Generator Care

Can a Portable Generator Charge an Electric Car?

An electric car offers an excellent way to enjoy a ride without polluting this beautiful world. However, when the battery juice can take you to the next charging station, troubles arise. You have to find a way to add some miles to your dashboard to reach the next charging station, and it just happens there is a portable generator available. But can you charge your EV with a portable generator?

Yes! You can charge your electric car with a portable generator. But it’s a challenging and doubting task that would take a few of your hours and test your patience. What you need is the right size generator with the correct outlet types, grounding and sine wave.

What is the right size generator? What type of outlets do you need? How should the generator be grounded? Follow up to get the answers to these questions and more.

Is It Possible to Charge an Electric Car with a Portable Generator?

Charging an electric car using a portable generator seems, in lots of ways, a dumb idea. It goes against the idea of using an electric vehicle – as it will still produce the harmful gases you tried to avoid by using a zero-emission vehicle.

What’s more, using a portable generator to charge an electric car might even be less effective if you compare it to riding a gasoline vehicle.

With a gasoline vehicle, the engine converts the output directly to kinetic energy. When using a portable generator, the engine converts the output to kinetic energy before converting it to electricity, push it to the EV before using it as kinetic energy again.

Each energy conversion will result in some efficacy loss at each node, and you’ll end up with a non-efficient sequence.

However, charging your electric car with a portable generator can be helpful in some circumstances.

If your EV was to run out of power, it’s done for you. Even if you have a caring friend willing to rescue you, it’s not as simple as bringing a spare battery. There is no way of moving the EV unless you give your towing service provider a call.

However, if you had a portable generator at your disposal, your odds of reaching the next charging station could improve. You can hook the car to it and add miles to your dashboard enough to take you to the next charging station. It’s a method of charging an EV to take you out of a situation when there is a power outage, while off-grid or during an emergency.

But, we can all agree this method of charging an electric car is in no way easy, efficient or intelligent. Even major EV brands such as Tesla Motors and KIA discourage trying this method.

Why Would You Want to Charge Your Electric Car with Portable Generator?

The main idea why most people are motivated to buy an electric car is to avoid using gas. Some people might even see it as a damp idea, but the following situations can make you think twice about charging your electric car with a portable generator.

During Power outages

The primary power source for electric car juice is the national grid. When scheduled maintenance or adverse conditions cause prolonged power outages, there won’t be a way to charge your EV. And guess what? You will want to move around. But since you’re using a backup generator for emergency power, it’d be a good idea to top up your electric car juice with one.

In Off-Grid areas

With most camping being off-grid, you will be tempted to pull your trailer with your electric car and enjoy some time off the busy schedule. After the camping is over, you will have to get into your vehicle and drive away home.

It’s possible you won’t have enough juice, and as you can guess, there’s no way of charging your car using the standard home outlet. The only other power source you have in your portable generator. Luckily, you can hook it up to add some miles to take you to the nearest charging station.

The same situation applies to an off-grid vacation house where you only use a portable generator to power the cabin.

Running a Silly Experiment

You might also be interested in experimenting if a generator can charge your electric car. If that’s your interest, it’s understandable. I also experimented to come up with this article. It took a long time to try and answer whether you can charge a Tesla with a portable generator.

What to Consider in a Portable Generator for Charging Your EV

Electric cars feature power sensing and regulating systems, which can spell doom for your day if your portable generator doesn’t meet the minimum standards. So what are the requirements your portable generator has to meet?

Output Wave

Electric vehicles require a safe charging current, what is referred to as a clean sine wave. A generator that can deliver this is an inverter generator.

And if you have been to the generator market, you well know inverter generators cost a fortune compared to the conventional generators, even those modified to provide modified sine waves.

Popular electric car brands such as Tesla, Nissan and Chevy models integrate a system that protects them from any power supply that isn’t clean sine wave.

That means, if you try to hook up your car to a conventional open-frame generator, it won’t charge. The EVSE (Electric Vehicle System Equipment) charger won’t allow the charge to pass through to your car.

The main idea is to protect the electric car systems and mainly the battery against surges while charging. That’s why you must emphasize using an inverter generator delivering nothing but pure sine wave output.

Output and Outlet Types

Electric cars have three types of charging based on the voltage system used. They include:

  • Level 1 charging: the charging requires a 110v-120v power supply and works ideally with those relatively small electric vehicles typically. The charging system has power sufficient for restoring vehicle driving range fully. It’s also known as slow charging as it can take the whole night to charge an EV full.
  • Level 2 charging: this charging process requires a 220v-240v power supply and various amperages typically ranging from 16 amps to 40 amps, with 16 and 30 amps being the most common, the 3.3 kW and 7.2 kW, respectively.
  • Level 3 charging: the charging system uses high-power DC output and is not available in a portable generator.

With level 1 charging requiring a 110-120 volt system, your generator must deliver between 12 amps and 16 amps of continuous power. That means you need an inverter generator sized between 1.4kW – 2.0kW for level 1 charging.

