Welcome to my J.A.M. (Just Ask Mike) Session, a weekly column where I answer your basic electrical questions. If you’re a newbie who’s never plugged in a shore power cord (or ask – what’s a shore power cord?), or wonder why your daughter’s hair dryer keeps tripping the circuit breaker, this column is for you. Send your questions to Mike Sokol at mike (at) noshockzone.org with the subject line – JAM. This week I compare the CarGenerator and the Ford PowerBoost generator.
Saw you at the Airstream International Rally last week, and I’m really glad you brought the F-150 PowerBoost truck.
It’s very nice, but at $66,000 it’s a little out of my budget. However, I saw the CarGenerator you brought, as well. So I wonder if other than the amount of power output, is the Ford technology that much different than the CarGenerator product? —Linda from Lebanon
Dear Linda from Lebanon,
Two weeks ago I couldn’t have answered that question with any certainly because I didn’t have a Ford Hybrid pickup to experiment with. But the brave marketing people at Ford loaned me one for two weeks, no questions asked.
So I drove it 600 miles to Nashville and back to Funkstown. Then I drove it 500 miles to Elkhart and back to Funkstown. I’ll do a full towing report later, but here’s what I’ve learned about the Ford PowerBoost generator so far…
Just the facts, ma’am…
The Ford PowerBoost generator is connected to the vehicle’s high-voltage hybrid traction battery and the 35-kW electric motor/generator mounted on the back of the engine.
The CarGenerator is connected to your vehicle’s 12-volt battery and alternator. Both units operate on the same principle of the car engine creating DC current which is then inverted to 120-volts AC. So the basic power flow is the same between the two technologies.
But will idling my engine for extended times damage it?
I don’t think that idling a modern gasoline engine for extended hours will hurt it at all. Gone are the days of cylinder gasoline wash-down into the oil and fouled spark plugs.
Note that Ford rates their PowerBoost generator for running 85 hours at idle. So I’m confident that CarGenerator is safe to use with your modern car engine for extended idle times.
But as you noted, the CarGenerator (in 1,000-, 1,500- and 2,000-watt versions) has less wattage output than the Ford F-150 Hybrid truck with the 7,200-watt generator option. But I think that CarGenerator is a reasonable solution as a backup plan for boondocking when you don’t want (or are not allowed) to run a portable generator.
What about exhaust emissions?
While I’ve not done emission testing on a portable generator, the fact that it doesn’t have a catalytic converter like your car’s engine tells me the portable generator is much dirtier.
I’m confident that modern vehicle engines are way cleaner than your gasoline-powered weed-wacker or inverter generator. So, a CarGenerator or PowerBoost Generator is much cleaner for the environment.
What the bottom line?
While a Ford PowerBoost is very nice, it’s also a pretty substantial investment. So if you already have a vehicle that you can tow your travel trailer with, then the CarGenerator is an affordable and safe way to add backup power to your boondocking adventures.
No portable generator or extra gasoline containers are required for CarGenerator. But if you need to provide a lot of AC power for extended periods, and don’t mind the weight and extra gasoline of a portable generator, then stick with your inverter generator. It’s as simple as that…
More info for Airstreamers
For the 300 (I’m guessing) of you who attended my RVelectricity seminar at the Airstream Rally in Lebanon, TN, plus the dozens more who couldn’t even get in the door (it was Standing Room Only), I’ll be webcasting the same RVelectricity seminar in another week, just for you Airstreamers. Please let me catch my breath for a few minutes before I jump into editing the video. It’s been a crazy two weeks…
For more information on CarGenerator, please click HERE.
OK, everyone. Remember that electricity is a useful and powerful force, so we all need to pay attention to safety precautions while using it.
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.
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I would be worried about someone stealing my vehicle when it’s running to use the CarGenerator.
Not even one single theft of any kind, CarGenerator is in market for seven years, with thousands of customers coast to coast. Simply lock your vehicle with a second set of keys. If you are still concerned, you can buy a steering wheel brake pedal lock at walmart for $15 which secures the vehicle.
