The Clarke G900 suitcase type generator is "So portable, So quiet, So useful! You can take this lightweight "suitcase" generator virtually anywhere to run lighting, TV, video and computers plus many power tools and small appliances including domestic heating systems. Especially suitable for camping, caravanning and boating as well as outdoor markets and fairs."
So say Machine Mart, purveyors of this magnificent generator, which can be seen and heard powering ghetto-blasters at a zillion hot dog stands up and down the country. My G900 is about five years old now, and was bought for driving power sanders in 2000, when I had the misfortune to buy a thirty year old sailboat. The generator outlasted the sailboat.
Before we launch into the review, let's ponder for a moment on the fact that boats are different animals to motohomes. With a boat, if you flatten the main engine battery overnight, you don't get to start the engine in the morning. And, unlike a motorhome, you can't point a boat downhill to get it going. So a genny is pretty handy to have aboard a boat, perhaps less so aboard a motorhome, where you can carry a pair of humble jump leads and petition passers-by for a quick start.
First then - the upsides. This small genny 'only' weighs 22 kilos, which is about as much as I'd want to carry, say five metres. Any more than that and you need either a trolley, or a companion whose leisure activities include swinging from the trees and eating bananas. Secondly, it puts out 700 watts, which is enough to drive most small power tools. Thirdly, it starts second pull, even if left untended for six years. And fourthly, it's painted in a cheerful shade of cherry red.
The G900 arrives by courier, and unpacking it, you, a generator virgin, suddenly need a litre bottle of engine oil because your beautiful G900 doesn't come with any in it. Stickers on the case warn you of dire consequences if you run the engine in oil-free mode before starting it up. I filled mine with Asda 'Car Club' 15W40 oil at five quid for forty-five gallons and then left it for six years. Read on for the result.
Noise? Yes, thank you. Quiet the G900 is not. A rating of 58dB at seven metres might be tempting, but you'd have to carry the generator seven metres away to be able to hear yourself even think about peeling bananas Stand closer and the racket it makes will give you double vision within the hour. And the noise increases with increasing electrical load. I dug my G900 out of storage last week, changed the oil, put it in the yard outside the back door, fired it up, and plugged a 500 watt halogen light into it. I lasted fifteen minutes before turning it off.
The engine, if a review I found is to believed, is an ancient design sidevalve engine, as used in a hundred similar cheap gennys, so some noise is expected. But fire a G900 up on a busy French campsite and you'll have a shotgun poking through your window before you've even let go the rewind starter.
On a more positive note, it's good for power tools like small sanders and drills, it runs for about two and a half hours on a top up - if you don't plug much heavy equipment into it, and there's a token 12V 8 amp output which will eventually cram a reasonable charge into a flat car or leisure battery, over say, a couple of hours. There are two continental type socket receptacles with covers on the case, which I personally prefer to the UK 'square pin' sockets even though you have to make up an adaptor with the plugs supplied.
There's a dinky little fuel gauge too, and circuit breakers for the 12v and 240Vac outputs. And there's a low oil warning light, which we hope and pray has enough intelligence to stop the engine if the engine oil disappears. Don't try this out at home.
The quality of the electricity produced seems a little rough - halogen bulbs shimmer with the sort of effect you get from spending too much time in an Amsterdam coffee shop, but this doesn't seem to worry my laptop computer, but some caravanners have found that the impure 240v output wouldn't work with their battery chargers.
For RV owners, or campers, the only real use of this genny might be to ensure you empty a camping spot within minutes. For wild campers and long termers it could prove useful for topping up batteries from the 12vdc outlet. You might be better off buying a decent 240v charger and plugging that into the generator's 240v socket, than limping along on the meagre 8 amp 12v outlet. And then you've got to find a charger that will actually work with the generator. Suddenly, solar power looks interesting, but not if you live in Britain.
While, this crude, noisy, heavy generator has its downsides, it's actually ok at doing what its supposed to - generating 700 watts of 240 volt power. The fact that it does so with such vocal protests may make seekers of solace hunt elsewhere. But as a portable if heavy generator, it's just about ok for basic stuff, like running power tools. And should you be stuck in a muddy field, you can use it as an anchor from which to winch yourself out
The current price of the G900 seems a bit steep at £282.00. B&Q and my local hardware store were selling two stroke 600 watt generators last winter (2005) for sixty-nine quid. Now I know two stroke engines are smelly and er, noisy, but the price difference means you could spend the £210.00 saving on a long mains cable and several pairs of ear-plugs, and still have enough beer money left over to placate your neighbours.
Still, if you must have a Machine Mart G900 because of the cheerful red paint, slightly used ones go for £80.00 on Fleabay.
Just make sure you don't have to carry it more than five metres on the way home. And get a Residual Current Breaker (RCB) for the 240 volt output in case the generator tries to electrocute you.
With a G900 nobody can hear you scream.
Handy tips for G900 users? If you store the genny unsused for any time, run the tank dry before you turn it off. This stops fuel evaporating in the carburetor and gumming the bugger up. It will start second pull next time, and you'll be grateful. And change the oil and the spark plug at the 20 hour first service interval without fail. Change the oil too, if you put the genny away for the winter. Then change it again before you start it up in the summer. The stuff that came out of mine after six years in the garage looked more like molasses than engine oil, and the original spark plug was covered in black fur.
The replacement plug has the correct tan colour round the electrode so perhaps the G900 desereves something better than Asda 'Car Club' oil. And follow the advice in the manual. Let the thing warm up for a few minutes before plugging anything into it. It will thank you with years of dependable service, even if your neighbours don't.
My reliable G900 now has fully synthetic motor oil in it, at ten quid a litre. Come back in five years time for the long term results.