Now here’s a question that I get asked all the time, especially by RVing newbies. So, I thought I’d write about it here, to put your mind at rest and let you know all there is to know about running an RV generator while you’re driving.
Let’s face it, it’s a sharp learning curve when you get your first RV. Several months or even years down the line, questions still pop up, so it’s important to get answers. In fact, the more time you spend in your RV, the more you’re going to find new ideas that could help improve your everyday life or your precious vacation time. Using your generator on the road could be one of those instances.
Short and simple answer: Yes, you can use your built-in RV generator while driving. But, and there always is a but, isn’t there, there are several things that you need to bear in mind. So let’s take a look at some common scenarios and see when using your RV generator on the road may and may not be such a good idea.
Of course, not all RVs have a built-in generator, or yours may be out of service. So, I’m also going to let you know my thoughts on using a portable generator while driving your RV.
Running a Portable RV Generator on the Road
Okay, so you may have noticed I clarified my above answer by referring to an in-built generator. But for one reason and another, you may not have a built-in generator, or it may not be functional. Whether you do or you don’t, you’re still likely to have the same issues that mean you want power to your RV while you’re driving.
Can you run a portable generator on the road, then? Well, it’s actually more commonly done than you might think. Whether it’s a good idea or not for your set up, I’ll leave you to figure that one out. While we’re on the topic and if this is one of the reasons you may or may not be looking to purchase a new portable generator for your RV, check out my comparison of two of the best portable generators for RVing: Champion 3100 vs the Honda 3000 plus I’ve also shared my experience with the pretty neat Predator 3500 Invertor Generator.
While running your built-in generator on the road is pretty plain sailing, setting up your portable RV generator to run while you’re driving is not quite as straightforward. Here’s the main problems you’ll encounter if you want to try using your portable generator on the road and how people generally get round them.
- Storage – your portable generator needs to be securely fastened on to your RV. You also need to make sure that any luggage racks or whatever you actually have it attached to are strong and stable enough to take its full weight and that there’s no fittings or fixtures that could potentially work loose.
- Safety – Make sure that your generator exhaust is pointed away from you RV. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a killer, so always doubt check your carbon monoxide detector in your RV after running your generator. If you don’t have one, you need to get one ASAP. Check out my list of must-have RV accessories for more info.
- Theft – fingers crossed this won’t happen to you, but generators are expensive pieces of kit. You’ll need to make sure it’s securely attached to avoid it going missing when you stop for fuel or pull over.
- Power cord – Before you hook up your generator, you’ll need to consider where you’re going to run your power cord. Unless you’re going down any pretty rough roads or ones with raised sections then underneath is preferable for obvious reasons. However, if you need to run it down the side of your RV make sure you have it well fastened down so it doesn’t risk getting stuck on any obstructions.
- Fuel – Make sure your generator is going to be easy to fill up when it’s in place. Bear in mind that with all the bumps and twists in the road, you’ll want to avoid running it when the fuel is low as it will keep cutting out. So keep your fuel at half and above for continuous running.
The majority of people who run their portable generator on the road do so without any issues, but it does require care and attention. Some five or six years ago I went through a summer relying just on my portable generator, and one thing I can say is once you’ve got it set up properly for the road you shouldn’t have any issues. However, I personally feel it’s much easier and possibly safer to use a built-in RV generator when you’re driving. Although when it’s not possible, you may still wish to use your portable RV generator on the road regardless and I know plenty of people who do so on a regular basis. So, it’s your call.
Common Reasons to Run Your Generator While You’re on the Road
So now we’ve established that you can indeed use your RV generator while you’re driving, let’s take a look at why you might want to do so.
When you think about it, there are actually plenty of reasons why you might want to run your RV generator while driving. In fact, you’ve probably got at least one very good reason of your own, hence why you’re here reading this!
Here’s the top reasons folks run their RV generators while they’re driving
- A/C – on very hot days your dash A/C just won’t suffice to cool your whole RV. Not only can this make long trips uncomfortable for the driver, any passengers and pets in the back will suffer. Running your generator on the road allows you to power you A/C on the move. If you traveling in winter and tend to feel the cold check out my post for some ideas on how to heat your RV without electricity.
- TV – On long trips having the TV on can keep kids occupied and save you from being hassled about arrival times. Likewise for computers, tablets and any other electronic devices that may run out of charge while you’re on the road that can keep your passengers happy.
