CarGenerator: Use Your Car/Truck for Portable AC Power

CarGenerator: Use Your Car/Truck for Portable AC Power

Did we say “CarGenerator”? As in automobile + power-producing device? Well yes, we did!

If you love boondocking off the grid (like we do), you may have installed a substantial solar and battery setup (like we did) to provide virtually silent power from the sun.

But trees, clouds and night happen! That’s why so many people (ourselves included) carry a backup — a traditional gas generator (or a built-in gas or diesel generator).

Now imagine boondocking without that backup… or the need to carry fuel for it… without experiencing battery anxiety.

Suppose there was some kind of device on the market that could get power from your car to generate power for your RV (you probably see where we’re going with this).

Well, today we’re highlighting just such a device: the CarGenerator. And we’ve had first-hand experience to tell you that it can be a game-changer for many RVers.

Today we’re taking an in-depth look at this innovative device, which is so useful as a backup power source for RVs, that it’s also used as a unique source of emergency power for sticks & bricks houses.

What Is the CarGenerator?

The CarGenerator is a unique product that offers backup power for an RV or a home.

Essentially, it’s a pure sine wave inverter encased in a waterproof/weatherproof housing, that connects to the battery terminals on your truck or car battery. You then plug your RV into it, anywhere you happen to be. It’s almost like having your own private portable power pedestal.

The system uses the alternator on your car, sport utility, or pickup truck to supply 12V DC power, which is then inverted to 120V AC power. That power is then sent to your RV via your rig’s power cord. It can then charge up your house battery, and run appliances and devices, just like shore power or a generator.

You can plug your RV into the CarGenerator and pull as much power as it’s rated to supply. There are different models available, and it’s important to consider the capacity of the alternator that’s powering it. More on that below.

We have a 1,000 watt model (that’s continuous, with a 2,000-watt surge capacity), which we used during our month traveling in a Black Series HQ19 off-road camper (look for an upcoming post about our experience on this awesome rig)! The HQ19 is equipped with 30-amp power, so we used a dog-bone adapter to connect the shore power cord to the CarGenerator.

CarGenerator on the front of truck

Here’s the CarGenerator on the front of our truck with our camper’s shore power cord plugged into it — powering our RV and recharging the house batteries. It’s like having your own portable power pedestal… anywhere!

Puck adapter

We plugged the 30-amp shore power cord from our Black Series camper into the CarGenerator using a small 20-to-30-amp puck adapter. We also used a voltmeter (included with the CarGenerator) in line to monitor power draw.

CarGenerator hangs on the front of a car

The CarGenerator hangs on the front of a car, truck, or sport utility using the high-quality hook and adjustable strap that come built onto the unit. Then the hood is left closed, but not latched, while it’s in use. The CarGenerator will fit on virtually any vehicle, and the high-quality weatherproof plastic case has a soft backing that won’t mar the vehicle’s finish.

Why Would I Want a CarGenerator?

The need for a CarGenerator is very much like the need for a traditional generator — to provide power. Whether you have a big solar and battery system or not, there are times when a source of backup power is needed.

We’ve always had a built-in diesel generator on our own RV. But when our time on the Black Series was drawing near, we knew that even with its decent-size solar and battery bank, a few cloudy days or a stay in a forest could leave us powerless. Thinking about that initially caused us some battery anxiety, since we don’t have a portable gasoline backup generator just sitting around.

Having a CarGenerator on board with us completely eliminated that stress, and saved our bacon during a couple of periods of heavy overcast.

It can also be used to power appliances in your sticks & bricks home in the event of a power outage. That includes the ability to run a household furnace to keep from freezing to death! And it can keep a refrigerator running so your food won’t spoil.

This type of situation is exactly what the CarGenerator was designed to address. The inventor of the CarGenerator, Jonathan Schloo, came up with the idea when his family’s home lost power for 3 1/2 days during a winter storm.

Jonathan bought an inverter and hooked it up to his Toyota Highlander. He was able to power his home’s furnace, lights, and fridge.

But using a simple inverter presented some issues that ultimately led to the design of the CarGenerator.

If your car starts and there’s fuel in the tank, one of these units will provide you with power when you need it, without the need for a gasoline generator.

CarGenerator saved bacon

Our CarGenerator saved our bacon during extended overcast weather. Simply hang it on the front of the car or truck, attached the heavy-duty alligator clips to the battery, and plug in the RV’s power cord. The engine provides power to the RV like a portable power pedestal in the boondocks. Goodbye battery anxiety!

Despite the fact that Jonathan designed the CarGenerator for home use, it quickly became popular with RVers, too.

