RV Generators


Most motorhomes have an onboard generator, travel trailers usually don't. If the generator is not there or doesn't work then it's easy enough to hook one up. Small is good, unless you're running the big air conditioner or microwave then you don't need anywhere near the big four thousand watt models that are usually sold to RV owners. You find smaller ones on Amazon or at the discount tool places that will give you a thousand watts for around a hundred and fifty bucks. If you just want the basics then consider a little 2-stroke like the generator above. I have this one and have no problems running a 5000 BTU window A/C in summer and a 750W space heater in winter.

For larger, roof-mounted air conditioner use, you will need around thirty amps to start the unit then twenty or more to keep it running so if you plan to use the air a lot then you will need to go with a bigger generator. The equation is amps multiplied by voltage equals watts, or the amount of energy consumed by the appliance. In other words, a device that draws five amps of current on a twelve-volt system will use sixty watts of your generator output. If you go through your most commonly used appliances and do a quick calculation of total wattage, it should be easy to figure out the size of generator that you actually need. Always allow a reasonable buffer, look at running output of the generator, and not peak.

If you do a lot of boondocking, I would recommend that you also invest in a cheap battery charger with an output of at least ten amps. The RV has a device called a converter that will charge the battery while hooked up to shore power but they are notorious for their inefficiency. The reason is that RV manufacturer’s work on the principle that most of their customers will never venture outside a powered campground. They design the onboard converters with that in mind and are okay with maintaining batteries but do a lousy job of actually charging them. When you're running on a generator, hook up a proper battery charger and you'll find that the difference in charge rate will be significant.
   
On the subject of battery chargers, you'll see a lot on the internet about buying special chargers and babying batteries and that's probably good advice if you're using gel type batteries worth hundreds of dollars but you don’t need anything too fancy for an old-fashioned lead acid battery from Walmart. The warranty doesn't specify the use of a particular type of charger on the battery and the reason is, despite what you read on the forums, it really isn't that big of a deal. As I mentioned in an earlier article, the trick with any deep cycle battery is not to drain them completely because it will shorten their life.

Unless you have deep pockets, the inconvenience of regular charging balances itself by not having to buy batteries more often than you should. On that note, there are only a handful of automotive battery manufacturers in the United States and the dominate players in the market are Exide and Johnson Controls. Between them, they make the house brand batteries for just about every automaker, big box store and auto parts chain in the country.

The car manufacturers and most of the big retailers will tell you how their brand is better because they have thicker plates and other things that make their product superior. Maybe it’s true, but common sense tells me that a factory producing so many different brands of batteries for so many different corporate customers doesn’t have a separate production line for every single customer. I’ll leave it up to you to decide just how special and how much better those fancy genuine parts are in comparison to the low priced stored brand. Do some research; shop around and save some hard earned bucks.
   
Not plugging into the grid, at home or in a campground, means you’re running on battery power alone and that comes with limitations. There are plenty of twelve-volt appliances for sale, everything from slow cookers to fans. The best place to find them is at truck stops, because truckers live in their rigs and share many of the same power issues as the boondocking RV owner. If you want to use domestic appliances though, then they require a lot of juice to operate, even for a short while. Inverters sold just about everywhere can supply the current needed to run most of them by converting your battery output to mains power but it will come at the cost of rapidly draining your house battery, often within the space of a few short minutes.

Big appliances, like the air conditioner and microwave will never be able to run on battery power. The only option if not getting power from an outside source will be a generator. As mentioned earlier, most motorhomes, even older ones, have a generator onboard. Factory installed generators are typically designed to use the same fuel tank as the motorhome’s engine and will shut down when the gas level reaches a quarter of a tank. This is to prevent stranding someone out in the middle of nowhere after leaving the generator on all night.

In shared campsites, people loathe generators and I'm not just using a fancy word here, people hate them. They're noisy, smelly and give the impression that you're the type of person who doesn't care about anything or anyone as long as you have cold air and a TV to watch. If you're alone in the middle of nowhere then running the generator for a few hours is not a big deal but if you have a portable one then buy a long extension cord and give yourself some peace and quiet.