What’s the best generator: Propane, gas or diesel?

What’s the best generator: Propane, gas or diesel?

By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Having a generator in your RV can be a great blessing. In 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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 6.42.39 PMBut when you have to make a purchase choice, what kind of generator will you buy? While there are really three major 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, 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 prices 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 percent more energy per gallon. So if propane costs about 25 percent less than gasoline, you’re breaking even. 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 out 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 in terms of 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 personally 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. Believe me, there wasn’t anyone else for miles and miles we could buy from.

What about diesel? Diesel fuel produces about 14 percent 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 initial purchase, but have a long life.

Like a lot of things in the RV lifestyle, there are many factors to weigh to come to a conclusion on what’s best for YOU.

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