These generators produce much less air pollution than non-compliant models.

In addition, to properly evaluate the emission of models on your shortlist, it’s widely suggested that you take a close look at customer reviews and see what people have to say. Many power generators claim to pass all kinds of emission tests but still let out unhealthy fumes so it’s essential that you take precautions.

Endurance

Since recreational vehicles experience vibrations and bumps from time to time, power generators for RV use need to be well-built to handle the stress. If you select a flimsy model, it’s going to fall apart in short order and force you to spend money on getting a replacement. Because of that, you should inspect and examine the constructions of generators prior to purchase. 

What you should be looking for, in this case, is the durability and compactness of the overall construction of the generator. In other words, the ideal RV generator should be lightweight and less bulky while still having superior sturdiness and resistance to shock and vibrations. A reasonable size plus a reasonable weight means you will not have a difficult time transporting it. Such a model would be less prone to accidents during transport and usage, thus will suffer less wear and tear. 

It’s also wise for you to check out aftermarket support from manufacturers: longer warranties often indicate sound build qualities. 

Useful Features & Other Considerations

Outlets

In most cases, you’ll connect your generator to your RV’s electrical system. RVs usually have specific outlets to plug your generator into. However, you might want to run exterior lights or music. The number and type of outlets – 120 volt, 12 volt DC, USB – can be a factor in choosing a generator. 

It is recommended that you consider purchasing a generator cord, which is an extension cord specifically designed for generator use. At the output end, it can have three or four household-type 120v sockets. If you’re running lights or other electrical equipment outside, you only need to run one cable instead of several.

Paralleling

If you travel with companions and thus have high demand for power, you think your power needs might grow, it is best to invest in a generator that can be run in parallel, so that later on you can purchase an additional paralleling-able generator and run the two at the same time for double power output. 

Not all RV generators have this facility, so if your power needs are likely to grow, it’s better to get a generator with paralleling capacity now, instead of replacing it later on, which would again cost you quite some money.

Fuel Gauge

A generator with fuel gauge as well as an oil-level warning light would be most convenient to use, since you have to make sure your generator has enough fuel to run on and you must refill the generator tank to keep it at a safe level.


Types Of RV Generators

Modern RV-rated power generators usually run on an assortment of fuels with unique characteristics, each with its own pros and cons. Understanding their differences is key to picking the most efficient and cost effective type for your specific rig and power needs. This is what you must consider before starting to browse through the vast sea of different models. 

Gas vs Diesel vs Propane Generators

In general, if you have a vehicle which already runs on diesel, such as a Class A motorhome,  a diesel-powered generator would save you a lot of trouble, since the generator will be tapping into the same fuel tank that is used to run your motorhome. 

In addition, recreational vehicles that run on diesel, that is many Class A motorhomes and fifth wheels, tend to be large, luxury vehicles with a lot of full blown household appliances that consume a lot of power. When comparing apples to apples, diesel generators can produce higher power output to adequately operate these classes of RV compared to other generator types. 

Otherwise, if your RV falls under the mid-sized types, then a generator that can supply a more moderate power output would be sufficient. In this case, it would be safe to use a generator powered by gas. For RVs that require even less power supply, a propane-powered generator might be your best choice.

Gasoline generators

Generally speaking, gasoline is unmatched in terms of availability. It is a convenient option because almost all street corners have gas stations that you can easily access. As a result, RVers that travel extensively hold gasoline generators in high esteem since keeping them fueled is no problem. 

Gas is also budget-friendly while being easy to use. You can also easily keep reserve fuel for it. In comparison to diesel and propane-powered generators, models run by gasoline provide relatively more power, allowing you to powe more appliances at once.

As for the shortcomings, gasoline is highly combustible so you need to be careful around it. In addition to that, gasoline possesses a relatively short shelf life compared to other fuel types used by generators. This is because gasoline contains more impurities, thus shortening its lifespan. 

That means stockpiling gasoline in big volumes is ill-advised. Also, take note that you will not be able to leave leftover fuel in the generator because it might cause the unit to be clogged up and malfunction. Cycling fuel and letting the gas-powered generator run regularly is extra important in maintaining its optimal performance and lifespan.     

Diesel generators

This is the most suitable fit for your vehicle if it also runs on diesel, like many Class A motorhomes. This type ensures that you can use both your generator and vehicle using just a single source of fuel.

