What Are RV Generators Used For?

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RV generators are a godsend for those on a budget. Solar panels are expensive (but worth it), and generators are generally rather cheap, making them a favorite source of non-shore power.

RV generators are used to power your “non-vital” gadgets, like lights, stovetops, and coffee pots. They do not provide a charge to your RV’s run battery, but rather your house battery.

Now without further ado, let’s get to the details!

Why A Generator?

If you’re new to RV camping and boondocking, you’re likely wondering why you would even need a generator. And you wouldn’t be alone! Luckily, the answer is simple – power. Your RV’s batteries aren’t enough to power most of the things you’re going to want, especially overnight. And nobody wants to wake up to a dead battery in the middle of nowhere.

Types Of Generators

There are two main types of generators, with three subtypes that break up the two large ones.

  1. In-built generators are, as the name implies, built into your RV. They are generally hooked directly into your vehicle’s fuel line, allowing it to mooch off of your RV’s fuel tank. They also generally have their exhaust line merged with that of your RV.
  2. Portable generators are, well, portable. This means that you can pick them up and carry them, but it also means they’re not attached to the vehicle. You’ll need to take safety precautions with these to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, and you’ll also need another source of fuel.

Speaking of fuel, that’s what differentiates most generators on the market. There are three main types:

  1. Gas generators are powered by the same type of gas as your car or RV. This makes it very easy to attain, but it also comes with drawbacks. Not only is gas the least environmentally friendly, but it’s also hazardous. Not only can it cause fires, but accidentally pouring it on the wrong part of your generator will kill it.
  2. Diesel generators use diesel fuel. It’s still not great for the environment, but it’s a little bit better on that front. It’s also generally more expensive, and sometimes hard to find. The pay-off to this, however, is that you’ll not have to refill as often. One major downside is the noise that they make in comparison to other generators. (Though your mileage may vary on that last bit.)
  3. Liquid propane generators are by far the most eco-friendly of the fuel options. Unfortunately, it’s a bit harder to acquire, and it’s more expensive, generally. It’s also going to provide the least energy, so you’ll need more of it. The one payoff to liquid propane, though, is that it’s generally easy to store for long periods of time, unlike diesel and gas which will spoil.

Sizing Your Generator

Contrary to popular myth, size does matter. That is to say, the amount of power it provides is important. Knowing what you need to power, and how much power it takes will save you headaches in the future.

Too much power and you risk blowing circuits. Too little, and well, you can’t power everything. All you need to do is check each device you want to power that runs on 120 Volts and see how much Wattage it needs per hour. Once you’ve done this, you have an idea of what you’ll want.

Keep in mind that AC and heating take the most energy, especially on startup, so it’s important to include that when doing your math. Generally, an AC unit will require 1.5-2 times the amount of power on startup that it does each consecutive hour after. For most AC units, the startup cost is 3-4,000 Watts – that’s a lot, so plan accordingly.

Note: If you’re having difficulty finding the power needs of your appliances, most of them have a sticker that will tell you. If you can’t find that, check the owner’s manual (unless someone got rid of it thinking they didn’t need instructions…) and it should be in there. The last option is to simply start Googling the appliance name and model.

Basic Generator Safety

This is an important note, as it could potentially save your life if you’re using a portable generator. You’ve likely heard of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, and we’re going to talk about basic precautions to avoid it!


  • Run your generator outside of your RV.
  • If running it overnight, don’t leave it near open windows or vents.
  • Trust your CO detector.
    • Buy a CO detector if you don’t have one. They’re less than $20 and will likely save someone’s life at some point.
  • To prevent theft, secure it away from where you’re sleeping, like in the bed of your tow truck.

Do Not:

  • Run a generator indoors – that includes under an awning or (open or closed) garage.
    • If you wouldn’t burn a fire or grill somewhere because it would be dangerous, don’t run a generator there.
  • Secure your generator under your RV to prevent theft.
  • Rely on AC to prevent CO poisoning.
  • Ignore symptoms of CO poisoning – it will kill you, and quickly at that.
  • Try to “do without” a CO detector. Again, they’re $20 or less in any big box retailer.

Final Thoughts

Generators are awesome for RV life. They allow you to power things that you really want to have and can be extremely convenient. They can also be dangerous and difficult to plan for, so take the necessary precautions before using them. And again, if you have an in-built generator… I’m jealous.

Are RV Generators Safe?

Yes, if used properly. As long as you follow the above tips, you should be fine.

Is It Safe To Run An RV Generator While Driving?

If it’s in-built, yes. If it’s a portable generator, no. If you absolutely need to charge your phone – pull over. And maybe consider investing in solar panels?

Do Travel Trailers Have Generators?

Some, but not all. If it’s not advertised as having an in-built generator, it doesn’t have one. You can instead buy a portable one for around $300 from most big-box retailers.

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