Many have tried to charge their Tesla (or other electric vehicle) with a portable generator. Most have failed. Is it a fool’s errand, or can it be done?
To be honest, I’ve never actually considered the option until I’ve stumbled upon this topic on the internet. There are a few guides and suggestions on charging EVs with a generator on various forums and YouTube. Still, the most reported outcome is failure.
Since I deem myself to be somewhat of an expert on portable generators and there seems to be in principle nothing preventing you from charging your Tesla with a generator, I decided to give it a shot.
I will go through all the details necessary, including the requirements given by Tesla, choosing the right device for the task, some tips on how to go about setting up your crazy experiment and what outcomes to expect.
For the Love of God, Why?
Charging an electric car with a portable generator seems, and in most cases is, a pretty dumb idea. After all, it defeats the whole point of having an electric car in the first place – to replace the combustion engine by a sustainable power source.
In fact, using a generator to charge your car is probably even less effective than using a gasoline-powered vehicle. Instead of using gasoline in an efficient car engine which converts its output directly into kinetic energy, you are first using a generator to transfer gas into kinetic energy and that into electricity, which then flows into your electric vehicle and is used to create kinetic energy again.
Since each node of transfer will result in some loss of efficacy, you end up with a pretty non-efficient sequence. However, this method of charging may be useful under some circumstances. Consider the following.
Once an electric vehicle runs out of power, you’re done. Even if you find a good friend who’d be willing to rescue you, he can’t exactly bring you a spare battery, and he sure ain’t moving that Tesla unless he runs a towing business. However, any car can fit a generator! Therefore, it would come in handy if you could simply recharge your car with one and move along to the closest power station.
Other scenarios in which you may find charging your EV with a generator handy include:
- Needing to charge your electric vehicle during a blackout.
- Getting stranded in a campsite, which is off the grid.
- Running a silly experiment.
However, this is in no way a practical, reasonable, efficient or an intelligent way of charging your car. Even Tesla Motors themselves discourage you from doing so in their own user manual.
However, in case of an emergency, here’s how to go about it.
Standard charging conditions
Since Tesla’s are the most popular and discussed electric vehicles at the time of writing this article, we will limit ourselves to them. Other EVs may have their own specifics.
Tesla’s use their unique power outlets. These are adaptable to NEMA outlets using a so-called mobile connector. Until 2018, the mobile adapter which came with each purchase featured a 5-15 and a 14-50 connection (Gen 1). Newer models can only be connected with a 5-15 outlet (Gen 2) out of the box.
However, both generations offer a wide selection of adapters, which will come in handy and will most likely be required.
In addition, the power source used for charging must:
- Be grounded
- Provide a clean, unmodified sine wave
So, how do generators square up to these requirements?
Using a Generator to Charge an EV
By requiring a clean sine wave, Tesla has limited us to inverter generators. Before going for one, check if the generator truly provides an unmodified, clean sine wave (as opposed to e.g., square waves).
The generator must also be grounded – the neutral bond to the frame of many generators is usually sufficient, but grounding issues may arise.
Many inverter generators have a floating neutral – Such devices are apparently rejected as ungrounded by the Tesla’s internal software. To solve this issue, we suggest either to convert to a bonded neutral, or trying, at your own risk, a so-called bonding plug (or Edison plug), such as the one from Southwire that you can find on Amazon (opens in a new tab).
If grounding still remains an issue, the only option left is to ground your generator the old-fashioned way.
Outlets and Power
Note that portable inverter generators are equipped with a combination of NEMA 5-20, 14-30 and 14-50 outlets. Unless you have a generator with a NEMA 14-50 outlet and own a Gen 1 mobile adapter, ALL will require you to buy a separate Tesla mobile NEMA adapter! You can get these adapters from the Tesla Online Shop (opens in a new tab).
There are 3 limiting factors to the final charging power. Firstly, the outlet type, which is designed to carry a current only up to a certain value of amps. Secondly, what Tesla actually draws from the outlet (which is always less). Lastly, the power limitations of the generator itself.
