Your RV, Motorhome, or Camper Generator and How It Works

Updated on February 2, 2018
Don Bobbitt profile image

Don is a retired engineer and long-time motorhome owner who enjoys helping readers deal with the increasingly complex technology of RVs.

How the Generator in Your RV Works

This article will give you an overview of the different designs of RV generators, how generators operate, and some basic generator service tips. It will describe differences in gas powered generators and diesel powered generators and how they function.

This information will often help you determine the cause of generator problems.

A History of RV Generators

First of all, there were “rough campers.” These people used only a tent, a sleeping bag, a backpack of dried foods, bottled water, a few matches, a snake bite kit, and not much else.

And you know what? I've been there, and I've done that! It was fun! Especially when I was young, healthy, strong, and had very little money.

And, later in life, when I was first married, and we had kids, I rough camped then too, at camping resorts at beaches and in the mountains. We used larger tents, nicer sleeping bags, inflatable mattresses, a small cooking grill, several coolers for real food, and a few more accessories. And that was fun too!

After a few years, we purchased our first tag-along camper. It had rudimentary plumbing, electric lights, storage cabinets, a "porta-potty,” more comforts to deal with the vagaries of the weather, and, of course, even more accessories to make our camping more fun.

Those first old campers of ours way back then had your basic accessories, such as electric lights, a water pump, a propane stove, and such. But, really, not a lot else, and especially not such things as television, air conditioning, hot water heaters, microwave ovens, and all of the amenities that you will find as standard on the RV or camper of today.

RV and Motorhome Batteries

Our first couple of tag-alongs, way back then, did not have a generator.

They had a battery.

This was usually just a deep-discharge type of 12-volt DC battery, the same as that used in an automobile.

It was usually tied down onto the front end of the tag-along, in a plastic case, to protect it from the weather, and you charged it up before you left home.

And, considering it only had to power a few 12-volt interior lights, and maybe a small water pump to provide water at the miniature sink, it was more than adequate for a good week of fun.

Over time, as some campgrounds began to provide 115-volt AC at your site, camper manufacturers added small, efficient AC-to-DC converters, so your camper battery was kept charged at the site.

And once you had an RV with AC as well as DC power, along came dual-mode light systems (110-VAC and 12-VDC), as well as connections for small appliances. RVs came to include showers, electric hot water heaters, larger water pumps, microwave ovens, and wall receptacles.

RV Battery Box

NOCO HM318BKS Group 24-31 Snap-Top Battery Box for Automotive, Marine, and RV Batteries
NOCO HM318BKS Group 24-31 Snap-Top Battery Box for Automotive, Marine, and RV Batteries

My motorhome batteries sit on a shelf that is open to the weather on the backside. They were getting dirty so I found this great battery box on the web and put my batteries in one each. Now, the batteries are kept clean of road dirt by the box and hopefully they will live longer for me.

 

Appliances for Motorhomes Created a Demand for Generators

Manufacturers' most important electrical addition to RVs and campers was extra electric receptacles, in the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and so on.

People started bringing those favorite appliances from home: coffee makers, hair dryers, toasters, portable TV's and radios, and on and on, and on.

RV manufacturers had to react by adding electric breaker panels (versus those old fuses) to handle potential overloads, and heavier wiring for the current pulled by everything.

Finally, the world of camping became accustomed to using such appliances everywhere: in state parks, in the woods, alongside streams and lakes, and pretty much wherever they went.

So, the next "necessary item" for the typical camper of today is—you got it—a good electric generator.

We all want that power, everywhere, all of the time.

At the flick of a switch!

Underside of an RV generator (the red fluff is a shop rag that got sucked into it).
Underside of an RV generator (the red fluff is a shop rag that got sucked into it). | Source

Modern Built-In RV Generators

Today, the average camper or RVer travels much further to reach their camping destination.

They often have to stop for the night at an interim campground or two along the way, or do the Wally-World thing, or stop and sleep at a rest stop or public parking lot. And then move on in the morning.

