RVelectricity: Boondocking power requirements – Part 1 of 4

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By Mike Sokol – RVelectricity and the No~Shock~Zone

 

 

Brought to you by CarGenerator.com

I believe that as we move forward through the COVID-19 pandemic over the next few years (until an effective vaccine is developed and widely distributed), traditional camping as we know it is going to change radically. This prediction is based on two factors on a collision course.

#1) RV sales right now are going through the roof. The manufacturers are back in the RV building business and the RV dealers are selling them like hotcakes. The RV Industry Association reports an increase of 175% in sales at some dealerships compared to the same time last year. This is likely due to the pandemic problems associated with airline travel and cruise ship bookings.

#2) Many campgrounds have not fully opened to the public due to the pandemic, and many may close forever due to the loss of funds this season. And I don’t see a lot of new campgrounds being built right now simply because the capital investment is far too great for the returns.

You don’t have to be Carnac the Magnificent to predict there will be a shortage of viable camping spots over the next few seasons. Many of my readers already report that the halcyon days of the early 2000s, when you could find a great camping spot on a whim, are largely gone. You’re reporting the need to book a great campground spot a year in advance! Yikes!!!


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What’s a family with a camper to do? Well, I think it’s time to seriously look at boondocking as the next big camping thing. While other writers are more equipped to discuss the water and sewage issues, and nobody ever accused me of being a master chef in a tiny RV kitchen, I am well versed in all things electrical, which we’ll discuss here.

Unlike my first boondocking days in a Cox pop-up camper in the ‘60s, when the only things electrical were the batteries in my portable AM radio, most everyone needs some kind of power for camping. And with that fact the need for a generator of some sort rears its ugly head.

If you already have a generator in your coach, or take along a portable generator of some kind for your 5th wheel or tag trailer, then perhaps you’re already set for boondocking. However, if you’re trying to get by with batteries alone, or solar panels and a bank of house batteries and you’ve occasionally run out of power, then the rest of this first boondocking article is for you.

In Boondocking parts 2 through 4 we’ll also explore the use of a Danfoss 12-volt DC refrigerator in place of a propane or residential unit, how to run your air conditioner from house batteries for small lengths of time for a sleepy-time cool down, DC to DC charging of your towable’s house batteries while driving to your next camping spot, and solar panel basics with how to calculate charging times and battery capacity of flooded cell, AGM and lithium technologies.

All four of these boondocking articles are sponsored by CarGenerator™, the makers of the backup generator solution that doesn’t need a separate gasoline engine and fuel tank. It connects directly to your vehicle’s charging system to provide up to 1,000 watts of 120-volt pure sine wave power that can be tucked away in your RV storage compartment for years if need be, but ready to use in minutes to charge your house batteries, run your microwave oven or even provide backup power for your RV or home refrigerator in the event of lost grid power from a hurricane, tornado or wildfires. I tend to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Part I: What is a CarGenerator™ and why is it useful for boondocking?

CarGenerator™ is essentially the final output portion of an inverter generator. As you’re probably aware, all inverter generators have four major parts: A tank to store gasoline, an engine to convert the gasoline into rotary power, and alternator to change that rotary power into 12-volts DC, and an inverter to convert the 12-volts DC into 120-volts AC of high quality.

CarGenerator relies on the fact that your car or truck has the first three parts of this. That is, you have a large fuel tank in your vehicle, there’s obviously an engine that can makes hundreds of horsepower, and it includes an alternator that can make 100 to 200 amps of 12-volt DC power. The only thing missing is the final DC to AC inverter with a way to connect it, and most importantly a weatherproof housing to protect it from the elements.

CarGenerator™ comes in a number of sizes (wattages), but I think the 1,000 watt version is most usable for many readers. As you can see from the picture, you can connect it to your car battery with  large alligator clips (optional 30-amp outlet shown), or see the picture below for the optional battery quick-disconnect that allows you to hook it up to your vehicle’s electrical system in seconds. Then just plug in your shore power cord to charge the RV batteries at full speed (generally however fast you charged your batteries on shore or generator power), and it can easily provide enough extra power for your microwave, induction cooktop or coffeemaker. However, this is not enough power to run your rooftop air conditioner full time, although it can certainly recharge your lithium batteries quickly if that’s your intent.

