The CAT RP3600 strikes a perfect balance of quality, power, features and reliability. CAT is a brand synonymous with work-grade equipment. If you want a cheaply made generator look elsewhere. If you value durability then you’ll be impressed by this gas-powered generator with 4500 starting watts and 3600 running watts; but there’s far more to it than meets the eye, such as an LED lit panel, tight-fitting outlet covers, full CARB compliance, and much more, which we’ll discuss.
Intro to CAT, the Brand
CAT (caterpillar) is renowned for making heavy construction machinery like excavators, backhoe loaders, agricultural tractors, etc. The CAT brand is synonymous with longevity and reliable performance, and they make premium quality products for all sorts of industries such as mining, road building, forestry, and transportation. But very few people know that CAT also manufactures generators, which can be used to power your home appliances and jobsite tools — But are CAT generators…
AS reliable as their trucks and bulldozers? Today, we are going to answer that question by reviewing the CAT RP3600 which is a gasoline powered open- frame portable generator. This generator is rated for 3600 running watts, which means it can be used to power anything from a 1/2hp air compressor to a 7 ¼” circular saw on the jobsite. It is equipped with a commercial grade 212cc OHV engine, and a sturdy steel frame to protect internal components from damage.
You can rely on the CAT RP3600 for delivering stable 120V AC power to your home appliances in the event of an outage. Its AVR (Automatic Voltage Regulation) will ensure that your appliances run safely with a steady supply of electricity. If a hurricane knocks out the power grid, you can rely on the RP 3600 to provide electricity for mission critical appliances like the sump pump and refrigerator, along with a few lights in key parts of your house. Depending on where you live and the type of work you do, you might have a specific set of features in your mind when shopping for a generator.
Professional Jobsite Generator : CAT RP3600
Someone who travels across the country in a mobile home might want a portable generator that packs sufficient power to run the RV air conditioner (and a 30amp RV outlet). If you’re going fishing, you probably don’t require more than 2000 watts of power but need a generator that is very portable and quiet. Campers want a compact inverter generator with electric start that delivers clean sine wave AC power for charging their phones and laptops (and a 12V DC outlet).
For emergency home backup generators, you need more than 5000 watts of continuous power output and a 220V outlet that plugs into a transfer switch. It also helps if the generator is dual- fuel capable, i.e. it runs on both gas and propane. Jobsite generators are equipped with commercial grade engines and air filters, along with GFCI protected outlets and a sturdy steel frame with powder coating for corrosion resistance. Some of them even have lift hooks on the top.
What To Look For In A Generator?
When purchasing a generator, the first thing to consider is your power requirement- can it run all your tools and appliances without overloading? Make a list of everything you need to power simultaneously, then add up all their running watts. There are plenty of wattage calculators available online, which help you figure out the total number of watts you need. Try to leave some additional headroom in there. Just because your total power requirement adds up to exactly 3500 watts doesn’t mean a slightly larger generator won’t be useful. For starters, if you operate the generator on a daily basis you will shorten the engine life by running it at maximum capacity for prolonged periods of time. Secondly, you might want to add some more appliances or tools in the future.
Next, we need to consider safety. Both for yourself, and the generator. If you’re using it as an emergency home backup system, make sure the generator is grounded properly. Snap- fit rubber outlet covers are also desirable, to prevent moisture and dust from accumulating around the electric terminals (a covered outlet will also keep the kids safe). Automatic low- oil shutdown will ensure that the engine doesn’t damage itself by running on low oil levels.
Finally, we take into consideration quality of life features such as an LED display, foldable handles, and wheels for mobility. Depending on the type of generator you purchase, its build quality and noise levels can vary significantly. If you are a homeowner and only use the generator for 2 to 3 hours at a time, you don’t need a commercial grade engine. But on a jobsite, contractors typically run the generator for full-day shifts of 8 hours or more, 7 days a week.
These applications are extremely stressful on the engine, which is why commercial grade generators are equipped with highly durable components that are designed to last for a very long time under sustained load. Emergency backup generators are typically outfitted with larger fuel tanks compared to generators designed for recreational purposes.