- Microwave – If you don’t want to stop and eat somewhere, then running the microwave while you’re on the go makes sense. Whether your partner wants to heat up a quick snack or get the kids fed quickly on the way to your vacation destination, being able to use the microwave on the road can make the journey more agreeable to those traveling with you.
- Fridge – provided your not going to be driving over extremely bumpy terrain, it often makes perfect sense when you’re heading out far from civilization to run your generator for your fridge. While a lot of people will tell you that you shouldn’t run your fridge if its not going to be level, on the majority of main roads, your fridge will be just fine provided it’s a newish model. Running your fridge on the road allows you to stock up for the week ahead while you’re still near stores, so you’ll have everything ready on arrival. If you are worried about your fridge and unlevel ground, if for example you have an old model, run your fridge earlier on the smoother, larger highways and turn it off as you near the wilderness. It should be sufficiently cooled to keep your food and beverages fresh for the last hour or so of your journey.
- Using your crockpot – Picture it, you pull up, set up and admire the view before sitting down to a delicious meal with absolutely no wait or hassle. If you’re running your generator on the road, you could take advantage of your long trip to run your crockpot (safely secured of course, I put mine in the sink). Trust me it tastes even better somehow. If your RV kitchen is not quite as functional as it could be, have a look at my recommendations for some of the best RV kitchen accessories.
Is It Legal to Run an External Generator While Driving?
Currently, there aren’t any laws that specifically state that you cannot run an external generator when driving your RV. Of course, your set up will need to be secure and safe in order to comply with regular laws.
If you are using an LP fired generator, you need to be aware of any state laws that forbid the use of propane on certain highways, bridges and tunnels. Whether you’re using an in-built or external propane generator, you’ll need to stop it to comply with these laws for certain sections of your route in applicable states. So, make sure that you’re aware of the state driving laws wherever you’re heading.
Don’t forget that you’ll also need to stop your generator before you pull over for any fuel stops. If you’re thinking of updating your portable generator, you might want to check out my review of the Champion 3100 generator model with wireless remote start.
Tips for Running Your Portable Generator While Driving
You shouldn’t have any problems running your generator on the road provided that you make sure that it is safe and secure.
- Check fastenings every time you stop and make sure it is secure, in case anyone tries to take it while you’re pulled over.
- As stated before, you should always check your CO detector to make sure that there is no carbon monoxide concentration inside your RV. If you don’t have one, you seriously need to get one.
- Pay extra attention to where you run your power cord. Consider any possible obstructions that could damage it and short out your generator depending on where you’re traveling and what kinds of roads you’ll be using.
- Make sure your oil levels are maxed out and that you keep your fuel level topped up to prevent your generator cutting out because of turns, bumps in the road and gradients.
Will Running a Generator on the Road Decrease my RV’s MPG?
No, running a generator on the road will not decrease your RV’s number of miles to the gallon. Your vehicle will not change in terms of fuel efficiency. However, if your generator is supplied by the fuel tank, of course, the tank is going to empty faster than if you were not running your generator.
Why Does my Generator Shut off While I am Driving?
If your generator keeps shutting off when you’re driving, but not when your using it parked up, then there are a couple of likely culprits you need to check out.
First of all, ensure that your generator is secure. If it moves about and is not securely fastened down then it’s likely to cut out. Also, check on the placement of any vents to make sure you’ve not got them blocked.
If everything seems fine, check that your fuel level is topped up. Turns, bumps and hills can all alter your fuel level drastically, causing your generator to cut out. Keep you fuel toped up as much as possible throughout your trip.
If your fuel is fine, you might find that your oil level is coming on low when you’re on the road. Always keep your oil level maxed out on your generator as it will easily cause it to cut out with ascents, descents and bends causing sudden drops in the sensor readings.
These are the most common reasons your generator would cut out on the road but not when using it parked. If you can safely rule out the oil level and fuel, then you’re probably going to have to play about with the placement until you find out the best way to keep it safely and securely strapped in place.
I hope you now know all there is to know about running your RV generator while driving. Whether you’ve got a built-in RV generator or you’re using a portable one, running your generator when you’re on the move can be extremely useful, especially for passengers, pets and long, hot summer drives. Just be sure that your set up is safe and secure and in compliance with local state driving laws.