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RV Generator Won't Start? Most Common Reasons Revealed

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Most generators are dependable and can run for hours without a hitch if properly maintained. In most cases, problems can be rectified without replacing any parts.

Generators for RVs are all essentially the same and problems can be easily diagnosed if something goes wrong. To a large extent, problems with RVs can be solved by even the most mechanically inept campers.

Simple problems can often be fixed by the owner without the help of an expert if they know how to do some basic troubleshooting.

Regular maintenance

Recreational vehicles, like cars and other motorized vehicles, require regular maintenance to function properly.

Maintaining the RV's generator isn't rocket science, but it is important to keep on top of it. Many parts of a generator for a recreational vehicle are susceptible to damage, corrosion, and general wear and tear.

You should routinely inspect the fluid levels, rubber hoses, and wiring that keep it functioning. Perhaps the antifreeze level is too low or something is clogged. All of these can be inspected as part of a routine maintenance checkup.

A well-maintained generator could outlast your RV if you treat it well. As long as you keep up with regular maintenance, you shouldn't have to deal with too many of the problems we mentioned.

Even if you know you can't escape all problems all of the time, doing a preemptive check will put you ahead of the game.

Call in the professionals

Even while RVing is a great pastime for the hands-on type, there are some tasks that are better left to the professionals. It was possible to fix most of the generator problems on your own in many of the examples we will look at. However, as is the case with most mechines, repairs can get difficult in extreme cases.

If your generator won't start or is malfunctioning and you can't figure out why, you should take it to a professional.

At least before you go out and buy a new one, they can tell you what the issue is and if it can be fixed. Although not every issue with a motorhome generator can be solved quickly, there are some typical troubleshooting strategies that can help narrow down the possibilities.

Always do a basic check

Doing a quick assessment before diving into each specific problem could reveal its source and aid in its resolution.

This basic check up could be done before everytime you turn on the generator to prevent long term problems. 

First, make sure there is enough gas in the tank of any portable generators you want to use. For example, inspect the propane cylinder to ensure there is adequate fuel for the generator.

Having enough fuel in the RV is also important if the RV and Generator use the same fuel tank.  A built-in generator will not start up if it senses that the RV is short on fuel. 

After making sure the generator has enough fuel, check that the fuel valve and fuel tank cap vent are both open.

Now you need to see if the generator will start with the correct choke setting.

Then, you must ensure that the fuel saver setting or the engine idle control are both disabled.

Before turning on the generator, be sure nothing is hooked up to it.

Finally, make sure your RV generator is primed properly before attempting to start it.

You should check for these common causes of generator failure. Get into the habit of giving your generator a quick once-over before you turn it on.

RV Generator Won't Start? Most Common Reasons Revealed

Westinghouse Outdoor Power Equipment 4500 Peak Watt Super Quiet Dual Fuel Portable Inverter Generator, Remote Electric Start, Gas & Propane Powered, RV Ready, CO Sensor, Parallel Capable

There could be a number of factors preventing your RV's generator from starting.

A few are easy to fix, while others are more challenging. In this section, we'll analyze typical issues and discuss methods for resolving them. Now, let's investigate what could be preventing your generator from starting and how to correct the problem.

1. Inadequate oil supply

Generac 5-Pack Full Synthetic Motor Oil 5W-30 SN Quart Bottle Part# 0J5140

Like many other mechanical systems, your generator requires oil for proper functioning. If the oil level is too low, the generator's moving parts won't be adequately greased. There will be a failure in operation or they may just stop working if this happens.

The generator, like most cars, should have an oil dipstick for such purposes. If your generator is behaving erratically or won't turn on, checking the oil should be one of your first measures.

If the generator's oil level is low, check your RV's manual for the type of oil to use. If the oil gets too dirty, you may always add more of it by hand, but it's best to replace it when it gets low. If you are unsure of the proper procedure, take it to a mechanic.

2. Old fuel

Bad or old fuel is one of the primary causes of your generator not starting. The gasoline in the generator could go bad if it sits idle for too long.

Particularly applicable to gasoline and diesel-fueled portable generators. If you use a portable generator that runs on propane, you never have to worry about the fuel going bad.

Gas can be stored for three to six months, diesel for a year, and propane basically never goes bad.

If you suspect that the gas in your tank has gone bad, you can test it by removing a small amount and placing it in a clean glass container. When fuel becomes bad, it often turns a darker color than normal, takes on a foul odor, fogs up, or even separates.

There is only one solution to fixing a generator that won't start due to bad fuel. Replace it obviously. After the old fuel has been removed from the tank, fresh fuel should be added.

A good fuel stabilizer, like the STA-BIL, is a must-have for RVs that have portable generators.

3. Check the batteries

Now, if you're new to generators, inverters, and battery banks, you might not know that some generators with electric starters include batteries. 

They are just as susceptible to deterioration and loss of power as the battery in your car. But it is an easy fix that you might not think about. 

See if your generator's battery is still OK by using a multimeter on the generator. In the event that your battery has died, you can try jumping it, charging it, or replacing it. Whatever, the owner's manual recommends.

4. Check the choke position

With the help of the choke, you may control how much air flows into the carburetor. If the choke is adjusted too high or low, too little or too much air will be introduced to the fuel mixture, preventing the generator from starting.

Depending on the make, model, and year of your generator, the choke lever may be located in a different spot. Often on modern portable generators' choke levers are frequently found above the air filter.