An advantage of diesel as a fuel type for generators is that it produces a larger power output compared to propane. It might not produce as much power as gasoline but on the other hand, diesel burns cleaner and is safer in comparison with gasoline-powered generators.

As diesel is less flammable than gasoline, a diesel generator for RV will be easier to handle and safer to store away. The average shelf life of diesel is superior to that of gasoline thanks to having less impurities. 

As for drawbacks, diesel is smellier than gasoline. It is much more expensive than gasoline and propane and harder to find, so a bit of planning for your trip is strictly needed in order for you to secure fuel. Also, generators that run on diesel are typically the most expensive and the number of models is more limited compared to the popular gas-fueled generators for RV.   

Another downside of diesel-powered generators is that it generally produces more noise when running compared to its gas- and propane-powered counterparts. This type of RV generator also comes with heavy components and parts, so many models might be a bit bulky and heavy, although this might not be an issue for many campers. 

Propane generators

Lasts a long time, burns cleanly and comes in handy canisters, an RV propane generator is considered to be the convenient and fuss-free type of fuel for RV generators, especially held in high regards by eco-conscious and budget-conscious campers. 

One benefit that eco-conscious RV owners will enjoy from a propane generator is that it is a clean burning generator. Furthermore, it has a quieter operation in comparison to other kinds of RV generators, thus your experience with this device will be pleasant.

Propane-powered RV generators are generally available at a cheaper price point compared to the other two types. The longer or indefinite shelf-life of this type of generator also means that there will be less frequent needs for costly replacement.

One disadvantage of propane is that it is not suitable for extended trips or full-time RV enthusiasts. This is mainly because it has a runtime, which is limited to your liquid propane tank’s size, and it burns fast: a tank would be used up in the span of 24 hours. Thus, in extended trips, RV enthusiasts that own propane power generators must carry quite a few gas cylinders as fuel.

Propane-powered generators for RV also tend to produce less power output than gas and diesel models, thus it is not suitable for full-time camping and it is necessary to monitor your consumption of power all the time to make sure you are not overloading.    

Portable vs Permanent Generators

Permanent generators are installed directly on your RV unit and frequently tie into an onboard fuel source or backup battery. They’re usually installed by professionals and cost quite a bit more than portable generators for RV, but they do have the advantage of being a lot easier to use. 

Otherwise, you might prefer more versatility and invest your money in one of the best portable generator for RV, you can move it around for use in your home when needed, and it stays with you when you change your RV.

Inverter Generators Vs. Conventional Generators

Another way to categorize RV generators is by dividing them into two categories: inverter and conventional generators. In general, if you have relatively modest power needs, an inverter generator is an excellent choice. If your RV is full of gadgets, especially energy-demanding ones, you’re still going to want that big conventional model.

This is because conventional RV generators are often more powerful, although they are bigger and heavier. Also, these models run at a constant rate, regardless of the draw on them, thus they consume fuel in a sub-optimal way themselves.

Meanwhile, inverter RV generators are more portable and much quieter. Instead of running at a constant rate like conventional generators, inverter generators are more fuel efficient, since they only work just hard enough to supply the power demanded from them at any given time. Inverter generators are much more fuel efficient. 

In addition, to pick the best RV generator for your needs, keep in mind the following key points regarding the attributes of conventional and inverter generators.

Current

To put it plainly, inverter power generators produce electricity in three phases (AC – DC – AC) while conventional ones produce electricity in a single phase (AC). Hence, the sine wave of inverter models is stable which ensures negligible harmonic distortions, a major plus for RVers that bring lots of sensitive electronics. 

In the case of conventional generators, the sine wave is kind of messy so harmonic distortions happen now and then. Needless to say, such distortions could cause permanent damages to delicate components in various devices. 

Efficiency And Capacity

Thanks to the way electricity is produced, the fuel efficiency of the best inverter generator for RV is deemed to be top-notch. As a result, the average inverter models pack small fuel tanks since less fuel is needed to keep them running. On the other hand, conventional generators boast big tanks because they have an inferior efficiency. However, the size of the fuel tank affects output: power ratings of standard inverter power generators often stay around 5,000W. In the case of conventional models, the power ratings may even reach up to 10,000W.

Portability

With big fuel tanks, huge engines and vast housings, conventional power generators certainly don’t impress a lot of people if it comes to portability. RVers could still move conventional models from spot to spot if necessary but that is going to be slightly tedious. As for inverter generators, the compact profiles ensure that RV enthusiasts would be able to handle them without much hassle. In fact, many inverter models prove to be light enough to be carried by hands.


