One of the biggest advantages of camping in an RV over a tent is its modern amenities. Camping with a refrigerator, an air conditioner, a heater, and a microwave is great.
The problem is that not all camping spots provides the option to plugin in your RV (for electricity). Because of this, many people turn to generators.
How much fuel does an RV generator use? A 4,000-watt diesel RV generator will consume about one gallon of fuel for every 3 hours it runs at half capacity. If it’s run at full capacity you can expect to get about an hour on one gallon of fuel.
The above answer made a lot of assumptions.
It assumed the RV was using a diesel generator and that it was running its air conditioner as well as a few other small appliances.
Different types of generators may use more or less fuel and different electricity demands will use more or less fuel.
In this post, we’ll go over the different types of RV generators and the amount of fuel they might use under different circumstances.
But before we start you might be wondering how much electricity your RV needs.
Built-in RV Generators and Portable RV Generators
Many motorhomes and campers have RV generators built right into them. This is especially useful for motorhomes with large fuel tanks because the generator can operate off of the same fuel that is powering the vehicle.
The downside to this is that a person can potentially run out of fuel while camping.
Imagine running your air conditioning overnight only to wake up and find out that you’ve used up all of your fuel. You’re out in the desert and you’re stranded without any way to drive out.
Luckily many RV companies have recognized this problem and have built safety systems into their RV generators. In most cases, a motorhome will automatically stop using the generator when you get down to a quarter of a tank of fuel.
A portable generator is just what it sounds like. It is a generator that you can take in and out of your camper or motorhome. Just be aware that the only type of RV generator that you should be running inside is a battery powered generator.
Most RVers with portable generators will mount their generators to the RV or motorhome, taking care to secure it from thieves, animals, and even bad weather.
Generator Sizes and Power Options
Generators come in a wide variety of sizes.
Typically the size is determined by the type of generator, its power output, and its storage capabilities. The generator size you buy will depend on what your power needs are.
A general rule of thumb is that if you want to run your air conditioner, you’ll need about a 4,000-watt generator. if you’re just looking to run your television and your laptop then you’ll only need a 1,000-watt inverter. People looking to run some household appliances like a microwave or blender will probably need to go with a 2,000-watt generator.
When looking at generators you’ll want to note the operating wattage as well as the starting wattage. This is because some appliances like air conditioners and refrigerators draw more power when they first startup.
Your generator will need to be rated high enough to handle these temporary spikes in energy consumption as well as the operating power that will be consumed after the appliance has started.
Also, keep in mind that the larger the generator, the more it will weigh. Make sure the generator you add to your RV does not put you over your towing weight or your trailer’s axel rating.
Gas RV Generators
Gas-powered RV generators are less fuel efficient than their diesel counterparts but are great for motorhomes that are already running off of gas. They are also good portable generators as gas is easier to find than diesel.
In fact, people who use their RV generator as a backup generator for their home are more likely to own a gas generator.
The national average price for gasoline right now is about $2.25 and a gas generator will hold between 1 and 10 gallons of fuel.
Examples of Gas RV Generators
The DuroStar DS4000S – This generator has a 4,000-watt surge rating and a 3,300 continuous rating. It holds 4 gallons of gas and can run at full strength for an hour on half a gallon.
At $2.25 a gallon, it costs about $1.75 for an hour of run time.
The PowerPro 56101 – This generator has a 1,000-watt surge rating and a continuous rating of 900 watts. It only weighs 36 pounds and can hold a gallon of gas.
The PowerPro could be used to watch television, charge laptops, and run low-watt microwaves. It sells for about $170.00 and can run for about two and a half hours on a gallon of gas at max loads.
Diesel RV Generators
Diesel generators run off of diesel fuel. These tend to be more fuel-efficient than gas generators and are the most popular of all of the generators. Most motorhomes with built-in generators will have diesel generators within them.
A gallon of diesel right now costs just under $3.00 and a diesel generator may hold anywhere from one gallon to 10 gallons.
