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Regular Generator Maintenance Basics

Sam Leash-profile-image
Sam Leash
July 10, 2020

TL;DR: Proper maintenance of RV generators, based on hourly use and following manufacturer's guidelines, is crucial to avoid costly repairs and ensure reliable power during travels.

Regular Generator Maintenance Basics

Generators and RVs go hand-in-hand together, as you don't often see one without the other. Most Class A motorhomes come equipped with an on-board generator, and others classes of RVs often purchase a portable one. RV generators can run off of either diesel, gasoline, or occasionally propane. Maintaining your RV's generator can save you from having to make costly repairs in the long run. Or, worse yet, a faulty generator can leave you stranded without power at your next Harvest Hosts or boondocking location.Generator maintenance should be performed regularly, on an hour-based schedule. Most RV generators come equipped with an hour meter that tells you how many hours your generator has collectively run. This is usually located on the dash or near the generator itself. A best practice is to establish a maintenance schedule based on the manufacturer's recommendations.Most of the maintenance on a generator can be performed yourself with a good set of tools, your generator’s manual, some YouTube videos, and a willingness to learn. If you feel like any of this is outside your capabilities or comfort zone, there is no shame in taking it to a certified generator mechanic. You can still keep a log of the work they perform to stay on top of it. Below is a rough guideline of regular maintenance needed by most generators. As stated above, always follow your specific generator's manufacturer recommendations for more detailed maintenance.RV generators run much better when they are properly maintained.

Gas Generator

All maintenance listed here is essential for gas generators. As stated above, try to keep a log of regularly performed maintenance for best results.

Check the battery.

Check and clean battery connections at least once per month. Perform this more frequently if your RV is in a dusty environment, like the desert. Here’s how to safely clean your battery connections:

  1. Wear protective gloves and goggles. Battery acid can be harmful if it gets on your skin or in your eyes.
  2. Unhook the battery connections beginning with the negative.
  3. Clean any battery acid buildup. For mild cleaning, use a damp rag. For a more serious cleaning, mix 1 TBSP of baking soda with 1 cup of water and use an old toothbrush to clean the connections. Lightly spray the connections with water to rinse off any remaining mixture and dry them with a clean, lint-free towel.
  4. Reconnect the terminals starting with the positive.

Change the oil.

Change the oil and oil filter about every 150 hours. Top off the coolant at this point if necessary, but be sure to use the same type of coolant already in your system (note that not every generator has a coolant system). If your RV is consistently exposed to a hot environment, then it may be necessary to change the oil more frequently. An oil change needs to be performed at least once per year at the minimum, even if you don’t clock the required hours on it. Always refill using the same type of oil that was already in it. There are several varieties of oil on the market, so carefully check your manual to select the right type. If you running into a problem with an overly-tightened oil filter, you may need an oil filter wrench, or similar tool, to help remove the filter.Changing the oil in your generator should be done every 150 hours.

Change the fuel filter(s).

Change the fuel filter(s) about every 500 hours. If you accidentally improperly store your RV for the winter without prepping the generator correctly, fuel can evaporate and leave a buildup in the fuel filters and carburetor. This can lead to prematurely needing to replace the fuel filters and sometimes the carburetor itself. Some older generators have two fuel filters. Newer generators and newer carburetors only require one fuel filter. Be sure to replace both if you generator has two.

Check the fuel lines.

Check the fuel lines yearly for any damage or signs of wearing, and replace accordingly.

Replace the spark plug(s).

Replace spark plug(s) about every 450 hours. Some gas models have one spark plug, and others have two.Replace your generator's spark plugs every 450 hours for best results.

Replace the air filter.

Replace your air filter about every 150-400 hours. This needs to be done more frequently if you are located in a dusty environment or if engine performance noticeably deteriorates. If your air filter doesn’t quite need to be replaced yet, you can tap it on a hard surface to remove any debris or loose dirt. That step can be performed regularly.Replacing your air filter is a necessary and regular part of generator maintenance.

Diesel Generator

Maintaining a diesel generator is very similar to maintaining a gasoline generator. Aside from replacing the spark plugs (because diesels don’t have those), all of the maintenance steps above also apply to diesels generators. The steps outlined below also apply.

Flush the coolant system.

Flush the coolant system about every 1000 hours or every 5 years. Check your manual to know exactly what type of coolant your generator uses. At this point, if you are wanting to switch brands or use another type of approved coolant, you can add a new kind after flushing the system.Be sure to periodically flush your coolant if you have a diesel generator.

Draining condensation and water.

Every month, condensation from the exhaust needs to be drained. Drain the water from the fuel system every 100 hours or annually. Skipping this can lead to rust, corrosion, and even the inability for your diesel generator to start due to a damaged injection system.

Additional Tips

If you are using your generator infrequently throughout the year, consider adding a fuel stabilizer like Sea Foam Motor Treatment. This is safe to run through your engine and can help clean out your fuel filters and carburetor. Regardless, be sure to run your generator for thirty minutes at least once per month. This helps to keep all the components running smoothly. Unused generators that sit for too long will develop problems more frequently.Spray some sea foam cleaner into your gas tank periodically to clean out your fuel lines and carburetor.It is also important to periodically wipe off your generator with a clean cloth. Another tip to prolong the life of your generator is to turn off all appliances before starting it up. This gives your generator a little time to warm up before adding a load to it. On the flip side, it’s harmful to run your generator for long periods of time without a load on it. Most generators have a warning label on the front to remind you not to run them without the cover in place. This can damage the generator and, surprisingly enough, interfere with its ability to cool itself.

Regular Maintenance Wrap-Up

If you perform the proper regularly scheduled maintenance, this should prevent issues from occurring. Occasionally, despite preventative maintenance, things can break due to wear and tear or age. Knowing the last time you performed certain maintenance tasks can help a mechanic narrow down possible issues should they arise. This is a big reason that keeping up with a maintenance log is incredibly helpful. As a general recommendation, you can also have your RV's generator serviced every year. Mechanics can perform a more in-depth, less frequently required maintenance check-up, such as checking the belts, lubrication system, and cleaning the crankcase breather. However, the simpler items mentioned above are completely doable for anyone with a few basic tools and the right know-how.What do you do to maintain your RV's generator? Do you like to do the work yourself, or do you prefer to utilize a professional? Feel free to share below!

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Sam Leash-profile-image
Sam Leash
Sam is a seasoned traveler and RVer of 4+ years. She loves adventures of all kinds and spends as much time on the road as she can. When not exploring in her RV or writing about her travels, you can find her reading a good book, cooking a delicious meal, caring for her plants, or hiking with her dogs.