Truck Camper Magazine Blog

Built In vs Portable Generator

Here are the reader responses to last week’s Question of the Week, “Do you prefer a built-in generator or a portable generator, and what brand and size generator do you prefer?”

Pro Built-In Generator Responses:

“This is a very easy question.  Built-in generators are better because I have not seen a single manufacturer of portable generators or inverter generators that allow you to run their units in the rain.

Case and point was our last Jamboree up in Freeport, Maine.  With rain starting Wednesday afternoon and continuing all day Thursday and into late Thursday night, I was not going to take the chance of blowing up or shorting out a $900 generator for the sake of running a few lights.

But, more importantly, is the refrigerator I keep in my trailer for the Sunday morning breakfast foods.  So I ended up putting almost thirty hours on my propane on-board generator. Now I concede that my electrical needs are more than most RVs need, but I want to close with this scenario…

It’s dark and cold outside and “Martha” says to “Henry”, “Honey I need the generator to cook supper tonight unless you want to eat your dinner cold”.  Henry puts his coat on and trudges outside.  He opens the compartment where the generator is stored, pulls it out, peeks inside the gas tank and swears because it’s low on gasoline.  Then he goes to a second compartment, pulls out the gas tank, fills up the generator and swears again as he spills gasoline over his shoes.  Then he trudges over the the shore power cord compartment, drags the stiff cord out and over to the generator and fires it up.

Martha smiles and proceeds to warm up supper while complaining that Henry smells like gasoline.  Five minutes later, Martha is done with warming up of the food.  Henry trudges back outside and puts the shore power cord away, puts the spare gasoline away, hauls up his portable generator and swears again as he steps in the puddle of gasoline he spilled five minuets ago.  Then he puts the generator back in its compartment and climbs back in the truck camper for supper.  Martha orders him to take a shower because he stinks of gasoline so much.  Henry takes a shower and finally has his dinner, only to have to eat it cold.

The moral of story is get an on-board generator where all you have to do is “pusha – da – button”. – Mikeee Tassinari

“Our built-in 2500 propane generator has served us well.  It also helped when a tropical storm knocked the power out for thirty-six hours.  With an extension cord and an adapter, I just plugged into a power outlet.  We ran the refrigerator and fans, using about five pounds of propane.  During the Fall, I keep the two propane tanks in our Lance 1050 full, as well as the two smaller tanks for our grill.” – Tom Martin

“Hi Angela.  I prefer the built-in generator.  It eliminates the need to carry an extra gas can.  And it’s so convenient to just push a button inside the camper to start it up, especially when the weather outside is bad.” – Gary in Oregon

“A Built In generator’s pros are that it’s more convenient in regards to running and general use.  Fueling is easier, and it runs off internal propane tanks.  You can still use them to power things in your house during a power outage; just run an extension cord to the camper.  The cons of a built-in generator is that you are married to the camper.  There is more noise, but they’re neighbor friendly.

A portable generator’s pros are that you can use them away from your camper.  There is less noise for you, but not your neighbors.  Cons are storing and transporting is labor intensive, and you have to carry extra fuel.  It has to be setup and stowed for trips and you have to worry about security.

Enough said.  I definitely prefer a built-in generator.” – Doug and Diane Goerz

“Hi Angela.  I prefer to have a built-in generator like the one in my Lance camper.  The things I like about the built-in is that I can start it from inside the camper without having to go outside.  With a portable generator you run the risk of theft.  I have been in campgrounds when other campers got their generators stolen.  Being built in, my generator would be very difficult for a thief to remove and make a fast getaway.  My generator is a 2500 Watt Kohler propane powered generator.  Anyway, those are my reasons for the built-in version.  Keep up the great work.  Happy Holidays to you and Gordon.” – Bob Chan

“My wife and I bought a used 1994 Lance Squire 8000 without a generator.  We were going on our first three week trip from California, to Colorado, to Missouri, to the Grand Canyon, to Yuma, Arizona, and then to Disney Land, California.  Our oldest son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren came with us looking for adventure.  Did I mention we were going from June through July of 2011?  Hot, Hot, Hot!

We installed an Onan MicroLite Series 2500LP and thought we would be cool and comfortable with the truck camper air conditioning as we crossed the desert.  Well, you know the, “Best laid plans of Mice and Men”.  Sure!  Right before leaving Missouri, our brand new Onan went “ka-put”!

We did stop in Albuquerque to see if the dealer could fix it.  Turned out it would be a two day wait and we were short on time.  What great memories we made.  It was only 107 degrees in the shade, and we’re still talking about it.

Once we got home I took the Onan into the shop.  It was under warranty.  Ty’s Electric in Tulare did a wonderful job.  Somehow a small bolt got lose and tore up the armature which was over $700 dollars worth of damage internally.

