Propane vs. Diesel vs. Gas Generators for RV’s (Which is best for your needs)?

Stepping into the world of RV traveling and camping can feel a tad overwhelming in the beginning. First, you figured out if you’re going to purchase a motorized RV or towable RV, then you researched the ins and outs of dumping sewage, maybe you’ve even been practicing your reversing and merging skills to sharpen them before driving around in a 40-foot vehicle. What else could you possibly need to know before heading out on your first RV adventure?

Well, you might want to brush up on generators if you plan on turning on the microwave or using the air conditioning.

Propane Vs. Diesel Vs. Gas Generators

Generators typically come in three main varieties depending on the type of fuel:

Propane Generators

Propane generators tend to be the most environmentally friendly options amongst the three common generator options as they burn clean. They also have a long shelf life as tanks can be stored for a long-time. The main drawbacks of the propane generators are the tank size and availability of propane compared to gasoline and diesel (which are virtually available everywhere).  Propane also does not generate as much power as compared to diesel and gasoline for the same volume of fuel.

Diesel Generators

Diesel generators are a great option for folks who already own a diesel-powered RV. Diesel is safer to store than gasoline as it is not explosive and these generators produce more power output than other fuel sources. The main drawbacks of diesel generators are the cost and the noise; diesel generators tend to be more expensive and louder than propane and gasoline generators.

Gas Generators

Gasoline fueled generators are the most common types of generators. This is largely due to the ease of availability of gasoline as a fuel source and the lower cost of these generators. The main concern with these generators is the lower shelf life of gasoline compared to diesel and safe storage of gasoline as itis highly inflammable.

The best external generator available for RV camping is an inverter generator. These generators are incredibly quiet while maintaining the same level of power you need for camping purposes. There are two types of external inverter generators, gas-powered and multi-fuel. Each has its own unique benefits and drawbacks. There are many to choose from, but the best brands to consider are Yamaha, Honda, and Champion.

Inverter Generators: Are They The Best Option

What is it about inverter generators that make them the best option? Let’s explore to find out.

Why Inverter Generators?

Most towable camping trailers, or RV trailers, are not made with built-in generators. Motorized RVs from all three classes (A through C) are typically fitted with a built-in generator that is specially wired to work with your RV. Due to this distinction, the majority of people hunting for the right external generator are owners of towable RVs that want the option to boondock (otherwise known as dry camping), or would like to have a backup generator just in case the need arises.

There are two major types of generators you will find for RVs: conventional generators (the kind used as emergency power for homes or used to power equipment on a construction site) and inverter generators. Conventional generators are much louder, but can also be much more powerful than an inverter generator. However, inverter generators are designed specifically for RV and camping use. They are much quieter, more compact, and have plenty of options powerful enough to provide a camper with their electricity needs.

Inverter generators are named for the way they convert electricity. Conventional and inverter generators start out by producing high voltage AC (alternating current) power. That is the type of power that conventional generators deliver straight to your equipment, trailer, and by extension, any devices plugged into your trailer. An inverter converts the AC power into DC (direct current) power and then back into AC power. By doing these inverter generators, well, generate a cleaner and more stable electrical current that has almost no fluctuations.

In other words, an inverter generator will not harm any of your sensitive devices, such as your TV, laptop, or smartphone. It will also provide a consistent current of electricity that you will be able to confidently rely on while off the grid.

So, how do you choose the best inverter generator? There are many options available in the world of inverter generators, but these options can be easily narrowed down by asking yourself one simple question: how much power do I need?

How Do I Calculate How Much Electricity I Need?

Really what this question boils down to is whether or not you intend to use your air conditioning. You do not need a generator to heat your trailer, but you absolutely need either a generator or shore power to use the AC in your trailer.

If you are comfortable without your AC and do not intend to use it when you are not hooked up to shore power a 2,000-watt generator should power all of your lights and appliances. If you are intending to use your AC you are going to need a more powerful generator.

