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Old 05-15-2021, 04:05 PM   #1
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Adding gauges to your RV generator!

Hello all,

This request was from a subscriber on another post regarding my HDKCA 10KW Onan throwing a 3-6 code. Currently I'm slowly tracing down problems and replacing items that it could be.

Wanting gauges is an important part of me wanting to see a problem before it becomes one. Dummy lights aren't something I enjoy. I am an airline pilot so seeing gauges work is such a joy. Weird, I know.

Onto the gauge discussion...

Most gauges you will come across are either electrically driven (through a sensor at the engine) sending a signal to the gauge. The hiccup here is that you have to add the sensor to the block for oil pressure and at the thermostat head for water temp.

The other type of gauge would be considered "old school" or analog sending an actual oil pressure through a hollow tube or temperature through a thermocouple to the coolant temp gauge. This style is prohibitively hard to do as my generator slides in and out of the RV and the motion alone would fatigue the analog connectors causing a failure of the gauge.... SO ELECTRIC IT IS!

I bought some electrically driven gauges that came with sensors off amazon. The brand is AutoMeter. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...?ie=UTF8&psc=1

These work well and while they are alittle small, you'll see why size shouldn't matter too much for our setup.

As you can see in the attached photos I used brass fittings and teflon tape to secure the existing temperature sensor/oil pressure switch to a 'T' fitting that would accept the new sensor for the gauge set. That's a fairly easy thing and the fittings are normal fittings that are not hard to find. **You may be wondering why I said 'Oil Pressure Switch'... The existing oil pressure sensor is actually a switch. Onan has their way that the sensor kills the engine when the switch is not sensing at least (I think) 15 PSI.

Onto more wiring. Every single fitting was soldered. Under no circumstances should you use crimp fittings in any automotive set up... to include stereos, just solder it and heat shrink it. You can't change my mind on this unless you need to hook something up in a pinch.

I used a nice quality 18 gauge braided wire that would withstand 500F and ran it to the front dash where it wouldn't bind with the generator slide (I routed it alongside the 120/240v hookups). You'll need two wires, one for the oil pressure sensor and one wire for the temperature sensor.

Hooking up the gauges is fairly simple. Negative(-) to a good ground (I found an open bus bar near my dash components and used that as my ground) and the power (+) came from the 'generator run' power (not start power). Finding this is simple... Grab a multimeter and test the poles on the back of the generator start/stop switch. Find out which one has 12v when running and 0 when off. This pole would typically run the 'generator on backlight annunication'. This run power would ONLY provide the gauges with 12v when the generator engine is running, no other time would the gauges be active. This would alleviate the confusion as to why the gauges might not be working, etc. I also wired the included backlight to when the generator is running as well. Unfortunately the backlight on the gauges are incandescent making them heat up after some time. I'm sure I'll switch those to LEDs at a later date.

Please check out the pictures. Ask away with the questions. I think this set up has provided data that may seem superfluous, but its good information. I.E. I noticed my oil pressure was hovering around 30PSI, kind of low but I assumed it was a defect because of potentially how I mounted the pressure sensor... Well I checked the oil level, it was slightly above the full line. I siphoned some out and checked the pressure, ~43PSI.

Are the gauges overkill? Maybe. Are they cool? You betcha!
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Old 05-15-2021, 06:20 PM   #2
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Very nice work as these switches seem to fail and leave you guessing. Maybe you could post links to your purchases. Someone slightly less ambitious could put a panel on genny as well.
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Old 05-15-2021, 08:02 PM   #3
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Very nice work as these switches seem to fail and leave you guessing. Maybe you could post links to your purchases. Someone slightly less ambitious could put a panel on genny as well.
Totally! The sensors came with the gauge set. The whole thing cost about $85 for the gauges on amazon and ~$15 from Home Depot for the fittings.
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Old 05-15-2021, 08:16 PM   #4
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Great write up! Very clean looking install, I just added it to my list of to-dos. Thanks for sharing and good luck getting this figured out.
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Old 05-16-2021, 05:57 AM   #5
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Glade your electrical gauges worked and hope they are accurate having used Teflon tape , multiple times, on the senderís ground.

