Living the RV lifestyle is an exhilarating experience that allows us to travel and live freely. However, it also comes with its own set of challenges. One of the most common and frustrating issues faced by RV owners is when the RV generator starts but then dies shortly after. This can leave you stranded without power in the middle of nowhere.
The most common culprits are an insufficient fuel supply, clogged filters/lines, faulty spark plugs, carburetor problems, overheating, exhaust obstructions, or electrical shorts. By methodically checking each system and making necessary repairs, you can get your generator operating smoothly again.
In this guide, I have provided a clear overview of the potential causes and solutions for an RV generator that starts and then dies. After reading, you’ll have the key troubleshooting tips and repair strategies needed to get your generator running properly again.
Key Reasons an RV Generator Starts Then Dies
When your RV generator starts and then sputters and dies, it’s usually due to one of these common issues:
- Insufficient fuel supply
- Faulty fuel pump
- Clogged fuel filter
- Fouled/faulty spark plugs
- Bad coil pack
- Faulty/fouled carburetor
- Governor failure
- Exhaust system clog
- Electrical shorts
Don’t worry – with some basic troubleshooting and mechanical skills, these issues can often be fixed to get your generator running smoothly again. Let’s look at each of these causes and solutions in more detail.
Reason 1: Insufficient Fuel Supply
One of the most common reasons for an RV generator starting and then dying is that it’s not getting enough fuel. There are a few root causes for this:
Step 1: Empty or Near-Empty Fuel Tank
Before anything else, check the generator’s fuel tank. If it’s very low or empty, refilling it with fresh gasoline will often solve the problem.
Step 2: Clogged Fuel Line or Filter
If the fuel tank is full, the issue may be with clogged components leading to the engine. The fuel line that goes from the tank to the generator could be cracked or blocked. The fuel filter could also be clogged, restricting flow.
Examine the fuel line for cracks or damage. Replace if necessary. Remove and inspect the fuel filter – if it looks very dirty, replace it with a new one.
Step 3: Faulty Fuel Pump
The fuel pump pushes gasoline from the tank into the generator engine. If this fails, the engine won’t get enough fuel and will die. Listen near the fuel tank when trying to start the generator. If you don’t hear a buzzing sound from the pump, it likely needs replacement.
Step 4: Fuel Pressure Issue
Even with enough gas and a working pump, there might not be sufficient fuel pressure pushing it through. The regulator valve and fuel lines should be checked for blockages. The pump may need to be replaced if worn out.
Reason 2: ReFaulty Spark Plugs
For gasoline RV generators, the spark plugs provide the crucial ignition spark to combust fuel in the engine. Faulty or failing spark plugs can cause intermittent starting and dying issues.
Inspect the spark plugs – if they are heavily fouled or damaged, they will need replacement. Also, check that the spark plug wires are undamaged and securely connected.
Replacing worn spark plugs and wires is cheap and easy DIY maintenance to try.
Reason 3: Clogged Air Filter
A clogged air filter restricts proper airflow into the engine, potentially causing it to die shortly after starting.
Remove and visually inspect the generator’s air filter. If very dirty, replace it with a new filter. Even if not excessively dirty, cleaning or replacing the filter can help.
Reason 4: Carburetor Issues
The carburetor mixes air and fuel for intake into the engine. A faulty carburetor can lead to major performance issues.
A clogged carburetor filter or jets don’t allow proper fuel flow. Removing and cleaning the carburetor components can help.
Make sure the choke is opening properly after starting. Also, inspect the float needle valve for any dirt or damage.
Rebuilding or replacing the entire carburetor may be needed in some cases.
Reason 5: Governor’s Failure
The governor regulates the engine’s speed and output. If it fails, the generator RPMs will fluctuate wildly or die completely shortly after starting.
Excess vibration can damage the governor’s springs and components. Low oil levels can also cause governor failure.
Replacement of the entire governor assembly is needed if it is worn out or broken.
