RV Inverter Generators – The Pros & Cons Explained

So what are RV inverter generators anyway?

One thing they are not is the loud and obnoxious construction type of generator. Those may be fine where heavy construction is going on, but don’t bring them to a campsite.

If you do, you will be sure to make enemies quickly. The noise and fumes from those generators will annoy everyone around you. And you won’t like it either!

RV inverter generators are much smaller in size. And although they do make some noise, it’s very low in comparison.

And they are very fuel efficient too. They can usually run several hours non-stop on just a gallon of gas.

So these kind of generators are well-suited for use with RVs, especially while boondocking. But they may not be the best choice for RV power for everyone.

So let’s discuss the pros and cons and see who benefits most from the use of an inverter generator.

RV inverter generators - are they better than solar power?
Watch my video on RV inverter generators by clicking the image above

Disclosure: Please note this post may contain affiliate links. This means – at no additional cost to you – I earn a commission if you make a purchase using our affiliate links. I only link to products and companies I use and feel comfortable recommending. The income goes toward supporting the free content on this website

The Pros Of RV Inverter Generators

  • When compared to the cost of RV solar power, it is much less. A solar system that can run most appliances in the RV other than ACs can cost $5000 or more. An inverter generator that will run everything in the RV including an AC unit is under $1000.
  • Inverter generators can easily run high wattage devices like microwaves, hair dryers, and yes, even air conditioners.
  • They are so simple – all you have to do is plug in the RV power cord and fire up the generator. It really is that simple. The generator will adjust to whatever load is placed upon it up to its power limit.
  • They work in any kind of weather. It doesn’t matter whether it’s sunny or rainy, foggy or clear, night or day. An inverter generator will keep chugging along as long as you provide the fuel for it.
  • Inverter generators produce clean and safe power for all of your sensitive electronic devices.

But What Are The Cons?

  • Noise – yes, the noise level is much reduced when using an RV inverter generator. In fact, if you get more than 15 feet away, you may not even hear it at all. But some noise is produced. And it’s constantly there. This can be unacceptable to some RVers.
  • Weight – Especially if you choose an inverter generator that is big enough to run all your RV appliances and an AC unit. In that case, the generator will probably weigh about 100 lbs. And that kind of weight is not easily moved around. Smaller ones that will only charge up your RV batteries after a day’s use will weigh about 50 lbs.
  • Storage – you have to find somewhere to store the generator when it’s not in use. Many people use the bed of their pickup. Others use a storage compartment in the RV. But these units both take up space and add weight. So you have to plan for that.
  • Requires fuel – inverter generators usually run on gasoline. This means that you will have to bring along a supply of gas and make sure that it is stored safely. Of course, some generators can also run on propane and they are called dual fuel generators. This can be very convenient for RVers since they already carry a supply of propane with them.
  • Needs regular maintenance – all motors and engines will require some kind of maintenance and care. And that is true of these generators too. But the good news is that the needed maintenance is fairly easy to do. In fact, almost anyone can do it.

Who Should Use An Inverter Generator?

RV inverter generators are really nifty devices that bring AC power wherever you need it.

So if you like to go off-grid a lot, or boondock, an inverter generator can be a great purchase. They work particularly well for travel trailers and fifth wheels.

Many motorhomes have a generator already permanently installed. So an additional inverter generator may not be needed.

But towable RVs often do not come with an installed generator. So a portable generator can be a great addition in these cases.

However, if you spend all your time in campgrounds plugged into shore power, a generator may not even be necessary.

Another point, some RVers just cannot stand the background noise that a generator produces constantly. Even a relatively quiet one. So it may not fit their RV powers needs at all.

Others have a substantial solar power system installed in their RV. And if so, they may not feel the need to have an inverter generator as well. Although having one as a backup may not be a bad idea.

If you have an RV inverter generator,
please answer this anonymous poll:

Is your inverter generator a Honda or Yamaha?
Is the noise level from your inverter generator bothersome?
Do you use a combination of solar and generator power?

Which Brand Should You Buy?

For many years, the best inverter generators have been made by Honda and Yamaha. And they continue to be excellent products even now.