Granted those little LP generators are pricy, but I would have it no other way.  I would not trade our built in MicroLite for anything!  It serves the purpose.” – Lloyd Thomure

Pro Portable Generator Responses:

“A portable generator is a must.  To live in harmony with your neighbors in tight quarters, in a parking lot or Walmart, or in the middle of nowhere, a Honda eu2000i Generator is the only way to go.  Because of the EPA and their noise and exhaust pollution requirements, the i2000 can be used everywhere (except in your neighbor’s window).  Some Arizona/California BLM area even require Honda eu2000i generators.  The maintenance is relatively easy and it can run some air conditioners and most microwaves.” – Sylvie and Jake Mathis

“We don’t use a lot of power when camping (no air conditioner, television, or microwave) so we put off buying a generator for awhile.  One very cold weekend when our propane furnace would not work convinced us that we needed a back-up plan.  That began a lot of research into generators.

The first decision was to go portable so we could use it with either camper, or at home in the event of a power outage.  This proved to be a good decision as we have lost power twice for extended periods over the last two years due to storms.

The second criteria was that we get one big enough to run everything we might need to power while winter camping including the electric heater and converter/charger.  Our research narrowed it down to two major players in the portable market known for supplying quiet, dependable, efficient, power sources; Honda and Yamaha.

As we had a particular storage compartment in the truck camper that we wanted to carry it in, dimensions of the unit were an important criteria also.  The Honda eu2000i made it by one-half inch versus the Yamaha.  That really was the only factor between the two brands.

The Honda has proven very reliable, easily runs ten to twelve hours on one gallon of fuel, and has the power for everything we have needed.  It’s quiet and we can move it several feet away from the camper which means you barely hear it run.  It’s small and light enough to transport, keeps us warm, and keeps the batteries well charged on a ski weekend.

The Honda has also allowed us to power up two refrigerators, lights, etc. at home during power outages when it has been run 24/7 for up to eight continuous days.  It’s a real workhorse and a good investment.  It took a while for us to get one, but now we are glad we did.” – Bill Tex

“I prefer a portable generator for two reasons.  I have owned a 2004 Lance with a built in Generac propane powered unit and now have a 2009 Northern Lite with a portable Honda eu2000i.

1. Noise.  Our key need for a generator is to power my wife’s sleep apnea machine.  With the built-in generator on the Lance, the noise inside the camper was so loud you couldn’t hear the television.  The noise from my wife’s snoring was lower than the generator, which would rattle your teeth, defeating the purpose of having the generator.

One of our main reasons for switching to a Northern Lite with the portable generator was to address this.  With the portable generator I can set it away from the camper and we barely hear a low hum, especially since the Honda is so quiet in the first place.  I also carry a chain and lock to lock it to something for peace of mind in Walmart parking lots.

2. Fuel.  While a built-in generator is convenient with push button starting, what’s not convenient is having to refill both propane tanks after an overnight run which would deplete nearly all the propane.  With the Honda, we get almost twelve hours of running on a full tank of gas.  Then a 2.5 gallon gas tank allows two more nights before we need to stop and easily fill both the gas can and the generator.” – Walt Bowen

“We purchased a Honda portable generator this past spring after a lot of research.  We had an onboard generator which was more expensive and us problems on occasion.” – Dave

“I’ve had ten years with a Honda 1000, and five years with Honda 2000.  The Honda starter cord could be improved.  There’s also a Honda eu2000i safety and emissions recall for a fuel tube leak.  Here’s a link to the Honda recall:” – Dick Lance

“I do not have a built-in generator for my 2012 Wolf Creek 850.  Even if there was a space available for the generator I would not have a dedicated camper unit.  I instead carry a Honda 2000 watt portable generator that I am able to take out of the camper and use for other things.  This generator is quiet and fairly light weight which helps keep it portable.

I don’t need it often except to run the refrigerator from time to time when the propane is running low, or to use the microwave when I need a bag of popcorn popped.  Most of the time I am hooked into shore power or the battery is enough to run the lights for the camper.  I camp with other people in my four wheel drive club and everyone has the same generator that I have.” – Ron Tennyson

“We have the old Onan generator that came out of my Dad’s Class C motorhome in the 1980’s.  It’s mounted on a small cart with wheels and has served us well for all these years.  In fact, my hubby says that we won’t get a permanent one for the home until this one quits.

For camping, we have a portable Champion 3500.  It’s not as light, or as pricey as a Honda, but it does the job.  Both generators run off of gasoline.  My husband starts and services both generators regularly, especially before any weather problems hit.  I also know how to run both of them.” – Nancy Caldwell

“My personal preference is for a portable generator because of my experience as a truck camper.  My Yamaha 2400 watt is located on the front of my truck camper and enclosed in a custom lightweight diamond plate box with air and exhaust ports for the generator.  It’s really quiet even without the custom box, so all noise and any vibration is two to three feet forward of the front end of the truck.

This box has two key lockable small access doors for fuel and entire instrument panel with starting cord.  The box is mounted with six bolts to the diamond plate floor over the original wire mesh for secure traveling.  And I have dual special locks that secure the box from thieves.  These locks are a single stud from the bottom up and the master lock completely covers the single stud so they cannot be cut with large cutters.  With the locking device on the receiver where the 24″x 60″ front carrier tray attaches to the hitch receiver, all is safe.

