How to Pick a Generator for Your Ice Cream Truck

How to pick a generator for your ice cream truck

How to pick a generator for your ice cream truck? In this post, I want to share with you everything you need to know about powering your ice cream truck. When it comes to ice cream trucks you may think that freezers are your most important piece of equipment, right? Wrong. Your generator is possibly your most important piece of equipment. Without it, those freezers won’t be able to do anything. That’s why picking a generator that is reliable and suitable for your ice cream truck is such an important decision.

That is why in this post I want to share everything you need to know about generators for your ice cream truck. In it I will answer the types of generators you can use, how you calculate your total wattage requirements, the cost of generators, the cost of using generators, how to maintain generators, and my recommendations for the best generators available.

Do I Need a Generator for An Ice Cream Truck?

As a general rule, ice cream trucks need some form of generator. They cannot be powered by a truck’s engine battery. There are three types of generators that can be used to power an ice cream truck – Gas, Solar, and Battery. What type of generator is needed depends on the total wattage required to power all the truck’s electric equipment. Due to the cost-efficiency and power requirements, this will most likely be a Gas Generator.

Step 1 – How To Pick a Generator for my Ice Cream Truck – Total Wattage

Before you go and look at any type of generator you need to work out the total wattage required from all the electrical equipment on your truck. To do this you really don’t need to understand what “Watts” or “Wattage” is. You do, however, need to know what the wattage requirement is for every piece of electrical equipment on your truck.

How Do I Find the Wattage for My Electrical Equipment?

User manuals or stickers placed on the back of the pieces of equipment will usually specify what the wattage requirement is for every piece of equipment. I will run through below what the total wattage was for my ice cream truck and every piece of equipment – this will help give you a ballpark figure of wattage.

Load Watts vs Running Watts

For equipment like A/C, freezers, fridges, soft serve machines – basically anything that involves cooling or compressors – you will need to make a note of the total load watts and running watts. This is because these types of equipment usually require a higher peak load of watts to get them running. Once the machine is running this will usually go down.

It is for this reason that you will also see a generator specifying a running watt load and a peak watt load. A peak watt load refers to a short period of time where the generator can supply extra watts to deal with numerous machines that started running. This is particularly the case for fridges and freezers which will run in cooling cycles to maintain energy efficiency.

Example – Ice Cream Truck Total Wattage Requirement

Below is a table listing all the equipment and wattage required for one of my scooping ice cream trucks.

EquipmentWattage (running)Start-Up Wattage
Excellence Dipping Freezer HB-11LD161300
Excellent Dipping Freezer MB-2D-L115300
Ariston Water Heater 4 GL1.5 k1.5 k
Shurflo On-Demand Water Pump Model 2088-422-444Around 100Around 100
LED Interior Lights4-13 Watts4-13
Plug Sockets (3 sets)Depends on the equipment plugged in.Depends on the equipment plugged in.
Dometic Duotherm Brisk Air Conditioner 15000 BTU1.5 k3.5 k
TOTAL3,386 Watts5,710 Watts

Based on the above you can see that on my truck I would need a generator that could deal with a running load of around 3,386 Watts with a peak load of 5,710 watts.

If you need help Honda offers a helpful wattage calculator which you can use at their website here.

Step 2 – What Type of Generator?

Now that I know what the approximate watt load is from all my equipment, I can think about the type of generator I want.


Solar can be a great and eco-friendly option, even if you don’t live in a sunny area. However, it is the most expensive to install and to get a return on investment.

For example, based on the above wattage requirements for my scooping ice cream truck a solar system would cost in the region of $3,000 to $10,000 for a solar system that covers around 3,000 to 5,000 watts. For solar panels alone you would need 20 x 200 watt to get the 5,000 watts you needed.

Battery Powered

Battery-powered is what it sounds like. These are usually rechargeable lithium-powered batteries that you can use to power your truck. These can be charged before going out or charged via solar panels for example.

The issue is the cost and length of time these batteries will last. If you are out in your ice cream truck for 10+ hours your generator needs to keep all your equipment running the whole time. Once they are out of power they need to be recharged (which can take a while). Given that and the fact they cost several thousand dollars, they are not the most reliable option for an ice cream truck.


