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Will a Cheap Generator Run My Camper’s AC?

It’s summertime. The temperatures are rising, and thunderstorms are brewing. You’re planning to travel to locations where you can enjoy the sun. But with the increased heat and UV rays, your RV is baking.

If you’re planning on stopping overnight in a parking lot, a Harvest Host, or boondocking at the beach, you’ll need to run the air conditioner. But how do you do that when you don’t have hookups? Let’s look at a few cheap generators to see if they can do the job.

What Is a Generator? 

Some rigs come with an onboard generator. Many Class A units and toy haulers will already have a generator. However, for most RVers, if you want to power your rig when not connected to shore power, you’ll have to buy a generator or install solar. A generator is the cheaper of the two options.

A generator is a machine that converts energy into electricity, powering your RV. You’ll fill it with fuel, which burns during operation. You can connect your power cord to an adapter and a generator to use the coffee maker, run an electric refrigerator, or plug in a laptop. Generators come in all sizes, but to get one strong enough to power an RV, you’ll need space to transport it. Some RVers tie it on a cargo carrier that attaches to the rear bumper of a towable RV. Others store it inside the front storage bay of a fifth wheel, while others use the bed of their truck.

Some places don’t allow generators, so it’s always crucial to ask before you start it up. Ask the Harvest Host if they permit generators before booking the reservation. Read the fine print when staying at a campground in a National Park because usually, there are hours when generators cannot operate.

RV with portable generator sitting in front of it.
Always have power when camping by using a portable generator.

How Big of a Generator Do I Need for My Camper?

The size of the generator depends on what you want to power. If you’re looking to run every gadget in your RV and the air conditioning unit, you’ll have to purchase a more powerful generator than someone who wants to keep the refrigerator running overnight. So it would be best if you had an idea of how much power you’ll use to determine the correct size.

Most generators have ratings of 3,000-4,000 watts and are sufficient for RV use. However, if your air conditioning unit uses 3,000 watts, that doesn’t leave much room to run anything else. For example, a standard coffee maker will use anywhere from 300-600 watts, but a broader unit may use up to 1500 watts to brew ten cups of coffee. You’ll have to do some calculating to determine how much power you use.

Pro Tip: Check out these 7 Things to Know About Camping Generators.

How Much Is a Generator for a Camper?

There are several reasons to buy specific generators. Maybe you prefer a quiet generator since you’ll use Harvest Hosts often. Perhaps the sound doesn’t matter since you’ll park in remote locations, but you want to find a dual-fuel generator that will run on gas and propane. Depending on your needs, a generator will range from $400-1,200.

Man turning down temp on air conditioner unit.
Depending on the AC unit you have, you should be able to run it with a generator.

Will a Cheap Generator Run My Camper’s AC?

As long as you know how much power you need, there are generators under $500 that can power your AC unit. You have to find options with the correct wattage. Also, starting an air conditioning unit requires more power than simply running it. If you plan on camping in hot areas over the summer, it’s worth installing a soft start on your air conditioning unit to reduce the power needed.

What to Look for in a Generator for a Camper?

In addition to watts and price, there are a few other crucial things to look for when shopping for a generator. One is noise level. Even if you’re in a remote area, you don’t want to listen to the humming of a generator. Consider the decibel output for you and RVers who might be dry camping around you.

Another thing to consider is fuel efficiency. Like a car engine, generators use gas (or propane). You want to find a generator with high fuel efficiency so you don’t have to run back and forth to the gas station. If you’re camping in a remote location, the nearest station could be miles away.

Along with fuel efficiency is run time. How long will the generator operate before shutting off? If you want a few hours at a time, you’ll have more options than if you want a generator that will run through the night.

Finally, consider the weight, especially if adding it to your RV. RVers have to be conscious of the cargo-carrying capacity, so if you’re close to the limit already, you’ll want to find a lightweight generator or store it in the bed of your truck instead.

Pro Tip: Before you set up your generator for the night, make sure to find out if it is safe to Run an RV Generator While You’re Sleeping.

Man using portable generator in RV
Use your AC no matter where you travel.

Generators to Run a Camper’s AC Under $500

Below are three generators to run your AC that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. There are pros and cons to each, but if you’re on a budget, these are three of your best options to stay cool during the summer.

WEN 56203i Super Quiet 2000-Watt Portable Inverter Generator w/Fuel Shut Off, CARB Compliant, Ultra Lightweight

About: The fuel shut-off of this WEN generator is an excellent feature. This maximizes the generator’s life by using all the fuel in the carburetor before shutting down. This device also prevents blockage, which limits damage to the generator. At only 39 pounds, it’s not too heavy or challenging to get in and out of your rig or truck. It produces 2000 surge watts and 1700 running watts of clean power and operates at 51 decibels.

Price: $429

PowerSmart Generator, 2500 Watts Portable Inverter Generator, Gas Powered, CARB Compliant, Super Quiet PS5020

About: At 42 pounds, this PowerSmart generator is a bit heavier than the WEN model, but not by much. It has a convenient handle for transport and operates at 58 decibels. With a one-gallon fuel tank capacity, it will run for about seven hours. You get a bit more power with this unit since it produces 2500 surge watts and 1900 running watts.

Price: $449

Champion Power Equipment 100692 2000-Watt Portable Inverter Generator, Ultralight

About: This Champion generator weighs roughly the same as the other two options at 39 pounds. It produces 2000 surge and 1700 running watts, like the WEN generator. The one-gallon fuel tank gives this generator over 11 hours of run time. It operates at 53 decibels. While the WEN and PowerSmart generators have a two-year warranty, this Champion generator comes with a three-year warranty and free lifetime technical support.

Price: $449

Is a Generator to Run a Camper’s AC Worth It?

If you enjoy dry camping in state parks or National Parks, a generator helps add to the enjoyment of your camping experience. Many RVers can get by a day or two without using much power, but if you want to spend a week somewhere that doesn’t offer hookups, you’ll want a generator. You can opt for solar, but you’ll pay thousands of dollars. For travelers on a budget, these generators will do the trick.

Don’t let the summer heat ruin your experience. Hit the road and make memories in comfort with one of these generators. Which one will you choose?

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