In this article, we’ll review the CAT RP3600 and focus on the features that make it an amazing generator for the jobsite. It can also be used as an emergency home backup generator, or to run tools in your personal workshop. We then review the Westinghouse WGen 3600DF, which is a dual- fuel generator. There are many advantages of using propane as generator fuel instead of gasoline. Finally, we take a look at the Champion 100302 which is a “digital hybrid” generator. Basically, it offers inverter grade power quality at a much cheaper price. And it even supports parallel operation, which means you can sync up two Champion 100302s for twice the power! This is a feature that is absent from traditional open-frame generators like the CAT RP3600.
CAT RP3600 Review
Starting Watts = 4500W / Running Watts = 3600W
- Reliable power when you need it for home, work and play
- Easy to set up and operate
- Built tough with a heavy-duty frame
- never-flat wheels
- padded, double-hinged, locking handle
- Enhanced safety features like automatic low-oil shutdown
- housing-protected wiring
- All-steel construction
- 4 in 1 Digital Display for Voltage, Frequency, Running Hours & Total Hours
- Start/Stop, Choke & Fuel Shutoff Controls Mounted on Easy-to-Use Control Panel
- Outlets : 2x 20A 120 VAC 5-20R Duplex, 1x 30A 120/240 VAC TT-30R (RV Receptacle
- LED Illuminated Control Panel for Night Operation
- Snap-fit Rubber Outlet Covers Protect Against Moisture, Dust and Debris
Featuring a great OHV engine and a sturdy tubular steel frame, the CAT RP3600 is one of the most reliable portable generators in existence. It is the “little guy” in CAT’s RP lineup of heavy duty commercial grade generators, but that doesn’t make it any less desirable for jobsites. You can power a 600W halogen work light, 8” bench grinder, and ½ hp air compressor at the same time with this CAT generator. And there will still be enough wattage left over for you to enjoy a cold beverage from your portable fridge. The CAT RP3600 is also designed to run all day long, thanks to the massive 4.5 gallon fuel tank. This means you won’t have to take a break in the middle of work to refuel your generator.
It will do 13.5 hours on one full tank of gas, at 50% of the rated continuous load (50% of 3600W= 1800 watts). For reference, the Westinghouse WGen 3600DF uses a 4 gallon tank while the Champion 100302 is equipped with a 2.9 gallon tank. Runtimes aren’t exclusively decided by fuel tank size, it also has to do with engine efficiency and electronics (inverter vs regular). But a larger gas tank is commonly found on jobsite and emergency home backup generators.
CAT RP3600 : LED Illuminated Control Panel
✓ Note : The runtime will not scale linearly as you increase the load closer to 100 percent, so you can’t expect the RP3600 to deliver a runtime of 6.75 hours at max load. It will probably be closer to 5 hours. But you aren’t going to power more than a fridge, TV, and some lights during an emergency with a 3600W generator. If you need to power an entire home, check out a standby generator like the Generac 6438. Standby generators can deliver anywhere between 10 to 20 kilowatts of power, and they turn on automatically during an outage. On top of that, many of them are designed to run on both natural gas and propane.
Let’s talk about how tough the RP3600 is. After all, it is a CAT product. The U- shaped frame is built from heavy gauge tubular steel, which has been coated with black powder for corrosion resistance in harsh environments. CAT knows the generator will operate in dusty areas, which is why they took two very important steps to make life easier for you. Firstly, it has rubber snap- lock covers on the outlets which prevents debris from getting inside. Secondly, the air filter box has an easy access door so you can quickly hot swap the air filter for a fresh one within minutes.
To make the RP3600 even tougher, CAT built the fuel tank from metal. So if the generator tumbles over or a couple stones fall on top of it, you don’t have to worry about replacing a punctured fuel tank. Even the electrical wiring around the engine and alternator has been tucked away neatly under plastic covers so they don’t get snagged or pulled during transportation. The CAT RP3600 also has some of the toughest wheels we have ever seen on any portable generator. These wheels use metal hubs and puncture resistant solid rubber tires with aggressive tread patterns. They help you push the generator on pretty much any surface- gravel, sand, snow, grass, etc. And the thick axle is bolted onto the wheels, which means it is less likely to bow or break under pressure.
At the heart of the CAT RP3600 lies a 212cc single- cylinder 4 cycle OHV gas engine, which is optimized for fuel efficiency. It is splash lubricated, which means a gear- driven dripper within the crankcase distributes oil to vital components. This oil keeps everything lubricated, and also aids with cooling. CAT recommends SAE 30 or 10W-30 oil for this generator’s engine. A low-oil auto shutdown system has been built into the engine, which will stop the generator when oil levels get critically low.