Finally, your best option – is a gas-powered inverter generator. These generators are tried and tested. They can run for long periods of time and if they run out of gas, you can turn them off and refill them. Just always carry extra fuel in a jerry can on your truck. Yes, they are not the most eco-friendly, but until battery or solar become more viable they are the safest option.

They are also the most cost-effective. For example, a Predator 3500-Watt Inverter Generator costs around $900 from Harbor Freight. It is also what we used on our truck.

How to pick a generator for your ice cream truck - what type of generator to choose

Step 3 – Which Generator Do I Need?

So, you have worked out your total wattage requirements and determined that for now, a gas generator is your best option. Now you must decide on which gas generator you want and its wattage capacity.

Inverter Generators

First, whatever brand of generator you choose you will want an inverter generator. An inverter generator is the quietest and most efficient generator available. They control the engine to meet power requirements to maintain efficiency and are sound dampened to reduce noise. Also, if you are street vending or going to any events then an inverter generator is usually a requirement.

What is the best brand of Generator?

As a general rule, Honda is the market leader when it comes to generators. They make the most reliable and quietest generators you can get. However, this does come at a cost. For example, a Honda 3000 max Watt / 2800-Watt running generator will set you back around $2,349.

The Honda 7000 max Watt / 5,500-Watt running generator will set you back around $5,000 to $6,000. Whilst these generators are more expensive their quality and reliability are worth it.

Alternatives to Honda

If like us, you were looking for a cheaper alternative to a Honda generator then a good alternative brand is Predator from Harbor Freight. These cheaper generators are reliable and offer good power wattage levels – especially for food trucks. They also make 3 types of inverter generators:

What Generator Did I Use for My Ice Cream Truck?

Full disclaimer, for my ice cream truck we used the 3500-Watt generator. The truck started in 2018 and to date, we have had to change the generator three times. Yes, three times. This was for various reasons – something failing on the generator or it starting to leak in certain spots. So be prepared this may also happen to you.

However, that said we did use the generator daily and for a long period of time. On this basis, you can expect a generator to last you around 1 – 2 years before needing to be replaced. Especially when it is being used regularly.

How To Reduce Your Generator Replacement Cost?

To reduce your generator replacement cost, make sure to buy the additional warranty with the generator. I believe for an extra $70 you can get a year warranty. For higher amounts, you can get a warranty for longer periods.

This meant that when I had to replace my generator all I had to do was take out the oil, and gas and return it to Harbor Freight who would replace the generator. The only cost you must pay is if you want another warranty on the new generator – you do.

Picking The Right Wattage Generator

So, what wattage generator will you need? In the case of my scooping ice cream truck, we just got away with using the Predator 3500-Watt.

But hold on – the total max watts you list above was over 5,000 watts – how did this generator work?

That is a great question. You see when it comes to power you have to remember that now everything comes on at once. Whilst my peak watts were 5,700 watts my running watts were around the 3000 watts mark. If everything wasn’t turned on at once the generator could handle it. Albeit there were periods when the generator would really have to work at its max (this was mostly the case when the AC was on).

The reason we chose the 3500-watt was that there wasn’t a 9500-watt option available at the time. Also, the big watt load items – like the water heater and the AC only worked for short periods of time which meant that the generator could cope with it all.

What Generator Should You Pick?

A larger capacity wattage generator is always a good idea. In most instances, if you don’t have AC a 3500-watt inverter generator will be more than enough.

Soft Serve Trucks

If you are thinking about starting a soft serve truck, then I am afraid most of the above will not apply to you. Your wattage requirements are going to require a heavy-duty commercial generator. These are often separate engines that must be installed in the back of your ice cream truck. You may also need specific wiring for your soft serve machine – i.e., 3-phase which can make power requirements more complicated.

However, you can still use the above to work out what your wattage requirements will be.

How to pick a generator for your ice cream truck - FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions – Generators

In this section, I want to answer and share some specific FAQs you may have on generators. These cover everything I learned in my experience in dealing with generators.

Will I need my generator running all the time – what about when I am driving or parked? Will it also need to be running when I am parked at the Commissary overnight?

As soon as you leave your food truck commissary you will need to have your generator running. This means that while you are driving you will have the generator running. If you don’t then your freezers will not be keeping your ice cream frozen. The same goes when you park up – you will need to have your generator running to ensure everything is frozen.

