Phil has been working as a technical engineer since his graduation, and has never thought of changing his profession. Also, he’s an avid fisherman and camper, so it’s not only work which makes him deal with generators.
Last updated: February 21, 2021
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If you’ve ever lost power when you needed it most, you’ve probably considered looking into a generator. Unfortunately, generators can be pretty expensive, making you choose between power security or your financial stability. Thankfully, there are plenty of generators under the price of $500. These will allow you to compromise and have the best of both worlds – electricity and a happy wallet.
When looking for the best generator under $500, there are some key factors you should consider. These features determine how the generator functions and if it will suit your needs. Specifically, the generator’s output is significant as this determines what you can power with it. If you have a lower output generator, you won’t be receiving as much power as you would with higher output. Fuel tank capacity and runtime help you determine how long of a “charge” your generator has, allowing you to understand how long it can run in one sitting. Larger fuel tanks require more fuel, which can be more expensive as well. Noise can be a nuisance, especially if the generator is loud, so this is important to consider. Lastly, if your generator doesn’t have a clear warranty and it unexpectedly breaks due to manufacturing issues, you should be able to get the problem solved.
In this article, we’ll go through the best generators under $500. We have compiled this list based on a series of factors including the review of product specifications, as well as customer and expert reviews. You’ll be able to glance through a table comparing the generators, read detailed reviews and analysis of each product, and learn about what to look for when purchasing from the buying guide. Without further ado, let’s jump right into finding the best generator for you.
One of the best choices for generators under $500 is the Champion Power Equipment 76533 generator. It has plenty of features that make it quite superb, including its immense power output. This generator delivers 3,800 watts and has a 3.4-gallon fuel tank, which ensures you have nine hours of run time at a 50 percent load with gas. Alternatively, if you’d rather use a 20-pound propane tank, you get 10.5 hours of run time and 3,240 running watts. This provides you with enough power to both start and consistently power an RV air conditioner that runs at 15,000 BTU. Other than its power output, you can be comfortable in a cold storm knowing your generator will start anyway. That’s because it starts up using an electric start battery component. Another great feature of this generator is that it sounds no louder than a standard vacuum at 68 decibels from about 23 feet away. This means that as long as you’re at a standard distance from your generator, the sound is easily manageable and will not cause you to lose sleep over it. In terms of functionality, this generator has plenty of outlets so you can plug any equipment you need into it whenever you need it. There are two standard 120-volt outlets, a standard RV outlet, and a locking outlet. This generator is also easy to move around thanks to its foldable handle and tires that stay inflated constantly. If there’s ever a problem with the Champion Power Equipment 76533, its 3-year warranty will cover limited issues.
What we liked:
High 3800-watt power output
68 decibel sound is not very loud for a conventional generator
What could be better:
The power level output is known to fluctuate when propane is being used
It can be tricky to change the oil due to the design flaw
The WEN 56200i is a great option if you need to keep smaller items powered for a decent amount of time. This model is not great for individuals looking to keep larger items powered on, but it can provide the best amount of energy for charging laptops, cellphones, or powering televisions for up to 5 hours, as it is rated at 1,250 watts and has 1,000 running watts of power. The generator is an inverter type, which means it regulates the amount of power that is sent to your devices. You won’t have to worry about damage to your devices from output fluctuations and voltage spikes! This generator has a 0.7-gallon fuel tank, making it a smaller generator on the market. This is perfect for tailgate parties or camping trips, or just to power smaller devices during power outages. The sound output is rated at 51 decibels from 22 feet away, which is quieter than the sound of an in-window air conditioner. In terms of other significant features, there are two three-prong standard 120-volt wall outlets, as well as five separate USB ports built into the generator. You can also manually adjust the amount of fuel you use with the eco-mode available. This allows you to control the amount of gasoline you are using to power your gear. The 2-year warranty covers problems that arise with the Wen 56125i, making it a great generator for the price.