One very important fact that was overlooked is that many states outlaw the use of an engine idling for an extended periods of time, especially in Federal and State parks.
sometimes this is the case. However, from a quiet and environmental perspective its far superior to idle your vehicle quietly with full emissions controls, than it is to run a cheap primitive unfiltered carbureted small gas engine in a gas generator. Its far less offensive to your camping neighbours to quietly idle a modern vehicle than it is to run a noisy smelly cheap gas generator. From our experience, most camping neighbours don’t even notice, because it’s like you started your vehicle and are just getting ready to leave the campsite or are just coming back. If you have a HYBRID or pure EV vehicle, its even better also!
A few answers to clarify:
Mike, while an automotive engine produces relatively less pollutants / gallon of gas burned, it is waaaay less efficient and more polluting because you are running a several hundred horsepower engine and extracting about 5 hp of energy as a generator. Gas engines produce NO2 (a smog producer) and are running very inefficiently at idle. But I’ve left the “best” for last, which is the CO2 emissions. All-in-all, idling an automotive engine to generate <10 kW of power is a very poor use of energy (fuel). A generator dedicated to that purpose is far less polluting. You are an engineer. Please do the math next time.
Prove it to yourself…. get a simple OBD vehicle diagnostic scanner, and watch with your own vehicle, the “fuel rate” , shows in real time the liters/hr or gal/hr being consumed. you will be amazed how little fuel your vehicle uses at idle. For me personally our diesel SUV, pulling 1500 watts continuously, at idle = .95 liters/hr or 1/4 gallon fuel per hour. Now I’ve saved the best for last also. Your vehicle has thousands $$ of dollars of emissions controls, engine management computers, etc to highly optimize the engine fuel and emissions in all kinds of weather and conditions. None of the portable gas generators even have a tiny fraction of this amount of emissions and fuel management, so output is much more polluting and emissions far higher. Cheers.
I’m an advocate of the use of a larger battery in the RV, charged by either a second alternator (my preference) or a DC-DC converter in conjunction with a larger primary alternator. The amount of energy storage in modern battery systems makes the ‘drive while you charge’ solution much better than it used to be. You also need a dedicated cable to make it work.
See this article. https://www.truckcamperadventure.com/ditching-the-generator-for-the-alternator/
The truck camper and conversion van community have gone pretty heavily toward this method. As with a hybrid generator system, operating at higher voltages is the next step to getting more energy out of a vehicle-based system (7.2kw is only practical at higher voltage). With modern electronics, it is also easier to store and convert that power to your needs. You can spend obscene amounts of money to achieve any level of energy production you want, but there are also lower-cost options as long as you manage your expectations.
Just to weigh in on a different variation.
I installed a 50 amp DC to DC charger from Redarc. Not cheap, but with it mounted in the front compartment of my 5th wheel it connects easily with a wiring harness to my truck with an Anderson connector. The bonus is that this Redarc unit is also a smart solar charge controller.
Either way, a gas generator is no longer the way to go!
This article never, ever identifies What Exactly Is A Ford PowerBoost. Is it a pickup model? Is it a type of generator offered by Ford? Is it an option for the new F150? What?
Hi, William. James Raia has just written an article about the Ford F-150 with a PowerBoost hybrid engine option. Look for it in this Sunday’s newsletter. Have a good day. 🙂 –Diane
It is a model of the F150 product line that has a hybrid powertrain. The hybrid powertrain includes a motor/generator between the engine and transmission, a lithium battery capable of high charge/discharge with substantially more capacity than the 12V starting battery and electronics to manage the operation. Adding equipment onto the existing vehicle system to convert stored or generated vehicle power to residential voltage and frequency is a small leap.
It appears that the folks at Car Generator have added a waterproof cover and a strap to an inexpensive inverter and are marketing at $750. Nice business model!
Can’t we use a ~ $79 Inverter with battery clamps from Amazon and just keep it protected from the weather?
So why not just buy a cheap inverter?
First and foremost, because power is most often needed during bad weather, so just an unprotected, cheap Harbor Freight inverter is useless. This is especially true on days and nights of rain while camping (no solar), or during a bad rainstorm, snow, or ice at home when the power goes out.
The magic of CarGenerator is the patented custom-engineered weatherproof housing, and a turn-key, ready-to-go solution you can pull out in any weather and attach in a minute, and have power for hours or days.