The engine and frame are connected with anti- vibration rubber mounts, significantly reducing noise levels. To further lower noise, CAT uses an advanced muffler design. This muffler is part of the exhaust system, alongside a catalytic converter which extracts harmful chemicals from the exhaust fumes. This catalytic converter is one of the reasons why the CAT RP3600 is both EPA and CARB compliant. Note that there are two versions of the CAT RP3600 on the market, SKU 490-6488 is EPA compliant and safe for use in 49 U.S states (excluding California). ▶ SKU 502-3684 is both EPA and CARB compliant, so it runs way cleaner and can be used in California without violating emissions regulations. The CARB compliant model costs slightly more, because it is equipped with a better catalytic converter.
There’s more to the CAT RP3600 than toughness and reliability. It has been equipped with a few smart features that make this generator very easy to operate. Like the intuitive control panel with a 4-in-1 digital display which shows voltage, frequency, running hours, and total hours. There is a little LED lamp on the bottom right hand side of the control panel which is pointed at an angle towards the outlets and switches. This LED lamp makes it very easy to operate the generator during nighttime, and it’s a far cheaper, more practical way of doing things than using illuminated dials or buttons.
There are two duplex 120V AC outlets (5- 20R) on the left side of the panel, capable of supplying up to 20amps of current each. Start/ Stop, choke, and fuel shutoff are located in a tight cluster right underneath the 4-in-1 digital display, so you can access the important stuff without having to move your fingers all over the place. On the right side of the panel, you’ll find a TT- 30R outlet, which supplies 120/ 240V 30amp power for your RV. All outlets are protected with snap- fit rubber covers which prevent dust and rainwater from getting inside. Finally there is the foam padded, double- hinged foldable handle which allows you to push the RP3600 up ramps and around the shop floor with relative ease.
Dual-Fuel Portable Generator : Runs on Gas or Propane
- Features one 5-20R 120V household Duplex receptacle, one rv-ready TT-30R 30 amp receptacle, and one L5-30R 30 amp receptacle; all outlets have rubber covers for added safety
3600 running watts and 4650 peak watts; recoil start; 4 gallon fuel tank with fuel gauge; 12 hour run time at 50% load
- Plug-and-play: comes with oil, an oil funnel, a tool kit, and a user’s Manual to get you started right out of the box (minimal assembly required)
- Powered by a 212 cc Westinghouse 4-stroke OHV engine featuring a long-lasting cast iron sleeve with automatic low oil shutdown
- EPA, CARB, and CSA compliant; backed by a 3-year limited Warranty; nationwide customer service and support network at 1-855-944-3571
The “DF” at the end of its model name stands for Dual Fuel, and this generator is designed to run on both gasoline as well as propane. The really interesting thing about the Westinghouse WGen3600DF is that it costs almost as much as the CAT RP3600, despite boasting similar performance numbers and an additional dual- fuel operating mode. However, there is a catch. The WGen3600DF will generate its rated continuous wattage only while using gasoline. If you switch to propane, the continuous wattage is reduced to 3240W instead of 3600W. Will that be a huge issue for most of you? Probably not, considering the fact that people rarely operate generators at their peak capacity for extended periods of time.
VIDEO | A CLOSER LOOK at the Westinghouse WGen3600DF
— But if you’re using something like an air compressor, refrigerator, etc. which cycles the motor on and off, you might want to keep an eye on what else is connected to the generator. Because when the motor on your compressor cycles on, it might push the 3600DF close to its limit in propane mode. We believe 3240 watts is plenty of power anyways, sufficient to run any tool on a jobsite and you can even use it to power a 13.5k BTU RV air conditioner.
So, what are the advantages of a dual-fuel generator? That boils down to gasoline vs propane, two very different fuel sources with unique advantages over the other. Gasoline combusts more violently, although propane generates more heat. Hence you need more of propane to create the same amount of mechanical energy as gasoline in your generator engine. It is also easier to fuel your generator with gasoline, because all you have to do is open the fuel tank cap and pour in some gas from a container.