While that will indeed draw around 70 or 80 amps from your car’s alternator, most vehicles will have little trouble outputting that amount of power even at engine idle. And that 1,000 watts of power can do a lot of things for you. For example, the latest version of CarGenerator has an optional TT-30 outlet in the picture above that allows you to plug your RV’s 30 amp shore power cord directly into it. Just remember you only have 1,000 wats of power to work with.

Also note that it’s built into a 11-pound weather resistant housing that’s easy to lift out of your storage bin and hang on the front grill of your parked car, there’s no gasoline involved so you don’t have to haul around a smelly gas can, and it requires zero maintenance unlike all portable generators that should be run at least every few months so you’re sure they’ll start when you need them. As long as you have gas in the tank of your vehicle and the engine starts, CarGenerator™ will make 1,000 watts of pure sine wave power for your RV’s electrical system. And if you’re a frequent user of CarGenerator™ there’s an optional quick disconnect plug available).

CarGenerator™ Facts and Fiction

1. No, CarGenerator™ does not use a lot of gasoline. In fact, it uses about the same amount of gasoline per hour as a portable inverter generator.

2. Yes, CarGenerator™ is as quiet as any inverter generator. I’ve only done casual testing so far, but it appears that a normal vehicle at idle is quieter than any of my Honda inverter generators. I’ll publish a full study on this later.

3. No, CarGenerator™ is not a good choice or substitute for a portable dedicated generator if you want to run your RV air conditioner continuously. To do so would require the 2,000-watt version of CarGenerator, a heavy-duty alternator in your car, and a high-idle controller. However, if you have a pair of lithium batteries and a 2,000-watt inverter in your RV, you just might be able to run your air conditioner for a few hours in the evening to cool down your bedroom before going to sleep, and then use CarGenerator to recharge your house batteries in an hour or two of running. Watch for another report on this later.

Read more or purchase a CarGenerator™ HERE.

Brought to you by CarGenerator.com

Let’s play safe out there….

Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 50+ years in the industry. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.

For information on how to support RVelectricity and No~Shock~Zone articles, seminars and videos, please click the I Like Mike Campaign.

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16 Comments
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PatriceG
15 days ago

Mike had talked about an affordable portable set of solar panels with Alligator Clips. Can anyone refer me? Zamp is sold out now. Thx!

SDW
1 month ago

I’ve been boondocking for 11 years. with 700 watts of solar panels and 4-6 volt 300 amp AGM batteries. Since you can’t run an AGM battery below 50% because it will start to damage the battery.
You end up with 300 amps on a full charge. that will get you through the day if you’re not running anything that heats. Like coffee makers, hairdryers, toasters, etc. On a cloudy day, you’ll get half the charging capabilities that you get when it’s sunny all day long. And you can’t run your AC at all. I usually only boondock in cool weather or at high altitude where it’s usually cooler. When I get up in the morning I crank up our honda 3000i generator to top off the batteries with a full charge for the day and to make coffee run the microwave and what not. This gives us the power we need for the rest of the day. Then I run it again in the evening to top off the batteries again for the night.

Jonathan Schloo
1 month ago
Reply to  SDW

totally agree… we have 520 watts of solar panels but unfortunately we are not thrifty with our power, we love our espresso cappuchino makers, TV, laptops, and other gadgets. So our 4 deep cycle AGM batteries were not enough and thats how CarGenerator was born.

Da Gren
1 month ago

Seems like for the money you just buy a small portable generator. It is under $1000 for one that will charge your batteries and run your A/C. Most car mechanics will tell you that It’s not the best Idea to let your vehicle sit and idle for long periods of time.