The cover is not only for protection, though. It also serves as a comfortable carrying handle, and when I say carrying, I’m talking one hand! With models ranging from 11 lbs to 17 lbs, you can carry your coffee in one hand and CarGenerator in your other. No more asking a neighbor for a lift with your generator and then getting gas stains on their pants.
Your RV or house electrical systems require clean stable power. For this reason, a cheap inverter may do the job, but do you really want to cheap out on your emergency power generator? It’s a high-stakes risk. You would have to buy a high-quality pure sine wave inverter. Then you’d have to construct a weatherproof container and have a safe way to connect it to your vehicle. While this could be done, CarGenerator has already spent the time and money to safely engineer a complete product that has proven itself over the last 6 years on the market with no reliability or safety issues!
No cheap booster cables rigged up to your “on-sale” inverter, either. The CarGenerator cables are custom made in the USA from oxygen-free, pure copper and high heat materials. Why does this matter? Well, the high heat from your engine combined with outdoor elements can be hard on cheaper materials. Oxygen-free copper is proven to stay cooler, have higher conductivity, and is less likely to corrode over time.
If your time is not valuable, and you won’t lie awake at night questioning your engineering skills, you could try and save a minimal amount putting something together… or you can get a proven, high-quality emergency power source with a warranty, made in North America!
Much like you wouldn’t build your own grill by simply hooking a burner up to a propane tank, building your own backup power system with a cheap inverter and a bunch of wires is both dangerous and impractical. You don’t want to put your expensive vehicle at risk by jury-rigging an ad-hoc solution you cobbled together to save a few dollars. CarGenerator is a beautifully designed and engineered, turn-key solution that solves the problem of providing safe, backup power.
Oh, please. $700 is not a “few dollars” and the number of wires is the same, as is the weight. And, I’m sure I can easly weatherproof an inverter. Many are already designed for outdoor use
You sure have the gift of gab. You should run for political office, you already know how to over charge people.
Renogy 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter $255.00
Good set of 1/0 jumper cables with HD clamps (of which you would need to cut the clamps off one side and install HD copper ring terminals $70.00 for cable, $10-15.00 for the ring terminals, $20.00 for the hammer lug crimping tool.
Yes you can do it cheaper, but not Not much cheaper. And you won’t have that custom case that makes it easy to hang and hook up.
Renology, thanks, but you can buy a 1,000 watt inverter (the same wattage as the car generator, not 2,000watts) with wires and battery clamps all ready to go off of Amazon for less than $100. Sorry, but that cheap custom case isn’t worth $600
Yes, you can. Several issues need to be considered, some of which are not addressed by CarGenerator; 1) get a good connection to the battery. I do not believe jumper cable clamps are a reliable, continuous solution 2) Power available from your alternator varies by alternator size and engine speed. a) You will not get a lot at idle. If you plan to fast idle your car, be careful how you do it. b) If you demand a lot of power from your alternator, you can burn it out because there is no system to detect alternator temperature and lower demand. c) A car sitting motionless does not move air well to cool the alternator and running at low RPM makes it worse. 3) cooling air for the inverter is also needed. This is where the CarGenerator case appears to be its most important feature. I can imagine an inventive person could easily develop a workable solution. 4) load regulation. It is not hard to imagine a user overloading their DIY system, either the alternator or inverter.
A few answers to clarify:
it’s basically a yeti [goal zero], it just has a charger already in the truck that allows you to plug it in. with a yeti or any other, you have to spend $400 to get that plug. pretty expensive. but less so than buying a full ford truck [and all ford’s problems]
You mentioned plug fouling from idling …but (when using inverter stationary) wouldn’t starting and stopping the engine 30-120 times in four hours be a much bigger concern? Starter wear, bad fuel mixing, etc…? Swapping cynic hat for engineer hat, I would think something like multiple displacement and steady-run would be MUCH better…
The F150 already has an engine start/stop feature which shuts the engine off then the truck stops and starts it again as soon as you let off the brake, so it is (by design) intending to experience the engine cycling over its entire lifetime.
Real data is always king, but Ford’s 85 hour claim is playing the same game that portable generators play with run time… They’re using an enormous gas tank to mask poor KWh/gallon. I found the differences in fuel consumption testing half a dozen inverter generators to be radically different, and then your numbers for this Ford are double the worst inverter generator I tested!