But times have changed and other manufacturers have entered the inverter generator market. And many of their products are much less expensive.

Of course, that does not mean that any old inverter generator is a good buy. But it also doesn’t mean that Honda and Yamaha are the only prudent choices anymore.

Don’t get me wrong here. Honda and Yamaha inverter generators are still excellent choices. But don’t rule out others that cost as much as 50% less, just because they are a different brand.

In fact, some of the newer products in the field have Amazon user ratings that rival Honda and Yamaha. So compare wisely and choose the brand that fits your budget and needs.

What Size RV Inverter Generator?

The size of generator needed depends on your power needs. And power needs can run the full gamut between individual RVers.

But generally speaking, if all you need to do is charge your batteries at the end of a day’s usage, a 2000 watt unit will do fine. And they are lighter in weight too.

But if you need enough power to easily run all of your RV appliances and maybe an AC unit as well, more is needed. Probably 3000+ watts will be required in this case. And that means a heavier unit.

But there is another interesting choice though. This is because two inverter generators can often be hooked together to run simultaneously.

This means that their ouput is almost doubled. So you could have two 2000 watt inverters on hand.

You only use one of them when your power needs are low. But if your power requirements grow, you can run them both together through the use of a parallel cable.

Again, this is an individual choice. You may feel that having only one inverter generator that meets your normal RV power needs is appropriate. But there is always the option to add another one and nearly double your power output.

Click here for a Honda 1000 watt inverter generator

Check out a Yamaha 2200 Watt inverter generator here

Compare a Wen 2000 watt inverter generator here

View a Champion 3400 watt dual fuel inverter generator here

Click here for the Wen parallel cable that runs two inverter generators

(These are affiliate links for the product on Amazon. It does not cost you any extra to buy the product using my affiliate link if you choose to do so)

Combine Solar And Inverter Generators?

For many RVers, the perfect boondocking, or unplugged power source is not either solar or RV inverter generators. It is a combination of the two instead.

If your power needs are fairly high, you can always supplement an installed solar system with an inverter generator. This can be especially beneficial if you are camping where the sun doesn’t always shine a lot.

On the days when the sun is out in full force, the solar system can quietly handle the power needs alone. But sometimes on cloudy or rainy days, solar power is not able to keep up with power demands.

In that case, having a good old fossil-fueled inverter generator may be just what you need.

Other RVers with smaller power needs may still get the benefit of a combination of solar power and generator power too.

In this case, many RVers may choose to use portable solar panels instead of the permanently installed panels.

In the morning, they run the RV inverter generator enough to recharge the batteries up to about 80% of capacity. From there, they shut off the generator and deploy the portable solar panels.

Portable solar panel setup
Example of a portable solar panel setup

Through the day, the solar system tops off and maintains the batteries at full charge. Then battery power can be used for power needs overnight starting with a full charge at evening time. The next day, the process is repeated.

There are other ways to use solar and generator power together for handling RV power needs. You can design a system that works best for you, your rig, and the way you like to camp.

Click here for the Renogy 200 watt portable solar panel unit

(These are affiliate links for the product on Amazon. It does not cost you any extra to buy the product using my affiliate link if you choose to do so)

Conclusion

RV inverter generators are a great source of AC power when you are off-grid or boondocking.

They allow you to run all of the modern conveniences built into RVs at a very low cost. And almost anywhere. Plus, they can even be quiet enough to meet the needs of most RV owners.

So they have a lot of distinct advantages for RV use. But they are not for everyone.

So weigh the advantages and disadvantages of these generators carefully. Then choose from my recommendations above or find a well-reviewed model that works best for you.

With careful advance thought and planning you will make a good choice for your RV power needs.

Have safe and happy travels my friends!

An RV Solar System – Who Needs It?

In this article we are going to discuss the use of an RV solar system.

How do they work anyway? How much will it cost you? Can you install it yourself? What are the pros and cons of using solar power?

Also, when is solar power needed? And should all RVers have a solar system installed in their RV?

Let’s get started and try to answer those questions now!