I love the setup for quiet operation and I can pull my truck camper up to the front of my house if needed to operate the refrigerator and some lights.  I can even remove the box from the tray.  Also, I had a heavy soft vinyl cover custom made that fits over the box while traveling.  There are snaps attached to the box on all four sides at the bottom so all is water and road debris proof and mostly out of sight and mind.

I have developed a refueling system [$125] for the generator which uses the fuel from the thirty-five gallon gas tank located in a safe place between the GM frame, so no gas cans ever, and thus less danger.” – Bob Robinson, Florida

“We bought our camper without a generator because, in our past life as travel trailer owners, we only stayed in places with electric outlets.  So we were not really thinking about generators when we got the truck camper.
We now have a Northern Lite, so a built in generator was not an option.  However, we do have a compartment perfectly sized to transport a Honda eu2000i.  Of course this compartment can be used for other things when we go to places with electricity.

We have recently started taking trips where having the Honda generator has made the trip possible.  While it might be nice to be able to turn the generator on from the inside, the portable generators are quieter and that would be less of an irritant to ourselves and our neighbors.  Also, you can set portable generators up at a little distance and not have to deal with the exhaust.

I do carry a tarp, pegs, and guy lines to cover the generator in the event of a serious rain, but I have those in the truck all the time anyway, as a homage to an even more past life of backpacking.

We have recently eliminated one of the advantages of a built-in, the ability to run longer without having to be refueled, by rigging up an extended run tank to the Honda.  We tested this two weeks ago at the Recompence Rally and it worked well, although not perfectly.  The extended tank does require us to use a cargo rack to carry the fuel, as we do not want a six gallon gas can inside the camper.” – Jim and Janet Kaley

“We live in Wisconsin and we almost always camp in the shadows of trees.  We also love the mountains out west and Pacific Northwest camping, which is again in a cooler climate.  Very seldom have we found a need to run air conditioning.  We have been known to use twelve volt fans to cool us down to sleep when we camped further south, without 120v electricity hookups.

When we bought a generator we opted for the Honda eu2000i which would allow us to use it in our thirty foot fifth wheel (store it in a front compartment), our  8’6” truck camper (store it in the walking area), or even in emergencies around the house.  It handles everything but the air conditioner and will charge the camper batteries in a very short time when needed.

Yes, it is a little inconvenient to move in and out of the truck camper at the campsites, but it is a minor inconvenience.  We then lock it to a fixed part of the camper to make sure no one walks off with it.  If you are hooked on air conditioning for whatever reason, a built-in generator might be the best option, in my opinion.” – Tom and Eileen

“Hello Angela.  I prefer a portable. I use the Yamaha 3000 (I believe).  I took the LPG Onan out of my Lance.  I spent a ton of money on it to try to get it to run right.  I bought the Yamaha over the Honda mainly because it had a fuel shut-off.  I love Truck Camper Magazine!” – Scott Barker

“We recently purchased a Honda eu2000i watt portable generator for the camper.  I wanted something portable so I could use it where necessary; at home when the power goes out, with the camper for extended back country stays, and to help friends and family during power outages, or doing repair work when electricity is not available.

The unit is large enough to run an air conditioner unit which we wish we had in the mid west two summers ago, it was hot!  The generator always starts, so there’s no need for inspirational words.  We just keep a preservative in the fuel.” – Keith and Nancy Rivers, Maine


Both or Undecided Responses

“Good morning all!  My 2003 Bigfoot 10.6E came with a built-in Onan propane generator.  It has less than five hours on it and I am thinking of removing it from the camper.  The space it lives in is just short of the height needed to put my Honda eu2000i in, so I’m thinking of modifying the height of the compartment to make it fit.

The Onan is noisy and causes some vibration so it gets run only when needed.  Most of the hours on the Onan are related to general maintenance.  I find the Honda will run the air conditioner if needed and is so quiet that you really can’t hear it inside the camper.  It charges the battery using a Progressive Dynamics 9100 with Charge Wizard in very short time.  The solar panel helps too.

Our use of the camper generally does not require 110VAC unless we stay in one place for more than three days.  The Honda weighs less than half of what the Onan weighs so the weight savings would help too.  Keep on truck camping.” – Bigfoot Dave Miller

“Both!  We have the built in 2500 propane powered generator in our 2011 Arctic Fox 1150.  Works great, and will run the air conditioner or microwave and it is always with the camper.

The downside is that it’s really loud!  The noise will drive you inside.  Many times we can plug-in or just run on batteries, so it only gets used sometimes.  In Oregon, even in the summer months, it cools off at night so we can usually survive without air conditioning at night.  We have used air conditioning maybe five times this year with fifty nights of camping.

We also have a Honda eu2000i.  It is great for around the house needs, plus it is pretty quiet.  If you just want to make some coffee and charge the batteries while camping out in the woods, it works great.  It allows you to put the Honda fifty feet away in the woods to run while you can still enjoy talking by the fire.  The Honda fits perfectly in the trailer tongue box of our enclosed trailer (with quads inside). – Elliot Groeneveld


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