How to Use RV Generators

How to Use RV Generators
It's easy to take power for granted, until you've gone without it. An RV generator eliminates this concern by charging your auxiliary battery to run your furnace, air conditioning, lights and 120-volt appliances. If you like to "boondock" in primitive campsites that lack hookups, a good generator is indispensable. It allows you to enjoy the comforts of home, wherever you are. Here's what you need to know, to get the most from your unit.


Difficulty: Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • Owner's manual Log book or notebook Pen Gasoline, diesel or propane Oil
  • Owner's manual
  • Log book or notebook
  • Pen
  • Gasoline, diesel or propane
  • Oil
Step 1
Learn the controls. 120-volt RV generators--most are by ONAN--have a two position, momentary start/stop switch, an hour meter and a summer/winter lever. An additional start/stop switch, with an indicator light, is located inside the RV.

The hour meter displays the total operation time of the unit. It indicates when routine maintenance and inspections are needed.

Use the summer/winter lever to prevent ice accumulation in the carburetor venturi. It should be in the winter position, when temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit; and the summer position, when temperatures rise above it.
Step 2
Start it up and shut it down. Start the generator by pressing the start switch until the light goes on. Let go of the switch and wait about a minute until the time delay connects the generator to the power panel. Your power is ready.

Stop the generator by pressing the stop switch until the light goes off.
Step 3
Don't exceed its capacity. A 4.5 kw generator has a generating capacity of 4,500 watts, and most electrical devices have a wattage label. If this label only provides amperage, get the wattage by multiplying the amperage by the unit's voltage (for example, 3 amps x 110 volts = 330 watts). If the label is in horsepower, multiply it by 750 watts.

Check the watts consumed by every appliance, and the heating, air conditioning and battery charging systems. If two numbers are given, use the higher one. Label each unit with its wattage, so you can calculate the total demand on your generator. As you switch on appliances, add up the wattage to make sure it doesn't exceed your generator's capacity.
Step 4
Protect yourself and your RV. If your motorhome doesn't have a CO detector, get one. Check your generator's exhaust system for leaks and don't let the wind blow exhaust through your windows.

To avoid possible damage to the air conditioner motors, don't stop the generator with your air conditioner on.

Don't ever connect to external power, while your generator is pushing a heavy load. You're likely to burn out the transfer switch, and shut down your electrical system.
Step 5
Service it properly. Check the hour meter and change your oil and filter at the recommended time. You should service the generator every 200 operating hours. When it's not in regular use, run it with a heavy load for an hour each month.

Tips & Warnings

You may need to adjust the automatic choke at altitudes over 5,000 feet.
RV parks and campgrounds often have noise regulations. Keep this in mind when you run the generator.

Article Written By Dan Eash

Dan Eash began writing professionally in 1989, with articles in LaHabra's "Daily Star Progress" and the "Fullerton College Magazine." Since then, he's created scripts for doctor and dentist offices and published manuals, help files and a training video. His freelance efforts also include a book. Eash has a Fullerton College Associate of Arts in music/recording production and a Nova Institute multimedia production certificate.

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