What we liked:
Has an economy mode that allows you to manually change the fuel intake
Quiet 51 decibel sound output
Oil changes are easy
USDA-approved spark arrestor included
What could be better:
Relatively tall for its small stature
Doesn’t provide enough power for someone looking for a large output
Filling with gas can be difficult and take time to do so cautiously
This Westinghouse WGen 3600v Generator is one of the most powerful, long-running generators on this list. It provides a peak wattage of 4,650 watts and a running wattage of 3,600 watts. The generator’s 212cc 4-stroke OHV engine means it can produce a lot of power to keep you running for a very long period of time. It also has a whopping 18 hours of runtime on a single 4-gallon tank at a quarter load. The users note that it always runs optimally as well, thanks to the built-in circuit protected technology and can automatically shut off when the oil is low. This means that this generator can protect itself from damage.
Regarding the outlets it is fitted with, the generator is quite versatile. For example, there are five built-in 120-volt standard house outlets available. Additionally, there is one L5-30R receptacle, which is good for heavy-duty power chords. Lastly, there is one TT-30R RV receptacle. This means you can power various kinds of equipment like your RV air conditioner, fridge or freezer, hair dryer, coffee maker, or other various kinds of appliances you need.
The Westinghouse WGen 3600v is EPA, CSA, and CARB compliant. This can make you feel comfortable and safe when operating the generator. If any issues do arise, though, the generator comes with a 3-year limited warranty for residential use, and a 1-year limited warranty for commercial use.
What we liked:
Has a very long, 18-hour runtime compared to other generators on the market
Quiet sound output
Easy and fast start
Ready for RV use with a compatible outlet
What could be better:
Can’t be used and kept outside or be exposed to weather elements and should be used more for internal appliances
Various reported scenarios of poor shipping quality
The DuroMax XP1200iS is a top choice for those who prefer portable generators that are easy to move around. It produces a running 1,200 watts of power with a one-gallon fuel tank that lasts up to 9.75 hours at a 50 percent load. This means it is one of the more long-lasting generators on the market, as it uses little fuel but boasts of a long use time.
One of the great aspects of this generator is how it can be used outdoors. If you go camping, tailgating, or have a power outage issues and need to operate equipment outside, the generator can withstand the elements. Speaking of camping, the included sound muffler allows this generator to fit within noise standards associated with campsites. It is rated at 61 decibels, but remains quiet due to the muffler. Additionally, the compact size of this unit allows for easy transportation and use especially when taking trips outdoors.
This specific DuroMax generator is great for first-time generator owners and is easy to use. It has various features that make refueling and oil change simple and straightforward. For example, it has a wide fuel fill access hole to reduce spills and accidents while refueling.
Included are two standard 120-volt outlets and a single 12-volt DC output which can handle any gear you might need charged throughout your time away from power. It is a rugged generator that can withstand various conditions, but just in case of an unexpected issue, there is a generous 3-year limited warranty available for residential use.
What we liked:
Has an inverter that allows you to charge your smaller electronics like laptops and cellphones
Wide-fill fuel mouth to prevent spills and accidents during refueling
Low oil alerts and automatic shut off when oil is too low to prevent damage of generator
Withstands the elements
What could be better:
Only has two outlets, so may not be great for individuals who have large amounts of materials to charge
Small fuel capacity at one gallon, making for possible consistent refueling depending on the items you’re powering
The DuroStar DS4000s generator is the perfect generator for all different kinds of uses including in-home, at work, or on a campsite. It is powerful and durable enough to withstand maximum loads. The generator has an initial surge wattage of 4,000 watts and 3,300 running watts. The engine is rated at 7 horsepower and has 208cc’s, which is quite powerful for a generator with such power output. The gas tank holds about 4 gallons of fuel and lasts up to 8 hours at a half-load. This means the generator provides enough power for heavy use and can handle multiple equipment items at once, e.g. air compressors, refrigerators, lights, etc. The generator comes with two standard 120-volt outlets and one 120-volt 30-amp twist-lock receptacle. This is something to keep in mind when purchasing, as it offers less options for outlets than other similar generators with alike wattages.