When taking such trips, they usually have a fridge that is packed with fresh food and beverages, and so they are able to eat very good meals and then sleep in that comfortable bed in the camper.

Myself, I have pulled into a rest area around 6-7 PM, fired up my generator, turned on the TV for local news and weather, eventually cooked a light dinner, and watched my favorite network TV shows, all with the AC running, and finally I'd go to sleep in my nice cool camper, on my own bed.

Often, in a rest area, I will leave the generator running all night, along with a couple of roof fans, recharging my house batteries and providing just enough background noise to drown out most of the outside noise from the comings and goings of other vehicles, campers, and truckers in the rest area.

I will get up in the morning, make fresh coffee, toast a muffin, and boil or fry an egg for a hot breakfast, maybe even take a hot shower, all before I shut down my generator and continue my trip.

Now I have a motorhome, with a built-in generator that is designed especially for the appliances in my RV. It is ridiculously easy to operate.

And, often, parked right beside me, might be a Class-C, a Fifth-Wheel, or a Tag-Along, all with their own built-in generators, providing those creature comforts we are all spoiled with. Ain't camping life a rough life?

Portable Generators

And, even if you don't have a built-in generator, many campers use portable power generators when they camp in a rough site somewhere.

There are many good portable generators around, and they are relatively cheap, for what you get.

Portable generator
Portable generator | Source

Troubleshooting: Reasons Why Your Generator Might Not Start Up

1. Fuel Supply

Every motorhome manufacturer today that included an electric generator in their design has also added one little safety trick. That is, the fuel line for the generator is no longer attached to the bottom of the RV’s main fuel tank; it is attached about a quarter of the way up from the bottom. It will only pick up fuel if the main fuel tank is more than 1/4 full.

This redesign was intended to avoid the situation where a camper out in the middle of nowhere runs the generator until it uses up so much fuel that there isn’t enough left to drive the vehicle to a gas station and fill up again.

So, if you are out somewhere rough camping and your generator won't fire up when you turn it on, check that your fuel tank is more than 1/4 full. And if your rig is parked on a slant, the tank may have to be even more than 1/4 full for the fuel level to reach the line to the generator.

2. Oil Supply

Also, many built-in generators won't start if the oil is down to one quart or less. That's one reason you should check the oil in the generator often.

3. 12-Volt Power Switch

Your built-in generator needs power from the 12-volt coach battery system in your camper or RV, including to get started. If the power switch to the coach's 12-volt accessories has been turned off, for example to prevent power draws while the vehicle is in storage, the generator can't get power.

4. Fuel Pump or Fuel Filter

If the generator won't run, or runs sluggishly, and there are no fuel, oil or connection problems, the generator itself may be bad, and if so, the fuel filter (which can become clogged, especially when using diesel) and fuel filter are common culprits.

Understand How Your Generator Works!

If you use an electric generator, you must understand how it works, so you can make sure it is there when you need it. First of all, It has to start, easily and quickly. Then it has to run, smoothly, automatically, and efficiently.

Here are some basic facts about generators.

There are four basic functional sections of an electric generator. Of course you can tear a generator down to smaller and smaller working pieces, but I am not trying to teach you to be a mechanic, rather I want you to know how one functions from a high level. From that you will understand the importance of those pesky preventive maintenance parts, and why they need to be monitored and replaced occasionally.

The four functional parts of a generator are:

  1. a fueled motor
  2. a fuel system
  3. an electric starter motor
  4. an electric power generator

1. The Fueled Motor

Generators are run by a fueled motor of some kind, usually gasoline or diesel. The motor uses the combustion of the fuel to keep the crankshaft of the motor turning.

Today, there are many different designs of motors, from the simple to the complex. An example I can describe here is a simple, cheap gasoline-powered lawnmower motor with two cylinders.

Each cylinder contains a piston which is connected to a crankshaft. Each cylinder has a fuel input port and an air input port, as well as an exhaust port. The two cylinders are designed so that when one cylinder is firing, the other one is getting fuel and air to fire.

This whole assembly is mechanically designed so that you will get continual firing and exhaust, and the crankshaft will turn from all of this combustion action in the cylinders.