The exception is when you are parked at your food truck commissary. The commissary should have a mains electricity hookup for each parking spot. This means when you are parked up you can turn off your generator and plug your truck directly into the mains electricity grid.

Make sure when you are planning the electrical wiring for your truck there is a way for you to connect to power from a generator and power from an electrical main. You can then plug the truck into the electrical main using a set of extension cables.

What gas should I use for my generator?

As a general rule, you will want to use super premium gas for your generator. The manual of your generator will specify the exact type of gas you should use. You will also want to add some fuel stabilizers (see FAQ below for more on that).

What is a fuel stabilizer, and do I need it for my generator? What are the options for fuel stabilizers and how often should I use them?

A fuel stabilizer is used to prevent water absorption and separation in your fuel mixture. It is particularly important to use if you are not using your generator regularly. You will also want to add it to all your storage jerry cans of gas.

You can purchase a stabilizer in a liquid form which is then added to gas tanks and jerry cans. The alternative which I used was an in-tank fuel stabilizer, such as this one from FUEL LIFE. You simply drop it into your tank and jerry can and it will help prevent contamination and water build up in your fuel for 2 years. It also works out much more cost-effective than having to use a liquid fuel stabilizer each time.

Do I need to carry extra gas canisters on the truck?

Yes, you will want to carry extra jerry cans of gas on your truck. I carried two 5-gallon jerry cans of gas in the truck. This means that when the generator runs low or needs a top-up, you can easily do it from anywhere and keep it going all day.

How long will the generator last?

In my experience, how long a generator will last will depend on the power load on it. On a mild temperature day, it can easily last 10 to 12 hours (this is with no AC on). On hot days where the AC needs to be on, and everything is working harder to keep the ice cream frozen you are looking at around 8 hours.

In any event, having a spare jerry can of gas means you can keep the generator running even on hotter days.

Can I use my generator in hot temperatures?

As a general rule, generators do not like operating in particular hot temperatures. If you are going out on a 100oF day – don’t expect your generator to be happy about it. Hot days are when you will see numerous food trucks having to cancel service because their generators do not like the heat.

Whilst our generator never failed us on a hot day it did often sound like it was working a lot harder. It also often had to be restarted.

The best way to combat the heat is to make sure your generator is positioned in a well-ventilated area of your truck. Make sure there are plenty of vents for your generator and that the exhaust is ventilated out of the truck. We had a dedicated rear space for the generator which has lots of vents for the generator. If you need to you can also move the generator outside the truck and connect it via some extension cords. Though this is harder to do when street vending.

Should I get a rip-cord generator or an electric start-up generator?

You want a generator that has both options. Your ripcord should only be a pack-up option. Electric start-ups are simple and easy – you simply press a button and then the generator starts. However, sometimes generator ignition batteries may die or stop working, in which case you want to still be able to start your generator with the ripcord. Be careful when using ripcords – I have had two of them tear on me making them unable to be used.

I don’t have room for a generator on my truck – where else can I put it?

If you don’t have any specific room for your generator on your truck, there are a couple of other options. First, you could mount it to the front or rear of your truck. I have seen plenty of smaller trucks have specific mounts for their generators at the front or rear. The disadvantage of this is that you will have a generator sticking out the front or back of your truck making it harder to park. It also exposes it to the elements constantly.

Secondly, you could set up the generator once you have parked. This is a bit more of a risky option as you are relying on your freezer staying cold enough until you can park up and set up your generator outside of the truck.

How often do I need to change the oil on my generator? And what type of oil should I use?

As a general rule, you will want to change the oil on your generator at least once a month. For a generator that is used regularly every week, this is especially important. Changing the oil monthly will help prolong the life of your generator and keep it running smoothly.

Oil changes take around 20-30 minutes to do and usually only involve a screwdriver, bolt adaptor, some rags, an oil funnel, an oil pan, and a small stool you can place the generator on (oil pans are usually at the bottom of the generator). You can usually take used oil to your local car parts store and they will dispose of it for free.

The Predator Generator we used required 10W-30 oil, but this may vary between generator brands. Make sure to check your manual on what oil to use.

When changing the oil, it is particularly important to not over or underfill it with oil as this may cause leaks. You will also want to run the generator for around 10 minutes after an oil change to get the new lubricant flowing around the engine.