One of the tricky things about AC units in RVs is that it takes more power to start them up than it takes to run them. It is critical that you know how much power your AC needs to start up. If your unit needs 2,000 watts to start up, but only 1,400 watts to run, you will need to get a generator that can put out at least 2,000 watts.

There are two things that are important to remember. The first is that a generator rated at 2,000 watts can put out a maximum of 2,000 watts. If you will need more power you will need to purchase a generator with a higher maximum watts rating. The second is along the same line: with a 2,000-watt generator and an AC unit that requires 1,400 watts to run, you will only have 600 watts left over for the rest of your needs. It is always better to purchase a generator that can produce more than what you think you will need, rather than one that will give out at a critical moment.

Which Fuel-Type Should I Use?

There are two primary fuel-types for inverter generators: gasoline, liquid propane multi-fuel. Whichever one you choose will largely depend on your needs and tastes.

Gasoline Inverter Generators

Gasoline is readily available and provides a strong output of power. There are many options for gasoline generators. Unfortunately gas does deteriorate over time. If you are only going to use your generator on rare occasions, it may be a good idea to look into a different fuel source. Gas is also the most dangerous fuel type to store.

If you want to go with a gas generator make sure that you are safely storing the fuel away from your RV, and that the fuel you are using is fresh and of good quality.

Listed below are the top three gasoline inverter generators.

Honda EU2200I

Many consider the inverter generators that Honda produces to be the best in terms of reliability, longevity, and quality. The Honda EU2200I is no exception. With a max of 2,200 watts, it’s capable of running the power for most trailers for an 8-hour stretch on less than one tank of gas. That’s pretty hard to beat! On top of that, it weighs in at only 47 pounds, making it an incredibly light option as well.

Champion Power Equipment 75537I

Champion has been a rising name in the world of inverter generators. This 3,100-watt model can easily power your air conditioning and a host of electronic devices all at the same time. It features a remote start capability from up to 80 feet away and an economy mode that will automatically idle the engine to conserve fuel. It does weigh in at 90 pounds though, so you may need a friend to help you lift it into the back of your vehicle.

WEN 56380i

The WEN 56380i starts with a 3,800 watts maximum and 3,400 watts running, with an 8-hour fuel capacity. This inverter generator is perfect for long camping trips. Surprisingly, in spite of its power, this generator is astonishingly quiet, ranking at 57 decibels at a quarter load. That’s about as loud as an average window air conditioner unit. This model also features a fuel conservation feature that uses up the remaining fuel in the carburetor before shutting down. 

Multi-Fuel Inverter Generators

Multi-fuel inverter generators are a fantastic option for a backup generator, or for splitting up your fueling options in the event of any shortages or emergencies. Gasoline provides more power, but in emergency situations, it can become quite rare. Multi-fuel generators allow you to mitigate this problem with propane and natural gas, which are almost always in abundant supply.

Westinghouse iGen4500DF Dual Fuel

The Westinghouse iGen4500DF Dual Fuel inverter generator is not just the best dual fuel inverter out there, it may be one of the best inverter generators, period. On gasoline, it has a 4,500 watts peak and 3,700 running watts, on propane it has 4,050 watts peak and 3,370 running watts. This generator has an impressive 18-hour running time at a 25 percent load and only produces 57 decibels of sound. You could find an option a lot worse than this generator, but you’d have a hard time finding one that’s better.

Champion 2000 Watt Dual Fuel Inverter

This generator may not be the biggest or the baddest, but it does get the job done if you are not needing to use your air conditioning very often. It has an 11 hour run time, cold-start technology for winter weather, and a simple dial for switching between gasoline and propane. If you purchase one and decide later down the road that you will need more power, you can link two of these models together to double your output.

