Do I Need a Generator for my RV?

Driving across the country with your RV or motor home has to be one of the most liberating things that I can think of. Being able to wake up each morning, point somewhere at a map, and start driving. No timeline. No objective. Just drive. When you’re tired you find a spot to setup camp and rejuvenate. It is something that I look forward to in the next ten years or so when my kids have grown. For now though, it is just something that I get to write about. All you folks out there who are doing this should enjoy it!

When you do go on these road-trips with your recreational vehicle a constant question is where can I get power? In most cases if you decide to stop for the night at a rest stop or at an RV park you will find power available. These power sources found at these locations are typically thirty or fifty amp and your RV can plug right in so that you can enjoy all the creature comforts of home such as air conditioning, furnace, coffee maker, toaster, etc. Using these plug-ins is known as ‘Shore Power.’

The question that arises now is how do you obtain power when one of these shore power plug-ins is not available? Or, perhaps you do not enjoy the RV camps or rest stops but instead want complete peace and quiet. While this is great you will still need to find a way to power your appliances.


Before we look at generators lets first look at your RV’s batteries. There is a misconception that your RV’s batteries can power everything within the RV. RV batteries are there as a temporary power source. They are not meant to power large appliances like air conditioners. While they technically can do that, you will drain the battery very quickly. Without a power source you could only run an air conditioner for an hour, maybe two, before the battery dies.

Motor home batteries produce DC power. This is the same type of power that your car produces. When your RV is running it will charge these batteries just like your car charges its batteries. When it comes to RVs this direct current power from batteries is then converted to AC (Alternating Current) power using an inverter. The AC power allows you to turn lights on and run basic things within the RV such as the water pump or television set.

So, now, to answer your question of do you need a generator for your RV? It depends. Do you plan to always have a plug-in available for shore power? If so, then you may not need a generator. Or, will you be RVing in a minimalist fashion? In other words, will you not be using any large appliances such as air conditioners, furnaces, coffee makers, toasters, etc? If so, then you can most likely rely on battery power for an overnight stay. In most cases these batteries can last for a couple of days.

However, if you wish to run more then the basics in your RV then you are going to need a generator. The good news is that most RVs nowadays come with a built-in generator on one of the outside compartments. These built-in generators have a few benefits. The first is that since they are built right into the RV they are most likely tied to the same fuel tank that your RV uses. (Diesel most likely.) This means that you do not have to worry about lugging fuel around with you wherever you go. Just be sure to pay attention to your fuel gauge… you do not want to run out of fuel while camping and be stuck there waiting for someone to bring some more diesel your way! The second beneficial point of these built-ins is that they are built-in and covered with insulation. This insulation helps to dampen the noise these generators produce. A very common complaint at campsites is the noise of generators. In some cases they can reach as high as one-hundred decibels. That is the equivalent of a lawn mower running next to you. Quite loud!

A downside of these built-in generators is that they were built specifically with your RV in mind. While that sounds like a Pro what this means is that the generator is sized to power everything in your RV and not much else. So, if your RV does not come with a standard air conditioner but you have installed one… then your generator most likely will not be able to power it. Or, if you bring in a bunch of additional appliances then your generator may not be able to power them as well.

The solution here is a portable generator. A portable generator can be as big as you want it. They range from a thousand watts all the way up to twelve-thousand watts or higher. They will definitely be able to provide you with the power that is needed. Set the generator about twenty feet away from your RV, turn it on, plug-in, and you have power! Easy as that.

As you can imagine there are downsides of these types of generators as well. The first is that they can be rather bulky and difficult to move. This only increases as the wattage increases. If you decide to go with a six-thousand watt generator then you may find it difficult to move around as it could weigh over one-hundred pounds. Along with that weight you also have to lug around a fuel source for your generator. This could be propane, diesel, gasoline, or even solar. Whatever fuel you decide on though it will have to be brought with you.

The other big con here is noise. These portable generators can be quite noisy. I had mentioned this earlier but they can reach decibel levels between seventy to one-hundred. These louder ones can be as loud as a lawn mower. You can imagine how disturbing this would be to fellow campers. In fact many camp sites do not allow louder portable generators due to noise complaints. There is a solution here though folks. There is a type of portable generator known as ‘Inverter Generators.’

Inverter Generators are known as ‘super-quiet’ generators. Their decibel volume ranges from fifty to seventy. That is about the sound of the dishwasher running in your kitchen. Much different then a lawn-mower running nearby. Inverter generators are overall better then standard portable generators, the only real downside here is that they are much more expensive then the standard units. I won’t get into all of the details of inverter generators in this article, but if you wish to read more on them click here to read an article we wrote dedicated to the topic.


So folks to answer your question, yes I do believe you need a generator for your RV. Even if you do not plan to dry-dock it is always better to be safe then sorry. If you are in a situation where there is no shore power nearby you can rest easy knowing that you have a generator that can power everything up without issue. Even if you are into minimalist RVing… it still makes sense to have a generator with you, just in case.

Lastly, please note that this article is intended to give advice and informational value only. We here at ToughAssTools are not liable for any damage when it comes to using generators rather it be personal, injury, or property.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson


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