You’ve saved up some money, searched for a portable generator, and realized that the market is a bit bigger than you originally thought.
I think it’s great that dozens of brands are offering hundreds and thousands of different generator models; however, picking from such a vast array of generators can be a difficult thing to do.
Whether it’s misleading specs (or a lack thereof) on online marketplaces or the lack of technical knowledge required to make a well-educated buying decision, there are a few common mistakes people usually make when buying a portable generator.
In this article, I want to point out the top 5 things you should avoid when buying a portable generator. Without any further ado, let’s dive straight in.
1. Buying a generator that is too weak/strong
One of the most common misconceptions revolving around generators is that wattage equals quality, or put bluntly, “the more, the merrier.”
The reason why people commonly buy a generator that isn’t suited for the task is that the concept of wattage is fairly convoluted and complex.
For the sake of simplicity, let me explain the terms you’ll often see in product descriptions on Amazon and other online marketplaces – running watts, starting watts, and peak watts.
Most electrical equipment requires a burst of power before it can start working. The starting watts of your generator relate to the amount of energy the machine needs to power on.
What I think is really important to note is that certain machines with outdated hardware tend to wear pretty quickly if their starting wattage is too high. Pay close attention when buying used portable generators – if the machine hisses and screeches when starting up, its powering system is probably faulty.
Essentially, starting watts are required to power the engine. That’s why you should inquire about whether the generator you intend to purchase had suffered any replacements; ask about the engine, as well as its individual parts.
The running watts are self-explanatory; the machine needs a certain amount of electrical energy pumped continuously to remain functional.
The story with generators, as ‘power providers’, is a bit different. Not only do the running watts express the power requirements in terms of electrical energy, but they also represent how much power you will be able to effectively transfer to connected devices.
How Many Watts do You Need?
The answer depends on the ‘load’ – the power requirements of the device that you aim to power with a generator. I’m not going to delve into connectivity for the moment, but here are some typical devices that you can power with a portable generator, and their starting/running wattage requirements:
- A handheld fan: 120 starting watts; 40 running watts
- A 16-inch TV: 200 starting watts; 190 running watts
- A dishwashing machine: 550 starting watts; 216 running watts
- A handheld power drill: 900 starting watts; 600 running watts
- An electric cooker: 1200 starting watts; 1200 running watts
- An RV-mounted AC: 3,500 starting watts; 2,000 running watts
These are estimated average parameters, not an actual fact sheet. Nearly every device has different power requirements, but they should be in the ranges stated above.
Let me give you a little example. If you buy A-iPower’s 2,300-watt inverter generator, you won’t be able to power demanding devices and machines, as it packs only 1,800 running watts. That’s just about enough strength to power a basic electric cooker and a small-screen TV.
2. Consider the Receptacles
One of the things that’s probably even more common than buying a generator with inadequate wattage is buying one with outlets that can’t support the devices you want to power or charge.
Connectivity matters, as not all models feature the same outlet options. For instance, Ryobi’s Inverter Generator packs a single 5VDC port and a single 120V AC port.
Basically, this means that its connectivity is so limited that you can only power your batteries, PCs, printers, or smaller kitchen appliances with it.
B&P’s P2400, on another hand, rocks two 125V/20A receptacles, a USB outlet, and a parallel receptacle for hooking another P2400 to the first for even more power, when needed.
I would be wrong to say that a generator that supports the most types of receptacles is the best. However, USB connectivity is something everyone will agree is a must. Generators with such a feature can be considered ‘emergency’ generators, as you can power up your smartphone and call for help, if you have a decent signal, that is.
The best portable generator connectivity-wise is the one that accepts the cables you want to use.
How to Determine Which Receptacles You Need?
In my research, I’ve discovered that many people know what a USB cable is, but they’re not exactly sure about USB types or their applications. The same can be said about power cables; people that aren’t as tech-savvy know what a power cable is, but they generally refer to them as ‘PC cable, blender cable’, and so on.
Don’t overpay for a generator with European outlets if you’re using American plugs and cables. Furthermore, don’t waste money on a generator with 3 USB Type-A and two Type-B slots if you have the latest iPhone, as it won’t support your USB-C cable.
There are 7 types of USB cables alone, and as far as power cables, there are over 20 different types. I recommend learning more about the cables you generally use and picking a generator with that in mind.