If you want to cold start or restart a generator after it has been turned off for a while, you must first move the choke lever to the closed position. In order to simplify matters, many generators label the closed condition of the choke as "start."

After getting your generator going, you'll want to move the choke lever to the open or run position. However, with the choke lever in the middle position, between fully open and wholly closed, the generator can be started again after being turned off.

5. Preheat the generator

In temperatures like -30 degrees Celsius for example, it makes it challenging to start machinery. And the same holds true for generators.

A generator won't always start if we don't give it enough time to warm up. While the ignition is in the preheating position, I recommend counting up to 30 seconds. It is similar to when you start a car, and you only turn the car one click and leave it until the engine lights on the dashboard disappear. 

The colder it is the longer you may need to leave the generator in this preheating phase. 

6. Check the Carburetor

The issue will arise for those who leave gas in their RV's portable generator after the camping season. The quality of gasoline declines with time. With time, the gas in the carburetor deteriorates and forms a gum or gel.

If your portable generator's carburetor and fuel lines get clogged, it won't start. Which then means cleaning the carburetor is the answer, otherwise it could result in permanent damage. 

Carburetor maintenance requires specific skill sets to execute successfully. If you need help figuring something out, give a pro a call. While the carburetor on each brand and model of generator may look different, the process is generally the same.

To prevent future clogging of the carburetor, make sure to run your generator dry before putting it away for storage. It is recommended that you run your generator with a load for at least an hour every two weeks if you want to keep it in storage with fuel inside of it.

7. Check the Spark Plugs

NGK 7131 BPR6ES Standard Spark Plug, Pack of 4

The fundamental function of a spark plug in an internal combustion engine is to start the combustion of the fuel and air mixture. If the ignition isn't working, your generator engine won't run or even start.

Your spark plug's power cord, which is attached to the ignition, should be checked first for damage. Again, make sure there are no slack connections in the cord.

If you want to do a physical check on the spark plug, you'll need a spark plug wrench to take it out. After removing the plug head, inspect it for carbon buildup or broken electrodes.

To clean the head, you can use a knife or a brush. If one electrode on a spark plug is broken, you must replace the plug.

In order to check the spark plug, you need to check for sparks when initiating the starting process. Again, pull the recoil start, and this time keep an eye out for brilliant blue sparks.

If the sparks are very powerful, the plug is in good working condition but is misfiring due to carbon accumulation. No sparks suggest a faulty spark plug, so if that's the case, you'll need to swap it out.

8. Check the air filter

Panari (Pack of 2) Air Filter for Honda Generator EB3000 EB3500 EB3800 EB4000 EB5000 EB6500 EM3000 EM3500 EM3800 EM4000 EM5000 EM6000 EM6500 EW140 GX390 GX340 GX240 GX270 Engine Replace 17211-899-000

Find the generator's air filter and check it. Then you should check the level of filth, if it is filthy then it could be clogged. If the air filter is clogged the generator will not start or if it does it may keep stalling. 

If your air filter is exceptionally grimy and dusty, you may want to clean it. Slam it against a wall, counter, or the ground to get rid of the majority of the grime. Then use a brush or blower to get rid of the remaining dirt. 

If dirt won't go away, or if the air filter is broken or worn, your generator may not start until you replace it. Check the generator's user handbook for air filter specifications to ensure the filter you choose is compatible with your model of generator.

9. Parts do not last forever

Problems with an RV generator can extend beyond the basics, such as fuel, batteries, and oil.

The above are the most common reasons for a generator to stop working and should be checked first. Since the generator consists of so many moving parts, anything may go wrong with it.

Troubleshooting on your own or consulting a technician are both viable options for determining the source of the problem.

Check for signs of corrosion, damage, or loose parts by inspecting a sampling of the connecting points and key moving parts.

If there is no outward sign of problems, a self-diagnosis may be difficult. However just like in cars etc, some things just need replacing more often than other parts do. This is a simple fact, and regular maintenance check ups or services will help Identify this. 

10. Beyond repair

There is an expiration date on every mechanical item you buy, and things just do not last as long as they used to. Maintaining machinery properly will increase the generator's lifetime, but eventually all generators will need to be replaced.

You may have just worn out your generator if you've had it for a long time. Special consideration of this must also be factored in, if you purchased your generator secondhand.

It's possible that you have no idea how well it has been maintained or how often it has been used.

When you reach this point, you will have to buy a new one. But you should try fixing the old one as much as possible, and maybe even take it to a mechanic for advice.

It's best to get the RV generator fixed if you can, but sometimes they just wear out. When you are at this point it is sometimes cheaper to get a new one, than keep fixing one that constantly breaks down. 


Generators are essential for providing the electricity needed to keep you and your family comfortable while camping in your RV. Things can soon get uncomfortable if your RV's generator won't start when you need it.

The aforementioned causes and solutions are the most common and straightforward for a generator that won't turn on. Keep in mind that regular upkeep is essential. With regular servicing, your generator can keep running well.

If the problem is too big for you to handle, though, you should seek outside assistance.

About Tom Bell

Hey, I’m Tom, the owner of Generator Reviews! I built this website to help you get the very most out of your generator and select the correct one for your personal circumstances. This site contains reviews of virtually every generator, detailed buying guides, as well as maintenance advice to help you keep yours in tip-top shape!


Generator.Reviews is an independent review business. I am not affiliated with any manufacturers and do not accept paid reviews. When you buy through my links, I may earn a commission which helps me to maintain this website and keep the reviews coming your way!

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