Most inverter generators are rated for roughly 2000 W and are therefore only equipped with NEMA 5-20 outlets, which are rated for a maximum of 120 V and 20 A, 2400 W. You can probably get a few miles out of them to get you to the nearest power station, but they are far from sufficient during a serious black out, when you have to rely on your generator’s power for up to several days.
NEMA 14-30 outlets are less common but can be found in many generators as well. They are rated for a maximum of 240 V and 30 A, 7200 W. These will be able to charge your car in a far from optimal, but still quite reasonable amount of time.
NEMA 14-50 outlets are far less common among inverter generators and can only be found in some of the more expensive models. They are rated for a maximum of 240 V and 50 A, 12000 W. However, they do exist and may be a viable option for recharging your car in case of a blackout, or more generally, when you need to recharge a significant portion of your battery in a reasonable amount of time.
As already mentioned, your TESLA WILL NOT draw the maximum available wattage when charging.
For summary, the table below shows the max amps and watts drawn by each adapter.
|Adapter||Max amps||Max watts|
|Gen 1||Gen 2||Gen 1||Gen 2|
As a result, charge times will differ by mobile adapter generation, outlet, and, since not all Teslas are equal, also the Tesla model.
For summary, the tables below show the max mileage per hour of charge for each adapter and mobile connector generation, by car.
|Max mileage per hour of charge|
|Model S||Model X|
|Max mileage per hour of charge|
|Model S||Model 3||Model X||Model Y|
Lastly, the FINAL wattage limit is given by the generator itself. At the time of writing, the most powerful inverter generator is rated for 7000 W (29 A). Both numbers fall below the max value of 7680 W (32 A) for Gen 2 NEMA 14-50 mobile adapters. The same will apply for the numerous 3000-5000 W generators and their NEMA L14-30R outlets, or 1000 W generators and their NEMA 5-20R outlets.
For this reason, YOU WILL RARELY REACH THE MAXIMUM WATTAGE/AMPS/MILEAGE (values in Table 1, 2 and 3) when charging your Tesla electric car with a portable generator, especially with 14-50R outlets, since they are currently not achievable with inverter generators.
What to Expect
Most importantly, as I have mentioned previously – grounding issues. I have yet to see a single case of charging an electric vehicle with a generator that is not complicated by grounding issues. Solving them has been explained above. The following video may also be of some assistance.
It will take a while. The generator must be warmed up first. When charging a Tesla, the amps must be set to the lowest possible setting using the dashboard monitor and only gradually brought up to the maximum amps. During this process, your generator may die on you if you up the amps too quickly.
After doing so, given that you are using an inverter generator and therefore, most likely a NEMA 5-20R outlet, you are limited to a recharge speed of 4 miles per hour, which coincidentally, is pretty close to the average walking speed of a human. Therefore, you should consider if it’s even worth your time. If it is, expect to spend the next few hours reading your favorite book and refilling your fuel tank repeatedly.
Lastly – failure. The internet is full of them. While many have successfully charged their Tesla using a generator, there seems to be an equal amount of those who have tried and failed, without ever managing to resolve the fault. If you are going to rely on a backup generator for your electric vehicle, we suggest you try it out several times to check if it will actually work beforehand.
In summary, we have found out that it is in fact possible to recharge your Tesla and possibly any other electrical vehicle, using a generator. However, only a few inverter generators with a clean sine wave will be suitable for the job, you will most likely run into grounding issues and if all of the above is solved, you will still have to wait several hours to get any significant mileage.
Have you tried and successfully charged your EV or Tesla with a portable generator? Which model of generator did you use and how did it go? Let us know in the comments below!
Know this is old but wonder if there has been any new news. I need to charge my MYP between autocross events so need about a 20% to 25% in a couple of hours . It needs a generator with inverter for correct sine wave pattern . I believe that playing with plug design can help reduce bottle neck the mobile cable provided with the car will handle 35amps/hr. Any progress or real life experience
This is the main problem of all EV cars. Where I can recharge my EV car if I am out from the city and from the superchargers? And my batteries are empty.
A fun (and realistic) analysis.
Problem #1. Imagine that you are going from Dallas to Galveston Texas in a Tesla or Toyota, or other pure EV car, the highway is fully loaded of cars and trucks and the traffic is too slow (45-50 Mph or less) and for more disgrace you are in the middle of the distance and the batteries are empty of load. No electric charger near you and the car stopped. What can you do?.