How to Connect a Portable Generator to Your RV

Hooking up or connecting a generator to your RV should be quite straightforward, as most RVs these days are designed for easy installation of portable RV generators. That said, there are important steps that you must not skip.

  1. The first thing that you have to do is to figure out if your recreational vehicle is already generator ready by consulting your vehicle’s owner manual or asking your dealer to be sure. 
  2. Determine fuel type: Next, determine the specific type of fuel you prefer to use as a means of powering up your generator. 
  3. Estimate your daily energy consumption: Then, as we stressed earlier, ensure that you are getting a generator that can meet your specific power needs, based on calculations of daily average consumption, and configuration of your vehicle. 
  4. Fuel pump: If you are using a gasoline tank, then ensure that you also have a pump to transfer the fuel from it to the generator. If you want the generator to run as quiet as possible, you can research the materials that you can use in muffling the sound of the unit. The material that you can use is dependent on the generator’s size and its location in your vehicle.
  5. Transfer switch: One important thing to take note of when connecting the generator to your RV is that you need to install a transfer switch. The transfer switch will let you alternate automatically between the use of shore power at RV parks and campgrounds and generator’s power, which means you can safely run the generator while your vehicle is plugged into shore power. Another benefit of installing this switch is that it can prevent electrical issues, like in the case of lightning or fires.
  6. Now the hooking up: First, drive the grounding rod into the ground where you want to place your portable generator. Connect the grounding rod to the unit with the copper wire provided. Then use the RV or Travel Trailer’s generator cable to connect to the generator. You’re done. Start your generator; power should run to your RV right away.

Keeping RV Generators In Top Shape

It’s definitely nice to have the best RV generator on your rig as you head out but aside from using it, you must take good care of it too. So if you need help with maintenance of generators, check out the pointers down below.

Find The Right Spot To Install It

One common-sense tip that many first time campers forget to do is to look for a proper location to install the generator. If your RV comes installed with a generator tray then all is well, you can just conveniently set up the unit there.

Otherwise, your chosen location should be stable and level, as well as sturdy and firm so you can mount it without losing support. This will prevent the generator from falling over when it operates. 

If your vehicle doesn’t come with such a tray, you can consider building your own. All you need is a few screws and solid panels, plus some clamps, straps, and brackets to secure the RV generator firmly in place.

Invest In A Cover/Enclosure

While power generators should be used outdoors, leaving them exposed to the elements is unwise. All it takes is one drop of water seeping through the outer housing and your generator may experience operational failures. That is why if you care about the integrity of your generator, it’s strongly recommended that you purchase a  purpose-design generator cover/enclosure. By putting a cover/enclosure on top of your power generator, you could protect it from an assortment of troubles.

Avoid Depleting The Fuel Tank

Ensure that your RV generator contains enough fuel. Some recreational vehicles actually share the same fuel used by the vehicles, themselves. Others, however, do not share such fuel. In this case, you have to fill the tank up with the specific kind of fuel that is needed to run it.

For your information, generators produce electricity by constantly rotating the magnetic coils along each other. So once the power generators run out of fuel, they stop generating electricity but devices continue to draw power from them which demagnetizes the coils. The result is a hefty repair bill that likely ruins the budget plan of RVers. 

Thus, it’s of utmost importance that you refrain from depleting the fuel tank of your generator all the way. Pay attention to the fuel level and if it gets low, refill the generator tank. 

Another thing to remember is to secure the tank firmly once you fill it up to minimize its risk of leaking. 

Always Use Fresh Fuel

It’s crucial that you always use fresh fuel in your generator’s engine. Old fuel can create build-ups in the engine of the generator, clogging it and thus impede the unit’s performance and lifespan. 

For optimal operation, always keep your RV generator filled with fresh fuel. One way to make sure of this is by fuel cycling, which is another reason running your unit regularly even when not needed is advised.

Remember To Perform Periodic Inspections

Every now and then, you should take a close look at the power generator of your RV just to see if it needs some work. Things such as oils, coolants, filters and so on have substantial influences on the performance of generators as a whole. If you perform periodic inspections, it’s possible to notice potential issues and resolve them before they actually cause damages. In the opinion of experts and experienced RVers, the ideal interval between inspections is 1 month.

