Saturday, June 19, 2021

Another Generator Tale and Some Basics to Know When the Generator is Not Working

 Our Roadtrek has been sitting on the driveway for over a year and a half because of Covid-19. We live in an area that was hard hit by the virus and we pretty much stayed indoors only going out once every several weeks for essentials. Trips that we had hoped to be able to take in 2020 were not possible. Places that we wanted to go to - if we could have gone away had canceled all of their events or just closed. I have been going out to the Roadtrek and starting the engine every week. We took it for a few local two hour drives - out and back to keep it running, charge the batteries, besides plugging in to charge the batteries. I also had to keep exercising the generator for its monthly two hour continuous run with a half load which is either the air conditioner running or in the cold weather an electric radiant home portable heater plugged into one of the Roadtrek outlets. I did this diligently until February 2021 when it snowed here every week and the snow piled up around the Roadtrek and we could not get into it. It ran fine when it was exercised in January and shut off fine as well.

The second week in March 2021, the weather was getting better. Most of the snow had melted and I went out to exercise the generator. I started the van engine to boost the batteries that are needed to start the generator, put the battery switch on, and pushed the generator start button on the wall inside the Roadtrek. What should have happened was the generator starting to crank, catch, and run. I should have seen the amber light on the switch come on. None of that happened. What did happen was the light did not come on with the switch held in, there was no noise at all - there was no cranking, and when I took my finger off the switch, the switch light did flash on and off once, and I could hear a noise toward the back of the van (where the generator is under the chassis) that went clunk - once. Oh boy!  I tried several times more. 

I went into the house to get Meryl as I was going to try to crawl under the back of the can to the generator - something I am not supposed to do because of a physical issue - and try to start the generator from the switch that is behind the access panel on the front of the generator.  She came out with me - basically to pull me out if I could not get out from under the van - and I crawled under. I opened the access panel - two push up tabs on the bottom of the panel releases it which is easy to do if you are not lying under the van on your side trying to reach up while still supporting yourself on your elbows. I looked inside and the start switch is right there. I pushed the switch and nothing. This switch has no light but when I released the switch I did here the single clunk.

There is a 5 amp fuse inside the generator. This fuse is there to protect the generator starting electronics.  If this fuse is blown, the generator will NOT start. If I could get to the fuse and see if it has blown, then replace it, the generator MIGHT start. The problem was the fuse is down and behind other components and I could not see it. I could not even feel it when I tried to get my finger down to where I thought it should be.  At that point, I could stay under the van any longer and I put the generator access panel back on and crawled backwards to get out - with Meryl's help. 

It was March. Covid-19 was still very much present and we had not been able to schedule appointments for the Covid vaccine. We decided to just leave it alone until we were fully vaccinated and it was warmer to deal with. And we knew it had to be brought into a Cummins/Onan authorized service center. 

By the end of May we were both fully vaccinated and we were trying to get the Roadtrek ready for hopefully being able to start to travel again. I called the generator shop which is in the next county about a 45 minute drive.  They gave me a morning appointment to bring the Roadtrek for them to work on the generator. 

We took the Roadtrek to the Onan shop the morning of the appointment. The appointment was for 10am. We arrived at 9:45. Since we were not sure how long they would need it to work on, Meryl drove the Roadtrek there and I followed in the car.  We parked in the back of the building where the entrance to the shop is and we walked around the building to the office entrance and let them know we were there. We were told just to wait with the Roadtrek in the back as the service tech was finishing a job offsite and would be back very soon. At about 10:20 or so, he arrived. I explained that it would not start and what it did when not starting. He asked where the generator is and I told him and he said, "I was afraid of that!".  He did not like working lying on the ground either.  I showed him the start button inside and turned on the battery switch.  I also told him that the last time they worked on it, it also did not start which was 2018 and the paperwork I have from that repair said the fuse had come loose. He went to the switch inside the Roadtrek and tried to start it - and it did exactly what I had been doing for me  - not start. We told him we would wait or if he thought it would be long we could go and come back. He said either way and we stayed but we had to leave the shop and watch through the open garage door. He went under the van with a work light and in about five minutes I hear the generator start. It has not done that in three months.  He shut it off and started it twice more. As he crawled out I shouted into the garage - "Was it the fuse?" He said it was - it was loose.  I asked why would it go loose and he told me that is what he would have to find out now.