Do you really need an RV solar system. Watch this video to find out.
Watch my video on RV solar systems by clicking the image above

Disclosure: Please note this post may contain affiliate links. This means – at no additional cost to you – I earn a commission if you make a purchase using our affiliate links. I only link to products and companies I use and feel comfortable recommending. The income goes toward supporting the free content on this website

How Does An RV Solar System Work?

Put simply, an RV solar system gathers sunlight and converts it into energy that is then stored in your battery bank.

It is important to understand that solar panels usually do not run any appliance or item on their own. Instead, they create DC electricity that can be used to power whatever appliance or item is needed.

So a group of solar panels needs a bank of batteries to store the electricity that they create.

Also, there is another piece of equipment needed between the solar panels and your batteries. It’s called a solar charge controller.

This is necessary to avoid overcharging your batteries and damaging them.

When the battery is at full capacity the solar charge controller limits the incoming electricity from the solar panels. It then maintains just enough charge to keep the batteries in their fully charged state.

What Are The System Components You Will Need?

There are 5 components of a proper RV solar system that you will probably need, and they are:

  1. Solar panels
  2. Solar Charge Controller
  3. A battery bank
  4. An inverter
  5. Heavy gauge wiring and fuses
A typical 200 watt RV solar system setup
A sample 200 watt solar panel setup

As you can see, there are several components of a solar system. And added together, the cost is not cheap either.

Also, the real work involved is in actually installing the system into your RV. And unless you are very familiar with solar power systems, you really should have a professional do it for you.

If this equipment is installed incorrectly, there could be serious safety hazards at play. But on the other hand, having that professional installation really increases the cost of the system.

So a small solar system for an RV can only be a couple thousand dollars in cost. But if you go for a high end system you may be looking at $10,000 – $15,000 or more, including installation.

Most RV solar systems you see in use today will fall somewhere in the middle for cost. That is, about $4000 – $6000 including installation.

Let’s discuss each one of the solar system components now, starting with the solar panels.

Click here for a 200 watt small solar system

This link is for a 400 watt medium size solar system

Click here for a 600 watt larger solar system

(These are affiliate links for the product on Amazon. It does not cost you any extra to buy the product using my affiliate link if you choose to do so)

How Many Solar Panels Will You Need?

This is the question that most people want to know right away. And no wonder, because the roof space on an RV can limit the number of panels you can install.

Most solar panels you will see for sale come in 100 watt units per panel. So how many of those panels will be needed to accomplish your power needs?

Well generally speaking, 100 – 200 watts of solar panels are enough to recharge your batteries after a night’s usage. Especially if you only use enough 12-volt battery power to charge up your devices, and run some lights.

But if you want to watch several hours of TV, use your microwave and other high wattage appliances, you need more. Many RVers that have 400 – 600 watts of solar panels can run almost anything other than their AC units.

Solar Charge Controllers

As mentioned before, you will need to have a solar charge controller between the solar panels and your batteries. This will make sure that the batteries are protected and kept at a high level of charge.

There are two kinds of solar charge controllers in use today, PWM and MPPT. Essentially the PWM unit is a switch between the solar panels and batteries.

The MPPT unit is more sophisticated and is able to maximize the transfer of power from the panels to the batteries.

To put it in lay terms, the PWM does the job. But the MPPT does the job better and will give you as much power as you can get from your solar panels.

Of course, the PWM controller is cheaper than the MPPT controller. Either one will do the job fine. But the MPPT will probably pay for itself over time with the extra power it produces.

Your RV Solar System Battery Bank

The subject of batteries and which ones to use for an RV solar system is complicated and lengthy. So for this article let’s focus on how many watt hours will need to be stored in the battery bank.

Generally speaking you will need about 100 amp hours of “usable power” to run most small 12 volt items in the RV daily. This includes lights, fans, charging small devices and maybe even a couple hours of 12-volt TV.

But you need more power if you want to run 120 volt appliances like a microwave, hair dryer, coffee maker, etc. Probably about 200 – 250 usable amp hours of power will be needed in that case.

What is meant by the term “usable power”? Well, if your battery bank is made up of lead acid batteries, you can only use 50% of their amp hour limit.