Personally I have enough other critical things to watch than the generatorís temp and oil pressure. Does your generator have a alternator??? If so it doesnít seem to be working?
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Old 05-16-2021, 07:28 AM   #6
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I liked the gauges that had an analog dial with illuminated needle and a digital readout. Here's an example.

Similar Automotive gauges https://www.mcnallyelectronics.com/B...Kits_c_18.html
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Old 05-16-2021, 01:01 PM   #7
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Glade your electrical gauges worked and hope they are accurate having used Teflon tape , multiple times, on the sender’s ground.

Personally I have enough other critical things to watch than the generator’s temp and oil pressure. Does your generator have a alternator??? If so it doesn’t seem to be working?
Where are you seeing this?

Onan generators don't have an alternator. The battery voltage is from the chassis batteries and only receives a signal when the generator is running.

The teflon did have me guessing when I put an ohm meter to it but it is working and my infrared camera confirms the readings of the coolant temp.
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Old 05-16-2021, 03:26 PM   #8
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I wish that Cummins Onan offered a guage kit for their Quiet Diesel gen sets.
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Old 05-16-2021, 03:36 PM   #9
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Hey, you asked so here goes.
I speak from years of experence and don't mean to pick on your work, just pointing out best practice.


You moved the OEM temp sensor out of the coolant flow so its accuracy may be questionable.

I have seen a few occurrences of brass nipples failing from vibration with the sender sitting out like that. A short flex line and remote mounting of the sender will prevent that.
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Old 05-16-2021, 03:47 PM   #10
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Once a fitting is good and tight, tape won't affect electrical connection for a sensor.
I work where bounding and grounding is paramount.. Threaded pipe is never even questioned. It's usually tape and doped. They like to see a jumper around a flange particularly two slip flanges. If 4 to 8 ...5/8. - 3/4 bolts/studs are not going to bond . A couple 1/4 -3/8 bolts on a cable don't have a chance. lol.
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Old 05-17-2021, 07:08 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by twinboat View Post
Hey, you asked so here goes.
I speak from years of experence and don't mean to pick on your work, just pointing out best practice.


You moved the OEM temp sensor out of the coolant flow so its accuracy may be questionable.

I have seen a few occurrences of brass nipples failing from vibration with the sender sitting out like that. A short flex line and remote mounting of the sender will prevent that.
FANSTASTIC QUESTION!!!

So the temperature sender is really just a resistor. As it warms up the ohms go down.

Brass is a very good conductor or heat. While the temperature sender may not receive the actual signal I am confident that it is working as I have verified the temperatures going into the radiator with a infrared camera.

To your point also, the brass becomes 'heat soaked' still resulting in a indication on both of the temperature sensors.

I think I will eventually find a water plug to put this new sensor but this is working well. As mentioned, the brass gets heat soaked and works fairly well. Same thing with the oil pressure sensor/switch.
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Old 05-18-2021, 03:26 PM   #12
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Onan generators don't have an alternator. The battery voltage is from the chassis batteries and only receives a signal when the generator is running.
The 10Kw Onan w/ 4cyl Kubota in my Navigator for sure has an alternator. I was wondering why it did until I realized I am pretty sure all it does is provide the 12v for exciting the rotor. Otherwise I am not sure what it would be for, it does not have it's own battery.
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Old 05-18-2021, 05:12 PM   #13
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I have heard that in some cases the alternator is there from the engine suppliers and its not connected.

If it was a standby generator, it would need a battery and the charging system wired.

Marine engines come with power steering pumps in twin engine boats. Only one pump is hooked to anything
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Old 05-19-2021, 01:44 PM   #14
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I have heard that in some cases the alternator is there from the engine suppliers and its not connected.

If it was a standby generator, it would need a battery and the charging system wired.

Marine engines come with power steering pumps in twin engine boats. Only one pump is hooked to anything
Gotcha, well mine doesn't.

What charges the batteries on my bus is a chassis/house battery tieing system. There's a massive (like the size of a 40z) solenoid in the rear run box that will tie the house and chassis batteries together for: 1) when the battery boost is activated to start the bus engine/generator or 2) when the PCB senses its connected to some form of 120v source (generator, inverter from bus engine alternator, or shore power) and will charge and maintain the battery banks separately or tied depending on their voltage.

The charging system is "magnum inverter/charger". Its a pretty slick system.
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