If you have ever been concerned about the Roadtrek being put up on a lift - what he did next (and I knew this is what this shop does as they did it with my Roadtrek in the past) - would make you cringe as I do every time I see them do this.  He got into a forklift and drove it behind the Roadtrek. He centered the fork with the center of the bumper, lowered the fork down and drove under the back of the Roadtrek and raised the fork until it made contact with the bottom of the chassis and lifted the back up about two feet off the  ground.  Then he went back under.  I could not really see what he was doing from that point so I went to sit in the car with Meryl to read an ebook on my phone.

The car was parked on the other end of the parking lot and after awhile I moved the car and parked it facing the open garage door and the Roadtrek. About an hour went by and he looked like he was finishing and then he put the back of the Roadtrek down  with the  forklift.  I went over and asked him if it was done. It was. This all was just less than an hour including the regular maintenance that I asked be done on the generator. I asked him about the loose fuse and what did he do about it so that it would not go loose again. He told me then that it turned out not to be the fuse. He thought it was at first because when he put his fingers in around the fuse, he was pushing around and thought he felt the fuse seat back in, and  then then the generator was able to start. When he looked closer with the Roadtrek lifted up he found a plug and socket that are supposed to be tightly snapped together and not come apart and it is right behind the fuse. When he touched the fuse earlier he had actually pushed the plug and socket close enough together for the generator to be able to start. OK, but I had to ask why would this have come apart. What he told me I don't really accept,but it was working and there was no reason to question further. He told me that when it was all put together originally this was not snapped tightly together as it should have been. I said that was ten years ago and he just shrugged. BUT the Onan started.  

Now, back in 2016 when I first brought the Roadtrek to this same shop to work on the generator, they had to take it down to repair it and took it apart. It is possible that this plug and socket were not tightly snapped back together then and over time with all the vibrating the generator does when it runs, it is possible that finally in January 2021, this connection shook loose. I don't know. As long as it works now - I am fine with it.  

He also did as I had asked them to do, an oil change, a fuel filter change, and a spark plug change. That was all done.  I then asked him - and this is the important part of this story, if he tested it under load. He had not. What this means is did he test the generator running with a load - something running inside the Roadtrek powered at 110 volts by the generator - like the air conditioner. He said I could do that while he stood by but he wanted me to bring the Roadtrek outside the shop to do so as he did not want to fill the shop with exhaust. Fair enough, 

I baked the Roadtrek out of the garage, went to the switch and the generator started right up. Then I let it run for three minutes - I usually let it warm up for five minutes before putting on a load but I did not want to make him wait around too long for me to do that so I let it run for three minutes this time, then I turned on the A/C. NOTHING! I knew exactly what was wrong. We called him outside and let him know and he went under the van to the generator and clicked the circuit breaker back up. 

When there is no power coming from the Onan the circuit breaker is tripped - and any work done inside the small space in the generator, a hand will surely find the circuit breaker switch and accidentally knock it down to off. He was under and I thought he had already reset the breaker but had not. I tried the A/C and again nothing. The generator was still running. I plugged in the microwave which I keep unplugged over the winter (just to not overwhelm the Onan when I exercise it every month and in the cold it is harder starting it). The microwave had power. I slid the A/C switch to ON and it started. He had by then reset the circuit breaker. 

SO - the point here is  - if you have work done on the generator, even just an oil change, or you do work on the Onan - if there is no power inside with the Onan running -  the service tech or you hit the circuit breaker handle and turned it off. That is fairly simple to get to and flip it back up.

