It doesn’t take much to figure out why the Predator 3500 inverter generator is a best seller. A 3,500 watt generator is perfect for an RV and offers a good deal of power for home backup electricity. This is one of the most practical generators in terms of output.
There is no shortage of options for a 3,500W generator and many make use of inverter technology to provide low THD electricity, which is great for modern electronic equipment. Setting out to review the Predator 3500 inverter generator, one important question has been on my mind. What makes this such a popular generator?
I suppose the price is a major plus factor, this is one of the cheapest quiet 3,500W inverter generators on the market. This cannot be the only reason, there are several affordable options for similar models. To provide a good comparison, I’ll be considering two top rivals – WEN 56380i vs Predator 3500 and Generac iQ3500 vs Predator 3500. This ought to be an interesting showdown between the best affordable 3,000W – 4,000W portable inverter generators available.
Another reason why the Predator 3500 inverter generator has garnered so much interest is it’s uncanny resemblance to the Honda EU3000iS. The Predator vs Honda debate has been the topic of much speculation. Predator generators are, for the most part, Honda clones. This topic will obviously be an important part of the Predator 3500 inverter generator review.
You can expect a lot of useful information from this article. I’ll start by reviewing the Predator 3500 and three more inverter generators that can be regarded as suitable alternatives – Generac iQ3500, WEN 56380, and Champion 200988.
Following these reviews, I’ll be taking at detailed look at a topic that has aroused the curiosity of many a generator enthusiast. This would be the Predator vs Honda EU3000iS saga. I also intend to provide a general discussion on 3,500W inverter generators and what makes them so popular.
Predator 3500 Inverter Generator Review
- Run time: 11 hours @ 25% capacity
- Super quiet — only 57 dB
- Electronic overload protection
- 212cc air-cooled OHV gas engine
- 3500 starting watts, 3000 running watts
- Digital LCD Screen with low oil, overload and output light indicators
- Integrated smooth-rolling casters for portability
- (2) 120VAC grounded outlets, (1) 120VAC Twistlock Outlet, (1) DC-12v Two Pin Outlet
- Hassle free electric start for quick and easy starting
Based on its physical appearance, the Predator 3500 closely resembles the highly acclaimed Honda EU3000iS and the more recent IS1AN and IS1AG upgrades. When we do a more detailed investigation, in particular analyzing the engine, the similarities are more striking. Even though the Predator 3500 has a higher wattage (3,500W peak power and 3,000 running watts) it utilizes an engine that is basically the same as the Honda GX200 powerplant.
The Predator 212cc engine is a Chinese clone of the enduring Honda GX200. To generate more power, the displacement has been increased from 196cc to 212cc. Though, to look at the engine, it is easy to mistake the two. One of the disadvantages of increasing engine displacement, without modifying the air cooled cylinder head, is that the Predator engine has a tendency to overheat. More power from the same basic design results in more heat being produced, but the heat transfer from the engine remains the same.
Having read numerous Predator 3500 customer reviews, I’ve noticed the most common complaint is engine overheating. It’s not something that everyone has complained about. This has a lot to do with how you use the generator and the weather conditions. Using the Predator 3500 on a hot day can be problematic if you require high wattage output for long periods of time. Not something that everyone experiences regularly.
The most common solution to the Predator 3500 overheating conundrum is to remove the insulating panels that enclose the generator. These are designed to reduce noise, so the generator will be louder if you do this. It does, however, increase airflow to the engine which allows it to run cooler. Some people have drilled holes in the panels which makes for a reasonable compromise. You still have some noise reduction and increased airflow to improve engine cooling. If you don’t regularly use your generator at high RPM, and seldom in hot weather, drilling holes into the enclosure may not be the best solution. Removing the covers, for these occasional incidents, means that you won’t have a noisy generator when you don’t require additional cooling.
VIDEO : Predator 3500 vs Honda EU2000
Apart from occasional overheating, the Predator 212cc engine performs as well as the Honda original. You start the engine with complete ease, whether using the electric or recoil (pull) starter. Manual starting is never a hassle, thanks to the superb (Honda designed) automatic decompression system. A super-easy dial on the user panel has three positions for off, run, and start. This engine is 50-State legal, being both EPA and Carb certified.
