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Why Do RVs Have Generators?

Published on December 14th, 2018 by Camper Report
This post was updated on March 26th, 2019

If you are new to the world of RVs, there are a lot of intricacies to adjust to. One of them is regulating and understanding where your power comes from. Most of the time that power comes from a generator.

Why do RVs have generators? Generators provide power for your RV. There are two main purposes for the RV’s generator. First, it is used to store energy within your RV’s house battery. Second, it can be used as a direct plug-in for 120v AC power outlets. 

These two options allow you to either use abundant energy with the generator or store energy to be used later with the generator off. The second option is more efficient as there is only so much amperage that a generator can charge your house battery at. As such, it will take you quite some time to charge the house battery. For your RV you will want to make sure you have the right match to your vehicle and are able to keep up with the maintenance that it requires. 

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The Right Generator For You

Most RVs come with there own built-in generators, these will usually do the job that you need them to as they are set to the appliances in the RV already. However, if you are picking up a new generator to compensate for using too much energy or added appliances to the RV then you need to know what to look for.

 For generators, you are looking at the type of generator, which will determine what kind of fuel it uses, and the size of the generator. Size is most important here as you need the correct number of amps to match your appliances but the type of generator is important as well. 

Size of Generators

When referring to size of generator I am talking about how much energy it will provide. This is something you’ll need to figure out as having too much energy will blow the circuits in the RV and will leave you without power. To calculate the size of your needed generator, find all appliance that you have in the RV that take 120 Volts. After adding those up and then add the starting surge of energy that your air conditioner uses.

Cooling and heating require the most energy, and as such your RVs air conditioner is going to expend the most energy. Air conditioners require a lot of energy when they start but then level out later in the process, so finding the highest energy usage from your air conditioner and adding that with your other most costly appliances will give you a safe minimum to start looking for. 

On average this will be within the 3,000 to 4,000 watts range. If you are having trouble determining how much energy an appliance uses, look for a sticker on the machine. If you still can’t find it look up the model number and appliance name. 

Types of RV Generators 

There are three main types of generators for RVs, each with their advantages and disadvantages. They are gas, diesel, and liquid propane. Generally, you don’t want to change the type of fuel that your generator uses if you are just replacing it.

The RV is used to running one way, so leave it to do that. However, if you are adding a generator to an RV that does not have one or you need a major upgrade you’ll want to look at all your options.


Gas is certainly the most convenient of your options. You will already need to fill up your tank with gas so it wouldn’t be hard to slip in some gas for your generator. However, gas burns fast and hot. Which means while you have more opportunities to refuel your generator you will have to refuel your generator more. 

Additionally, given how incredibly flammable Gas is it is a fire hazard if not handled carefully. This is especially important as you are pouring gas into something that is creating electricity. Get that on the wrong part of your generator and you’ll need a new one.

Finally, gas is the least environmentally clean option out there.  So not the best option if you are concerned with what you are doing to the atmosphere.


Some RVs run off of diesel. If that’s the case for you then getting a diesel generator is a great choice. You’ll be able to use diesel just like the gas example above. Fill up your tank and generator in one go. 

Diesel isn’t as accessible as gas so you may have to put a little more searching into finding a place to fill up, but overall not a big problem to find a place. Diesel produces more power than liquid propane and is less volatile than gas. It is the middle point between the green liquid propane and the environmentally negative gas.

The biggest benefit is the limited amount of refueling needed– it has the best storage and fuel efficiency of the bunch. One major negative is that diesel generators are often louder than their compatriots. Not majorly disruptive, but they don’t have the simple hum that the other options have. 

Liquid Propane

Certainly the eco-friendly choice liquid propane is a great option for staying green and always having the opportunity to store your fuel. While both diesel and gas don’t have the best storage capabilities liquid propane is normally fine to be left alone. 

However, that’s about the end of the benefits. Liquid propane is the hardest to get your hands on and has the weakest energy emitted for burning it. Its a nice choice for the environment, but you have to be prepared if you are going to use it by having plenty on hand and ready for anytime you aren’t near a place that can sell you some. 

Generator Maintenance

For your generator, whether it is new or old, you want to make sure that it can continue to run. To do that it needs exercise. 

If you leave your generator off for an extended period of time it will get slow and release this sort of surge of power as it adjusts its RPM between high and low settings.

This can start just after a month of activity. Generally, this happens from the fuel within the tank sitting too long and then separating and affecting other parts of the generator. Avoid this by setting a time once a month to run the generator for a few hours. 

This is extra important in the winter as that is when they are less likely to be used and more likely to have adverse effects due to the cooling liquid. It may be a good idea to turn some appliances on in the RV as well; that way you can see the generator doing all it needs to do. 

If you have further concerns about the sounds that your RV generator is making, or that the RV generator has seemed to just stop, bring it in to your local mechanic or RV dealership. They’ll be able to take a closer look at the issue. 

Related Questions

Should I get a portable generator for my RV? RV generators are going to be your best choice for reliable energy. A portable generator can provide a fair amount of energy for you, but that energy is rarely as large as what a built-in generator can provide. Check the energy expenditure of your RV, if a portable generator works, then great; otherwise see what other built-in options you have. 

Do all travel trailers have generators? Not all travel trailers have generators. Generators are sometimes built-in and other times you will need to provide a portable generator.

Is it bad to leave my RV plugged in all the time? It won’t be an issue for any of your appliances, but it will slowly drain the electrolyte levels of your RVs battery. As such leaving it plugged in for extended periods of time will harm the battery’s maximum capacity more than letting the trailer sit would. 

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