This Onan shop which is a sales and service center for all types of generators from big house and really large worksite generators to as small as the Onan Microlite 2800. We have been there when they were working on a large Class A's generator. They charge $166 an hour labor plus parts. Our job took just less than an hour and we were charged $170. total. This included the labor time, the oil, the fuel filter, and the spark plug.  This was a LOT less than we were anticipating.  

The Onan now runs with the push of the switch and we  know that if we need it, it is ready.  In the next few days I will exercise it for its usual two hours a month with the A/C running to get it back to its usual exercise routine.


How this service tech went under the Roadtrek - without it lifted up  - was interesting and maybe it is how others do it.  He went under with a creeper and went in from the side and not straight in under  the bumper (as I go under). This might give a little more ability to move under the low van and if I have to go under I will try it that way.  It seems a lot better than going head in from under the bumper and the hitch.


1)  If your generator does not start, the first thing to try to check is the fuse. The fuse if blown will prevent the generator from starting as no 12 volt power is getting to the generator's starter.

2) If your generator is running BUT there is NO POWER coming from it to the inside of the Roadtrek 110 volt appliances plugged in, the first thing to check is the circuit breaker INSIDE the Onan at the front looking in. Reset that breaker by flipping it UP and you should now have power inside the Roadtrek from the generator. 

Of course with both of these - IF NOTHING MORE IS WRONG!  


Here is a link to our general Onan Generator Article - for much more detail about how it works. 




  1. Loved your article. We are newbies, purchased 03C170P late June a year ago. Purchased it with the generator not working.(but it was working just a few days ago!s) Took it to a major Cummings shop, and it needed a new carburetor. They did not test under load. They did not test starting from cabin.So it made several more trips in to the shop because it wouldn't start for us. By the time we took it on its only (for us)trip longer than a few days, it worked well. One monthly start up during Covid, it did not start. Back to shop. New carburetor had to come from Texas. Three months in shop. Second carburetor was a dud. Had to order another one. We had gone across prairies on our fall trip, and did not know about Seafoam. Did not know not to use ethynol, which is about all you can find in some grain areas. Did not know always to use high test gas. So, thank you for these articles, and the files. Our restrictions are starting to be lifted, and we are looking forward to travelling again soon.

    1. You DO NOT have to use premium gas in the van for the generator. We have used 87 octane regular gas since our Roadtrek was new from the day we took delivery. You ALSO CAN USE gas with ethanol rated for car engines. The Onan will run well on gasoline with that amount of ethanol. If you are traveling and try to only use ethanol free gas you will run out of gas before you find a gas station that has it. What you should not do is use what is called FLEX FUEL - all ethanol fuel. Even though newer Chevy Express vans can use Flex Fuel the Onan cannot. All you need to do buying regular gas with the standard amount of ethanol in it is put an ethanol treatment into the gasoline to run through the engine and the generator over the months when you are not traveling and when you exercise the generator (which is must) for at least two hours continuously once a month with either the A/C running or in the winter an electric heater plugged inside the Roadtrek - either one provides the needed half load - and the generator will be fine when you start traveling when the warm weather returns in the Spring. The generator should be exercised this way 12 months a year. It needs to be run. A generator that is not run has more problems than a generator that is run often. Sorry to hear that a Cummins shop took so many months to get a carburetor - that had to be replaced three times. Wow! If you don't use the generator often other than exercising it, change the generator oil once every year. The Onan manual shows how often to do maintenance and change the oil by the number of hours shown on the meter on the wall next to the switch - but oil is something to change annually if you don't reach the hours to change the oil in one year. There are four basic maintenance parts - oil, fuel filter, air filter, and spark plug. There is NO oil filter in the Microlite 2800. We once had an Onan shop want to charge us for changing one in a full maintenance and I had to show them the manual to show there was none to change. You always have to be prepared to know the basics even when dealing with a company authorized service shop.

    2. Seafoam contains an ethanol treatment along with gasoline stabilizers that keep the gas fresh through the winter. One ounce for each gallon of gas. I fill the tank first - that is 31 gallons. Two cans are 32 ounces - an ounce more is fine - and I put in two cans into the van gas tank.