In a diesel motor, there is no sparkplug; the combustion is achieved via high compression of the diesel fuel.

Lubrication

One of the most important things to watch is your generator motor's lubrication. Your generator motor uses oil to keep all of those mechanical parts running smoothly as they rub against each other. You should always assure that you have enough oil in the motor, and that the oil filter on the motor is changed as scheduled by the manufacturer.

Cooling

Some electric generators are air-cooled. But as your generator gets larger, it will often have a cooling system similar to an automobile engine, use a water-antifreeze cooling liquid. When this is the case, you need to check the level of the coolant reservoir regularly, and the level is kept within limits. And, as with an automobile, consideration must be paid to the antifreeze levels and strength for the season and region where you are using the generator.

2. The Fuel System

Gasoline Combustion: a Simplistic Explanation

A stand-alone gasoline generator gets its fuel from its own fuel tank. The gasoline is usually fed via gravity to the carburetor on the motor. In the carburetor, the gasoline is mixed with air (or oxygen) and injected into the motor's cylindar where a spark is provided via a spark plug.

This spark, causes the mixture to explode, and forces the piston in the cylinder to open, this moving the shaft of the motor. All of this is done via mechanical timing which keeps the motor turning.

In a coach with a built-in gasoline generator, the functions are the same, but the gasoline comes from the coach's main fuel tank.

Diesel Combustion: A Simplistic Explanation

A stand-alone diesel generator also gets its fuel from its own fuel tank. The fuel is fed via a fuel injection system directly into the cylinder of the motor, and mixed with oxygen there; then the piston is moved to compress the diesel fuel to the pressure necessary for it to explode.

No spark is needed, nor is there any carburetor on a diesel motor. When the fuel mixture explodes, it forces the piston to move to the open position in the cylinder, thus turning the shaft of the motor. This cycle repeats itself via mechanical timing which keeps the motor turning.

Fuel System Service

These parts of a generator's fuel system will need occasional service:

1. The fuel filter
2. The carburetor fuel jets (on a gasoline motor), or diesel fuel injector jets (on a diesel motor)
3. (On a gasoline motor) the spark plugs

If the fuel filter gets dirty or blocked, even partially, then too little fuel will be provided to your motor, and it may not not run. If it runs, it may miss or turn off sporatically.
In a gasoline generator, the spark plug will, over time, need replacement. It can become fouled with carbon or dirt, and eventually the contacts will wear out.

If the fuel jets are blocked, then the motor may not run for lack of fuel. If they are worn, the wrong mixture will be provided, and the motor will not run properly.

You can replace a fuel filter, and maybe even a spark plug if it is placed conveniently for you on the engine, but you really want a trained mechanic to deal with the replacement of fuel jets.

3. The Electric Starter Motor

Your generator has to be started by turning the motor until it goes through several firing cycles of several cylinders. Once the motor gets going, the starter is no longer needed, as the motor will run on its own.

The starter motor is electric and requires voltage to turn, and in your coach, this voltage comes from your house batteries. It takes a significant amount of current to turn your generator motor, even more with a larger-sized motor/generator combination.

You should also know that because a diesel motor uses a higher level of compression to force combustion, it is harder to turn, and thus its starter requires significantly more current than a gasoline motor to get it to turn at a high enough speed.

The reason you need to know this is simple. There are some hefty wires coming from your house batteries to the generator of your coach. And you should check occasionally that the following things are done:

  1. Your house batteries are in good shape, and hold a strong charge.
  2. Your connections to your batteries, as well as to your generator are clean, without corrosion, and attached tightly at each end.
  3. when your starter turns, it doesn't make weird sounds, and is turning the generator motor's shaft.

4. The Electric Power Generator

Here’s a simple description again, this time of the part of your generator that actually generates the electricity.

Picture a coil of wire wrapped around a shaft. This coil of wire spins inside the opening of a larger outer coil of wire. Visualize that the shaft of your generator is attached to the shaft of the fueled motor and turns when the motor turns.