Because the Predator 3500 is equipped with plastic sound insulating panels, not the same metal panels used for the Honda EU3000iS, it is not as quiet. Though, for it’s size (and the larger displacement engine), this generator is remarkably quiet. Noise levels can be as low 57dBA. I guess this would be at the lower end of the power output capacity, probably 25% or less, with the eco mode switch in the on position.
Using Honda technology for a generator engine has one distinct advantage, excellent fuel economy. Even though this is a more powerful version of the Honda GX200 engine, it really isn’t thirsty at all. With the 2.6 gallon gas tank filled, the Predator 3500 can achieve an incredible 11-hours runtime at 25% load. This is a very respectable 750W average load for 11-hours. You could probably run a 10,000 BTU air conditioner on the hottest day of the year, all day long, without refilling the gas tank. Now that’s cool.
The Predator 3500 doesn’t have that many outlets, but you have everything you need with convenient push to reset circuit breakers. It has a 120V 30A twist lock outlet which is incredibly handy if you intend using this generator for home backup power. You can connect the Predator 3500 to a 30A transfer switch without requiring adapters or special wiring. This same outlet is also perfect for an RV. You get a TT30 RV adapter with the Predator 3500W inverter generator. In addition to the versatile multi-use 30A outlet, the Predator also includes 2 X 120V 20A outlets and a 12VDC receptacle – perfect for charging your 12V leisure batteries.
Because the Predator 3500 supplies power to the AC outlets by means of a digital inverter, you are assured of clean power that is safe for all your electronic equipment. It also has a modern digital LCD display for the vital information. Warning lights alert you to low oil and overload, as well as an indicator light telling you the system is ready for load. When you need to top up the oil, it’s a breeze. An opening at the side of the generator requires no tools or complicated procedures, this gives you easy access to the oil filler.
The Predator 3500 isn’t too heavy for a machine with this type of AC power output. It weighs 110 LBS. Strong handles at the front and back of the generator make it perfectly easy for two people to lift it. A built in wheel kit comprises of four small wheels (one at each corner). It won’t be too easy moving this machine across rough terrain but on a paved surface, it’s an absolute pleasure.
The Predator 3500 is a wonderfully practical generator for an RV and fairly comprehensive home emergency power. The benefit of an inverter to supply low THD power speaks for itself. What really amazes everyone is the incredible price. You can buy the Predator 3,500W inverter generator from Harbor Freight for little more than $850. I doubt this machine has the same enduring toughness that I so greatly admire about the Honda EU3500i, but it costs almost 3-times less than the high-end Honda generator. Harbor Freight is known for incredible bargains and the Predator 3500 certainly lives up to this expectation.
Review : Generac iQ3500 / 3500W
There is strong competition in the generator business to hold the title “quietest camping generator”. In the 3000W+ inverter generator class, the Generac iQ3500 is the outright winner. It is even quieter than the less powerful Honda EU3000i which, until recently, was the quietest in this class.
Although the Generac iQ3500 is more expensive than the Predator 3500, it is one of the cheaper options if you’re looking for a 3,500W inverter generator. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any generator in this class cheaper than the Predator model. Apart from the Generac brand, that certainly carries some weight, there are quite a number of reasons why one could consider the Generac iQ3500 a better machine than the extraordinarily cheap Predator 3500.
The Generac iQ3500 looks like a mighty tough inverter generator. This is evident from the first time you look at it. Instead a conventional plastic housing, the Generac iQ3500 is enclosed by metal panels, like the more expensive Honda. Even though the Generac is more powerful, delivering 3,500W peak power and 3,000W running capacity, noise levels are barely above 50dBA. That’s quite a feat and will definitely be appreciated in a campsite or residential neighborhood with noise restrictions.
The engine used to power the Generac 3,500W inverter generator is the same size as that used in the Predator 3500 but is noticeably more fuel efficient and is not plagued by the same heat issues. Not only is this the quietest 3500W generator, I think it may also be the most economical. The gas tank has a 2.6 gallon capacity (identical to the Predator 3500). Despite providing the same amount of watts, and having the same size gas tank, the Generac iQ3500 offers much better runtimes than the Predator 3500W inverter generator, 14-hours at 25% load from a full tank. This means using the economy mode to reduce RPM, which improves fuel economy and makes this quiet generator almost silent. Even without using the economy mode, this is still an incredibly fuel-efficient generator. At 50% load (1,500W average) the frugal Generac will run for almost 9-hours.