With propane, you need to install plumping, regulators, etc. which can take a bit of time of set up. But once you set up a propane fuel system, it is extremely reliable. And you don’t have to worry about waking up in the middle of the night to refuel your generator as long as the propane tank is large enough. Propane tanks are available in a wide variety of sizes, ranging from the modest 20lb tanks you use to power your barbecue grill, to massive 500lb tanks which are installed by professionals in your yard. The large propane tanks are typically used for powering 10kW+ standby generators.
The real advantage of propane is the fact that it is much easier to store. Imagine storing gasoline for more than 2 to 3 months without adding fuel stabilizer. The gasoline will lose a lot of its combustibility and gunk will start forming on the surface. Old gas can gum up fuel lines and carburetors, and you will have to take the whole fuel system apart for cleaning. Besides, it is hard to predict when the next power failure will occur. Maybe two weeks from now, or a year later. Could be a drunk driver crashing into a pole, or a massive hurricane knocking out part of the grid. The point we’re trying to make is that gasoline simply doesn’t have the shelf life to be relied upon as your only source of generator fuel for emergency backup situations.
We highly recommend a dual-fuel generator if you want to run the sump pump, lights, TV, and refrigerator during a power failure. With gasoline, you need at least 20 gallons of it to last you a couple days during a natural disaster. And if you’re storing gasoline in multiple 5 gallon jerry cans, it can be a pain to organize all of them, add fuel stabilizer to each can, and locate them when the lights go out. Propane doesn’t require stabilizer, and you can easily last several days with a single 100lb tank of propane.
Remember that when a hurricane strikes, the gas pumps will likely be inoperable since you need electricity to pump gas. But you can easily walk into the store and purchase a tank of propane. We recommend you stock up on propane tanks if you live in hurricane prone areas. Propane generators are usually EPA and CARB compliant, because propane has less carbon content compared to gasoline. Which means, your generator emits less greenhouse gases (and doesn’t smell as bad). Finally, depending on where you live, propane is usually going to be much cheaper than gasoline.
Now that we’ve cleared up the debate of propane vs gas, let’s compare the WGen 3600DF and RP3600 from a value standpoint. We believe the Westinghouse wins this one, and by a large margin. While the CAT RP3600 has a peak (starting) wattage of 4500, the WGen 3600DF pumps out an impressive 4650 watts. Note sure what peak and running watts mean? Well, peak/ starting wattage is the amount of power a generator can supply only for short bursts of time. There are certain appliances which draw much higher wattage while starting, like sump pumps.
Air compressors and refrigerators also draw more power when they cycle on, i.e. when the compressor kicks in. To meet this sudden demand of additional watts, generators are designed to supply short bursts of power for anywhere from 10 seconds to a minute. How long the burst duration lasts is going to vary depending on the generator make and model. Any electrical appliance which is equipped with a motor will have a starting wattage higher than its running wattage, because motors require a high initial burst of current in order to get up to speed. Starting watts can be very important if you are purchasing a generator to power an air conditioner, sump pump, table saw, or any other heavy duty jobsite tool.
Alright, so the Westinghouse has slightly more starting power. But the CAT RP3600 can maintain a higher running wattage, compared to the WGen when it is on propane mode. Still, the Westinghouse wins because it has a dual- fuel mode and is much more versatile as a result. It is also a superior choice as an emergency home backup generator during natural disasters. What about build quality? CAT takes this one, thanks to the more durable engine and steel wheel hubs.
Next, how do the features compare?
Westinghouse barely wins over CAT in this category, because of the remote start and push button electric start. The CAT RP3600 must be started with the pull cord, which can be very inconvenient for senior citizens or someone with back problems. Compared to the push button electric start on the WGen 3600DF, this seems like ancient technology. And if walking up to the generator is too hard for you, you can simply press a button on the key fob from 100 yards away. Great feature to have if you’re a camper. Just like the RP3600, the WGen 3600DF has snap- fit rubber covers for its outlets. You get a TT- 30R twist lock 30amp 120V outlet for connecting this generator with your RV. Unfortunately, there is no digital display on the WGen 3600DF for volts, amps, or frequency. The CAT RP3600 does have a 4-in-1 display which shows data like voltage, frequency, etc.
✓ Want to learn more, read our dedicated article of the Westinghouse WGen3600DF.
