IMPORTANT: Why you need to Exercise an RV Generator [FAQ]

 IMPORTANT: Why you need to Exercise an RV Generator [FAQ]

It sounds silly but one maintenance task many RVers forget to do is to exercise an RV generator. It's a simple process that will ensure many years of reliable service. Here's how to do it:

To exercise an RV generator means running it, under load, at least once a month. 

And despite what you may read on some RV forums, a propane RV generator needs to be exercised just as do gas or diesel generators.

Here's a very short video showing you the process of how I exercise an Rv generator:

Why you need to exercise an RV generator

When you exercise an RV generator it removes water vapor, circulates the oil and lubricants, and burns up the gunk and deposits that can clog its internal parts.

It is so important that some generators look home many hours the generator has been run in deciding to cover a warranty repair. If it hasn't been run enough to show it has been “exercised,” they could waive your warranty.

Consider exercising an RV generator basic maintenance.

Most generator failures can be traced to generators that just haven't been run enough.

And there is nothing worse than being in some beautiful boondocking spot only to discover your generator won't start.

How long should you exercise an RV generator?

image of manual about need to exercise an rv generator
From the Manual” This is from the manual from Onan about the need to exercise an RV generator

More is better. Onan, the most popular of all the RV generator manufacturers, recommends two hours a month. 

During the season, if you are using the RV and firing up the generator from time to time, you want to make sure it runs for a bare minimum of 60 minutes. 

We're talking about continual running, not cumulative.

How should you exercise an RV generator?

First, if in storage or at a campground, unplug your RV from shore power.

Second, exercise it under load.

That means you need to have various appliances drawing power, at least 50% of the generator's capacity. 

Take the Onan generator we have on our 2020 Leisure Travel Vans RTB RV. It is a 3,600 watt LP unit.

For 50% draw, I want to then run something that requires 1,800 watts.

What works perfectly for us is a portable ceramic heater that we take with us on our winter camping trips to supplement the heat that comes from the RV's furnace.

The unit we have is the Lasko 5309 Electronic Oscillating Tower Heater, which is rated at 1,500 watts. At full heat settings, it's close enough to provide an adequate drain. 

What are the differences between gas, diesel, and propane RV generators?

Although Gas and diesel generators “sip” fuel as they need it from the vehicle's fuel tank, there is always some in the generator itself. And, as we all know, gas and diesel fuel go bad with age. So if you are not using the generator a lot, that bad fuel can gunk up the generator's parts. 

If unused for too long, the genny may not start at all.

Propane generators, because they run on LP gas, don't have these issues. In fact, I've heard many RVers say they don't even bother to exercise their propane generators and have never had issues.

Since the manufacturer recommends exercising my propane generator, I trust them rather than the armchair experts.

Onan-Cummins, the most popular manufacturer of RV generators, makes manuals for each model available online. CLICK HERE to find your Onan manual.

I definitely exercise my RV generator!

our Rv generator
This is the 3/6 KW LP Onan generator we have in our RV

Some RVers don't like propane generators because they worry about gas leaks and fire danger. I have my Rv and its LP system inspected each year and this is not a concern for me.

TIP: CLICK HERE for an article I did on Diesel vs Gas vs Propane RV Generators

But the big reason I have a propane generator is that I swear it is quieter than gas or diesel units. I haven't measured the noise with a decibel meter so I'm relying only on my perception. But to me, it's quieter. And that's a big benefit in my thinking because there are times when we are boondocking in the summer and it is so hot that I need to run the air conditioner.

Trying to sleep with a noisy air conditioner is hard enough. A loud generator makes it doubly hard. Our propane generator makes the noise of the AC and the generator at least tolerable.

How to remember to exercise an RV generator?

Put it on a calendar if you're a paper person.

But for me, in this digital age, I schedule my monthly generator exercise on my iPhone, which in turn shows up on my calendar, my monthly to-do list, and my Apple watch. There's no escaping the reminder.

I do the requisite full hour exercise period, using the time to knock around the RV, do some cleanup, check to make sure all is well, and often work on some project I have going.

There's always a project to do with our RV's right?

So, if you haven't been doing so, start now. Let your RV generator get some regular exercise.

Meanwhile, here are three more RV maintenance articles I think you'll find helpful:

 

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Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle.com. He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.

5 Comments

  • Love your videos, I think something most RV users overlook is keeping their freshwater tank clean. Several videos out there, but they don’t really address the problems of a single water point entry with a ‘flip’ switch for city and inline tank. It’s scary to make sure to get the bacteria and other matter cleaned out of the tank. Thanks again for all you do!

  • Thanks for the Exercising Your Generator video.
    Loved the $2,5 million coach! Keep the information coming. Thanks.

  • An hour, with load. Check.

    I am just learning this stuff and there’s so many different takes on how often and for how long. But I’ve grown to trust you guys most when it comes to RV care and fun so I’m following your advice.

    Thanks!
    Allie

  • Hello Mike,
    Nice article.
    1. We have found that the Onan Microlite 2800 gasoline powered generator on our 2016 Winnebago Travato runs far better on ethanol free gasoline than on gasoline that contains ethanol.. When using gaoline containing 10% ethanol ,even with regrular conditioning of the gasoline with Seafoam, our generator was often hard to start and would quit after running our air conditioner for 30 minutes or so. Now that we are using ethanol free gasoline, the generator starts easily and rtuns without issues. The following guide indicates where ethanol free gasoline is available throughout the U.S.
    2. During the sumer, we use our the air conditioner (1700 to 2000 Watt load) as the load for exercising the generator. During winter months, we use the Truma eheater on electric power r (1700 Watt load) to exercise the generator.

    • Never trust a spell checker:)

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