Rent Or Buy A Portable Generator? Which Is Better?

Let’s face it, portable generators can be pricy. As you may have spotted on our site, a simple 2 kW inverter can cost you well over $1000.

Generators are serious toys, which require precise engineering, wide range of sophisticated design features, expensive electronics and powerful engines, all of which add up to the final price. Therefore, it may be worth your time and money to consider alternatives to buying one off the rack.

Our website will always help you find the best models for the best prices. Yet, even that may not be enough to satisfy your budget. Thus, there are two other options to consider.

  1. Buying a second-hand or inexpensive unit.
  2. Renting a portable generator.

As you may be aware, several companies lend out power equipment, including portable generators, which are the most sought out devices in this business. However, while at first the low cost of generator rentalship may be intriguing, it may not always be the best way to go!

This article will help you solve this puzzle with a timeless, three-step consideration. You are welcome to follow along and do the math for yourselves, in case you are reading this article 30 years in the future and the prices are no longer relevant. The process will still be!

When deciding if it is better to buy or rent anything, the cost, timescale and liability must be considered.

Cost

Rental pricing structure Sunbelt and Home Depot

The rental pricing structure of Sunbelt (top) and Home Depot (bottom)

The most straightforward point on this list, yet the most crucial one, is the cost. After all, that is why we’re taking our time going through this process in the first place; How does renting compare to buying a unit?

First thing to know is that the overwhelming majority of portable generators for rent are Honda generators. Although Honda portable generators are among the most expensive, these units and their engines are highly reliable, which justifies why rental places regularly chose them over other brands.

We shall compare the rent and purchase prices of several units. The daily and weekly rates come from several rental websites (such as Home Depot, Herc Rentals, Sunbelt Rentals and United Rentals), at the time of writing. The cost to buy is pulled from the lowest current product price we have in our database:

UnitRated Watts (W)Rent Per Day ($)Rent Per Week ($)Cost To Buy ($)
Honda EU1000i90040105425
Honda EU2200i160055200875
Honda EB3000c2600632521300
Honda EU3000is2800783121699
Honda EB50004500892502209
Honda EG65005500833321850

You can see at first glance that the cost benefit of rentalship wears off with time, which leads us right into our next point.

Timescale

In this step, we shall simply calculate how long you have to rent a generator for, before you spend enough money to buy you a new one.

UnitRated Watts (W)Daily Rentals Until
Full Cost Covered
Weekly Rentals Until
Full Cost Covered
Honda EU1000i900114
Honda EU2200i1600164
Honda EB3000c2600215
Honda EU3000is2800225
Honda EB50005500259
Honda EG65005500226

As you can see from the table above, it takes an average of 19.5 days if you rent on a daily basis or 5.5 weeks if you rent on a weekly basis, before having already paid the full acquisition cost of a brand new generator.

In the simplest point of view, we are done – If you plan to use a generator for longer than calculated above, you might as well buy one and vice versa, right? Yes… but in some cases, not quite. Let’s discuss why.

Liability

The statement above holds for the extremes: Either people who will use a generator once in their life, or those who will use it daily. However, these two groups are the least likely to read all the way through this article, as they don’t exactly have much of a dilemma to begin with.

For occasional users, we must consider liability. What is more of a nuisance – Risking a (relatively small) fortune when buying a generator which will never get used? Or ending up throwing out money for rent, when you may as well have bought your own generator long time ago?

Here are two scenarios to illustrate what I mean:

1) A recreational RV enthusiast, who takes a week-long trip every few years. He even bought his own camper van and is now looking to purchase a 2 kW portable generator.

At first glance, it seems quite obvious that this person should buy the inverter, as its cost will be covered by the 5th trip. After all, he already bought a van as well! But if he only takes a trip every 2 years… How much would you bet that the technology won’t be futile by his fifth trip, 10 years ahead?

If he isn’t exactly committed to an RV lifestyle, maybe he shouldn’t make an investment, on which he expects to see a return in 10 years or so.

2) A middle-aged father gets visited by his extended family for Thanksgiving and Christmas each year. To lower their accommodation cost, he bought a mobile home for the visitors, but is reluctant to purchase a generator if he’s only going to use it 2 weeks per year.

This man has already bought a mobile home, which won’t go anywhere in the near future. Nor will his family. He will therefore most likely continue paying the rent for at least 2 weeks each year, which will reach the cost of a new generator in roughly 2-3 years. Furthermore, he is limiting the mobile home’s usefulness, as he is relying on a third party, the rental place, to use it.

In the future, more visitors may come throughout the year, or he may even consider setting up an Airbnb in the mobile home.

Simply put, he is way more likely to use portable generators more, not less.

TIP: If you expect to see a return on your investment in a timescale which is comparable to the extent of a manufacturer’s warranty, the purchase is pretty much risk-free. Check our How to choose a portable generator guide to help you decide what kind of unit will be best for you.
home depot tool rental fine prints

Carefully read tool rental agreements (source)

Lastly, when considering renting a portable generator, we must factor in a security deposit, which will most likely be required. If any damage occurs to your rental unit, you could end up paying much more than the initial rental cost and, in some rare cases, even more than the cost of a new product, as the dealer is likely to keep the deposit or to charge you for the repair!

Such potential damage could have been covered by the manufacturer’s warranty if you owned the unit. Carefully read the fine prints of the rental agreement.

This is quite a conundrum, since your personal situation may be far more complicated than our examples. However, the principles are the same. Consider the points made in this article carefully to make an informed decision.

TL;DR

To give you a better picture, we summarize the pros and cons of buying and renting listed in this article, along with several extra aspects.

 BuyingRenting
Pros
  • Choice of product
  • Medium term price advantage
  • Immediate availability
  • Warranty
  • Great if used only once every few years
  • No maintenance required
Cons
  • High initial cost
  • Responsibility for maintenance
  • Very limited choice of products
  • Doesn’t pay off medium term
  • May not be available when most needed
  • You may end up paying for several new units without actually owning any
  • No warranty

Did you choose to rent or to buy a portable generator? What were the reasons of your choice? Let us know in the comments below.

Paul

Paul

Founder of generatorbible.com. Early retired from the OPE industry, living in South Carolina. He now mostly spends his time traveling and taking care of his wife and grand-children.

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