How to buy and maintain a portable generator

ByRV DailyApril 6, 2020
4 MINUTE READ
How to buy and maintain a portable generator

We answer your most pressing questions about how to buy and maintain a portable generator

Travelling and having access to 240V power at the pull of a cord means a generator can be a great addition to your camping kit. But before making that decision and parting with any of your hard-earned cash, let’s look at some things you need to consider because there’s much more to it than simply making a purchase.

SIZE AND WEIGHT

So you may have already bought a generator and sized it up for your application. But if you haven’t made that purchase just yet, read our generator purchasing guide.

The specific criteria to really look at when talking generators includes the overall size of the unit (footprint and height), the unit’s output capacity expressed by kVA output, and finally its weight. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the output requires a bigger generator all round.

Use the following as a general guide when you’re thinking about getting a generator to determine which size you’ll need for the job.

SMALL: 1kVA generator: Suitable as a battery charger. Its size is around 450mm long x 240 wide x 380 high and weighs around 13kg.

MIDSIZE: 2kVA generator: Suitable to run a fridge, lights and a battery charger. Size-wise, it’s going to be around 515L x 290W x 430H and weigh around 21kg.

LARGE: 3kVA generator: These can run a small air conditioner and multiple appliances. This one’s a big daddy at around 630L x 380W x 490H, weighing around 35kg.

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Depending on the make and model, the sizes and weight may vary slightly, but they’re not small, and they’ll consume valuable payload.

FUMES

Most portable generators come in either two-stroke or four-stroke fuel mixture, and the larger permanently mounted units may use diesel fuel. So by no means do their fumes smell like roses, and venting needs to be considered. Aim to store a generator with an empty fuel tank including the carburettor. This process will still leave a residual smell, so it’s important to consider where you’ll store the unit while travelling. Let’s take a look at the options.

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IN-VEHICLE STORAGE

Storing a generator in your vehicle can offer flexibility and convenience, but you’ll need to be mindful of vapours that can easily be smelt in a wagon (even after the unit has been emptied and vented). Secure the unit well by placing it behind a cargo barrier and latch it in place as a safety precaution. While popular utes or vehicles with a canopy provide separation from the vehicle occupants, it’s possible fumes may infiltrate other items stored in this area such as food tub contents and clean clothes.

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RV STORAGE

By bringing a generator onboard you’ve just added anywhere between 13-35kg to your rig’s payload. That weight could go directly to the towball weight if it’s added to the A-frame, or it could induce a pendulum motion if it’s mounted on the caravan’s rear bumper bar. And placing it inside the RV has the same fume and anchoring issues as storing it in a vehicle. So while it’s possible, it’s not the perfect solution.

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HATCHES AND SLIDES

If you know you’ll be travelling with a generator regularly, the best option is to have the RV manufacturer include a dedicated vented storage solution, i.e. an integrated hatch with a pull-out slide. You’ll need to request a slide that’s strong enough so the gennie can run in situ. Not only will it save your back from having to lift the unit in and out, but most insurance companies cover them in the event of theft, as they’re treated as an appliance when installed this way. For adding a generator to an existing caravan, talk this over with the original manufacturer who’ll be in the best position to advise you on a solution.

DEDICATED AFTERMARKET STORAGE BOX

This is the next-best option after an integrated hatch, as its purpose-built to suit the style of generator you’ll travel with. The design should include attachment methods – the generator to the box, and the box to the RV. Look for venting filters and strong robust locks, but you’ll need to consider the box weight in addition to the generator’s weight. Before having it installed by a business that has experience in this type of install, talk to them about how they’ll attach it to the RV, and what effect it has on RV weight distribution and handling. These days there are some cleverly insulated and well-vented designs that allow the generator to remain inside the box while it’s running.

FUEL STORAGE

A generator needs highly flammable fuel (petrol), so you’ll need a suitable vessel that complies to Australian standards. There are many types of storage vessels available, but there are also regulations as to how much you can store, and where and how you store it. Importantly, fuel containers can’t be stored anywhere on your car or RV that might be prone to impact in a collision. Plus, every litre of fuel eats into that valuable payload too.

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GENERATOR ETIQUETTE

If there’s one topic that can ignite a discussion around a camp, it’s when and where a generator should be used. Signage at some campgrounds may stipulate generator times, duration and location, and some national parks are prohibiting them entirely.

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SECURITY

If your generator is the portable type, then it’s best kept close by to keep an eye on it, as they’ve been known to grow feet and walk off! Add some sort of locking cable device or an alarm-activated cable to deter any would-be thief who thinks it would look better in the back of their vehicle. It’s a cheap way to help protect your investment.

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INSURANCE

Check to see whether your insurance policy covers generator theft, as many policies won’t cover one that has been locked to your RV’s wheels or inside a canvas-walled annex. Ask whether it can be listed as a policy accessory, or find out what requirements your insurer has for generators.

SERVICE

Like any combustion-type engine, a generator requires maintenance and service. A major overhaul is best left to the professionals, but there are a few things you can do to keep it in good condition.

Fuel – Never store the unit with fuel for long periods as it goes stale; fresh fuel is best.

Oil – Check and drain the oil yearly. Refill using the manufacturer’s recommended spec.

Spark plug – Carbon will build up, so consider replacing the spark plug when replacing the oil yearly.

Air Filter – Periodically inspect the air filter as they can become dirty quickly. Remove the filter and blow it out for cleaning, but also carry a spare as there will come a time it becomes too clogged for re-use.

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