Generator Choice, Propane or Diesel?

By Bob Kelly, November 2019

“Which generator should I look for when selecting an RV?” is a question often asked. The answer to that question really depends upon the type of camping you do. If you have occasional generator use, the propane generator is cheaper to buy, the cost of the propane is minimal, and availability of propane doesn’t actually matter.


If you boondock, or dry camp all the time, it depends upon what you want to run. Running the generator in the morning for coffee or a skillet, and in the evening for the microwave, you still have low 120V consumption, the propane will be OK.

If you have Solar on the roof to charge the batteries, it will diminish the need to recharge the house batteries if you stay in one place, don’t drive, for an extended period. My 300W of solar kept my batteries charged all summer (The Cole Hershee relay for charging was broken).

If you stick to places where it’s warm during the day, and cool at night, and you don’t have to keep the dogs cool, there is a reduced need for AC, and the propane is fine.

If you need to keep dogs cool, go to dog shows, concerts, festivals, auto races, flea markets, craft fairs, all in the heat of the summer and need a place to stay cool, the diesel generator can’t be beat, as it will run the AC forever. Using a genturi to spew the diesel exhaust up in the vicinity of the roof, makes the neighbors more neighborly. The diesel generator uses fuel from the chassis fuel tank to power itself. Once the level of the fuel tank drops to 1/4, the generator will not run. It’s a mechanical issue, as the auxiliary fuel pickup is located at that level in the tank. When the tank level is too low, no more generation.

The good news is that diesel is generally available almost everywhere, and a 5 gallon can of diesel can be strapped to the rear of a bike or scooter, and you can fill the fuel tank. The mileage will suck, but you’ll be cool. You can refill as necessary, and even if you install an extenda-stay, (Propane System add on) the diesel is easier to supply, and generally cheaper to burn. You must make sure that a fuel station is within 1/4 of a tank of diesel, when you leave, and that you refuel ASAP. There are issues with the fuel gauge accurately reporting a fuel level. Burn off 3/4 of a tank for the generator, and the fuel gauge will generally report full.

The noise from a diesel generator and a propane generator is about the same. The diesel is a little louder, and depending upon the wind, you may catch a wiff of diesel exhaust. The diesel generator appears to be more fuel efficient. The diesel generator should also be run until it comes up to operating temperature.

How do I know this? Dick Mendelson and I went to a music festival in Trumansburg, NY (Great time). Dick guided me along, set me up, and we camped next to each other for three days. It was ungodly hot. We both essentially ran the AC non stop. At the end, (interpretation here), he was indecisive if he would drive home and eventually fill up, or fill up before the drive. I believe that he just went home.

I, on the other hand, was concerned that I would have enough propane to run the refrigerator until I got home. I had enough propane. The results of a side by side observation? It depends.

I have propane generator on my 08VH with 300W of solar on the roof. The propane generator starts right up, and I run it for 15, 20 minutes maximum. I have lunch in rest stops. I turn it on, and make toast for sandwiches. It’s really convenient. I have a place nearby that charges $2.25 per gallon for propane, and the most I’ve filled up with is 10 gallons. (It will take 14 gallons of propane. The 2010 (selected models) to 2019 RV’s have a smaller propane tank. The 2020’s have a higher capacity propane tank.

In one complete season of 21,000 miles traveled, and over 110 nights in the RV, my propane bill was $90 for 7.8 hours of generator use. The majority of propane was used for refrigeration and cooking. I’ve only been in a position when the diesel would be advantageous twice, but I think the diesel generator would be cool. Not easier, but cool. You still need the propane for cooking and refrigeration, the diesel generator messes with your mileage, and if you are remote, you could run out of fuel.

It depends.

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