How Does An RV Generator Work? 101 Guide

How Does An RV Generator Work 101 Guide

Key Takeaways
● An RV generator is a crucial component of the recreational vehicle’s electrical system.
● It converts mechanical energy from a motor into electrical energy that powers components for comfortable living in an RV.
● When selecting an RV Generator, you should consider its size, type, and power output.

An RV generator is essential, especially if you plan to boondock or camp in remote locations. But do you know how your RV’s generator works? If not, don’t worry – many people don’t.

An RV generator is a type of power source for recreational vehicles. It converts mechanical energy from a motor into electrical energy that can be used to power various RV components, such as lights, appliances, and other electronics.

This post will explain in detail how an RV generator work, routine maintenance tips to keep them running smoothly, and what to do if you experience any problems. Let’s dive in.

What is An RV Generator?

What is An RV Generator

An RV generator is a type of internal combustion engine that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. In short, it’s an onboard device that generates electricity for your recreational vehicle.

Generators work like an RV shore power connection, but when there is no powered campsite available. They are either gasoline- or diesel generators and can run on a variety of fuels, depending on the type of generator.

Different Parts Of An RV Generator

Different Parts Of An RV Generator

An RV generator has several components that work together to create electricity. Read on to learn about the different parts of an RV generator and how they work.


The engine is the heart of the RV generator and is responsible for CONVERTING mechanical energy into electrical energy. It usually consists of a gasoline-powered motor with an alternator attached, although diesel and propane models are also available.

A diesel generator will usually be more fuel-efficient, while a gasoline-powered generator will usually produce more power.


The battery STORES energy from the generator and provides a backup power source if needed. It can also be used to start the engine and keep it running.

Fuel Tank

The fuel tank stores the fuel needed to POWER the RV generator’s engine. Larger tanks can hold more fuel, allowing longer running between refills.

Control Panel

The control panel houses all the CONTROLS necessary to operate the RV generator and monitor its performance. This includes switches to turn on/off different components, gauges that measure fuel levels, voltage output, and other indicators, as well as a starter switch.

Air Filter:

The air filter helps to keep CONTAMINANTS out of the engine and prevents them from damaging its components. It should be checked regularly and replaced if necessary.

Exhaust System

The exhaust system is responsible for directing fumes away from the RV generator to MINIMIZE noise pollution and reduce emissions. This usually consists of an exhaust pipe with a muffler attached at the end to reduce sound levels.

Pro Tip: Regular maintenance is key to running your RV generator smoothly.

Types of RV Generators

Types of RV Generators

There are two main types of RV generators – stationary and portable.

Stationary Generators

A stationary generator, or built-in generator, is the most common type and provides a PERMANENT power source for your recreational vehicle

Stationary RV generators are INSTALLED in the RV and provide a reliable power source for extended periods. They are typically connected to the RV’s electrical system and can be used to power lights, appliances, air conditioners, and other electronics.

These models require less setup than portable ones and provide more CONSISTENT electricity when adequately maintained.

Stationary RV generators also run quieter than their portable counterparts because they are installed away from the living area of the RV.

Portable Generators

Portable generators offer a CONVENIENT way to get reliable electricity while camping or traveling. These compact units can easily be transported from place to place and powered with gasoline, diesel, propane, or even solar energy [1].

The benefit of portable generators is that they are EASY to use and can provide power for short-term needs such as powering a laptop or charging a phone. They also require less maintenance and don’t need to be connected to the RV’s electrical system.

However, their smaller size means they cannot generate as much power as stationary models. It’s important to keep in mind the LIMITATIONS of portable RV generators when running multiple appliances at once, so planning is key.

Additionally, a portable generator should only be used OUTSIDE due to safety concerns associated with carbon monoxide emissions.

Inverter Generators

Inverter generators are newer generator that is becoming more popular among recreational vehicle owners [2]. They use ADVANCED technology to provide clean and efficient power while running quieter than traditional RV generators.

Unlike conventional models, an inverter generator uses an internal INVERTER to convert the AC power generated by the motor into DC voltage, which is then passed through a transformer before being sent out as usable AC power for your RV’s electrical system.

This process provides greater EFFICIENCY than standard RV generators and eliminates the need for additional noise-dampening materials around the engine.

Inverters also produce fewer emissions than traditional models, making them a GREENER alternative for powering your recreational vehicle.

Pro Tip: Try to find a generator that matches the specifications of your RV to ensure optimal performance.

Advantages and Disadvantages of an RV Generator

Advantages and Disadvantages of an RV Generator

Having an RV generator can offer many advantages; however, there are some potential drawbacks. Here are some of the pros and cons of having an RV generator:


  • Provides a reliable source of power for extended periods.
  • Quieter than portable generators, with less noise pollution.
  • Efficient and produces fewer emissions than traditional models.
  • Easy to install and maintain.