Champion 3500 Watt Dual Fuel Inverter

Champion reveals their dominance when it comes to dual-fuel inverter options. Their 3500-watt inverter can meet all your summer camping needs and can run for 14.5 hours straight when set to propane fuel. Just like the smaller model the 3500 comes with cold-start technology, a dial for switching fuel types, and the ability to double up with a matching model for more power in the future.

Conventional Propane Generators

Propane is a readily available, clean-burning fuel source that does not degrade in storage. A propane generator is a bit more cumbersome than its competitors due to the fact that it requires a propane tank to be attached to the outside of the generator. This is typically the same type of tank you would purchase for your grill.

Another drawback to a propane generator is its power output. On average a propane generator produces 10% less power than a gasoline or diesel generator. However, for camping purposes propane can typically provide all of the power you will need.

Listed below are the top three propane generators.

Pulsar 7750W

The Pulsar 7750W is actually a dual fuel, but it really holds its ground as a propane generator. You don’t have to lug around the gas for it if you don’t want to, but it’s never a bad idea to have a backup fuel option. With a 6,250 watts peak when running on propane and the ability to switch fuel types while the engine is still running, this generator sets the bar when it comes to propane powered machines.

WEN DF1100T

This WEN model is another dual fuel that packs a lot of power into its portable frame. It features 9,500 Watts at its peak, an electric start, and an 8.5-hour runtime. WEN is known for developing generators that are highly reliable. The  DF1100T does not disappoint.

Sportsmans Series 4000 Watt Dual Fuel

The Sportsmans Series is a small and yet powerful generator that can run on both gasoline and propane. It is very inexpensive, running at $300.00 brand new from most retailers. It is a great generator to start with if the heavy price tags of other options are intimidating.

Conventional Diesel Generators

There are currently no inverter generators available with diesel as an option for a fuel source. This means that the diesel options are all conventional generators with potentially less stable power output, albeit a much greater one.

Diesel generators require less maintenance, burn cleaner than gasoline, generate greater power, and the fuel itself can be stored for long periods of time. On top of all of that, diesel is quite a bit less expensive than gasoline! You may be drawn to diesel generators because your tow vehicle runs on diesel, which would allow you to stock up on only one fuel type.

If you are going out into the wilderness and need to rely on a strong and dependable source of power, especially if you will need it for a long period of time, diesel generators are the best way to go. You will need to seriously consider how loud your generator will be for any potential neighbors, though.

Along with considering the noise, when it comes to diesel generators you also need to take into account the weight. Even portable diesel generators weigh upwards of 200 pounds. This added weight does come with an assurance of durability and dependability. However, if you are going to purchase one you will need to make sure that you have a safe way of loading and unloading such a heavy piece of equipment.

Listed below are the top three diesel generator options.

Generac XD5000E

The Generac XD5000E has a peak of 5,500 watts, a massive 12-gallon fuel tank, and is enclosed in a 1-¼” steel frame that ensures its reliability no matter how rough the terrain or the journey. It boasts an incredible 32 hour run time at 50% capacity, and can safely charge most sensitive electronic devices.

Gillette Gen-Pro GPED-65EK

The Gillette Gen-Pro has a peak of 6,500 watts, 10 hours of run time on a half load, and a power assist mode that minimizes voltage fluctuations for those sensitive electronics. This generator is not as good of an option as the Generac due to its price, but it still carries its own.

CAT RP12000 Watt Generator

The CAT RP12000 Watt Generator is intended more for construction sites than anything else, but it has the power, versatility, and durability to go wherever you want and do whatever you need it to. This generator is easily transported and built to last you for years to come.

Summary

The best generators to invest in as an RV owner, by far, are inverter generators. They are built for RV camping, whether you intend to have them as a backup or primary source of power. They come in gasoline and gas/propane combined models. If you feel strongly for diesel generators or any other kind of conventional generator, they can certainly get the job done. Just always remember to consider the sound output, the weight of the generator, and whether or not you will need to use one to charge your more sensitive electronic devices.

Beyond that, the little details are in your hands. Whatever generator you choose, happy camping!

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