We all know how important power is to RVers, especially those of us who love to boondock. We need to be able to power things like refrigerators, lights, water pumps, smartphones, tablets, and computers. And of course, keep our rig’s house batteries charged.

For those of us whose rigs already have generators on board, a CarGenerator might not be a reasonable purchase as long as our built-in unit is in good running condition.

But many RVs don’t have a generator at all (like the camper we spent a month on). Additional power means either investing in a solar and battery system that’s capable of supporting the RVer’s power requirements, or carrying a portable generator, plus fuel for that generator.

Or really — BOTH of the above. That’s because solar & battery banks provide the quiet power we love for boondocking, but can’t help us when conditions don’t provide enough sunlight.

For these reasons, we’ve written many posts on topics related to things like quiet generators for RVs and solar generators for RVs. We’ve also created numerous posts and videos about the regular maintenance and repair generators require to continue working properly.

But even if you have a working built-in or portable generator, there are places where using one isn’t even an option, as some camping locations prohibit or severely limit their use.

Is a CarGenerator Super Heavy and Bulky?

At only 11 pounds, the All Weather 1,000/2,000 watt version of the CarGenerator (the most popular model, and the one we used and loved on our trip) is a compact, lightweight, quiet, and maintenance-free backup power source for any home, including an RV.

 All Weather 1,000/2,000

Our All Weather 1,000/2,000 watt CarGenerator weighs only 11 pounds and is super simple to use (and a lifesaver)!

It provides 1,000 watts continuous, and 2,000 watts surge of pure sine wave AC power. (That’s the good quality power that treats your electronics right!)

How Do I Know Which Model of CarGenerator I Need?

For most RVers, 1,000 watts continuous with a surge of 2,000 watts should be sufficient to power most small appliances or recharge the rig’s house batteries. This is roughly the amount of power you’d expect from a small portable gas generator. (For more on this comparison, see our post “What Is an Inverter Generator?“)

Having said that, you won’t want to run multiple power-hungry appliances all at once, just as you wouldn’t with a small portable gasoline generator.

You can also get a 1,500 watt (running)/3,000 watt (surge) model or even units that offer 2,000/4,000 watts or 3,000/6,000 watts.

If you decide later that you’d prefer a larger unit, CarGenerator offers a really clever program. You have two years to upgrade to a larger model, paying only the difference in cost. That should help make the choice easier if you’re not sure which one you want.

One of the most important factors to consider is the capacity of your vehicle’s alternator.

Start by looking at your alternator’s rated amp capacity (you may need to look in your owner’s manual, or check with your manufacturer). Then reduce that number by half to account for the lower output of the alternator at idle. Then multiply that number by 12 (volts). You can expect your alternator to safely provide this number of watts through the CarGenerator without draining your battery.

For example — a pickup truck with a 170-amp alternator: 170 ÷ 2 = 85 x 12 = 1,020 watts. That’s enough for us to use our All Weather 1,000/2,000 CarGenerator to provide power to our rig without draining the truck’s battery.

Because of the higher power demand of the larger models (2,000 watts continuous and above), they require an additional quick connect kit (a separate item at additional cost) that installs permanently to your vehicle’s battery to enable the CarGenerator to connect to power safely.

Using the 1,000-watt CarGenerator we could simply connect to our truck’s battery terminals using its heavy-duty alligator clips. We like the simplicity and lower cost of the 1,000 watt model and found it met our power needs really well. This probably accounts for why it’s their most popular model!

 All Weather 1,000/2,000

Here you can see the heavy-duty alligator clips from our 1,000 watt CarGenerator attached directly to our truck’s battery terminals. No installation is needed, and it couldn’t be any simpler to use.

Isn’t It Bad to Idle a Vehicle for a Long Time?

That was true many years ago but is no longer the case. Today’s engines have computers that keep them running properly at any speed, including at idle. A modern vehicle is safely capable of long periods of engine idling.

So, as long as you don’t try to use it on your ’55 Chevy Bel Air, the CarGenerator works on any gas, diesel, hybrid, pure electric (EV) vehicles, and idling those vehicles won’t cause any issue.

Why Not Just Buy a Gas Generator?

Besides the fact that there are limits to where and when you can use a portable gas generator, we found lots of advantages of the CarGenerator.

1. Lightweight and Simple to Use

The CarGenerator is lightweight. The All Weather 1,000/2,000 watt model, which is the one we have, weighs only 11 pounds and takes all of a minute or two to connect.

2. No Need to Carry Extra Fuel

Having a portable gas generator means also carrying around a separate supply of fuel and having a safe place to store it. With a CarGenerator, if you own a car or truck, you already have most of what you need to generate power: a motor and a fuel tank!