The Generac iQ3500 is designed for easy starting. It has an all-in-one starting dial, moving from off, to run, to start. Like its competitors, the Generac 3,500W inverter generator offers the choice of either electric or pull starter which can be used in an emergency when the battery has not been charged.
The AC outlets on the Generac user panel are the same as those you’ll find on the Predator generator – 2 X 120V 20A receptacles and a 30A 120V outlet, it also has the same circuit breaker setup. DC outlets differ. Instead of a 12VDC outlet, the Generac team have opted for a more modern approach, providing 2 X USB ports. It has a comprehensive and intelligent LCD digital display, providing useful information like remaining run time, wattage output, fuel level, generator status, and operating hours. As we’ve come to expect, this model, like most inverter generators, allows for parallel connection. Using the optional parallel kit, you can use two Generac iQ3500 generators simultaneously to double your available power.
Considering the durable build, with metal instead of plastic in many areas, I would have expected the Generac iQ3500 to be heavier than the Predator 3500. Surprisingly, the opposite is true. The Generac weighs 109.1 pounds, almost a pound lighter than its Predator equivalent. Though, the Generac iQ3500 does not include a wheel kit. Quite a disadvantage for hassle-free portability. The handles are very similar to those found on the Predator generator. It’s just as easy to lift and carry.
Generac is one of the most respected US generator brands. Though not all Generac models are made in America. Alas, the Generac iQ3500 is one of those that hail from China, which can account for its very reasonable price. I’m not too deterred by this. Regardless of where the factory is, this is a Generac machine and that counts for a lot as far as I’m concerned. You get one of the best 3-year warranties on the Generac iQ3500, indicating that the brand has the same faith in this model as with their US-made generators.
Review : WEN 56380i / 3800W Inverter
Since we’re comparing low-priced, good value 3500W inverter generators, the WEN 56380i is an obvious model to consider. The WEN inverter generator is the most powerful of the bunch and the price is pretty amazing. Cheaper than the super-quiet Generac model but not quite as cheap as the Predator 3500.
This generator produces 3,800 peak watts and 3,400 rated watts. Even with the extra power, the WEN inverter generator is as quiet as the Predator 3500 – 57dBA at 25% load. A spec like this will always be measured using the economy mode to reduce RPM, making it a little quieter than it would be at loads higher than 25%.
The 212cc engine can hold its own when pitted against any of the inverter generators featured in this review. This is a modern, low-emission engine that is both CARB and EPA certified. Fuel economy is also great. With a fairly modest 2.2 gallon gas tank, the WEN 56380i is able to provide better runtimes than many generators with a larger tank that don’t provide as many watts. With a full tank, the WEN will run for around 8.5 hours at 50% load. Comparing gallons per watt, the WEN 56380i is real winner. An average load of 1,700W is quite a bit a bit of electricity, making it truly amazing at 8.5 hours using only 2.2-gallons of fuel.
The WEN inverter is quite remarkable, something I’ve commented on many times when reviewing any WEN inverter generator. Manufacturers of inverter generators don’t always provide THD specs for their digital inverters. Most are rated at less than 3% THD. This is the accepted minimum standard for a pure sine wave inverter.
Generally, it’s only when an inverter provides cleaner power, do the manufacturers mention this. WEN specify a THD level of less than 1.2%. Trust me, this quite remarkable. This is the type of power spec required for aviation and medical equipment where reliable power is critical for accurate computerized measurements. You can rest assured that your stereo, TV, and other electronic devices are being supplied with just about the cleanest electricity there is. Really fantastic for an inverter generator this cheap.