Jonathan Schloo
1 month ago
Reply to  Da Gren

Choosing CarGenerator not so much about the money as its in a similar price range. Why people choose CarGenerator is for the zero maintenance and no hassles plus the light weight just 11 pounds. no oil changes or maintenance, no worrying if it will start, no storing portable gas cans and filling smelly gas, and just 11 pounds so anyone can lift it. Store it in your car or under your bed or inside your trailer, no fumes ever.

Jonathan Schloo
1 month ago

CarGenerator: Here is a good video overview: https://youtu.be/mX5zDDYj_OE

Leon
1 month ago

I have a 2000 watt (not pure sine wave inverter) that I used to power my fans, tv, lights, and two fridges during the last hurricane. I ran the inverter off of my v6 Hyundai overnight with very little gas used and no problems. I now have a new Chevy colorado v6 and a new v10 ford four winds class C with a 4000 watt generator on board. I have three choices: 1. Inverter from the colorado. 2. From the Ford v10 engine. 3. from the on board 4000 watt generator. The 4000 watt is noisy and I live in the middle of the block. Choices….

Jonathan Schloo
1 month ago
Reply to  Leon

awesome! so glad you discovered what a great clean safe power supply your vehicle engine is.

Jonathan Schloo
1 month ago

CarGenerator: most vehicles that are capable of towing have a decent sized alternator, typically between 150-200 amps is common. Even simple vehicles like a Dodge Caravan or Ford Focus typically have a 160 amp stock alternator. The overall industry trend is towards larger alternators because of all the electronic gadgets, power everything, etc on these vehicles. Auto manufacturers engineer the alternator to fully carry the load of all accessories operating in the vehicle, so for example start your car on a cold rainy day and switch on cabin heater fan, windshield wipers, headlights, heated seats, defroster, etc. Stuck on a freeway in a snowstorm people have idled safely using all these items, for hours and days with no problem. Our concept is simple and very safe. Instead of using 70-80 amps to power all the vehicle accessories simply shut them off and we pull that power out and convert it to useable pure AC 120v power. The alternator doesn’t know or care what is the load.

Ed D..
1 month ago

I sent to the CarGenerator site, and as you said, it charges the house batteries. I have a battery bank of two six volt batteries for my trailer. Looking at the photos on the site, I couldn’t see how the CarGenerator connects to the batteries themselves.

Ed D.
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Sokol

So, I am receiving power for my trailer and charging at the same time?

Mike Sokol
1 month ago
Reply to  Ed D.

Yes, that’s correct. Since most RV battery chargers are outputting 60 amps, that’s around 700 watts, leaving a few hundred extra watts for lighting, television, etc.. just don’t run the microwave oven at the same time the batteries are charging.

Richard Genovese
1 month ago

Hey Mike interesting..boating for 35 years with solar and wind power ,no genset but plenty of battery 1000amp hours. I am not sure most cars have a 100 to 200 amp alternator…had a 150 amp alternator on our live aboard our boat which took two pulley system…am new to land yachting enjoy your articles a lot..keep em coming

Bob p
1 month ago

Sub compact cars normally come with a 120 amp alternator due to all the electrical loads on modern cars, power windows, locks, etc.

Jonathan Schloo
1 month ago

CarGenerator: most vehicles that are capable of towing have a decent sized alternator, typically between 150-200 amps is common. Even simple vehicles like a Dodge Caravan or Ford Focus typically have a 160 amp stock alternator. The overall industry trend is towards larger alternators because of all the electronic gadgets, power everything, etc on these vehicles. Auto manufacturers engineer the alternator to fully carry the load of all accessories operating in the vehicle, so for example start your car on a cold rainy day and switch on cabin heater fan, windshield wipers, headlights, heated seats, defroster, etc. Stuck on a freeway in a snowstorm people have idled safely using all these items, for hours and days with no problem. Our concept is simple and very safe. Instead of using 70-80 amps to power all the vehicle accessories simply shut them off and we pull that power out and convert it to useable pure AC 120v power. The alternator doesnt know or care what is the load.