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How To Start an RV Generator

A generator can be a very helpful part of an RV, especially for off the grid camping. The generator can ensure that your appliances remain working and you can enjoy the simple amenities of home without needing to be plugged in to anything.

A generator also works a bit differently from a battery or your home’s outside power supply. The generator needs to be started in order to provide the electricity you want, and we are here to explain how to get that generator started.

An RV generator starts in a similar manner as a normal generator with a couple small exceptions. Many generators run from an easy push button start, but also have options for pull start or remote start. We will talk about methods in more detail.

Getting the generator ready to start

Did your RV come with a generator? If so, great. Getting a generator with your RV gives it a nice, safe location both when in use and not in use. The generator should also provide ample power for the size of the RV and the appliances already inside.

We are going to assume this is either your first time starting your RV generator, or you haven’t started it in a while.

Here are a couple of things you should do before starting your RV generator

  • Check the oil. Your generator needs oil to run. Remove the dipstick and make sure the oil is not too dark. Ideally, the color should be a darker gold. Oil is essential to keep the moving parts inside the generator lubricated.
  • Make sure you have gas. Some built in generators use the same tank of gas as the RV engine. These also tend to have shut offs when the RV gas tank is below ¼ full in order to keep the engine running. Be sure you have enough gas to start your RV so you aren’t confused as to why it isn’t starting.

Your generator should also indicate what kind of gas it needs. Normally, you can use regular unleaded. If your generator doesn’t have an oil dipstick, it’s a good indicator that you’ll want to use a gas and oil blend. Look at your generator manual or find information online about what mixture you need.

Starting your RV generator

A built in generator often has a priming pump to start the generator. This appears to be a plastic bulb that sticks out of the side of front, often with the label of something like “Primer.” 

You’ll want to push the primer at least two or three times. Consider pushing more unless you feel pressure, especially if the generator hasn’t been started in a while. What does this do? You are pushing the bulb to create a vacuum that will suck fuel from your fuel tank into the carburetor where the combustion process begins.

Next, one of two things are likely on your RV generator. It could have a simple “On/Off” switch that turns the generator on under the right conditions. The generator might also be a pull start.

Switch

After priming, pushing the on switch down or in and holding it in until the generator starts should do the trick. Your generator might make some noises as it attempts to start, and it could be loud. You can hold the start button down for up to 3-4 seconds to see if it goes.

It is possible to repeat the process a couple times if the generator doesn’t start right away. If you smell gas, stop. The motor could be flooded and waiting a while will be necessary.

If your RV generator won’t start, consult the manual or get mechanical help.

Pull start

Pull starts are a little more work. After pushing the primer bulb, you’ll want to get a firm grasp of the starter rope. Pull the rope out quickly. 

The rope should give some resistance. If it doesn’t work on the first pull, continue trying. Some well maintained generators will start on the first pull. Those that haven’t been started in months might take some effort.

Don’t break yourself! Take a break after a few pulls. 

Remote Start

So it’s not common, but possible for your generator to have remote start. This literally means you could be inside your RV with the remote and start it, or just about anywhere within the range of the TV.

There are a couple obvious ways to tell if your RV has started: the electrical, if plugged in, starts working. In many cases, you’ll hear at least the slight rumbling of the generator running. Most RV generators with remote start have a high price tag and are likely to be pretty quiet too.

What if my generator is not built in?

The key difference is that you will have to unload it from the RV and start it. You can then plug the generator into the RV with a power cord.

With a built in generator, the generator likely has a disconnect from power but doesn’t need to be moved to be started.

What can I do to ensure my RV generator starts easily?

We mentioned gas and oil earlier. These are the biggest factors. Use fresh gas and even drain your generator or burn off remaining gas before storing your RV and generator for a while.

The best bet is to have a routine for when you are going to head out. The other end of this involves trying to figure out problems and starting your generator at the last minute, when you need it.

Conclusion

A generator is a major convenience for an RV. Off the grid camping makes generators very useful when there isn’t shore power or anything else to charge your battery or run appliances.

Generators often have the same set of standards when it comes to start. You’ll have better chances of getting your RV generator to start right away if the fuel tank is kept full and the oil changed or refilled. 

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