3. Efficient

Our 1,000/2,000 watt All Weather unit can power the necessities in a sticks and bricks house. This means that it certainly has the capacity to provide power for an RV, which we experienced first-hand during our time on the Black Series camper.

When boondocking off the grid, RVers can use the CarGenerator to fully charge their house battery bank, and then run electronics and appliances off the batteries as usual. When the rig’s house batteries start running low, simply use the CarGenerator to recharge them again as needed.

4. Fewer Emissions

Using a CarGenerator is a cleaner way to produce power. That’s because gas generators have very little (if any) emission controls. Using a car or truck to provide power instead of a portable generator means far more effective emission controls are in place, producing less pollution.

5. Reliable

If your vehicle starts, you can use the CarGenerator. And since modern vehicles are so reliable, a no-start situation on your car or truck is less likely than with a portable gas generator.

6. Runs Longer

On average, most vehicles can get 50-70 hours of runtime on a tank of fuel. That’s a really long run time compared with a small generator with a far smaller tank that needs to be refilled every 4-6 hours.

7. Works with Electric and Hybrid Vehicles

The CarGenerator not only works with gas and diesel engines but also with hybrid and fully electric (EV) cars.

If you have a fully electric vehicle, then you’ll use no gas at all to run a CarGenerator.

8. Maintenance Free

A CarGenerator requires no oil changes or any of the other maintenance attention that small engines require.

9. Quieter

Have you heard the sound of generators running in a campground? Most modern vehicles with their engine idling are a lot quieter than any portable generator.

Isn’t a CarGenerator Just an Inverter?

No! Here’s why…

CarGenerator starts with a commercial-grade pure sine wave inverter and adds custom-manufactured heavy-duty copper cables designed to withstand the heat from your vehicle’s engine.

The inverter is enclosed in a weatherproof housing with a rubberized backing with an adjustable strap and hook for hanging on your vehicle.

Sine wave inverter

This commercial-grade pure sine wave inverter is enclosed in a weatherproof housing, allowing the CarGenerator to be safely used in any weather.

There’s also a power meter included, allowing you to monitor how much power you can safely generate from your vehicle.

CarGenerator offers units with a number of different capacities.

Their CarGenerator DRY model weighs only 9 pounds and is designed to power home essentials in a power outage for between 50 and 70 hours. As the name implies, the DRY model isn’t waterproof, so not designed for inclement weather.

The All Weather 1,000/2,000 watt model is fully weatherproof and weighs just 11 pounds. This is the one we have, and it did a great job for us!

What Do The RVgeeks Think of the CarGenerator?

When we recently spent a month onboard a Black Series HQ19 offroad travel trailer, even though it came equipped with a substantial battery bank and solar panel system, we did have some concern about not having a generator. We’ve always had one (built-in on our Class A motorhome), and we know that clouds, trees, and darkness (i.e. shorter winter days) can lead to a lack of adequate power when you’re depending exclusively on solar.

Having the CarGenerator with us completely eliminated that stress and filled in beautifully when the sun didn’t cooperate. It’s small & light, making it easy to store and bring along. And since it just connects to the vehicle you already have with you, it makes using it super simple. And there’s no additional fuel to purchase or carry around.

Sine wave inverter

Here we are camping with the CarGenerator on the front of our truck, with our RV’s power cord plugged into it.

When a couple of days of clouds reduced the solar output we were getting, we were able to simply connect the CarGenerator to the truck’s battery, connect the trailer’s power cord to the outlet on the CarGenerator, and then idle the truck.

The 1,000W unit was plenty to supply power to the onboard charger (recharging the camper’s battery bank) and to our laptops so they could recharge without draining power from the battery through the inverter. Once the batteries were full, we could run off them, or continue using the CarGenerator to power other appliances. Think of it as a small, portable shore power pedestal.

Of course, we don’t want to idle the car or truck longer than needed. But it was so great to know we had that power available to us when the sun didn’t cooperate (like hiding behind clouds, or setting at the end of the day!)

We love having the back-up ability to produce power and are happy to add CarGenerator to our list of favorite RV gear.

We like this new tech so much that we’ve arranged a special discount for RVgeeks blog readers. Use the link below to access a special landing page that will provide a $150 discount on the same All Weather 1,000/2,000 model we have… and even more on other models!

FREE shipping to USA and Canada is included, too! There’s also a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If for any reason you don’t like this product, you can return it within 60 days for a full refund.

Here’s a 60-second demonstration of a CarGenerator at work powering an Airstream:

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