A generator is a great investment. Whether you’re looking for a portable generator that can power some of your home’s appliances during a power outage, or a generator you can take with you when working in the field or hauling around the country in an RV, buying a high-quality generator is sure to pay off for years to come.
However, generators can be quite expensive. Sure, you could shell out nearly $1,000 for a high-quality generator from a name brand like Honda or Yamaha – or you could buy the cheapest, off-brand generator you can find on Amazon.com for a fraction of the price.
But not all generators are created equal. As with any tool, you get what you pay for – and if you skimp too much, and buy a low-cost unit, you could run into any number of problems.
We’re not suggesting that you go out and spend thousands of dollars on an enormous, powerful, name-brand generator. However, we do think that, before you purchase a low-cost, off-brand generator, you should think things through. If you pick the cheapest generator you can find, you’ll run into a number of different issues – which we’ll discuss in detail below.
- Poor Efficiency Means Higher Running Costs
First things first, a cheaper generator is going to have higher running costs than a comparable, more expensive generator. This is because the quality of the parts will be lower.
The design also will not be as advanced – for example, the compression ratio of a cheap generator may be lower, resulting in poor efficiency. A cheaper generator may also be more likely to burn motor oil, which will require you to keep topping up the oil, to ensure the engine is not damaged.
This adds up to higher running costs. You’ll need to spend more on fuel to use a cheaper generator. And not only does this mean that you’ll be paying more to use your generator, it also means that you’ll have to refill the tank more frequently – which may be inconvenient, particularly during the middle of the night.
The Honda EU2200i, for example, provides 2,200 watts, and can run for up to 8.1 hours on less than a single gallon of gas. A comparable generator from WEN, a Chinese company, is much cheaper, but provides less power, and consumes 1.1 gallons of gas every 7.5 hours.
You must balance running costs and efficiency with the cost of the unit. As a rule, the best compromise is somewhere in the middle. You don’t have to buy the most expensive generator – but you may want to steer clear of a cut-rate, cheap generator.
- Cheap Generators Have Shorter Lifespans
With proper use and maintenance, you can expect a high-quality portable generator to last you for 3,000 hours of use or more. Depending on how often you use it, a high-quality generator could easily last you two or three decades.
This is not true of cheaper generators, which may have a much shorter service lifespan. After only a few years of use, you may start running into engine problems, or the unit may fail altogether.
This means that, in the long run, it’s usually cheaper to spend a bit more money up-front for a higher-quality generator. Sure, it’s more expensive – but it’s cheaper to buy a great generator once and have it last 30 years than it is to buy three or four cheap generators that may not even last 5 years.
- Your Warranty Will Not Be As Good
Warranties are another good reason to spend a bit of extra money on a higher-quality generator. Many cheaper generators come with only a one-year warranty, while higher-quality units tend to come with a 2-year, or even 3-year warranty. RIDGID, for example, provides a 3-year warranty for most of their generators.
This means that, if you get a cheaper generator with a bad warranty and it dies on you, there’s not much you can do about it. But if you get a slightly more expensive generator, you’ll get extra peace of mind, and know that your unit will be repaired or replaced for free for the first few years that you own it, in the unlikely event that something goes wrong.
- You Won’t Get Good Customer Support
Reputable power tool companies like Honda and Generac have great customer support. Whether you have a question about maintenance, your warranty, or you need any other information about your generator unit, you’re sure to get faster responses from well-known generator companies.
The same can’t always be said about suppliers of cheap generators. You may not get reliable information, or it may take a long time for a customer service representatives to respond to your messages or phone calls, which can be quite inconvenient.
This will vary based on the company, of course. Buying a more expensive generator is not a guarantee that you will get better support. But, as a rule of thumb, it’s true that support from a reputable company will be more responsive. So, if that’s important to you, consider shelling out a few more dollars for a more expensive generator.
- Cheap Generators Are Usually Noisy, Have Higher Emissions Levels
This is somewhat dependent on the generator which you buy, whether or not it’s an inverter generator, and the sound-dampening features that it has been designed with.
All generators will create at least some level of noise. Given the fact that generators use internal combustion to make power, this is a given. But when higher quality components and materials are used, generators can be built with a lower overall decibel level, which makes them more pleasant to use, and reduces noise pollution.
The same is true of emissions. All generators will emit carbon monoxide, which can be potentially deadly. This is why they should never be run indoors, or in garages. Generators must be placed in a well-ventilated area, ideally with protection from rain, and at least 15 feet away from your home.
But cheaper generators often use more inexpensive materials and are designed with inefficient carburetors and low compression ratios, which increases emission and decreases efficiency.
On the other hand, many leading brands like Ryobi and Generac are now experimenting with more efficient, direct fuel-injected generators, which offer more efficiency, lower emissions, and less noise.
So, if you’re looking for quiet performance with lower emissions, you’ll want to purchase a more expensive generator. However, if noise levels aren’t a concern, and you’ll be using your generator far away from your home, a cheaper generator is still a reasonable choice.
- You Could Damage Your Appliances And Electronics
Here’s one of the biggest reasons that you shouldn’t get a cheap generator. If your generator fails or malfunctions, it’s probably not just going to damage itself. It’s going to damage everything to which it’s connected. From your stove, to air conditioners, light fixtures, TVs and electronics, and other appliances, a failing generator can cause electrical damage by providing improper wattage.
Sensitive electronics are very vulnerable to overloading. If your generator is malfunctioning and starts sending too much current to these appliances, they can be destroyed. And, if your appliances are constantly receiving less power than they need, additional stress can be put on motors and other mechanical components, which will not be operating properly.
So don’t just consider the cost of a generator. Consider the cost of replacing all of your electronics and appliances, should your generator fail catastrophically, and deliver a power surge to the appliances that it is powering.
- It Could Fail When You Need It The Most
Whether you’re working out in the field and need power for lights, or you’re at home, and you need to run medical appliances, lights, and your refrigerator/freezer during a power outage, it’s important to know that you have a reliable generator to use – and that it will work for you, without fail.
This is the final – and perhaps the most important – reason you should not skimp when buying a generator, and should invest in a high-quality, powerful, and reliable model. In most situations, homeowners are buying a generator, and hoping they never have to use it. Nobody looks forward to a power outage.
But having a generator on-hand provides you with peace of mind, particularly if you know that it will offer consistent, on-demand performance for years and decades to come. If you purchase a cheap generator, you may not get that same peace of mind – because you’ll always be wondering if it will fail when you need it the most.
Weigh Price, Performance, And Reliability – And Make The Right Choice
We’re not trying to sound overly negative. There are some situations in which purchasing a cheap generator is a good idea. After all, it’s better to have a generator in an emergency – rather than not have one at all!
If you can only afford an inexpensive generator, do your homework and read some reviews to find one that offers good performance. Chances are, it will be a reasonably good investment.
But, as a rule, we recommend splurging a bit, and going for a more reliable generator from a reputable brand. This is the only way to make sure that your generator will be safe, efficient, long-lasting, and reliable.
So think about what’s important to you, and consider what you’ve learned from this article when shopping for a generator. We know you’ll make the right choice for you and your family.