I agree on the convenience factor for contractors, but saying this would replace a good portable for camping seems bending the facts for price and efficiency.
BTW, I have a 4KW inverter in my RAM2500 (aftermarket) for always-here and anti-generator-nazi.
…and I never use it if I remember/can bring my generator because fuel and noise are both atrocious by comparison. It sounds like Ford did it better than I, but the concept of routinely running a truck as genny is still absurd IMHO, and trust me, the busy bodies beg me to turn the genny back on when i start the truck.
I have the Powerboost and have found it to be a fantastic alternative to the generators we used to tote around. First, no need to haul gas, it’s in my tank. Second, no need to move around a heavy generator. Third, much better for the environment given the exhaust treatment on a modern vehicle vs a generator. Fourth, and this is a big one, QUIET, much quieter than any generator when the truck is running. FIFTH, and probably the biggest one, the engine in the truck ONLY RUNS when the big lithium battery needs charging. The truck is NOT constantly running like a stand alone generator needs to. I can run my AC off that lithium battery and have the truck engine start occasionally to charge it. I love the fact that at night with minimal draw in the right (for example, no AC running) the truck may not start all night long just supplying basic juice to the rig as needed from the lithium battery. Sixth, I can actually support TWO 30amp RV’s off this truck, buddy camping plus!
Note, when the truck is not running and the generator is supplying electricity via the truck’s lithium battery there is NO noise! Finally, I love being able to run my house off the truck during an electrical outage – BONUS!
oh yeah, one more bonus, no need to maintain another gas engine and the hassle of carb’s getting full of gunk when not in use. I use my truck all the time.
Thank you. I have wondered about the car generator. Next year I hope to make the Airstream Rally.
I’ve been invited to the 2022 Airstream rally next year. See you there…
I like my Champion 4500w dual/fuel generator. Hook it to the external propane outlet on my travel trailer and let it run as long as there’s propane. It’s very quiet as well. I’ll never carry gasoline to power it. Also in a home power outage situation, I can use the propane tank in my barbeque grill to power the generator, providing limited 120 volts to my house. I’ll be installing a transfer switch and outside outlet at some point so I just have to plug the generator into the outside outlet to get some 120v to my house.
Yes, it’s really important to install a proper generator transfer switch in your house before you really need to use it. While you can get by with running extension cords in through the window, much better to tie into your home wiring system properly and safely. I like your plan!
Mike, All your talks are “standing room only”, if you get there late. I’ve enjoyed all that we have attended and learned “stuff.”
I’ve asked multiple rallies and shows for an extra time slot to do a second seminar, but space and time is always at a premium. That’s why I’m offering to record my RVelectricity seminars and webcast them later. It’s the best I can do until I clone myself successfully.
I had a Toyota Tacoma with a inverter in the bed. I ran it for over 24 hours to provide power to a stoker coal stove during a power outage. It didn’t seem to affect the truck any long term. But I would change the oil a little sooner. It’s good to hear about the F150 Hybrid. I’m not sure the extra $4,495. dollars option is worth the extra cost. It only gets about 3 mpg more average than the econo boost engine. Curious what milage your getting towing. But I’m still thinking about buying one if Ford has any deals.
The beauty of the PowerBoost system with the 7,200-watt built-in generator is that this truck can be used during the week by a contractor to power his tools at a job site, then take the kids boondocking in the woods while fully powering your travel trailer (plug in your friend’s trailer as well), then use the same truck for backup home power if the electrical grid goes down. I think that’s a trifecta of possibilities.
Bob, the 7.2kW is technically an add of $750 as an option. Of course it requires you to add the Hybrid for a total of $4050 for the Hybrid and 7.2kW generator. Since I already wanted a Hybrid for me the extra $750 was a no brainer, cheaper than most stand alone generators. I get at least 24-25mpg, driving around town and anything under about 60mph not towing. If I drive 80mph when running the interstates I get 22.5mpg. I get 9-12mpg towing my camper depending on hills/winds/etc. I have about 8,500 miles on mine now and the mileage has continued to improve as the manual promised it would. I think I’m about at the peak mileage now since the computers seem to have learned my driving style and matched the shift points accordingly.