The WEN 56380i has one of the coolest user panels with a bunch extra user-friendly features. The starting dial looks a little different to the normal on, off, and choke setup. This is because the WEN has an additional setting called auto shut-off. When you intend storing the generator for a month a more, you always have to take care to ensure no fuel remains in the carburetor, as this evaporates and leaves a residue that may prevent the engine from starting next time you use it. WEN has made this basic cautionary procedure perfectly easy. Engage auto shut-off, and the engine will run until all remaining fuel in carburetor is used before shutting the engine off. A nifty little orange button is incorporated into the starting dial for the electric starter. In case of a battery failure, you can always use the recoil starter.
The digital display is also a cut above the rest with great graphics and a lot of information at a glance. Checking fuel level and percentage of the total watts you’re using is really simple, 5 LEDs on either side of the LCD screen serve as digital fuel and watt output gauges. A numeric display in the center provides very accurate information for watts, frequency, and hours. Warning lights are standard – two red warning lights for low oil and overload, with a green LED indicating that the system is okay and ready for load.
The WEN 56380i has every outlet you could possibly need, whether at home, camping, or tailgating. AC power is supplied using 2 X 120V 20A outlets and an RV-ready (TT-30) 120V 30A outlet. It also has both 12VDC and USB ports for charging any type of battery directly from the generator. Parallel connection ports are conveniently positioned at the top of the user panel.
The WEN 56380i weighs just under 100-pounds, incredible when you consider the pretty high wattage it provides. This is one of the best inverter generators when it comes to power to weight ratio. In addition to the pretty comfortable weight, portability is aided by a fantastic fold down handle and wheel kit, comprising of two wheels at the back of the generator. It also has solid bar-type handles for lifting.
The WEN 65380i certainly offers a lot of generator for a little money. It is more powerful than the Predator 3500, has one of the best THD specifications, and is delightfully portable. It is also one of the most convenient to use, with easy starting, auto-shutoff, and a versatile selection of outlets. The WEN brand represents good value all the way, with a comprehensive range of domestic portable generators of a pretty high quality standard. This model has a 2-year warranty.
Review : Champion 200988 / Dual-Fuel
The Champion 200988 is a slightly different league to the inverter generators reviewed above. This is the most powerful option, delivering 4,500 peak watts and 3,150 running watts. Not only is this Champion generator more powerful than the Predator 3500, it has the additional advantage of being a dual fuel generator. You can run this Champion model on propane or gas.
Recent upgrades to the Champion design has not only made this a much more modern-looking machine, it is also a lot more practical and fairly quiet for a 4,500W generator powered by a 212cc engine. Though, like previous generation Champion generators, this is not the quietest. Specified at 61dBA, it’s not too noisy but doesn’t match the others which all rated lower than 60dBA, at least when running at less than 25% rated load.
The improvements made to this generator seem to be more than mere cosmetic changes. Champion engines are generally less economical than most competing brands. I delighted to see that this not the case when comparing fuel economy for the 4,500W dual fuel Champion 200988 vs the others in this review. The gas tank is about the size we’d expect for a generator like this, 2.3 gallons. This gives you a really impressive runtime of 14-hours at 25% load. A 20 LBS propane tank will provide an incredible 21-hours at the same load.
Normally, a dual fuel generator delivers less watts when using propane. This is because propane does not have the same energy as gas and uses different air to fuel ratio. It surprised me to see that power spec for this generator is the same when using propane or gas (4,500W/3,150W). I’m not sure if this is possible. Though, after checking several sources, all specify the same power output. Have the Champion engineers discovered some sort of alchemy, unknown to others. If this is not an error, then the Champion 200988 is the only dual fuel generator to provide the same power, regardless of the fuel being used. I’m guessing the true power output, when using propane, should be around 20% less than specified.
Error, or no error, this is perfectly practical generator in terms of convenient power output and versatile fuel options. The general design is also quite superb. This is an incredibly lightweight generator for its class, only 103 pounds. Clever design has made this weight even easier as far as portability goes. It has great lifting handles, a wheel kit and fold down handle to make it easier to use the wheels.
The user panel has been completely redesigned and is simply fantastic. All the outlets now have plastic covers, which I like a lot. It protects them from damage and improves electrical safety. The EZ Start dial is also really cool. Like many generator manufacturers, they have incorporated the on, off, and choke in a single operation dial. This model, like the WEN generator (reviewed above) is even more convenient to start. The engine electric start button is incorporated into the starting dial. A conventional pull handle at the side operates a recoil starter when needed.
