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How to Pick the Right Type of Generator for Mobile Detailing

Straight up: you probably need a generator at some point in your detailing business. Especially if you run a mobile detailing business, there are times when you need power to pump water or run polishers.

That said, the best generator depends on your business model and volume. Some people decide to go waterless…but that’s another conversation!

in this guide, we’ll help you learn about the different types of generates out there so you can find the one that’s right for your business.

Generators come in a ton of different sizes, utilize different technologies, and produce different noise levels you need to take into consideration.

Why you need a generator for a mobile detailing business

A generator is a must for detailers if you are pumping water, powering polishers, or running a medium to large detailing business.

That said, you don’t have to spend $700-$2000 if you’re just starting out. For example, you can technically ask for access to a customer’s water and power source, and just bring your own extension cords and hoses. If you’re doing a lot of commercial office park jobs, you’ll want a good detailing trailer or van setup.

With a generator, you’ll be able to offer more services where you’ll need to power accessories like an air compressor, vacuum cleaner, or other small power tools.

A good first step is to take inventory of the equipment you’ll need to power on the job and figure out how many hours you’ll use these tools each day. This will help you decide what type and type of generator will be best for your business.

Decide what you will power with a generator

Since generators come in a variety of sizes and types, it’s important to make sure you select one that will be sufficient for your needs.

Here are some common accessories that will require a power source:

  • Electric pressure washers
  • Water pumps
  • Vacuums like Shop-Vacs
  • Polishers
  • Blowers and dryers
  • Carpet extractors and carpet cleaners
  • Steamers
Quick Tip

If you have a team of 2-3 people that will power vacuums, foam cannons, or other accessories simultaneously, the bigger the better. Always check your detailing accessories to find out how much power they will draw.

Understand Watts, Amps, and Volts

I won’t bore you with electrical lingo, but it does help to understand some basic electrical terminology.

Each generator you select should have a couple of readings: continuous (or rated) watts and maximum (or peak) watts.

Continuous Watts

Continuous Watts are the number of watts a generator can comfortably run under. It’s always best to ensure any devices you are powering can operate within this range. What’s a little confusing is that a generator like the Honda EU2200i is named using its peak wattage rating, even though it is rated at 1,800 continuous watts.

You never want to run a motor continuously above its rated (continuous) wattage recommendation for a long period of time to avoid burnout.

Volts and Amps

Voltage (or volts) is the difference in charge between two different points, while amps are a measure of how strong an electrical current is. Each device you purchase (from polishers, vacs, etc.) should have its power requirements listed for you.

The relationship between amps, volts, and watts is simply: amps * volts=watts.

Let’s say you are looking to power a compressor that requires 15 amps to operate at a standard 120 volts of electricity (a standard wall outlet in America, most devices you will use). You would want to look for a generator that is capable of producing at least 1,800 watts of continuous power.

Hertz

You may also see Hertz thrown around. Hertz is basically a measurement of frequency. 60 Hertz (which is standard), just means the current changes direction 60 cycles (or 120 times) in a second. You just need to make sure that your generator is operating at the same frequency (in Hz) as the device requires.

With the electrical jargon out of the way, here are a few benefits of inverter generators.

Option 1: Inverter generators – great for detailers needing portability

While conventional generators are great for pressure-washing businesses, your best bet is to use a portable generator as a car detailer just starting out.

Most inverter generators are quiet and easy to carry around, while still providing enough power to pump water.

Honda is one of the most dependable lines of inverter generators you can buy in the detailing community; they’re also loved by news crews and other organizations for this reason

Honda EU220i Inverter Generator

What I like

Lightweight, efficient, and quiet

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This Honda EU2200i would be my choice if I had to choose, based on its reviews on Amazon and testimonials, and simply lasts longer than many others.

These run super quiet and can run 4-9 hours on a single tank. Without getting too technical, they convert AC to DC ( and back to AC), using magnets and technology that makes them run cleaner.

Benefits of inverter generators

  • Noise – These operate much quieter due to special mufflers and quieter engines
  • Portable and lightweight – oftentimes under 100 pounds (Honda models are around 47 lbs)
  • Fuel savings due to alternating engine speeds due to microprocessors and other electronics

Cons of inverter generators

  • More expensive for beginners – expect to pay upwards of 1,000 for most
  • Most larger units max out at around 4,000 watts – Not ideal for powering multiple devices at once
  • Cost more to repair

Interver generators are a bit more expensive than most, but typically last a lot longer.

If you’re currently in the market for a good detailing generator, click here for a list of my generator recommendations for both conventional and inverter generators. Many you can find online for under $400.

Option 2: Conventional generators

conventional detailing generator

Most detailers start with a standard conventional generator for several reasons, although they have their pros and cons.

Benefits of conventional generators

  • Lower starting price
  • Easy to mount to a trailer or van
  • Larger fuel tanks = longer runtimes
  • up to 10,000 to 20,000 watts of power!

Cons of conventional generators

  • Bulky, can be difficult to store and maneuver (especially in vans)
  • Some can be very loud (a big deal for office parks, etc.)
  • Burn more fuel than inverter generators

You’ll typically save money in fuel costs with an inverter generator with light use, because inverter technology alternates the speed of the engine based on the load. By default, conventional generators will be programmed to generate the same amount of rps, regardless of what you’re powering. Portable generators–either conventional or inverter—are ideal if you only need to pump water out of a water tank…and not much more.

Using a generator to power a pressure washer

For business owners with a fleet washing businesses or some high-volume auto detailers, generators are almost always used because access to free water isn’t a guarantee.

Many manufacturers make skid-mounted pressure washer units that include motors, but you’ll still need a generator to pump water from a tank.

If you’re just starting out in mobile auto detailing, there are some good electric pressure washers to consider you can plug into a standard generator or regular outlets.

Check out our generator buyer’s guide for detailers

Now that you have a better idea of what you need, check out our generator buyer’s guide for mobile detailers. We break down a few pros and cons based on size, price, and brand, so you can find a good generator for your needs.

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

2 thoughts on “How to Pick the Right Type of Generator for Mobile Detailing”

  1. It sure got my attention when you said that a specific type of generator is needed for specific uses like powering up pressure washers or feed water out of a tank. I’m planning on buying an atmospheric water generator for my home in order to extract water from humidity and increase the quality of air in my house. I’ll be sure to look for a local equipment shop where I can ask and inquire about the different types of water generators in order to know what would work best for my home. Thanks for educating me about the different types of generators!

    Reply
  2. Hi Ali, I recently had a similar question on my YouTube Channel. Volts X amps = watts. With generators, they will have a continuous wattage rating on them, which basically represents the power they can produce for an extended period of time. With the Honda EU2200i (for example), it has a continuous rating of 1800 watts (peak wattage of 2200), so when you use a standard 120 Volt outlet (120 Volts X a 13 amp Karcher K4 Premium 1900 PSI) the washer requires 1560 watts unless otherwise stated. So in this case, the Honda EU2200i would be right on that limit, since it can produce 1800 continuous watts. I like the Honda inverter generators, but really any inverter generator with a continuous rating of about 2,000 (the higher the better) should work just fine, but typically the larger the better. I also recommended a few generators here after doing some research https://www.carwashcountry.com/recommended-gear/best-generators-for-mobile-detailing-buyers-guide/ Hope it helps!

    Reply

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