Solution #1. Call to one tow truck in order to take the car (with you) and move it to the next city.
Problem #2 Supercharge fully of other EV cars that are charging too and you need to wait 2 -3 hours to be connected and charge the battery.
Solution #2. Before to start the trip, load inside the car an electric power plant of 7Kw of output power with enough gasoline or Propane in order to charge the battery when it are empty.
– Of course that the weight that you added to the car will reduce the miles that you can run.
Somebody else wrote that is better that the car manufacturers add an emergency generator in the car.
Conclusion in front this problem.
If you love the electric car like me, the solution is to buy a HYBRID car or a HYBRID PLUG IN. Forget the pure EV car.
With a HYBRID or HYBRID PLUG-IN you have the electric power plant on board and the powerful so HYBRID control module, can solve all the problem of the charge de batteries. At the end you will pay for the electricity more or less the total amount that I pay in gas. Taking in to account that my car have a consumption rate of 55 to 60 mpg, and I don’t need superchargers or electric installations in my house to recharge the batteries.
Remember that the electric cars start now, the infrastructure is not ready yet in order to support this change of technology.
It’s about 300 miles between Dallas and Galveston, so if you don’t get there in one charge (would be cutting too close for my taste), you could stop at one of six superchargers on the way for about 10 minutes.
Not sure what you’re talking about with waiting 2-3 hrs to supercharge. It’s clear you’ve never driven a Tesla long-distance.. just making stuff up.
Hybrid cars are the worst of all situations.. complexity and maintenance that’s even worse than an ICE car, and the extra weight as well. 99% of most people’s driving is commuting, so the long-distance piece is not really a practical issue anyway. My parents just drove 5,000 miles in their Tesla around the country and didn’t have any issues..
I don’t see it as defeating the purpose per se…the first electric cars were hybrids but still used the gasoline engine to actually power the transmission which requires a LOT more power and fuel than if it were to ONLY charge the battery. But the arguments against are all based on the type of generator used; none are DESIGNED for this purpose so they aren’t as efficient or safe as they could be.
What really got me thinking about this was watching a doc about all electric planes and the distance limit kept coming up. An example they gave, where they converted a plan that could seat 9 from gas to electric, a $400 amount of fuel would power the conventional plane 1000 miles while $24 of electrical energy would power the same plane 300 miles, impressive but impractical given this plane they converted was commonly used in undeveloped regions.
So why not have a smaller combustion generator DESIGNED for charging these batteries on board? Even for a car I would imagine a purpose built generator could work. It wouldn’t need to be in EVERY all electric, but things like planes, people who travel in areas without charging stations, or long haul trucks it would seem to make sense.
Sadly I lack the engineering skills to design such a generator and I guess all I’m saying is I’m surprised no one has, or even, it seems, to have thought about this option
Only the earliest hybrids had the ICE attached to the transmission, like the first generation Honda Insight, and possibly the first gen Prius, but all modern hybrids are an electric drivetrain with a gas powered generator. That’s how the Prius has been since at least 2004, the Chevy Volt, and most other hybrid designs. The most recent designs, like the Jeep 4xe, have the electric motor incorporated directly into the transmission to reduce drivetrain power loss.
Have you not heard of the Toyota Prius?
I was curious if a Tesla that had run out of charge a few miles from a charging station could be charged with a generator as an alternative to having it towed. Not to routinely charge the car.
The short answer is yes, possible. HOWEVER, you better read the full article above, your car’s manual, and try it at home until you are sure you have worked out the bugs.
Thanks for the read! I have a 2016 VW eGolf. It has a maximum power draw of 7200W (240V x 30A). I bought a 9500W (peak, 12000W) generator, thinking it would work in a pinch. Unfortunately, the voltage seems to drop to about 210V when I run it with the charger, pushing the current to 34+A and causing my charger (rated to 32A) to trip, resetting the process. It charges fine when limited to 13A of current. I haven’t tried the warm-up, increasing the current max slowly — I’ll give that a try to the extent possible with the eGolf (you can only choose 5A, 10A, 13A, and maximum on the car).