Leaving all of the electro-mechanics out, if you connect a voltage to the ends of the inner coil of wire, and spin it inside the outer coil of wire, and then attach something like a charger or inverter to the ends of the wires on the fixed outer coil of wire, you will get AC voltage from these output wires.

Again, I have left out all of that complex design stuff like the magnetic metals used, the complex ways that the wires are wound, the contacts used, and on and on. I just want you to know that there are parts in here that sometimes require maintenance.

Luckily, the generator itself is designed for minimal maintenance, and if there is a problem with yours, you need to see a trained generator mechanic.

Useful Reference

RV Electrical Systems: A Basic Guide to Troubleshooting, Repairing and Improvement
RV Electrical Systems: A Basic Guide to Troubleshooting, Repairing and Improvement

Even though I have owned several motorhomes, I purchased this book so I could see how other brands are wired. I found information on several different RV electrical wiring systems that I wasn't aware of and I have been able to help other RV owners who had electrical problems.

 

Generator Parts That You Can Check and Service

I will now list the things that can, and should be serviced periodically. If you want your generator to last for decades, replace the parts below at the intervals suggested by the manufacturer. Running the generator once a month or so is a good idea.

The fuel pump and fuel filter are the parts that most commonly give trouble. Here's an article with pictures on how I replaced a fuel pump and fuel filter in my Onan 5500 generator.

If any of the terms or abbreviations in use here are new to you, check out my article on Electrical Terms. It might help.

Tips For Generator Maintenance

Part
Notes:
Spark plug
With a gas generator, I suggest keeping your old spark plug after you replace it, in case you need one in an emergency.
Fuel filter
Keep a spare, just in case, especially if you use your generator a lot.
Air filter
If the generator is running rough, sometimes you can remove and clean the air filter for better performance, as a temporary solution.
Gas jet
Only a trained mechanic should service this.
Diesel injector
Only a trained mechanic should service this.
Fuel lines
Check for wear or leaks, especially if you smell fuel.
DC and AC wiring
Inspect wiring periodically for wear, torn insulation, and loose connections. If necessary, get a trained mechanic to replace wires.
Motor oil
Check oil level and change as needed, or when suggested by the manufacturer.
Oil filter
These are easy to change. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Coolant
Use the manufacturer’s suggested coolant (anti-freeze) mixture. Monitor the level regularly when using the generator, and keep the level within the limits marked on the reservoir.

Comments Are Welcome

Hopefully, I didn't lose you with my attempt at simplifying how an electric generator functions.

If you experience a problem with your generator, check the comments below for troubleshooting tips, and feel free to post a comment about your own issuel

Basic RV Generator Maintenance

RV Generator Tips

Questions & Answers

© 2010 Don Bobbitt

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    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      7 weeks ago from Ruskin Florida

      Lennie - Your Bounder is wired so that you can use it, even while on the road, for your roof AC's and other equipment.

      Your '96 will only have a 30-Amp service standard, so I would only run one of the AC units to avoid any problems with overloading the generator.

      FYI: Your RV has a power control panel which does several things allocating power to equipment, but most importantly it switches to the generator when it senses that there is a generator running.

      So, while sitting in your campground, plugged into campsite power, see if you can start your generator? Your Rv should sense it is running and switch the "transfer switch" over to the generator. If it switches over, then this function is working so you can then turn your Air ON. IF it runs OK, then your switching system is OK. If it doesn't run, then you are overloading your generator and you need to check it out.

      Bing new to you, I would suggest that you do the following to your used generator anyway; 1- change the generator oil and oil filter, change the fuel pump and fuel filter, and change the air filter.

      If it still doesn't take the load, you may need to get a generator tech to check it out for you; you can usually contact the generator manufacturer's customer service and ask them for the nearest certified tech.

      Being a Rv traveler for many years, I do suggest that you keep your generator serviced and in tip top condition.

      So, check the things I mentioned and have a great time with your new/used Bounder.