There are 2 X 120V 20A outlets and a TT-30, 120V 30A RV outlet. It also has a 12VDC battery charging outlets and ports for a parallel connection kit. The digital display offers quite a spectrum of useful information on an LCD screen – volts, frequency, session runtime, and total runtime. It also has quick reference LED gauge displaying output wattage as percentage of the total available power. Electronic circuit breakers and an oil warning light take care of basic safety and engine protection. A convenient oil filler access flap means no hassle when you need to add oil to the engine.
The Champion brand is known for good value. This model costs a little more because of the duel fuel technology. A convenience many are prepared to pay extra for. As with the Predator 3500 (or any of the generators in this review), the Champion 200988 cannot be considered a heavy-duty machine. This is a domestic grade generator, intended for providing backup power at home during an outage, camping, tailgating, or similar conditions where the generator is not expected to work too hard.
Read our full review of the Champion 200988.
Predator 3500 vs Honda EU3000iS
Despite the price difference, any review of the Predator 3500 should include a comparison to the Honda EU3000iS 3000W inverter generator. The similarities are plentiful. Predator generators all have common origins in that they are essentially Honda generators that have undergone a few changes.
We could say that the Predator 3500 is basically a Honda EU3000iS with a bit of extra power. The Honda generator has a peak output of 3,000W, whereas the Predator model peaks at 3,500W and has an increased running capacity of 3,000W. Is this the only difference?
When we compare prices, the Predator 3500 is a lot cheaper. It seems almost too good to be true. A more powerful generator, that appears to be almost identical, costing almost 30% of the price. What’s the catch?
Honda has always invested a lot into research and development. This is a cost that will obviously affect the retail price. To some extent, Predator has taken advantage of this. By imitating technology that has taken years to develop, we as consumers stand to benefit by not paying for this. Although this may a moral dilemma, it is an outright saving. I’m sure most folks are willing to accept this.
Although this does not bode well for the future of generator design. If the big brands no longer have the financial capacity to invest in new technology, we won’t benefit from this in the future. Perhaps this is not a critical consideration. In the end, if you can buy a product that appears to be equal, without paying a high price for it, why not?
There has to be more to the story than a simple saving on R & D. There is. In order to build a cheaper generator, manufacturing costs have been reduced wherever possible. An obvious indication of this would be the use of plastic for the generator enclosure. This is a bit cheaper than the more durable metal panels used for the Honda generator. This makes the Predator generator slightly louder and less durable. At the price, I’m sure most of us don’t mind this minor difference.
When we start dissecting the generator, it becomes apparent that material costs have been reduced in many other areas. I’ve always been quite amazed at the sophisticated alloys used throughout Honda machinery. This is one of the benefits of prolonged research. By developing and testing every component, down to the finest detail, Honda engineers have made every effort to make their products more reliable, lighter, and as durable as is possible.
By substituting carefully considered materials for cheaper alternatives, many of the advantages that stem from meticulous research are lost. Cheaper knockoffs never last as long as the more expensive originals.
I mentioned overheating as an issue when reviewing the Predator 3500. While this is something we can control and mitigate with a few simple measures, it is another example of what happens when a manufacturer does not properly research and test their engines. In the end, an engine that runs hotter won’t last as long as one which operates at a lower temperature.
When it comes down to it, no one can expect the same durability from a Predator generator as you would from a Honda model. Reinforcing the old cliché: You get what you pay for. An alternative argument can be made for the massive difference in price. Is the Honda generator going to last three times longer than the Predator 3500? There can be no precise answer to this question. With a bit of luck, and ideal operating conditions, your Predator generator could end up providing decades of faithful service. Though, no matter how long it lasts, the Honda generator is going to be better and probably a lot more reliable.
A lot can be said in favor of the Honda vs Predator generators. Sales suggest an entirely different reality. The Predator 3500 is an extremely popular generator. No amount of R & D or superior materials can convince the majority of generator buyers that it’s worth paying that much more for a product that isn’t that different. You’re actually getting a generator with more power for a lot less.