Reason 6: Overheating Issues
If the generator overheats, it will shut down rapidly after being started to prevent severe engine damage.
Check that cooling air intake and exhaust vents aren’t obstructed. Clean out debris buildup. Make sure the generator has proper clearance underneath and around it.
The cooling fans, shrouds, radiator, and coolant system should be inspected for problems. Replace the coolant and flush the system if the old coolant is dirty or rusty.
Reason 7: Exhaust System Clogs
Your RV generator requires proper exhaust flow to run smoothly. A clogged exhaust manifold, muffler, or tailpipe can cause back pressure that makes the engine die.
Look for crushed or collapsed exhaust components. Remove accumulated carbon deposits or other restrictions. Replace any cracked or damaged parts.
Reason 8: Electrical Shorts
Electrical faults in the generator wiring can cause intermittent shutting down. Check all circuits for wear, loose connections, or shorted wires. Look for signs of overheating on the stator windings too.
Test components like the voltage regulator, inverter, and circuit breakers. Replace any defective parts.
Reason 9: Other Causes
- Weak or dead battery – Generators need battery power to start, so weak batteries can cause immediate shutdown. Recharge or replace the battery.
- Damaged alternator – If the alternator fails, the generator won’t get power to keep running. Test the alternator and rebuild or replace it as needed.
- Bad fuel quality – Dirty or old gasoline can clog fuel system components. Always use fresh high-quality gas.
- Mechanical failure – Issues like a thrown rod, cracked head gasket, or seized piston can make the engine die shortly after starting. This requires a major engine overhaul or replacement.
Solutions and Repairs
Below we’ll summarize key troubleshooting tips and solutions for getting an RV generator running properly again:
- Check fuel supply – Fill tank, inspect fuel lines for cracks, replace fuel filter if clogged, and check fuel pump operation.
- Inspect spark plugs – Replace if fouled/worn. Check spark plug wires are in good condition.
- Change air filter – Replace dirty filter, clean if slightly clogged.
- Carburetor cleaning – Remove the carburetor and clean parts and passages if necessary.
- Governor Repair – Replace the governor assembly if worn out or broken.
- Check cooling system – Clean debris from vents and fans, replace the coolant and check the radiator and hoses.
- Fix exhaust clogs – Remove carbon buildup and replace any rusted/damaged exhaust parts.
- Inspect electrical system – Check all wiring for damage and loose connections, test voltage regulator, and replace if needed.
- Battery replacement – If the battery is dead or weak, install a fresh fully charged one.
- Alternator testing – Have the alternator tested at a shop and rebuild or replace it as needed.
- Major engine repairs – Rebuild or replace the engine if internal mechanical failure is found.
Following proper troubleshooting steps to pinpoint the issue, and then making the needed fuel system, ignition, electrical, cooling, exhaust, or engine component repairs is key to getting an RV generator running and keeping it running properly.
Patience and consistency are needed, don’t get frustrated. With a systematic approach, you can solve the annoying problem of your RV generator starting and then dying.
Having your RV generator start up and then soon shut down again can certainly be an annoying and disruptive issue. Hopefully, this overview has given you a better understanding of the most common causes, like insufficient fuel supply, clogged filters, faulty spark plugs, engine overheating, exhaust flow restrictions, and other electrical and mechanical faults. Just go through the checks and maintenance steps methodically until you identify the exact cause. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any other generator troubleshooting tips or questions. And thank you for reading – safe travels and happy camping in your RV!
Frequently Asked Queries
Can Low Oil Cause A Generator To Start Then Die?
Yes, low oil can immediately shut down an RV generator. Oil lubricates moving engine parts – if low, the generator safety system shuts it down to prevent damage.
What Should I Check If My Generator Runs For 5 Minutes And Then Stops?
Check the fuel supply first, then inspect the carburetor float, fuel pump pressure, and any sensors/electronics related to engine speed and run time. Also, check for clogged ventilation causing overheating.