      DON

    • profile image

      Lennie 

      7 weeks ago

      I jis bought a 96 fleetwood bounder self contained with a 5000 onan generator and we cant figure out for the life of us, how to run the roof airs while going down the road, idk if we are not turning on the right switches on the main battery/and the other battery on the wall inside the rv, or if we are suppose to have it on 20 or 30 amp on the generator, but we cant get either air to come on while driving, but if plugged in at a camp, it will.....any ideas?

    • profile image

      karen 

      6 months ago

      Useful and informative. Thanks

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      7 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      Phyllis Waltman - First of all, an RV with a builtin generator also has an automatic switching power controller so that you can only have one thing providing power to your generator.

      So, to use your external generator you will need to be the proper adapter cables so that you can plug your RV into the generator when you need power while boondocking or camping anywhere other than a campground.

      But, check your RV to see if it has a builtin charger (Converter) that will use the ACV from the generator (or campsite) to recharge the Rv batteries.

      Here are some tips for you if you are going to use a generator, built in or external.

      1- campgrounds do not allow generators at all or some few will allow their use up to a certain time at night.

      2- Many Walmart stores allow RVers to camp in their parking lots for a day or two, but only if they comply with their rules. There is a Walmart group on yahoo called walmartrving, or something like that. Check it out.

      3- Some cities, towns and counties do not allow overnight camping anywhere, but many do allow it in some places. Many people will overnight in church and large shopping center parking lots, but you must check the local laws.

      4- I recommend that you get some one to expand your RV battery capacity, and keep them charged. Many people will run their RV on the batteries while cooking or watching TV (you can add a cheap Inverter that will convert 12-VDC to enough 110-VAC for one TV). They then just recharge the RV batteries the next day.

      Good luck,

      DON

    • profile image

      Phyllis Waltman 

      7 months ago

      Our son offered us his generator he used at his house to camp with our 5th wheel. My husband said you have to buy a special generator just for rvs. We did not buy an rv with a generator and in traveling can not stay free anywhere overnight. We we are on a low budget so I am anxious to hear what you tell me.

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      7 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      Michael - First of ll, your RV batterie will only lat a few days with the load of a fan and a TV before they ill need charging.

      (PS What about the fridge, it uses 12-VDC??).

      Check and make sure the batteries are being charged when the generator i running, by measuring the voltage across the battery terminals. When being charged the voltage should be around 14.5 VDC, if it is 13.2 or loser it isn't being charged.

      It they ae being charged, then you only need to charge it occasionally.

      You might want to pick up a cheap solar charger for the RV to simplify your problem.

      Good luck, DON

    • profile image

      Michael 

      7 months ago

      I am a total newbee to the RV world, so please bear with me. I have a 5th wheel parked on a remote spot on my property. My partner's adult son is living in it. We anticipate that he will only be using power for lights, LPG heater fans and possibly tv. Would the 12 volt batteries suffice if they are periodically charged by the LPG Onan generator that is currently in the trailer? If so, for how long would it need to be charged? Also, I have a deep auto battery charger that I typically use by plugging into an outlet in my garage. Could this be used to charge the trailer batteries (by toting the batteries back and forth from the remote area to the garage)? I appreciate your tips.

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      7 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      pbtwins - Yes, your Rv is designed for your Gen. to be your major power source, and your RV does not need to be operating. Also, when you turn your generator ON, your RV power control panel will automatically switch everything OFF of your campground (or external) power.

      Have a great day,

      DON

    • profile image

      pbtwins 

      7 months ago

      Great article! I am a newbie and my question is do you turn the engine off when you use the generator? how does that work? we have a 1993 fleetwood flair class a Thanks!

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      8 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      Elizabeth - Standard clothes dryer, water heaters and electric Furnaces will typically require 220-VAC to handle the high currents required.

      On the other hand, if you used a solar-assisted water heater and maybe a propane furnace the current needed would be significantly less. Of course if you're talking about a motorhome you have to use what fits their designs.

      God Luck,

      DON

    • profile image

      Elizabeth 

      8 months ago

      Hi Don,

      I was wondering, since you seem to know a lot about generators, if I were to use a generator for heating water, a washer and dryers and for heating, what kind of voltage should my generator have?

