By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Having a generator in your RV can be a great blessing. In the hot country and away from hookups, there’s little else that will run your air conditioner. Long day in the saddle and don’t feel like “going out” for dinner? Fire up the microwave and have dinner on the table in a few minutes.
But when you have to make a purchase choice, what kind of generator will you buy? While there are basically three primary fuel forms for generators – gasoline, propane and diesel – the latter is typically only an option when you’ve got a diesel-fired motorcoach. Don’t discount diesel – we will come back to it.
What’s the difference between these two top contenders in the generator competition? Price isn’t all that much different when it comes to initial purchase. Oddly enough, the rates were higher for gasoline than LP on “larger” comparable generators and lower on “smaller” comparable machines from the same retailer.
What about operational costs? Fuel can make a big difference. Compared to propane, gasoline delivers roughly 25% more energy per gallon. An average price per gallon of gas is $2.50 around the country (Oct. 2017); it’s hard to get a handle on an “average” price for propane, but if you could pay $2.30 a gallon for propane, you’d be paying a little more. Of course, dollar costs aren’t the only factor involved.
Gasoline burns “dirtier” when compared to LP; if you don’t run your generator regularly, you may find the curse that many RVers with gas generators have: a gummed-up carburetor. When measured over time, an LP-fired generator will probably cost you less to maintain than the gasoline-fired equivalent. If you’re concerned about your environmental footprint, LP gas produces much less regarding airborne particulates and greenhouse gas.
But putting financial and environmental costs aside, there is yet another factor: Availability of fuel. If you head off the beaten path, you’ll need to take more propane with you than gasoline for the same amount of generator run time. Many RVers report they’ve found that they’ve hit spots where LP is hard to find, but almost never hit a “dry spot” where gasoline can’t be had. We experienced that issue when traveling through Arkansas. We spent several hours one memorable day trying to find LP, finally catching up with a “good old boy” who had to sell us LP “by guess and by God” because his pump system gauge was broken. There wasn’t anyone else for miles and miles we could buy from.
What about diesel? Diesel fuel produces about 14% more energy per gallon than gasoline. Again, costs differences between those two fuels can make a difference, but if you’re already driving a diesel motorhome, you can just “dip the tank” for your generator and never have to hassle with manhandling fuel containers. Diesel generators do cost more on the initial purchase but have a long life.
Like a lot of things in the RV lifestyle, there are many factors to weigh to conclude what’s best for you.