What is the maintenance I should do on my generator and how often?

As I mentioned above, you will want to do an oil change monthly. Set a schedule for this and stick to it. In addition to the oil change, you will also want to regularly clean the spark arrestor (this is the part that helps stop spark from the exhaust igniting grass, etc.). These can get clogged with carbon and soot so clean them every two months.

Every 3 months I liked to add some engine and fuel cleaning to the tank and run it for 10 minutes. Those are the main things I did for my generator.

My generator won’t start – what are the most common issues?

If your generator won’t start, there are a few things to check.

  1. Check if there is enough gas in the generator
  2. Check your generator is set to “ignition” and not “running”.
  3. If the generator has been running already for a period and then stopped, make your you re-start it on the “running” and not the “ignition” setting.
  4. Check if the engine even tries to turn over on electrical start. If it does, then your ignition battery is working. If it doesn’t try using the ripcord.
  5. Is the generator hot, let it cool down for a period.
  6. Is there enough air getting into the engine? On the Predator 3500-watt, I found that the panel giving access to the oil dipstick was blocking air into the generator. Once this was removed the generator worked perfectly.
  7. Has the oil been changed recently?

How loud should my generator be? When it is running it increases in volume and then goes quieter again.

Generators are loud. This is even the case for inverter generators which are meant to be quieter. Expect to be able to hear your generator. However, if you are using an inverter generator and serving it shouldn’t be that noticeable to people.

It is also normal for a generator to cycle in periods of running harder and louder and then quieter and slower. This is the generator matching your power requirements. You will get to know when your generator is at its limit. When it gets too much the generator will turn itself off.

Should I secure my generator in place?

Yes, you should secure your generator in place if you are keeping it anywhere on your truck. We had our truck builder create a couple of metal wheel clamps that secured the generator to the truck floor. This stopped the generator from moving around as we drove.

Do I need ventilation for my generator?

Yes. Generators produce exhaust fumes just like cars. These can be harmful. You need to make sure that the exhaust of your generator is ventilated outside – preferrable on the opposite side of your serving side of the truck. For us, we secure the generator and the exhaust to be pointing directly at a ventilation grille in the rear of the truck. This meant all the exhaust fumes went outside of the truck.

What cables do I need for my generator?

Your generator will generate power, but you will need cables to get that power from the generator into your truck’s electrical system. As a general rule, you will want heavy-duty wires with a low gauge. These are thicker wired extension cords. Typically, I would recommend outdoor wires with a gauge of 12 or below.  

How Do I Store My Generator?

If you are not going to use your generator for a long period of time, there are a couple of things you will want to do. First, make sure there is no gas in the generator. Remove any with a fuel siphon or make sure the tank has been used. Secondly, place it in a shaded and dry area with a cover. Thirdly, disconnect the ignition battery or else it will go flat. You will even want to consider getting a battery maintainer to prevent this battery from going flat. Finally, run the generator for 30 minutes at least every three months

How to pick a generator for your ice cream truck - the final lick

How To Pick a Generator for Your Ice Cream Truck – The Final Lick

How to pick a generator for your ice cream truck? What have we learned from the above? Well, before you decide on any generator the most important thing you need to know is what your truck’s total wattage load is. Once you have this you can decide on what type of generator you need. If you just don’t have clue on what your power requirement would be get your truck builder or electrician to tell you. Due to the cost-efficiency and reliability, this will most likely be a gas-powered generator. Honda is the best generator you can purchase, but if you are looking for a cheaper alternative then Harbor Freight’s Predator range offers a more cost-friendly solution. Finally, once you have chosen and installed your generator make sure to maintain it. Change its oil regularly and give it the proper gas.

If you do these things, you can expect your generator to run for at least 2 + years. If all else fails, make sure you buy the warranty so you can easily replace a generator if something goes wrong.

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Time To Learn Some More

Want to learn more on your path to ice cream entrepreneur success. Then check out some of my other articles.

Chilled Startup Team

Since 2012, the Chilled Startup team has been in the ice cream business. From creating retail store ice cream concepts from scratch to ice cream trucks to selling ice cream pints wholesale to grocery store outlets to private and public events. We have even set up vegan and plant-based ice cream concepts. The ice cream business is one we understand inside and out.

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