This DuroStar Generator is a safe generator to use, as it is surge protected and user-friendly. It starts up easily with the pull of a string. Additionally, there is an included noise muffler that is great for camping. It operates at 69 decibels and with the muffler will not sound very loud at all. This noise level can be easily compared to the loudness of a vacuum. Lastly, the generator is quite sturdy and can withstand being bumped and wrestled around the bed of a truck. If there are ever any issues experienced with the generator, it comes with a 3-year limited warranty for residential use and a 1-year limited warranty for commercial use.
What we liked:
Very inexpensive and affordable option
Easy to operate and manage for those who are unfamiliar with generator operation
Relatively quiet operation compared to a small lawnmower or loud vacuum
Incorporated fuel gauge that is simple and easy to read
What could be better:
It is recommended to change the oil every other time you fill your gas tank, or at intervals of no more than 20 hours of use
Oil drainage can become messy and drip along the generator’s frame
There is no way to read the wattage, as it doesn’t have a wattage or ampere meter
Things to Consider
Buying a generator if you’re on a budget can be challenging. When looking for a cheaper generator, there are some vital aspects to look out for when browsing, though. These features can make or break how your generator functions and should therefore be greatly considered when looking to purchase one. Let’s make it clear!
A generator for under 500$: What you should and should not expect?
When looking for a cheaper generator, you should to expect to receive different features and characteristics than you’d receive with a pricier or more expensive and fancier generator. The main thing to expect from a generator under $500 is the wattage output. You’ll unlikely find a lesser costing generator with over 5,000 watts. This means you should expect a less powerful generator at the price point you’re willing to pay. If you’re interested in an inverter generator, you’ll typically have a lower wattage, like for example, many 1000-watt generators are under $500, but with conventional generators, it may be easier to find more powerful ones under $500 as well.
A second factor to expect with a generator for under $500 is that you may be able to snag great deals on well-known and reputable manufacturers. Check out brands like Champion or Westinghouse for great deals and top-notch manufacturing.
How much power do you need?
Depending on the set of appliances, devices, and tools you’ll be charging or powering, you’ll need different power levels. For example, a typical refrigerator can use between 300 and 800 watts of power continuously, and a freezer up to 1,000 watts. Remember here that the starting wattage will be higher, reaching 1,200 watts. An electric fan uses approximately 200 watts, and central air conditioning takes up to 5,000 watts. If you’re looking to consistently power these vital appliances, consider looking for a 5,000-watt generator. If you’re just looking to power lights and the occasional fridge, a smaller, 3,000–4,000-watt generator like the Westinghouse WGen3600v will work. You can go even smaller if you just need to keep your gadgets like cellphone, television, or laptop powered, but make sure you get an inverter generator if you plan to charge these, as power surges can mess them up.
Conventional vs inverter generator
Inverter generators and conventional generators vary in what they are best used for. Typically, inverter generators, like the WEN 56125i, are smaller in size, produce less power – between 1,000 and 4,000 watts, have smaller gas tanks – between 1 and 5 gallons, and a shorter run time of up to 10 hours, tops. The other positive characteristic of inverter generators is that they have a lower noise level at just around 50 decibels. They work best for smaller devices, as the power surge is regulated. These, compared to conventional generators, are better for traveling and easier to transport.
Conventional generators are typically larger in size, more powerful, and have larger gas tanks, resulting in more extended hours of use.
Conventional generators are much louder than inverter ones at around 70 decibels.
For how long you need to run your generator?
Choice of generator greatly depends on how long you need your generator to run for. If you need a longer running generator, looking for a larger fuel tank and runtime is key. The larger fuel tank your generator has, the more fuel that can fit inside the generator which results in longer runtime. For example, a 2-gallon fuel tank with a high wattage output will run shorter than a 5-gallon fuel tank with a shorter wattage output. Additionally, it is important to understand the difference between propane and gasoline generators.