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      8 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      Diana - First of all, an RV with a built-in generator is usually designed to handle the full load of power that the specific RV might demand. Secondly, it is wired into the RV so that is is safe to use, as well as being set up to "kick out" if there are any kind of wiring problems. So, trying to use a larger capacity generator is not recommended without having a certified electrician wiring it properly.

      Good Luck,

      DON

    • profile image

      Diana 

      8 months ago

      Hi,,, We are renting an RV (2016 Coachmen Leprechaun) and we were wondering if we could plug in our generator instead of using the generator that the rv comes with?

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      10 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      Steve - Sorry, but you said it yourself; the life of a diesel generator is dependent on how well it is maintained. I have seen people in 20 year old diesel RV's whose generators are still running great, and I've seen some getting major repair after only a couple of thousand hours of run time. There are just too many variables involved. One thing I would suggest is for you to pull out the generator manufacturers owner manual and read how far out it projects their maintenance schedule?? Sorry again.

      DON

    • profile image

      Steve Kass 

      10 months ago

      Hi Don, I am looking into buying a used DP. I was wondering how many hours of run time on the diesel generator is too many. I can assume it will depend on how it was maintained. But can you ball park it for me.

      Thanks,

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      13 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      Jim - our RV system is designed to do this. When your generator is running then it will not allow your external power source to be accessed. If there were two sources on the same appliances, etc, there would be some serious electrical damage in your RV.

      DON

    • profile image

      jim vestergaard 

      13 months ago

      my generator cut my house power to my rv for a few hours when i run the generator

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      14 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      Dave Gutman - All gas powered Onan generators I know of are cut OFF by removing the 12-VDC from the fuel pump. I would change the fuel filter and the fuel pump. They are relatively cheap and easy to replace.

      Good Luck,

      DON

    • profile image

      dave gutman 

      14 months ago

      i have class c forrester 2004 onan 4000 microquiet 2 questions

      my generator cuts out after 2 hrs with load

      all fuel is good tank full , fuel pump flow is good, starts up again but constantly dies that

      secondly does the generator use 12v feedback in any way outside of starting , it cut out and realized my battery connection were loose ..

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      15 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      Mark Deerhelm - Running your generator regularly, such as once a month IS a good idea. The reason is that over time the gas (and additives) in your fuel will evaporate and leave a residue that can "gum up" the fuel filter or fuel pump, or some of the parts in the carburator itself. by doing this, you keep everything cleaned out and ready to run efficiently.

      And, running the generator, if it's wired up properly, will not harm anything in your RV.

      Good luck,

      DON

    • profile image

      Mark Deerheim 

      15 months ago

      Don, I have a generator in my toy hauler. I've been told that I should run it once every month. I'm hooked up to power. Does it hurt anything to start the generator while I'm hooked? Thanks

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      15 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      Kathie - This looks like the classic case of a bad fuel filter or fuel pump. Read my hub on How to replace your fuel filter and fuel pump. It's actually a simple process that a person with a little maintenance skill can perform. Click on the link here;

      https://axleaddict.com/rvs/RV-Generator-Maintenanc...

      Good Luck, DON

    • profile image

      Kathie 

      15 months ago

      We have a diesel Winnebago Vectra 2004 with an Onan generator. When the generator is turned on, it runs for 5 minutes then quits. Do you have any idea why it might be doing this?

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      15 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      Rex - If your Tropi-Ca was originally wired for a generator, then you should be able to run the AC off of the generator as you travel. This has been a common way to keep your coach cool when traveling in very hot climates with motorhomes for decades.

      So, hook it all up and run your own test.

      Good Luck,

      DON

    • profile image

      Rex 

      16 months ago

      I'm restoring a 1997 National Tropi-cal with a generac 55k built in generator. Almost done and about to do an 18 state coast to coast tour. The a/c from the engine works well now. But this thing is 36 feet long and the rest of the coach ain't so cool. I'd like to run aux zone a/c off the generator while trucking down the road for comfort of others. Is that an option or is there another way. My first motorhome. I'm ignorant.