4000-Watt Digital Hybrid Open Frame Inverter
- Advanced Digital Hybrid Design
- 50% quieter and 20% lighter than a traditional Champion 3500-watt generator, plus our Economy Mode feature saves fuel and extends engine life
- Quiet Technology and Extended Run Time
- 64 dBA is great for RVs, tailgating, your next project or home backup, with 4000 starting watts and 3500 running watts for up to 17 hours run time on gasoline
- Clean electricity for sensitive electronics
- RV Ready with a 120V 30A RV, plus two 120V 20A household outlets with clean power (less than 3% THD) and 12V DC outlet with dual USB adapter
- Parallel Ready
- Increase your power output by connecting up to two 2800-watt or higher inverter or digital hybrid with the optional Parallel Kit
- Includes 3-year limited warranty with FREE lifetime technical support from dedicated experts
✓ View or download the MANUAL for the Champion Power Equipment 100302
While the Westinghouse WGen3600DF impressed us with its dual- fuel capabilities and remote start at a relatively affordable price, Champion has created something truly revolutionary with the 100302. This is what we call a “digital hybrid” generator, which basically means an open- frame generator with inverter circuitry strapped onto it. The result is a generator that isn’t quite as expensive as an inverter, but delivers similar power quality. It is louder than an inverter generator, but quieter than a conventional open-frame model that only uses AVR (automatic voltage regulation). And the best part is that you can connect a second Champion 100302 using a parallel connection kit, to double the wattage, making it highly versatile, giving you the option to increase your power when you need it.
If only they made a dual- fuel version of this, it would be the perfect all-rounder. There is the Champion 100264, but that is an inverter which has been modified with dual-fuel capabilities. As such, it generates less power than the 100302 and is also more expensive. But it is much more compact and runs quieter.
VIDEO | A CLOSER LOOK at the Champion 100302
So, what are the benefits of purchasing a Champion 100302 over a conventional open- frame portable generator like the CAT RP3600? Well, the biggest advantage is you get cleaner power. But wait, what does that even mean? Is there such as thing as quality of electricity? Yes, the electricity which you get from your 110V AC outlets at home is what we call “pure sine wave” power. The power stations generate electricity in the form of alternating current, which reverses its polarity a fixed number of times per second (that number is called frequency). As the electricity shifts polarity, the line drawn by the shifting voltage on a graph resembles a sine wave.
We don’t want to bore you with numbers and formulas, this isn’t math class. But you need to know that pure sine wave current is more suitable for operating complicated electronic devices, especially the ones that have low power components like microprocessors. Laptops, phones, smart TVs, and even modern microwaves fall into this category. You could run them with the approximated sine wave from a regular generator. But there will be more fluctuations in the quality of electric current, and this can cause your appliance to heat up. Large fluctuations in voltage can be caused when loading up the circuit with new appliances, since conventional generators require more time to adjust their voltage whereas inverters do it in a fraction of a second.
If you are purchasing a portable generator for recreational activities and not as emergency home backup, the Champion 100302 is a superior choice over the WGen 3600DF or CAT RP3600. It can power your laptops, phones, radios, TVs, and pretty much any delicate electronic appliance with pure sine wave AC current. It doesn’t have the starting power of the other two, at just 4000 watts peak. But that is still enough to start most RV air conditioners, and it can even handle some jobsite tools like air compressors and pressure washers.
Despite its inverter tech, the Champion 100302 can function as a decent jobsite generator. Minus the portability of course, because there are no wheels or folding handles included within the package. It isn’t as rugged as the CAT, but is still built around a hefty tubular steel frame. And the engine is a 224cc OHV 4 cycle, with pretty good lubrication which should extend the lifetime. Low oil shutoff and overload protection are included as standard features, like on most modern portable generators these days.
The 30amp RV outlet and 20amp duplex outlets aren’t covered, which means this generator isn’t designed for regular exposure to dust and rain. You can charge your phones with the 12V outlet, which is a neat feature for a recreational generator. Runtimes are lower than the CAT RP3600, thanks to the smaller fuel tank (2.9 gallons vs 4 gallons). You get up to 17 hours at 25 percent load, compared to the CAT RP3600’s 15 hours at 50 percent load. The Champion 100302 is both EPA and CARB compliant, so you can use it in all 50 states.
✓ Want to learn more, read our dedicated review of the Champion 100302.