Generators typically run longer on propane than they do with gasoline. Duel-fuel generators, like the Champion Power Equipment 76533 are best, as they provide you with the choice to use either propane or gasoline.
Generator noise level
The noise generator makes is critical for some and can make or break your decision on a particular model. This is especially important if you are planning to camp with your generator. Many campsites have sound output restrictions and frown upon having loud operating machinery during your stay. Smaller generators and inverter generators are usually much quieter than large models, and they often come with sound mufflers. These are also great for those who want little noise from their home generator as well. If you don’t mind noise, louder generators may not typically bother you.
There are plenty of safety factors to consider when purchasing a generator. One safety precaution that generator manufacturers incorporate in their generators is having an overload sensor. Overload can occur if you have too many appliances plugged into your generator at once, causing it to short circuit. If it does not contain a sensor, the generator can dramatically overheat and break down. The overload sensor automatically shuts it off to protect the generator itself and appliances.
Additionally, low oil shutoffs should be looked for when purchasing a generator. When oil is low in a generator, the moving parts can wear down and cause the generator to break over time. When oil levels are low, if there is a low oil sensor, the generator shuts off and alerts you to refill oil.
Safety factors are significant aspects to look for when shopping for a generator, as they can save and extend the life of your generator.
Tips and tricks
Installing and maintaining your generator is an important part of upkeeping and ensuring it has a long life. To properly install your generator, thoroughly read all the instructions that come with the packaging to identify key things to pay attention to when installing. In terms of maintenance and upkeep, always remember to change your generator’s oil. A lack of oil can damage its parts. Also, make sure it isn’t exposed to the elements if it’s not rated for it.
In order to power your electronics, you would need an inverter generator. Inverter generators have a high-quality power output which is close to the power you get from the outlets at home, thus, not damaging your device.
To power a refrigerator, microwave, and several lights, you’d benefit from at least 3,000 watts of power, depending on how much your microwave demands. Typically, refrigerators alone use 300 to 800 watts of power, and microwaves can use up to 1,100 watts. This alone puts you around 2,000 watts. This, plus lights, can reach over 2,000 and closer to 3,000 watts. If you are unsure of the exact wattage that your appliances need to power up properly, it is always smart to have a generator with a larger wattage. If you end up using a generator with a smaller output, you will overload your generator, which can cause your generator to short if it doesn’t have an overload sensor.
For an RV, there are plenty of features to keep in mind when looking for a generator. They range from features that pertain to its usage, to protective measures. One thing to look out for is its power output. If you need to power an entire RV, you may need a higher wattage than you’d need when just trying to charge or power a few small items. Aim to have a generator of any amount above 3,000 watts. Next, if you are a light sleeper, having a generator that operates quietly may be best for you. Consider what kind of sleeper you are and where your generator is positioned compared to where you sleep in the RV. Next, look for a user-friendly generator. If you are not extremely familiar with the use of generators, having an easy-to-use generator can make your trips in your RV easier and ensure you won’t be out of power due to a lack of knowledge. Lastly, look for safety features, such as surge protectors and overload sensors. This will protect you, your RV, and your generator when in use.
The Champion Power Equipment 76533 was our top pick for the best generator under $500. We loved the great fuel capacity, long run time, and plenty of safety features this generator had at a great price. Note that this is a dual-fuel generator, meaning you can choose between gas or propane.
The best inverter generator was the WEN 56125i. It allows swift and safe powering of the smallest of devices with ease and is really portable.
The third top generator on our list was the Westinghouse WGen 3600v. We enjoyed how long the runtime was with a small load and gas tank. It was also easy to use and had plenty of safety features.
Hopefully, in this article we were able to help you find the best generator under $500 for you. Choosing a generator at this price point can be difficult, but as you can see from above, there are great options out there and if you are looking for even further options we also recommend to check the Powermate generators. Enjoy having portable energy at your fingertips with a great generator under $500!