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Tailgating or Camping? Use Your Hybrid Truck as a Portable Generator

Not just for the eco-conscious and solo drivers wanting to use the HOV lane during rush hour, hybrid vehicles have a alternative use: Portable generator. So if you're tailgating this weekend and wondering how you're going to power the flat screen, boom box, margarita maker, and the oversized George Forman Electric Meat Flamer with Built-In [...]

Not just for the eco-conscious and solo drivers wanting to use the HOV lane during rush hour, hybrid vehicles have a alternative use: Portable generator.

So if you're tailgating this weekend and wondering how you're going to power the flat screen, boom box, margarita maker, and the oversized George Forman Electric Meat Flamer with Built-In Panini Press, you could haul a generator along, and a few canisters filled with gas to power it. Or you could just back up your hybrid truck.

That's because unlike a typical car battery where if you leave the car on it'll eventually drain, a hybrid battery is attached to an on-board computer that tells it if the juice is running low, and automatically turns the engine on to charge it back up.

Days of Battery Power

Tim Grewe, GM's Chief Engineer for Rear Wheel Drive Hybrids (and the guy responsible for the hybrid Tahoe, Silverado and Escalade), is an avid camper and tailgater and has owned a hybrid Tahoe for three years. He regularly uses it as a generator. "The nice thing is you can leave the car on, and it will quietly start the engine to recharge only when needed," he says. "It'll give you days and days of battery power. It's like having a portable generator with an auto start feature on it. You are only limited by how much gas you have in the car."

Grewe told me he recently went camping and ran the Tahoe for two days straight and only used 6 gallons of fuel. Without having to lug 6 gallons of gas to the campsite, or take up valuable cargo space for it. And since the truck has a 20 gallon tank, he had plenty left over to get back home.

Clean Electricity

A typical generator makes a lot of noise, needs a muffler, and belches exhaust. A hybrid-as-a-generator runs quietly and more cleanly. Grewe says people rarely notice when the engine clicks to charge the 300V battery. And in areas that are drier, and won't let you use an open flame for cooking or to keep warm, running an electric grill or heater is more necessity rather than luxury.

To use that battery you'll need a 2.2 kilowatt converter, sold in most truck stops and big box electronic stores. (Just follow the manufacturer's directions for use.) The 2200 watts from the hybrid battery is more than enough to run boom boxes, TVs, electric grills... whatever you want onsite. And don't worry about blowing out your truck or damaging the battery should you hook up too much to it. "If you try to draw too much power, it just won't give it to you," says Grewe. "Even a bunch of high school kids can't hook up enough stuff to break this truck."

(For more info on GM's hybrid trucks, go to Chevy.com, GMC.com and Cadillac.com)