Examples of Diesel RV Generators
The Briggs and Stratton P2,200 – This generator can run at 1,700 watts of power and can handle startup loads of 2,200 watts. It holds up to a gallon of fuel and can run for 4 hours at half power.
The P2,200 would be an excellent generator for those looking to run drip coffee makers and microwaves while watching their televisions.
It may also be strong enough to run a small air conditioning system but would likely fall short of being able to run AC in most campers.
The Briggs weighs about 55 pounds and sells for about $550.00.
The Champion 4,000 Watt Inverter – This generator has a 4,000 starting watt capacity and a 3,500 operational watt capacity. It is powerful enough to easily run a standard RV air conditioning system as well as other appliances at the same time.
This being said, some high wattage appliances like microwaves might need to be run before you turn the air conditioner on. The Champion weighs about 81 pounds and sells for a little over $500.00.
If you’re wondering about the price difference, the Champion is probably less money because it is said to be much louder than the Briggs and Stratton.
Propane RV Generators
Propane generators are the least fuel-efficient generators you can buy. The advantage, of course, is that they run off of a fuel that is easy to find and relatively easy to store. Many systems within an RV already run off of propane, so you’re likely to have propane tanks with you anyway.
Re-fueling a propane generator can cost between $3.00 – $4.00 a pound. A small propane tank used on an RV may be 10 to 20 pounds so refueling this generator might cost you up to $80.00.
Examples of Propane RV Generators
The Sportsman GEN4000LP – This generator has a starting rating of 4,000 watts and can hold 3,250 watts continuously. This generator weighs 88 pounds and does not come with any internal tanks.
This model can be purchased for about $330.00 but you’ll also have to buy an external propane tank to run it. A 5-pound propane tank costs around $60.00.
The Ryobi 6,300 – This generator has a starting wattage of 7,875 and a running wattage of 6,300. It has a holding area for an external propane tank as well as wheels to move it around.
The reason most likely is that it weighs 190 pounds.
Dual Fuel Generators
A dual fuel generator typically has the ability to run off of both propane and gasoline.
This gives you the option of running your generator off of more fuel-efficient gasoline or more convenient propane.
A 4,000-watt dual fuel generator can be purchased for as little as $300 dollars while more expensive models can cost into the thousands.
Battery Powered RV Generators
Battery powered generators are the newest form of generators on the market. These generators are great for low power consumption situations because they are completely silent and do not require any extra fuel.
A battery-powered generator has the disadvantage of needing to be recharged.
Not only this, but recharging a battery-powered generator can take quite a long time whereas a gas, diesel, or propane generator can begin to run again as soon as you put a fuel source into it.
Luckily, there are many different options for recharging a battery-powered generator. These generators can be recharged at home before your trip, during travel while in your car, and at campsites with electricity.
Alternatively, you could charge your battery-powered generator up with solar energy and never have to worry about paying money to recharge it again.
Examples of Battery Powered RV Generators
Goal Zero yeti 150 – One of the most popular battery-powered RV generators on the market today is the Goal Zero Yeti. The 150 series can only provide 150 watts of power but it can be charged from both DC and AC power sources.
The advantage of a small generator like this is that you can charge your laptops, phones, and camera equipment without having to bring a large or heavy generator with extra fuel.
This particular generator costs about $200.00.
The Lycan Powerbox – This battery powered generator holds 1,000 watts of power and has four outlets built right into it. It weighs only 55 pounds but costs almost $2,000.00.
This particular battery-powered generator might be best for someone looking for an all-in-one solar solution. Since the generator already has a charge controller, a battery, and an inverter, you’d just need to add a solar panel to charge it.
Now that you know all about the different types of generators, let’s take a look at some examples to find out how much fuel you might use while running one.
Example 1 – You’re running a diesel generator that is rated at 4,000 watts. The RV is charging the batteries which is using pulling about 5 amps or 60 watts of power from the generator. You also have a laptop plugged in which is using 40 watts of power.
It is hot out and you’re parked in direct sun so your air conditioning is running fully which is pulling another 1,900 watts of power. In total, you’re using 2,000 watts of power.
