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Using Your RV : RV care and upkeep

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What you need to know about RV generators
By Mark Polk

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When I worked at a RV dealership, every spring our service department was booked with appointments for generators that either wouldn't start, or if they did start had that all too familiar surging sound. This was a result of letting the generator sit for periods of time without exercising it.

Lack of use is one of the biggest problems with generators. In gasoline generators the fuel breaks down and gums up causing hard starting and surging problems. This can happen in as short a period of time as one month.

But running and exercising a generator is just one small aspect of owning and using a generator. Let's start from the beginning. RV generators are what truly make your RV fully self-contained. What a feature, instant electricity at the push of a button! We take electricity for granted in our homes because we don't have to do anything to get it except pay our monthly bill. This is part of the problem with RV generators -- we expect the electricity to be there when we need or want it just like in our house. The problem is this magical source of electricity requires a certain amount of care and maintenance.

The Cummins/Onan RV QD 10000 diesel generator produces 10,000 watts, enough electricity to run three air conditioners with power to spare. Itís quieter than National Park Service sound level requirements.
Safety first!
Always keep in mind when you use a generator that it produces carbon monoxide. You should always inspect the exhaust system on the generator set before using it. Do not operate a generator with a damaged exhaust system. When using a portable generator, make sure the exhaust is directed away from the camping area. Test your carbon monoxide detector for proper operation before using the generator. Never run a generator when you or anyone else is sleeping. Observe campground etiquette. Do not run your generator after quiet hours.
A generator that comes equipped on an RV gets its fuel supply from the same fuel tank the engine uses. When the fuel tank runs low the generator will shut down to prevent you from possibly using all of the fuel without realizing it.

The generator will either have an automatic transfer switch to sense whether you are using shore power or the generator, or you will need to plug the RV power cord into a generator receptacle to use the generator. It is perfectly okay to use the generator while you are traveling. It is actually more fuel efficient to run the generator with the roof mounted air conditioner on, than to use the dash air.

AN RV GENERATOR IS EXTREMELY DEPENDABLE and in many cases will outlast the RV if properly maintained, which means exercising it on a regular basis. This applies to gas and diesel generators. I mentioned earlier that gasoline generators could have fuel related problems in as little as one month of sitting idle. This is one of the biggest problems, but it can easily be prevented if you get in a habit of exercising the generator on a monthly basis.

Some people think that they could avoid this by adding a fuel preservative to the fuel tank and then running the generator long enough to get the preservative through the generator set. You definitely should use a fuel preservative whenever the unit will be in storage, but there are many other reasons to start and exercise the generator on a regular basis. Moisture build up can cause damage to a generator. When you exercise your generator it heats up the generator windings and eliminates this moisture build up. This monthly exercise regime also lubricates all of the engine seals and components and helps to prevent carbon build up.

So, what exactly do I mean when I say exercise your generator? For a gasoline generator, you should run the generator with at least a 50 percent load for at least two hours every month. It is extremely important that you run it with this minimum rated load. Generators are designed to run with a load placed on them. Our motorhome has a 4,000 watt generator so I can either turn the roof air conditioner on in the summer time, which is about 2,000 watts or I can use a couple of small portable electric heaters if it's cold out. It's always better to let your generator run for longer periods than ifor short periods. Check your generator owner's manual for load ratings specific to your unit.

Other maintenance intervals for generators are based on usage. Your generator set will have an hour meter so you can monitor the usage. Consult your owner's manual for maintenance intervals.

The bottom line is, do not hesitate to use your generator and when you do use it put a load on it. A little exercise and preventive maintenance will keep you generator in top operating condition and provide many years of faithful service.

Mark Polk and his wife Dawn operate RV Education 101, a North Carolina based company that produces educational videos and eBooks on how to use and maintain an RV. Learn about these exceptional products here or order.

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