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      16 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      Susan - First of all, almost all campgrounds do not allow generators to be used. They generate exhaust fumes and they're noisy.

      Second, I have had several motorhomes with a 5K-Onan generator, and with a half-load on the generator, it will burn around 1/3-to-1/2 of a gallon an hour.

      Whenever we dry-camp, my wife and I fall into a routine where we only run our generator in the morning, and then for preparing dinner, and finally at night when we are relaxing, maybe with a little TV, before bedtime.

      Good Luck,

      DON

    • profile image

      Susan 

      16 months ago

      We are wondering how much gasoline a generator uses if we ran it overnight if we were dry camping. And if it is more economical to dry camp in a campground or to use electricity provided. Do we save money getting a site with no electricity rather that one that does.

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      16 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      Jamie - The newer RV's have conventional fridge units the same as in your home. But most use a 2-way fridge that operates either on 110-VAC or on propane. If you have one of these in your RV, then you'll be OK. If not, I can only recommend the purchase of a very large, high-quality cooler filled with ice.

      Sorry,

      DON

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      16 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      SUZY - RV Resorts and Campgrounds will almost all provide power hookup for your RV. In fact with these campgrounds, they do not allow you to run a generator except under specific conditions.

      RV's have generators for use under tow conditions; 1- rough camping in wilderness conditions, or 2- when you stop in a rest area or truck stop and need power while you cook or sleep.

      Some motorhome owners will run their generator while driving if the outside weather is so HOT that the dash AC cannot keep the RV interior cool. Otherwise, you shouldn't be using your RV generator very much at all.

      Have a nice trip,

      DON

    • profile image

      Jamie 

      16 months ago

      Okay so at the risk of sounding completely ditzy. ... is there something I can buy or whatever so I don't have to run my generator the whole time I'm camping?(I just bought one from Walmart online) I'm going to a festival and we can only run the generator an hour at a time but I need the fridge going as I'm festi mom this year and camping for friends and passers-by. . Also awesome article

    • profile image

      Suzy 

      16 months ago

      Hello, im about to rent an RV and travel from Texas to Nevada and plan to stay at several RV camps and resorts therefore will I be needing the generator alot.. I ask because they charge us an hourly usage of generator. Thank you in advance we are new to RV world.

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      16 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      Leonard Jauquez - Your generator is designed to; 1- keep your house batteries charged, and allow you to operate in a state park or out in the wilds where there is no power for your V. It powers your inverter so your 110-VAC appliances and air conditioner will work, and it uses the same gas tank for fuel.

      I hope this explains it for you.

      DON

    • profile image

      leonard jaquez 

      17 months ago

      I have a 1975 executive, not sure what my onan generator does for my rv does it have a inverter 4000 watts gen.

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      17 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      Walter Brokx - Most motorhomes will have two switches (that control high-current relays) that will turn OFF or ON 12-VDC to your Chassis accessories and to your Coach accessories. They are for use when you park or store your RV so that your batteries do not get drained. Check for these switches first.

      Typically, your RV generator will utilize your Coach batteries, but when you start your RV, these relays can be turned ON.

      So, your most probable problem is having your Coach switch turned OFF.

      Good Luck,

      DON

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      17 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      Larry - First of all, most motorhomes have a safety feature where the fuel line for the generator only goes down into the fuel tank to the 1/4-full level.Tis is to prevent campers from becoming stuck in a far-away campsite with no fuel to get out.

      Second, replace your generator fuel filters. Diesel fuel is pretty dirty and filters can get clogged.

      These are the two most probable causes of your generator turning off.

      Good Luck,

      DON

    • profile image

      Larry 

      17 months ago

      Is it necessary to have diesel engine running along with generator??Have a diesel 5500 Bigfoot and after about 10-15 minutes the generator shuts off don't mean to sound stupid

    • profile image

      walter brokx 

      17 months ago

      Help what can i check or replace.

      My c coach has 2 batteries to start the generator.

      They are new batteries.

      Wont turn over.

      But when i start my Coach Ford 450 engine the generator will start.

      IS there a relay or something ?