3. Don’t Ignore Inverter Generators
In my research, I’ve seen many RV drivers rant about the inefficiency of their inverter generators. It is true that inverters use DC power sources, and it’s also true that RV drivers usually don’t feel too comfortable channeling the energy of their car battery to the generator, but these tend to be very practical if you know how to use them.
Most inverter generators are much weaker than gas or fuel-powered portable generators.
However, numerous models are as strong as industrial-grade generators. For instance, Champion Power Equipment’s 200986 sports 4.500 starting and 3.500 running watts. Sadly, it’s too big and bulky to be considered portable.
What I would warmly recommend is Generac’s 7127 iQ3500.
Offering 3,500 starting watts and a host of different receptacles, it’s probably one of the most versatile models on my list of the 22 Best Portable Generators.
Minimal Maintenance Required
One of the reasons why I don’t understand people that bash inverter generators for being ‘impractical’ for RV drivers and outdoorsmen is due to how little care these machines need to remain in pristine condition.
Gas and fuel-powered generators need hours’ worth of setup; you need to change the oil every once in a while, change the water, as well as change the lubricant oil, not to mention refuel them every time you want to use them.
Don’t skip on inverter generators simply because someone told you they’re weak. Granted, you can get a stronger machine with the money you’d pay for a mediocre inverter, but they’re versatile, practical, and demand little to no maintenance.
4. Be Careful When Buying a Used Portable Generator
Buying a used generator can be a smart choice if you’re good friends with the seller, or if you can get some type of warranty from the seller. If not, I strongly suggest saving up enough cash for a new one.
I understand that used generators only cost a fraction of the price of a new model, but there are just so many problems that you can potentially encounter that they’re probably not worth the money.
First and foremost, a thorough inspection is not always possible. Most people will start the generator to show you that it works, but diving into the little details would take a while and the seller may not wish to disclose all the information.
Secondly, not all generators have a serial number stamped on the construction. Are you certain that you’re buying the model that you are told?
If you ask me, the cons heavily outweigh the pros. After all, a high-quality portable generator can be purchased for around $200 to $300.
Does it Match the Description?
Sometimes, people don’t know what they are selling. Other times, people know exactly what they are doing and will purposefully mislead you with falsified specs and descriptions.
It’s not too big of a deal-breaker if the generator isn’t colored the way you thought.
On another hand, if it’s smaller, weaker, or an entirely different model, those are the red flags that you should be extra wary of.
Consider Buying from Licensed Vendors
If you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford a brand-new portable generator, I recommend checking retail shops for old models. To avoid scams, buy from licensed vendors that are registered and legal.
These sellers will point out the physical flaws of the second-hand generator that you wish to buy and tell you exactly why it costs as little as it does. More importantly, they should give you a warranty on at least one part of the generator (usually the engine).
One of the best things about second-hand portable generator retailers is that you can check reviews on their websites. It’s usually obvious when something is a scam by simply clicking through a couple of top reviews.
If possible, Inspect the Generator Personally
This isn’t always an option, but it’s the best way to be sure that you’re buying a functional portable generator.
If you aren’t well-versed in how generators are supposed to work, ask a friend that knows a bit about the technology to come along.
Old, worn-out material is easy to discern from material that has been sitting for years while being properly cared for and maintained. You’ll usually be able to spot leak marks in broad daylight.
Finally, ask the seller to allow you to start the engine yourself. Check if all the buttons and functions work, and pay extra attention to the engine’s sound.
5. Save up for a Quality Product, or Pay the Difference in Repairs
The same can be said for nearly all mechanical products and it’s especially true for multifaceted devices such as generators.
Both industrial and portable generators feature an array of different parts. Budget models usually feature low-quality, flimsy parts that tend to break or malfunction every once in a while, while better generators are equipped with the latest gears, cranks, and systems, which consequently improves the machine’s durability.
Certain parts will eventually begin corroding on all generator models, but the price tag may act as an indicator of how much time you have in-between repairs. I’m not saying that all budget models perform poorly and are flimsy, but quite a few of them are.
Buying a quality portable generator is easier than ever. The market is full of brilliantly-designed models, and you can accurately tell how good/bad a generator is by the reviews.
If you’re in the market for the cream of the crop, let me invite you to check out our review of the 22 Best Portable Generators that the current market has to offer.
I’ve made sure to include generators for every budget, as well as models with different power ratings that can accommodate the needs of casual campers, people living on the road in RVs, and anything in between.
Photo Credit: Unsplash