  • It can be expensive to purchase and install.
  • Stationary RV generators require a connection to the RV’s electrical system.
  • Portable RV generators have limited power output capabilities.
  • Inverter RV generators can be more expensive than traditional models.
  • RV generators require regular maintenance and fuel to run correctly.

Understanding How an RV Generator Works

Understanding How an RV Generator Works

To help you better understand how RV generators work, here is a brief overview of the steps involved:

  • Fuel is put in the generator, and the switch is turned on.
  • The motor converts mechanical energy into electrical energy by spinning a set of magnets inside a coil. This creates a current known as alternating current (AC).
  • The AC passes through the generator’s stator, producing a magnetic field around it.
  • As the magnets move past the coils, they send an electric charge to the generator’s rectifier.
  • The rectifier changes the AC power into direct current (DC) voltage.
  • The DC power voltage is then sent to a transformer, which converts it into usable AC power.
  • This AC power is then outputted to the RV’s electrical system and used to power its appliances and components.
  • The generator will continue to generate electricity as long as it has fuel and a steady supply of air for combustion.
  • When the switch is turned off, the motor stops spinning, and no electricity is produced.

Requirements for Operating an RV Generator

Requirements for Operating an RV Generator

It’s important to follow specific guidelines when operating an RV generator. Otherwise, you may risk damaging your unit or causing a safety hazard. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Ensure Proper Connection

When using a stationary generator, ensure it is properly CONNECTED to the RV’s electrical system.

Doing so will ensure that voltage fluctuations won’t DAMAGE sensitive electronics and appliances within the recreational vehicle such as an RV air conditioner unit. Additionally, use appropriate cables to connect the generator to the RV’s power supply.

Use Clean Fuel

Using contaminated or stale fuel in your RV generator can cause various ISSUES and should be avoided. Stale gasoline may not combust properly, resulting in an insufficient power supply for your recreational vehicle.

Only use FRESH unleaded fuel with an octane rating of 87 or higher when running your generator.

Check The RV Generator’s Operational Requirements

Before you start running your generator, FAMILIARIZE yourself with its operational requirements.

Check the fuel level and oil levels, as well as its air filter, spark plug, and any other components that need regular maintenance. Ensure the exhaust vent is free of debris and the generator is located in an open, well-ventilated space.

Be Mindful Of The Noise Restrictions

Most RV generators are designed to run quietly; however, some locations may have noise restrictions.

Check with local authorities if your generator exceeds a certain decibel level. Additionally, be aware of your SURROUNDINGS and try not to disturb other campers with the sound of your generator.

Pro Tip: Invest in a generator cover to dampen the sound and help protect it from dirt and debris.

Maintenance Tips for an RV Generator

Maintenance Tips for an RV Generator

Regular maintenance keeps your RV generator running smoothly and avoids unexpected issues. To ensure your unit runs properly, it’s essential to perform the following tasks regularly:

  • Clean or replace the air filter as needed. A dirty air filter can reduce the airflow to the engine, decreasing its performance and potentially leading to damage.
  • Check all hoses, belts, and wires for signs of wear or tear. Replace any worn parts before they cause further damage.
  • Inspect fuel lines regularly for blockages or leaks, and replace them if necessary.
  • Check oil levels every few months and top off with fresh oil when needed.
  • Don’t forget to check spark plugs; if they look corroded or worn, replace them as soon as possible.
  • Lastly, ensure the generator is stored in a dry and well-ventilated area to prevent rusting or corrosion.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Connect My RV’s Electrical System to a Home Generator?

This is not recommended, as the two systems have different voltage requirements. Connecting the two could cause severe damage to your RV’s electrical system or even cause a fire hazard.

How Do I Test the Voltage Output of My RV Generator?

You can test the voltage output of your RV generator by using a multimeter. Ensure the unit is running, and then attach each end of the multimeter to the positive and negative terminals on the generator.

The reading should be within 10-15 volts of what’s indicated in your owner’s manual. You may need to adjust or replace the voltage regulator if it’s lower than that.

How Do I Check for Carbon Buildup in my Generator’s Engine Components?

You can check for carbon buildup on your RV generator’s engine components by visually inspecting the spark plug and other engine parts.

Carbon buildup will appear as a black, sooty residue that can impede the performance of your generator. If you notice signs of carbon buildup, clean it off with a wire brush or toothbrush before continuing to use the unit.



Maintaining your RV generator is essential for a safe, enjoyable experience. By understanding how the generator works and what it needs for maintenance, you can help avoid potential problems.

Remember to be mindful of noise restrictions, inspect fuel lines for blockages or leaks, and regularly check the oil and spark plug levels.

If you have any questions about RV generators, consult your owner’s manual or a trusted professional for assistance.

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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