Run The Generator In Well Ventilated Space

Never run a generator in an enclosed space. This is because gasoline, diesel, and propane all produce carbon monoxide, which can become harmful if the unit is not properly vented.

RVs usually have specific platforms or spaces for generators for optimal ventilation.  When the generator is in use, the platform should always be extended or the doors open to provide ample ventilation.

Let The Generators Run Often

Just like you, it is necessary for your RV generator to receive a regular exercise. To stay in working order, machines need to be turned on from time to time and the same applies to power generators of recreational vehicles. 

If you allow the generator on your rig to collect dust for too long then it might cause surging and starting problems in its engine and refuse to start-up in times of need.

So as to ensure that your generator could power your RV, it’s essential that you set a schedule to run it. Professionals recommend that you let it run a minimum of 30 minutes every 3 months. During the exercise, it’s best to turn on some of your devices and appliances, like your portable heater or air conditioning unit. This is essential in making the generator work.

In addition, it’s not recommended to leave fuel in the tank indefinitely, since only one month of inactivity is enough to cause the fuel in the generator to deteriorate and impede the unit’s performance. Therefore, during maintenance runs in off-seasons, you should get rid of aged fuel and refill the unit with fresh fuel. 

Don’t Overwork The Generator

That said, also remember that overworked equipment never lasts long. Avoid electrical overload by switching on devices one at a time, a few seconds apart.

Storage In Off-Seasons

The best way to store your RV generator when unused is to wipe down the exterior, let it dry, then put it in a dry and cool place free from moisture, and cover the RV generator to prevent dirt, grime, mud, and dust buildups.

Before putting it away for the winter, ensure the fuel tank is full, add a fuel stabilizer, run it a while to work the stabilized fuel through the system, and change the oil/oil filter. Alternately, you can drain the fuel and lines to get rid of troublesome aged fuel.

Regular Servicing

Your generator needs regular servicing. Note that while modern RV generators are highly efficient machines designed to operate for a prolonged period with a lower risk of breakdown, getting it serviced regularly is still essential in ensuring that they will continue to serve their purpose for a long time.

Schedule its service and checkup at a repair shop regularly. Moreover, it is advisable to have a record book containing the services it receives. 

Full-time RVers recommend that you have your generator serviced at least once every six months. Others with more expensive models even have their generator serviced as often as once every four months, since maintenance is sensible to make sure their investment will last a long time down the road.


FAQs About Generators For RV

1. What size generator do I need for my RV? Or what power output do I need for my RV generator?

Most RV generators put out between 2,000 and 4,000 watts of electricity. The size or electrical capacity of the generator depends on your daily average power consumption. Thus, when looking for the best RV generator for your rig, it is crucial to estimate the amount of power you will most likely need. 

If you travel alone in a minivan or small travel trailer with minimal needs for power, a 2,000-watt RV generator would likely be sufficient. Or else, calculating your daily wattage drawn from all electrical appliances is something you must not skip. 

To assess your daily total wattage drawn, you need the wattage drawn from every single electrical appliance that you often use on a daily basis. The wattage of every electrical device is marked on its label. Look at the labels of all the devices and appliances you plan to run and add up the wattage. 

Do note that each appliance has a running wattage and a starting wattage. Devices with electrical motors, including the air conditioner, fridge and dishwasher typically have a much higher starting wattage than running wattage, since more power is needed to get the motor up and running. For instance, a small RV refrigerator’s starting wattage might be 500 to 900 watts, while it only needs 180 to 600 watts to keep running.

Therefore, it is safest to have a generator that is powerful enough to supply at least the total starting wattage of your appliances, or else you’ll have to make sure to turn on only one appliance at a time. Allow for the fact that you’ll probably never run everything at once, but don’t underestimate by too much. 

Light bulbs, for example, run anywhere from 40 to 120 watts. Coffee machines demand 600 to 750 watts of starting/running wattage. The average toaster needs 850 watts. Apart from the air conditioner, RV dishwashers might be the most power demanding device, requiring 1,400 watts to start and 700 watts to run, followed by microwaves at up to 1,000 watts to start and run.

In case you will need to use the air conditioner often, the rule of thumb is to begin your calculations from the unit’s wattage, since your air conditioner is the one that will most likely consume the most watts in your RV. The specific size of generator you need must be larger than what is needed to run your rig’s air conditioning unit. 