This is because if you drain those batteries any lower than that consistently, you will damage the batteries. So if the battery capacity is 100 amp hours, but you only use 50%, you only have 50 usable amp hours of power.

How Many Batteries Will You Need?

Many RVers use 2 6-volt golf cart batteries wired together in series to make the 12 volts needed for an RV system. These kind of batteries are popular because they last a long time and can take a lot of repetitive charging and discharging cycles.

A golf cart battery is often rated for 200+ amp hours and these remain constant for both batteries used together this way. This is because when batteries are wired in series, the voltage is doubled, but the amp hours remain the same.

In this arrangement, the “usable amp hours” is about 100, not the full amp hour limit of the batteries. Remember, this 50% discharge rate is to make sure that your batteries last a long time without damage.

Some RVers have an RV solar system that only has to produce about 100 amp hours per day for their power needs. And in that case, the 2 golf cart batteries wired in series will work fine.

But if you want to run more power intensive items in the RV, you will probably need at least 4 of those batteries. This will allow you to store around 200 amp hours of power daily.

Of course, you have to have more solar panels to adequately fill a larger battery bank too. So more amp hours requires more batteries, which also requires more solar panels to fill them.

Much more can be said on this subject, but that is for another article.

Click here for a 4 battery bank set usable for solar power

(These are affiliate links for the product on Amazon. It does not cost you any extra to buy the product using my affiliate link if you choose to do so)

What Is The Inverter Used For?

This is a part of the solar system that most people aren’t too clear about. So what does an inverter do anyway?

To answer that, let’s see what our solar system is capable of doing so far. We have a group of solar panels feeding electricity into a bank of batteries that produces 12 volt electricity.

These 12 volts can be used for any item or appliance that runs on 12 volts. But what about all of the appliances and devices that need to run on 120 volts instead?

They are easily recognizable by the power cord plug that goes into a residential home type of wall socket. So, can you even run those appliances and devices from batteries?

The answer is yes. But only if you use an inverter. It effectively steps up the voltage coming from the batteries from 12 volts to 120 volts as needed.

So if you plug in a blender to the wall socket in your RV, it can run just fine. But only if you have the right size inverter to manage the electrical load needed.

Inverters come in two main varieties, True Sine Wave and Modified Sine Wave. And they can come in several sizes.

A Xantrex 2000 watt inverter
A Xantrex 2000 watt inverter installed

The details of which inverter best meets your needs is just too lengthy a discussion for this article. So here is a little information that can help you learn more about real world usage of inverters in an RV.

Suffice it to say that if you want to run 120 volt devices in your RV, you will need the right size and kind of inverter to do the job.

Click here for a Xantrex 2000 watt inverter

Click here for a Xantrex 3000 watt inverter

(These are affiliate links for the product on Amazon. It does not cost you any extra to buy the product using my affiliate link if you choose to do so)

Wiring For An RV Solar System

The final ingredient in an RV solar system is heavy gauge wiring and fuses.

This is where a lot of mistakes are made by DIYers. They get all the correct pieces of equipment, but join them together with insufficient wiring.

This is a safety issue. So make sure that the wiring is appropriate for whatever size solar system you choose for your RV.

To help with those calculations, here is some information about proper wire sizing and fuses for use in RV solar systems.

The Pros Of RV Solar Systems

So here are the pros of installing an RV solar system in your RV:

  • Quiet – solar systems make no noise at all. Even inverter generators make some noise.
  • A solar system allows you to take your RV off-road and still have modern conveniences with you. This is because you can produce the power for those devices without being hooked up to a power grid. You are your own power grid!
  • There is very little to go wrong with a solar system. And almost no maintenance either.
  • Solar power is good for the environment. It is clean energy that produces no waste or pollution.

The Cons Of An RV Solar Power System.

