Your RV’s generator takes care of you whenever you’re not plugged into shore power. But are you doing enough to take care of it? Generators are durable and designed to last for years, but they still require routine maintenance if you want yours to continue running safely and efficiently.
Fortunately, most generator maintenance falls into the category of RV maintenance tasks you can do yourself. If you’re still learning the ins and outs of RV maintenance, check out our downloadable RV ownership and maintenance booklet!
That booklet contains an overview of all the maintenance items you should consider. For now, let’s focus on how to maintain an RV generator.
What is a Generator?
You’re probably familiar, on some level, with portable generators for RVs and built-in generators. The latter is more common in larger motorhomes, but all generators require maintenance.
When they’re correctly maintained, a generator provides an external power source for your RV. While your RV batteries provide power for lights, refrigerators, water pumps, and other small RV appliances, plugging into an appropriately-sized generator gives your RV its full functionality, including the ability to run your air conditioner.
If you’re selecting a portable generator for your RV, make sure you know how to choose the right size generator.
Portable generators should never be permanently mounted in an RV as a fire or death could result. They must be set a shore power cord’s length away from your RV to prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
How to Use an RV Generator
The steps are fairly simple, but the order in which you complete them is critical. If you’ve never operated a generator before, check out our breakdown of how to hook up and operate a portable generator.
What Needs to be Maintained on a Generator?
There are several tasks for maintaining most gas generators. They are:
- Checking battery connections
- Changing the oil
- Changing the oil filter
- Cleaning and/or replacing the air filter
- Checking/replacing the fuel filter and fuel lines
- Checking/changing spark plugs
In addition, diesel generators may require the following service tasks:
- Flushing and recharging the coolant system (on diesel generators)
- Draining condensation and water (on diesel generators)
Regularly checking and cleaning your RV battery connections is a maintenance task that impacts a lot more than just your generator. For more on that, here’s everything you need to know about RV, truck, and boat batteries.
It’s also important to note that portable generators and built-in RV generators have varying maintenance demands. Your best course of action is to consult your owner’s manual for recommended maintenance intervals and procedures.
How Often Should Your Generator Be Serviced?
The intervals for performing these maintenance tasks vary depending on the make and model of your generator. Whether you’ve just acquired a new or used RV or bought a portable generator, find service intervals and information on where specific generator components are located in your manual.
Changing the oil, replacing the oil filter, and cleaning or replacing the air filter are the easiest tasks you can do yourself. It’s recommended to have your generator professionally serviced once every 12 months.
If your generator is in need of professional service, contact your local Camping World Service Center today.
What You’ll Need to Maintain a Generator
There’s some variation, but here are the main generator parts and accessories you’ll need to perform these maintenance tasks:
- Oil (the right type and amount specified in your generator’s manual)
- Container to catch oil in
- Disposable rubber gloves (if you don’t want oil on your hands)
- Socket wrench or impact driver
- Socket to remove your oil drain plug (often a 10 mm socket or Torx bit)
- Oil filter (the right type specified in your generator’s manual)
- Oil filter wrench
- Air filter (the right type specified in your generator’s manual)
How to Maintain a Generator
Three of the most important tasks you can do to maintain your generator are changing the oil, replacing the air filter, and changing the oil filter. Before we dive into how to complete those tasks, an important safety note:
Turn off your generator and allow it to cool for a minimum of 15 minutes before performing generator maintenance.
How to Change the Oil on Your Generator
Most generators recommend changing the oil every 50-150 hours of run time. That said, consult your owner’s manual for the exact intervals for your make and model.
- Put on disposable gloves.
- Locate your oil drain plug.
- Place container for used oil below the drain plug.
- Open the oil fill plug (don’t remove, but loosen to allow airflow).
- Use socket wrench and socket to remove the oil drain plug.
- Allow the used oil to drain completely.
- Replace the oil drain plug and tighten it according to your manual’s specifications.
- Remove oil fill plug.
- Place funnel in fill opening.
- Fill with oil up to the recommended level.
- Remove the funnel and use a rag to clean any oil drippings.
- Replace the oil fill plug.
- Dispose of the used oil safely according to your local regulations.