2. How to quiet your RV generator?

The rule of science is that you can reduce sound in one of 3 ways:

  • Sound deflection 
  • Sound absorption 
  • A combination of sound reflection and absorption

Deflection will direct sound waves in a way that they cancel each other out, like what a muffler does. Noise absorption is a process by which an object takes in sound energy, thereby reducing the perceived noise and producing heat as the byproduct. 

A representative example would be the sound in a room with thick carpet. The thickly carpeted room will absorb the sound without letting too much escape – think music halls. 

And finally, you can redirect sound so that an object absorbs it.

Applying these rules, one measure is to build a baffle box that fits over your generator to soundproof it. They’re typically constructed from more expensive materials, e.g.  fiberglass, fiberboard, noise-reducing foam, but are just as easily broken down into a transportable medium as a few sheets of plywood would be. A baffle box will cost you around $150 dollars depending on the cost and quality of the materials you use.

One important note is to make sure that it is larger than the generator itself so it has space to breathe, as the generator needs to have enough air intake for its engine to run.

If you are not a handyman and would prefer no installation, the quickest way to make a generator quieter is to lean some plywood sheets against the generator. The generator’s sound will be redirected from the sheets of plywood towards the ground, which effectively absorbs the noise and quiets the generator by 10dB. This simple trick also allows for plenty of ventilation. 

Another method, attaching a muffler to the generator, can reduce the noise by 10Db. This process requires some tools and skills, and can cost several hundred dollars for equipment and installation. Be advised that many RVers claim that they don’t generally reduce the sound enough to make it worth the effort and resources needed to install it.

3. Is it OK to run an RV generator all night?

Depending on the generator type, you can keep them running for anywhere from just a couple of hours to several days. Built-in RV generators can safely run for days on end, thus it’s perfectly safe to let them run all night. 

As for portable generators, check their stated run times, which should be anywhere from 8 to 20 hours. Although you might come across units with a run time outside this range, 8-20 hours is a good average for the vast majority of RV generators on the market. 

4. Can you run an RV generator while plugged into shore power?

Yes you can. If your RV has a built-in auto transfer switch (ATS), then you can simply crank your generator and let it run, as the ATS will automatically ‘default’ to the generator, which is it’s primary electrical source, even when you are plugged into shore power.

The ATS defaults to seeing only one single power source, and the generator is what it is designed to default to when two power sources are present. When you hear the ‘clunk’ several seconds after the generator runs, you are hearing the ATS switching over to the generator power. 

When you then unplug the shore power, nothing will happen because the ATS is already on the generator. Or if you shut down the generator, you will hear the ‘clunk’ of the ATS again as it switches back to your shore power.

5. How many generator Watts will I need to run my AC?

Note that your air conditioner is the one that will most likely consume the most watts in your RV. To keep this appliance running well all the time, you should purchase the best generator for RV air conditioner. One more thing to be aware of is that it usually requires more power to start your air conditioning unit than it does to ensure that it stays running. Your required generator’s minimum wattage, therefore, should be equivalent to your air conditioner’s surge wattage or starting wattage. 

In case you’re not familiar with these terms, running watts or rated watts refer to the continuous watts that are needed in keeping your items up and running. Meanwhile, surge watts or starting watts is the extra power surge required to start all electric motors, like in the case of an air conditioning unit. 

10,000 BTU Air Conditioner

For your reference, in most cases, a 2,000-watt portable RV generator with a high starting watt capacity will allow you to run or operate a window air conditioning unit, which is 10,000 BTU. This unit usually has a 2,200 watt for its starting power but it only requires 1,100 watt for continuous power.

13,500 BTU Air Conditioner

However, such a generator will not be able to start and run a 13,500 BTU and above air conditioning unit. A 13,500 BTU unit requires 2,900 starting wattage and 1,300 running wattage while a 15,000 BTU unit requires 3,400 starting wattage and 1,500 running wattage.

For a 13,500 BTU air conditioning unit, a 3,400W inverter generator is the smallest size you can use. This generator will be powerful enough to start the air conditioner. Note that upon starting the air conditioner, you’ll only have around 500W to use other appliances, but once the AC is running, you’ll have 2,000W left to power other devices.

15,000 BTU Air Conditioner

In the case that you need to run a 15,000 BTU air conditioner for extended periods of time on top of many electrical appliances at once, your safest choice is to let multiple generators run in parallel. This is because not all 3,400W inverter generators can handle such a power-consuming unit. Your other option is a 3,800W RV generator, however at 3,800 Watts, it won’t be an inverter generator, which means it will be large and loud.