Of course, as with anything, there are cons to be considered too. And here they are:

  • The cost – An RV solar system is not cheap, especially one big enough to handle most of your daily power needs. The main ingredient that increases the cost is professional installation. But unless you really know what you are doing, it is really necessary in most cases.
  • Solar power loses effectiveness on cloudy days. In some cases the power output from your solar panels may drop by 75% on cloudy and rainy days.
  • Solar can’t be expected to run air conditioning units on RVs in most cases. Of course, very high end large solar systems can run ACs for a while. But not continuously for more than just a few hours at a time.
  • If your solar power system is permanently mounted on your RV, it will go with the RV when you sell it. It just doesn’t make sense to install a large solar power system on your RV if you plan to sell it soon. It will not be cost effective to do so. The cost of solar power can only be recovered over a long period of time.

Who Needs A Solar Power System?

Solar power only becomes really useful if you plan to camp off-grid a lot.

Camping while unplugged from shore power is often called boondocking. And if this is the style of camping that you prefer, solar power makes a lot of sense for you.

You can literally take your RV almost anywhere and produce power while the sun shines. There is a lot of freedom in that kind of capability!

On the other hand, if you like to spend most of your time in campgrounds, solar power may not be the best choice.

Campground camping usually means being plugged in to a source of AC power. And that kind of power can run everything in your RV, including air conditioning units, quietly.

So why go to the expense of adding solar power unless you really plan on using it?

Conclusion

An RV solar system really shines when it is used for boondocking and off-grid camping. And it even becomes cost effective if you keep your solar-powered RV for a long time.

But clearly, it is very expensive. And it’s not very cost effective if you mostly stay in campgrounds and trade RVs regularly.

So decide whether solar power is something you really need. It’s simply not for everyone!

Have safe and happy travels my friends!

Towing With An RV Tow Dolly

When it comes to pulling your towed vehicle behind a motorhome, there are two main choices. Either flat tow it, or use an RV tow dolly.

And the truth is that either method works very well. You will see plenty of examples of RVers on the road using either towing method successfully.

I wrote an article recently on the pros and cons of flat towing vehicles behind your RV. And you can read that blog post by clicking here now.

But this article will provide a discussion of the merits of using a tow dolly instead. And it will cover the advantages and disadvantages of RV tow dollies.

So let’s get started now.

Is an RV tow dolly right for you? Watch this video to find out.
Watch my video on RV tow dollies by clicking this image

Disclosure: Please note this post may contain affiliate links. This means – at no additional cost to you – I earn a commission if you make a purchase using our affiliate links. I only link to products and companies I use and feel comfortable recommending. The income goes toward supporting the free content on this website.

What Is An RV Tow Dolly?

When you are using an RV tow dolly at least two wheels of the towed vehicle are off the ground.

There are flat bed tow dollies that lift the whole vehicle off the ground too. But those are not a common site on the road among RVers. So this article mainly focuses on the two wheel tow dolly.

The tow dolly is usually attached to the back of the motorhome by means of the RV’s towing hitch. And it’s often just a simple ball hitch arrangement.

So using the tow dolly is fairly simple and straightforward after it’s attached to the motorhome. You just drive two wheels of the towed vehicle up on the dolly, usually the two front wheels.

The wheels settle in place on the dolly and they are then anchored down by the use of straps. This keeps the vehicle attached to the tow dolly as you go down the road.

What About Braking?

Many states require that you have an arrangement for braking in the towed vehicle that is separate from the RV braking system.

This is a safety requirement in case the RV has to make a sudden stop. With additional brakes on the towed vehicle, the RV can stop in a safe and controllable manner.

So how do you get brakes on an RV tow dolly? The good news is that many tow dollies already come with some form of braking system installed.

Of course, you have to be careful because there are also tow dollies that do not have a braking system. And these kind of tow dollies are not really suitable for most RVing uses.

So be sure that the tow dolly you purchase has either electric or surge brakes already installed. And now let’s discuss these two braking systems and explain how they work.

Electric Or Surge Brakes?

If you get an RV tow dolly with electric brakes, it means that the brakes on the tow dolly wheels are activated electrically.

To do this, there are wires on the tow dolly that connect to the motorhome, usually through a 6 or 7 pin connector on the back of the RV.

These wires receive signals from the RV whenever the brakes are being applied in the motorhome. So when you push on the brake pedal in the RV, the brakes are also activated on the tow dolly.