The diesel generator is rated at 1/4 a gallon for every hour it is run at half strength. Over the course of an hour, you’ll use about a quarter of a tank of diesel which at today’s price of $3.00 will cost you about 75 cents. Your generator will end up using a gallon of fuel over the course of four hours.
Example 2 – You’re running a propane generator and it can run about 2,000 watts of power on one pound of propane. The cooktop in your camper is an induction one and it takes 1,400 watts of power. You’re also watching television and your batteries are charging which is taking another 100 watts of power.
In total, you’re running 1,500 watts an hour. At a cost of $3.00 per pound of propane, you’ll spend about $2.25 an hour and your generator will run on a 5-pound propane tank for about six and a half hours.
Generator Maintenance On Generators
If you already own or are thinking about owning a generator, you’ll need to consider the ongoing maintenance costs.
Gas and diesel generators tend to require more ongoing maintenance than the other types of generators, but no generator is maintenance free.
For example, even though battery-powered generators do not have to be cleaned or serviced, they do need to be charged on a regular basis.
Leaving any battery in a depleted state for too long will ruin the battery and it would be sad to find out that your expensive battery-powered generator was ruined over the winter.
Propane, Gas and Diesel Powered Generators
One of the best steps you can take to maintain your generator is to make sure you run it often. Some people only run their generators once every six months but I’d recommend you run your generator at least every month. Running the generator each month will help reduce moisture build-up and will lubricate the system for you.
Additionally, gasoline does not have a very long shelf-life and it can go bad within three months.
The bad fuel would then need to be completely drained from the system and you’d have to find a way to safely dispose of it.
Diesel fuel is not much better and only has a shelf-life of about 6 months. If you purchase fuel at the beginning of the season and do not use it all, make sure you run it through your generator as it won’t be any good at the start of next season.
If you don’t want to use all of your fuel at the end of the season, you can buy an additive to prolong its lifespan.
A popular additive that you can buy at most auto stores is called Stabilize. This liquid can be poured into your tank to give you an additional six months of storage before the fuel goes bad.
Here are a few basic steps you can take to ensure that your generator stays in good working condition:
- Check the exhaust system for any damages.
- Look for oil and fuel leaks.
- Inspect the wiring for any damages.
- Check your generator’s owner’s manual for additional maintenance steps.
The exhaust system should be checked in two ways. First, visually inspect the exhaust pipe and make sure there isn’t anything obstructing it.
Next, turn the generator on and listen for any strange sounds.
If you notice a strange sound, you may want to check the exhaust system again for holes or cracks.
After this, you’ll want to check the fuel hoses for damage. Look to see if any oil has leaked out of the system. If it is a propane system, use your nose.
Every generator will have a maintenance schedule. This maintenance schedule is done in time intervals as well as hours of use intervals. For this reason, it may be a good idea to keep a log of how many hours you use your generator on each trip.
Battery Powered Generators
A battery-powered generator is simple to maintain. You’ll just need to make sure that the battery never runs down below 50%. Since these battery banks have a slow discharge rate, you could charge these on a monthly schedule.
This being said, most battery-powered generators will have a charge controller in place so that you cannot overcharge them.
Because of this, you can go ahead and leave these plugged in at your house indefinitely.
This will ensure that your battery never dies and will provide you with an alternate source of power during a power outage.
In fact, many homeowners and preppers buy these types of generators as a way to prepare for emergencies rather than for recreation.
Additionally, you can check the charging wires as well as the electrical connections to make sure that there aren’t any exposed components.
There are many different types of generators and they all have different fuels and fuel efficiencies. The type of generator you choose should be the one that best meets your needs. You can also read more here about plugging in your RV to get power from a camp ground etc.
For low consumption situations consider a quiet battery-powered generator and for higher consumption situations consider a fossil fuel operated generator.
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Morten is the founder of GoDownsize. He has filmed and interviewed people living in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. He grew up on the coast where his dad took him boating from a young age. He has completely rebuilt two RVs in which he travels with his family for months at the time. Read more about Morten here.