6. How much are RV generators?

The world of RV generators offers a wide variety at wildly different price points, however you can use the following ranges as a reference.

Conventional RV Generators: These models are great all-rounders with robust, reliable, and proven technology. They can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000, depending on the model’s power output. At the upper end of the scale, you’ll get a big, powerful beast that will handle all your RV electrical needs, including air conditioning.

Inverter RV Generators: These generators are becoming increasingly popular because of their compactness and low noise levels, although you will need to pay a premium for more advanced technology. A portable inverter RV generator that costs around $1,000 will give you a power output of between 2,000 and 3,500 watts; this is only half of what you’d get with a conventional model that costs the same.

Permanently Installed RV Generators: Campers who opt for permanent generators are often full-time and committed RVers owning something like a Class A motorhome or a fifth wheel, which are large vehicles typically fully equipped with a multitude of household-level appliances. These generators are expensive, but downright more powerful than portable models. Especially for large families where many people might be drawing power at the same time, a permanently installed RV generator might be the most viable option by far. 

You can get 10,000 watts and up from permanently installed RV generators. Some of the most high quality 12,500 watt models on the market costs around $10,000 or a little bit more, plus fitting.

That said, in short, whether you should opt for a permanently installed RV generator depends on your circumstances. Do note that there is also the cost of installation, often a professional job. In addition, on older RVs, there is the problem of whether there is a suitable space for the generator.

7. What is the quietest generator for my RV?

In general, more powerful generators are noisier, and the more they have to work at a given time, the more noise they produce. RV generators typically run at 80dB, which is fairly standard. 

However, you can look for more advanced and modern models that produce a much lower noise level, although they are often more expensive. There are even “intelligent” quiet generators for RV that adjust their output and thus their noise level depending on the requirements of the devices plugged into them.

8. How many hours will an RV generator last?

The average safe length of time you can run a portable RV generator is 8-20 hours, depending on the model of course. Built-in RV generators can safely run for days on end, as long as you maintain them properly.

9. Why does my generator keep shutting off in my RV?

One reason the generator shuts off, whether you are driving or not, is that the generator has a safety feature which turns itself off when the fuel in the RV gas tank is depleted below 1/4 of the fuel tank. This is a safety feature built into most modern generators to make sure the fuel tank isn’t used up just to power the generator.

10. Can you run a RV generator while driving?

Yes, if you have a built-in generator, it is perfectly safe to run the RV generator while driving your RV, because a built-in generator is fixed in position and directly connected to the RV. In addition, with built-in permanently installed generators, you won’t have to worry about your RV being filled with its exhaust fumes like with portable models.

However, there are a couple of things you should know to make sure you don’t have any problems.

If the generator is propane-powered then you will need to check state or local laws which may prohibit the use of propane while driving, or even carrying propane on board, on certain roads, bridges or tunnels.

If the generator is gasoline powered, then it will most likely be powered from the same gasoline tank the engine uses. Therefore, you should be sure to fill up the gas tank before driving with the generator on to be on the safer side. You probably won’t run out of gas while driving but the generator will automatically cut off if the fuel tank drops below 1/4 of the tank. This mechanism is to ensure that the generator doesn’t run the RV fuel tank dry and leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere. 

Meanwhile, if you wish to run your portable generator while driving, it is generally not recommended.

First of all, a portable generator needs to be located outside of the RV or travel trailer so you don’t fill your RV up with exhaust fumes. If you do want to run it while you’re rolling on the road, you will need a cargo carrier to hold the portable generator so it’s outside of the RV. Then you have to secure the generator firmly so it will not move. So, although technically possible, this is very unsafe and troublesome. 

If you have a travel trailer, then you also have the option to put the portable generator in the bed of your towing pickup. However the same issue applies: you will have to secure the portable generator so it stays firmly in place and make sure the exhaust is clear of any obstructions as well as secure the power lines so they are stable.

You can also find our guides on how to choose the best RV battery, best lithium battery for RV, best RV surge protector, best solar panels for RV, best RV converter, best RV inverter, best deep cycle battery chargers, best RV battery monitor, best solar charge controller for RV with detailed reviews in RV Electrical category. In these reviews, we only include and recommend the best products with the highest ratings among highly sold products on the market.

Last Updated on March 6, 2021

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar Andrew Gable
  2. Avatar Lino Rodriguez

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