If you want to try and fasten the charging a bit, level 2 charging is the way to go. You need an inverter generator providing 220-240 volts and 16 amps to 40 amps. That means the smallest generator should deliver 3.6kW and up. The high end of this range is 9.6kW.

With most inverter generators rated roughly 2000 watts to 4500 watts, they come equipped with NEMA 5-20 outlets, rated for maximum output of 120-volts, 20 Amps and 2400 watts.

Such a generator might squeeze some juice out of it, but it won’t be enough to charge the electric car unless you can wait several days.

Even though the outlets are less common, you can still find them in many generators. You can find a generator outlet rated 240-volt, 30 Amps, 7200 watts. Such a portable generator has the capability of charging an electric car, but you’ll still have to wait for it even to add one mile.

You can also find it on a generator with an outlet rated 240-volt, 50-amps and 12000 watts, but you will have to pay a considerable investment.

Does such an inverter generator exist? It’s tough to find an inverter generator providing more than 5000 watts. But there few options such as:

• Champion Power Equipment 100520 8750-Watt Open Frame Inverter
• WEN GN875i 8750-Watt Open Frame Inverter Generator

These size generators are big enough to run a standard house and run multiple high-power appliances during an outage. But I should warn you – don’t try to run anything else with the generator when charging your electric car. The load might be too massive to straining the engine too much, something you don’t want considering the amount of investment to put up.


Another protective measure used in an EVSE charging system is the grounding checker. Any EV charging power source must be ground appropriately for the car’s charging system to accept the charge. That includes the power coming from a generator.

Grounding a generator might require you to drive a grounding rod to the ground and tie it to the generator using a grounding wire. However, there is a way you can bypass this. Of course, doing so voids your EV’s warranty. Besides this, you’ll need considerable electrical and electronic troubleshooting skills to achieve this.

Avoid running the generator during a rainy or stormy day. Use a properly grounded generator or learn generator grounding and ground yours properly.

Tip: Charging your electric car with a portable generator will take a test on your patience. It can take a day over a day. But, I assume you only want the generator to add some mile to your dashboard enough to take you to the nearest charging station; you don’t need a full charge. A couple of charging hours can give you some mile, saving you time and money you would have used for gas.

What Are Challenges of Charging an Electric Car with a Generator

Let’s repeat it: yes, it is entirely possible to charge an electric car using a portable generator. However, some pretty big challenges come with trying to do that. Let’s take a closer look at a few of them.

It’s possible to charge an electric car with a portable generator. That’s not a secret anymore. But, there are some issues you’ve got to deal with when trying to charge your EV with a portable generator. They include:

1) Small Inverter Generators Are Weak

I wouldn’t be surprised if most people wanting to charge an electric car with a generator think of using a model small enough to fit into the trunk neatly.

Such generators run on either gasoline or propane, and very few run on diesel. Even though most of these units are excellent for camping and outdooring because of their size, they aren’t enough for charging an EV from zero to full.

If you want to add some charges into the car battery to extend the mile reading on your dashboard, you can power up the small generator and hook your car up using the right adapters.

When doing that, you may find yourself faced with two significant issues. Firstly, the generator may struggle to produce enough power even to start charging the car at all. Your generator will get louder as it tries its best to keep up with the EV’s charging port demands.

However, when doing so, you might have to deal with some issues;

  • Your small portable generator might struggle to produce enough power for charging the car. It will get louder and probably surge or sputter before bogging down.
  • Once the car starts to receive the charge from the generator and you check the charging progress on the dashboard monitor, it will show that the charging might take a day or even days to charge the EV.

That means, even though you can charge an EV with a portable generator, the practicality of this process requires an ideal size generator.

2) The Required Generator Can Be Too Big

A portable generator doesn’t mean it’s only tiny units involved. These models come in all shapes and sizes.

If you go on a camping tour with your electric car and want to carry a camping generator that can charge your vehicle and keep you comfortable in your camping tent, you might want to go big. But how big? You will have to start by checking the available space in your Tesla or other EV models you own.

A portable generator can be huge, and some might not fit in your EV trunk. You might be forced to make changes to your trip, like pulling a trailer that would hold the generator and other camping stuff.

If you need a faster way to charge your car outdoors, you might have to buy a generator that can’t fit in your EV. That means an ideal generator might be impractical to carry around.

3) Fossil Fuels and Emissions

Why did you buy an electric car? Was it something to do with the environment-polluting fuels? If you’re using an EV to avoid consuming fossil fuel that produces harmful emissions, the last thing you want is to rely on a portable generator run by gasoline, propane or diesel.

However, you can argue that generators don’t produce harmful emissions compared to automotive combustion engines. But the hard truth is, they still pollute the air, which might prevent you from using a generator to charge your EV.

Related Questions

Can you charge your electric car with a portable generator while driving?

No! The EVSE charging kit has a preventive mechanism that detects when the charge is engaged to the car’s charging port and lock all the driving controls from you. That means you have to disengage the charge for you to drive, meaning you cannot charge and drive simultaneously. Read more about why you can’t recharge an electric car when you are driving?

About the author

Sharif Gen

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