If your tow dolly has an electrical braking system, you will also need to install a brake controller in the RV. This fine tunes the communication between the two vehicles to make the braking on the tow dolly is smooth and safe.

If your tow dolly has surge brakes instead, the brakes are activated without receiving any signal from the RV. This is accomplished through inertia.

When you apply the brakes in the motorhome, the whole rig will change speed as it attempts to stop. The surge brakes sense this change of inertia, and start applying brakes automatically on the tow dolly as well.

Either method of tow braking is very effective and has been used successfully by many RVers. Of course, surge brakes are more simple because there is no wiring or connections required to make them work.

Lights For Your RV Tow Dolly

Many tow dollies also come with lighting installed too. There are usually lights mounted on the fenders of the tow dolly for braking and directional signals.

Once again, these are activated by connecting to the RV through either a 4, 6 or 7 pin connector. The number of pin connections often depend on whether there is electric brakes installed or not.

Many RVers use only the lights on the tow dolly. Others have a lighting system installed on the towed vehicle itself instead. This allows the lights of the towed vehicle to be used instead of the tow dolly lights.

But other RVers use an auxiliary lighting system that is independent from the tow dolly and the towed vehicle.

They are simply two lights that attach magnetically to the roof of the towed vehicle at its rear. Then wiring is run outside the towed vehicle and connects to the RV through a 4 pin connector.

Of course, this kind of lighting system has to be installed and removed with every tow. So it’s less expensive initially but requires more work each time you tow the vehicle.

Many RVers feel that the lights on the tow dolly are not enough for safe viewing because they are not at the rear of the towed vehicle.

So either using the lights of the towed vehicle or an auxiliary light system will do the job at the rear of the vehicle instead.

Click here for my recommended towed vehicle hard-wired lighting solution

Click here for my recommended towed vehicle auxiliary lighting solution

Tow Dolly Pros

  • The cost. Tow dollies can often cost half the amount of a flat towing arrangement. In fact, some new tow dollies can be had with brakes and lights for about $1500. And if you buy used, you can lower that cost quite a bit.
  • Simple setup – you drive the vehicle on to the dolly. Then you anchor the wheels on the dolly, connect the lights and brakes, and you are done.
  • You can choose from a wide range of vehicle that be towed on a dolly. Flat towing can only be done by a relatively few amount of vehicles. But many front wheel drive vehicles can be successfully towed on a dolly. Be sure to check with the vehicle manufacturer to be sure though.
  • With the drive wheels off the ground there is no fear of major damage to the vehicle’s transmission.
  • Since the front wheels must be locked in place on an RV tow dolly, you don’t have to leave the key in the ignition. Many flat towed vehicles require this step to allow the wheels to move as the motorhome makes a turn. But this can also run down the battery in those vehicle as it is being towed. So all of this is avoided with the use of a tow dolly.
  • If you get a new towed vehicle, there is not much to change when you tow it on a tow dolly.

Tow Dolly Cons

  • More physical work and effort is required with a tow dolly. You have to be able to move the dolly around to connect it to the RV. And you have to be able to anchor the front wheels down securely as well. This kind of work may be difficult for some with physical limitations.
  • If a flat towed vehicle has its lights and brakes hard-wired, the tow dolly will take longer to setup instead. If you flat tow a vehicle without hard-wiring the lights and brakes, there is not much difference in time for setup.
  • You will need to find a spot to stow the tow dolly whenever it is unhitched from the motorhome. This may be a challenge in some tight campground spots.

Conclusion

A tow dolly stored on a campsite.
An example of storing a tow dolly on a campsite

You will see a lot more flat towed vehicles behind motorhomes than those using tow dollies. Don’t let this dissuade you from the use of an RV tow dolly.

As long as you are physically capable of working with tow dollies you will be fine. This includes loading and onloading the tow dolly, strapping down the wheels and moving the dolly on the campsite.

A tow dolly is a very simple and straight-forward piece of equipment that does its job extremely well. And tow dollies last for years with very little maintenance required.

I hope you enjoyed this discussion of using a tow dolly for towing behind a motorhome. If you have anything to add to this discussion, please leave it in the comments below. We would love to hear from you.

Have safe and happy travels my friends!