How to Change the Oil Filter on Your Generator
The best way to do this is to replace your oil filter every time you change your oil, if your specific generator calls for it. This is because you’ll need to drain your oil to avoid making a mess when replacing your oil filter. But check your owner’s manual for specific oil filter service intervals.
Here are the basic steps.
- Use the steps above to drain the oil from your generator.
- Locate your oil filter.
- Try to loosen by hand first.
- If you can’t, you’ll need to use an oil filter wrench to loosen the filter. Use the wrench to loosen it before unscrewing the rest of the way by hand.
- Remove the oil filter and place it in a safe, disposable container.
- It’s good to keep a rag in your other hand to hold beneath the filter as you remove it to minimize dripping.
- ALWAYS verify that the seal from the old filter isn’t stuck to the generator. Accidentally having two rubber seals will cause leaks.
- Use a rag to wipe excess oil away from the outside of the oil filter housing.
- Unpackage the new oil filter and lubricate the seal (if it doesn’t come pre-lubricated).
- Screw the new oil filter into place.
- Tighten by hand.
For the processes of changing your oil and your oil filter, you can always use brake cleaner to clean up any oil that spills on other parts of your generator.
How to Replace the Air Filter on Your Generator
Airflow is critical to the operation of your generator. As your air filter gets clogged, restricted airflow causes the engine to work harder and can reduce the life of your generator.
Most generators recommend replacing the air filter every 150-400 hours. Once again, your owner’s manual is your best resource for recommended air filter cleaning and replacement intervals.
Your generator’s air filter housing will usually be on one side. It looks like a small plastic cover that’s held in place by a few screws or snap clips. Removing that cover is your first step in replacing your air filter. From there:
- Remove the air filter.
- Shake it out over a trash can.
- Visually inspect the filter by holding it up to a light.
- If you can’t see light shining through the filter, it’s time to replace it.
- Make sure you have a compatible filter replacement.
- Align the new filter just like the old one.
- Replace the air filter housing.
- Dispose of your old filter.
Other Common Service Intervals for Gas and Diesel Generators
If you have a built-in gas RV generator, you’ll also need to consider intervals for changing the fuel filter(s), checking fuel lines, and changing the spark plugs. Here are general intervals for gas generators:
- Fuel filters need to be changed every 500 hours.
- Spark plugs need to be replaced every 450 hours.
- Fuel lines should be inspected annually.
Diesel generators have three additional considerations:
- The coolant system should be flushed and refilled every 1,000 hours or five years.
- Condensation from the exhaust must be drained monthly.
- Water must be drained from the fuel system every 100 hours or annually.
We can’t make this point enough because there are various generator manufacturers: your owner’s manual may recommend different service intervals, so you should always go by the book.
For these more complex generator maintenance tasks, schedule an appointment at your nearest Camping World Service Center.
Additional Generator Maintenance Tips
Here are a few extra tips to help you maintain and extend the life of your RV’s generator:
- Exercise your generator regularly. Run it once a month with a load for about an hour (allow for 5-minute warm-up and cool-down phases before and after placing it under load). Running “with a load” means starting your generator and then running an RV appliance like your air conditioner.
- Avoid using your generator in short bursts. Most wear and tear happens in the first five minutes, so you should give your generator a warm-up phase before placing it under load. But running your generator in short bursts will wear it out more quickly. Ideally, let it run for 2-3 hours at a time.
- Consider adding a fuel stabilizer. If you run your generator infrequently, adding a fuel stabilizer is safe to run through your engine and helps keep your fuel filter and carburetor clean.
- Turn off RV appliances before starting your generator. Whether dealing with a built-in or portable RV generator, start it without any load.
- Protect it from the elements. Built-in generators are protected within a storage compartment on most RVs. If you have a portable generator, consider installing a generator cover when your generator is powered down. This reduces the corrosive effects of moisture on sensitive components.
To ensure your safety and the safety of your fellow campers, learn more about operating a generator safely before you fire yours up.
RV generators, especially the built-in variety, aren’t cheap. It’s much more affordable to maintain your generator properly than it will be to replace it if you neglect regular maintenance. Hopefully, these tips will help you maximize the life of your RV generator.
If your RV doesn’t have a built-in generator, consider adding one of these portable generators for travel trailers to your setup.
What questions do you have about maintaining your RV generator? Share with us in the comments below!