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Diesel vs Gas vs Propane RV Generators: Pros and Cons

| Updated Jun 21, 2023

RV generators are a must-have option for many RVers. But which kind?

Here's a look at the pros and cons of Diesel vs Gas vs Propane RV Generators

Whether you find yourself miles away from commercial electricity and want to run that AC, or hoping to use a hairdryer or the microwave, an RV generator can help to solve a myriad of problems while you’re out on the road.

But when it comes to choosing between a diesel vs gas vs propane RV generators, how do we know what is best? Here, we aim to answer this very question.

By breaking down the pros and cons, the advantages and disadvantages, and everything in between, we’ll help you to find the right-fuelled RV generator for your wants and needs, leaving you safely prepared to tackle any situation that might crop up during your RV adventures.

Some may opt for portable RV generators. Those generally run on gasoline, though a few also will work on diesel.

CLICK HERE for a great review of portable RV generators suitable for most

Built-in RV generators can run on gas, diesel, or propane.

There’s even one model – the Champion 3800-Watt Dual Fuel RV Ready Portable Generator with Electric Start –  that can run on gas or liquid propane.

Gas RV Generators

Pros of using gasoline

Much like the automobile engine, gas RV generators have been around for years, and most portable generators that you find on the market today will be powered by this type of fuel. These are almost always smaller generators, rather than being built-in.

The portable ones come with various power outputs. Most RVers who chose this type will use a 1,500-watt or 2,000 watt portable that they carry around with them in a storage compartment on the RV or in the back of a pickup.

Portable generators are usually used by owners of small RVs, DIY van conversions, and pop-up campers.

Built-in RV Generators

You usually find built-in RV generators on motorhomes or towables. The built-in gas-powered RV generators – typically 3,000 to 3,500 watts – “sip” from the same fuel tank that runs the motorhome engine.

Generally speaking, gas is much more widely available than diesel or propane, and you should have no problem getting your hands on some while you’re out on the road. If it's built-in, you already have gas in the engine fuel tank.

Gasoline also tends to be the cheapest generator fuel, no matter where you purchase it from.

Cons of using gasoline

When we take environmental factors into consideration, gasoline is considered a ‘dirty burning’ fuel. If you run your gasoline generator for a prolonged period of time, you may come across the curse that many RVers fall foul to, a gummed up carburetor.

Although diesel contains slightly more carbon on a chemical level, the emissions produced by a gas-powered generator are far greater. This is something important to consider for the carbon footprint conscious amongst us.

One of the more obvious concerns when it comes to using a gas-powered RV generator is the safety of the fuel itself. Gas must be stored correctly, as even the smallest spark or overheating can cause it to ignite or combust.

What’s more, gas-powered generators can reach a much higher temperature compared to their counterparts. This overheating leads to much more wear and tear on the inner workings of the machine, meaning in the long run, more maintenance may be needed.

Diesel RV Generators

RV diesel generators have come a long way over the past few decades, and they are now seen as a more serious contender when choosing a fuel.

We’re talking pretty much exclusively built-in generators on diesel-powered motorhomes, again “sipping” from the same fuel tank that runs the RV engine.

CLICK HERE for an article on several of the more popular RV Diesel Generators

Pros of using diesel generators

Generally speaking, diesel is more costly to purchase than gasoline, but it does produce far greater power per gallon compared to its gas counterpart. As the more powerful of generators, diesel models can run many more appliances and for much longer than any other generator on the market

If your RV already runs on diesel fuel, then opting for a diesel power generator makes perfect sense, as this means you will only need one fuel source.

As a fuel, diesel also burns far cleaner than any other fuel on the market. This means your generator will need far less upkeep and maintenance, only requiring you to start it up and “exercise” it once a month or so. The cleanness of diesel fuel is only matched by its excellent efficiency.

Cons of using diesel generators

The biggest con in using a diesel generator is the occasional odor that diesel motors have.

Based on our personal experience, I also think that diesel generators are somewhat louder than propane generators.

Propane RV Generators

Propane, or LP gas, has long been a popular choice for built-in RV generators. You can also get portable propane generators but for motorized RVs, this has been our fuel choice for the RV generators we have used.

Pros of propane RV generators

Propane is a “clean-burning” fuel, as it produces less pollutants than diesel and gasoline. Specifically, it produces only half as much carbon monoxide (CO) as gasoline. If fumes or pollution is a concern, propane is a good energy source to choose.

As we noted above, our experience is that a propane RV generator is usually much quieter than a diesel RV generator. That can be a consideration on those hot boondocking nights, and you need the AC on to sleep…. But can’t sleep because the generator that runs the AC is so noisy!

Another reason to choose a propane RV generator is fuel economy. In most cases, propane tends to be more affordable than gasoline or diesel, which ultimately helps you save on long-term fuel costs

Finally, propane also has a long shelf life and certainly lasts longer than gasoline or diesel. It’s stored in its own tank and doesn’t degrade even if you only use it a few times a year.

Cons of propane RV generators

With a propane RV generator, you are limited by the size of the tank that you have. And if you run low on a camping trip, propane can be more difficult to find in some areas.

Propane RV generators do not produce as much energy per gallon as diesel or gasoline RV generators do – about 10% less power than gas or diesel.

Safety. Though today's propane RV generators are extremely safe, propane in the RV world used to have a bad rap because many RV fires were blamed on propane appliances and leaks. But many of those fires can be traced to poor maintenance or faulty parts used on older RVs. It's been our experience that propane is a very safe fuel, for ur RV generator and our various appliances.

If you do choose propane, we recommend that you have the propane system inspected by a qualified technician at least once a year.

CLICK HERE for a complete guide to propane safety on an RV

What to choose in an RV Generator?

Bottom line, when it comes to settling on your final choice, it can be an extremely close call as to whether to go for a gasoline, diesel or propane-powered RV generator.

It all comes down to personal preference

Hope this helped!

Curious about the gear, gadgets, accessories, and RV products Mike & Jennifer use and recommend?

On this RV Lifestyle Travel blog, our RV Podcast, and our RV Lifestyle YouTube Channel, we mention all sorts of RV-related products and gear that we use, So we created a special page links to them. We update this all the time.  CLICK HERE to go to it directly. 

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Mike Wendland

Published on 2020-10-20

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

6 Responses to “Diesel vs Gas vs Propane RV Generators: Pros and Cons”

December 01, 2022at2:53 am, Alice Carroll said:

Thanks for pointing out that diesel RV generators can also provide longer lasting power to multiple appliances. I’d like to buy a new generator soon because I want to go on RV trips with my family soon. Being able to have better RV equipment would be a good idea.

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December 02, 2022at4:15 pm, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Glad it helped – Happy Trails! Team RV Lifestyle

November 11, 2021at9:10 am, Sharon Norway said:

I have a 5th Wheel that’s prep for a generator and I’m clueless on what type of generator I need…. Help!

June 02, 2021at4:28 pm, How to Plan an RV Vacation: A Beginner's Guide | Let's Roam said:

[…] Additionally, there are different options for safety and emergency preparedness. Beyond the typical car emergency kit, you will need a fire extenguisher on board and should think about a gas or propane powered generators. […]

October 20, 2020at3:25 pm, Cheri Lang said:

Thank you for this very helpful comparison of generators! We appreciate all the work you provide to RV campers and RV dreamers. Proud to be a supporter too. I’m a sponge soaking up so much good information as you share your experience. Thanks to both of you and we love Bo!

October 20, 2020at10:57 am, Phil Mulliner said:

You didn’t mention gasoline inverter generators , the best choice for me personally because they are much quieter.

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