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      2 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      Vince - RV generators are air-cooled, so I'm not sure what yours is. But You didn't mention the fuel filter for the generator. Diesel fuel is a dirty fuel, so I would immediately change the fuel filter. On some Rv's the fuel filter is attached to the generator while on others, it may be mounted on the RV chassis near the Generator. This filter must be changed regularly, and I suspect it's your problem. If not, it's time to take your Rv to a service center so a PRO can check the Gen out.

      Good Luck,

      DON

    • profile image

      vince 

      2 years ago

      i have a diesel gen i change the oil and filter drain water very little water came out i fill oil and water but only took 1/2 qt water it sart run then stop after 3 to 4 minn

      help please thank vince

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      2 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      The two most common problems with RV generators are; the FUEL FILTER and the FUEL Pump. Over the years, I have had to replace both on several generators.

      These two parts on these Onan 5500 generators are usually mounted under the generator. If you crawl under there you will see the pair mounted with a couple of screws.

      If you are interested, I have written an article on how to replace these two items. It is called RV Generator maintenance, How to replace your Fuel Filer and fuel Pump.

      Good Luck,

      DON

    • profile image

      Randy 

      2 years ago

      My gen wouldnt start or run. suspected bad carb. Onan 5500 Gold. spent the $$$ on the carb, installed it and viola, it ran, for about 5 min anyway, and not will not run again. HELP!!!

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      4 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      Teri- OK the steps and your internal lights are 12VDC. If they all work then your DC COACH system is OK.

      If your Microwave actually works, by that I mean heats, then you have 110VAC coming into your Class-C OK.

      If all of your breakers are actually functioning then your AC distribution system is OK. If your Roof AC works and you just do not have power to your appliances plugged into receptacles then you probably have ground fault receptacles that have kicked out. Find the master ground fault receptacle and reset it.

      DON

    • profile image

      Teri 

      4 years ago

      I'm plugged into the house. I have a class c two days ago I had power today I have power only to the microwave. Nothing else. I've checked breakers and fuses and all appears well The steps work too but absolutely nothing else. Where else do I look

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      5 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      mona- Without any other information, on your RV or generator, I can say that almost all Onan generators are "self-contained" and that yourt fuel filter will be found under the covers.

      Just find the fule line going into the generator, and it should go into the covered unit and connect to the fuel filter itself.

      One other thing. Some Class-C motorhomes are built on truck frames and will have an original truck/van fuel tank. And, many of these tanks have the fuel PUMP built inside the tank itself. You should checkthat this is working properly also.

      Good Luck!

      DON

    • profile image

      mona 

      5 years ago

      we have aclass c motorhome with a onan gas generator, we arent getting any fuel. does this generator have a fuel filter and if it does where is it located?

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      6 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      Dave, Almost all of the generators on older motorhomes require that there be at least a little load on them or they will cycle and give you poorly regulated output voltage, but yours sounds like something else.

      First,you say that the lights go on and off but the outlets still work? Do you mean that if you plug a lamp into a receptacle the camper lights cycle on and off but the lamp in the outlet doesn't? IF the lamp cycles also, then I recommend that you get your generator checked, things like; 1-a clogged fuel filter, clogged jets in the carburator, rotten fuel lines to the generator allowing air into the fuel line, are some the most probable causes.

      PS. Turn on a TV and see if the lights cycle then.

      Good Luck.

    • profile image

      dave 

      6 years ago

      My 1970 Travelmaster camper Lights go on for a well then go off for a well but the outlets still work its plug into the mane. it also has a battery hookup with a fuse

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      6 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      Sorry keelym. But a Motorhome usually, either has a separate generator that, for convenience runs on the same fuel type as the RV itself. And,with either,you generator is your alternate power source for your camper accessories when you are parked and do nothave anyother power source available.

      Thanks for the comment though!.

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      8 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      Thanks Jesse, I hope you enjoyed the article. MAny people don't understand that these RVs are complex equipment, and include a lot of accessories that require the concerned owner to learn many different skills, even if only to understand when something in the RV requires maintenance, or not.

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