Is a 3,500W inverter generator your best option?
For a more convenient emergency power supply to your home, a generator with 10,000W running power (or more) would be the ideal choice. You can’t supply an entire home electrical panel with a peak supply of 3,500W and 3,000 running watts. Despite this less than desirable wattage, generators with peak output of 3,000W to 4,000W are probably the most popular. There has to be a logical reason for this.
While a 3,500W generator isn’t powerful enough to run a home with central air conditioning or a heating furnace, you can use room air conditioners, refrigerators, microwaves, or just about any regular household appliance. You won’t be able to use too many appliances at the same time. For example, a 3,500W/3,000W generator may trip if you use the washing machine at the same time as your vacuum cleaner. It’s easy enough to work around this by considering which appliances you use simultaneously. It takes a bit of simple planning. A generator like the Predator 3500 can supply enough electricity to keep you comfortable at home during a power outage, without much inconvenience.
Although it’s not a perfect solution, a generator like this has numerous advantages that make it worthwhile. A 3,500W generator costs a lot less than a larger model. It uses less fuel and is usually quieter. It is a much more economical solution.
Portability is one of the biggest advantages. While larger generators are portable, they can be extremely cumbersome and heavy. Taking a 10,000W generator with you on vacation is a hassle and you need to transport more fuel to keep the bigger engine supplied for the duration of your trip.
A 3,500 watt generator is ideal for an RV. It can supply a 30A RV panel without tripping. This versatility is the reason why these generators are so popular. The Predator 3500 (and similar competitors) are the best camping generators. They are portable, quiet, and have the grunt to supply all our camping electricity requirements. At the same time, a 3,500W generator can be a great convenience when we need emergency power at home. This is a one size (almost) fits all solution.
The Inverter Advantage
A lot has been written about the advantages of using inverter technology for a portable generator. The greatest of which is low harmonic distortion, or clean power. Inverter generators are able to run at lower RPM when power demand isn’t too high which reduces fuel consumption and noise. You can also use two generators connected in parallel, thereby doubling the amount of power.
When considering a 3,500W generator, like the Predator 3500, an inverter makes a big difference. A conventional generator supplies power directly from the alternator which relies on a constant engine speed to maintain the required voltage and frequency (120V, 60 Hz). Engine RPM needs to remain unchanged at around 3,800 RPM. If this changes, the voltage and/or frequency will change accordingly. This results in distortion of the sine wave, or harmonic distortion.
When the power demand is low, the engine maintains a constant speed quite easily. When you switch your tv on, the throttle will quickly increase the engine speed and there will be very little change in the voltage or frequency. The engine adjusts to the slight increase in power demand rapidly and easily. As the load on the generator increases, the engine cannot recover quickly when you switch an appliance on. This becomes more difficult when the appliance requires a high starting amperage. Refrigerators, microwave ovens, and air conditioners are the most common appliances that place a high load on the generator when they start.
When an alternator is supplying around 50% (or more) of its rated load, increasing the engine RPM to supply enough power to start a refrigerator, or similar appliance, is not as quick as it should be. For a few seconds, the engine labors and power output is not stable. If you’re using a large generator, this is not always a problem. A generator that supplies 10,000 running watts can comfortably handle a 5,000W load without producing excessive Total Harmonic Distortion (THD). Most domestic power seldom exceeds 5,000W and this is usually for short periods. This means that your power is clean, it has relatively low THD most of the time.
If you’re using a generator with a rated load of 3,000W, you will frequently be using upwards of 50% capacity. This means an increased risk of high THD. This is why an inverter is quite essential for a generator that does not have a particularly high rated load. Without the inverter, the voltage and frequency will fluctuate constantly. This reduces the efficiency of electric motors and causes extra heat to be generated. Electronic circuits are damaged by THD, and it often causes them to malfunction.
Although inverter generators are more expensive, it is money well-spent. Just about everything we use these days has electronic components, which is why inverter generators have become so popular. The cost of replacing or repairing all these appliances would be exorbitant. Paying a little extra for inverter technology starts to make sense when we consider the alternative.
Fortunately, inverter generators aren’t as expensive as they were a few years ago. The Predator 3500 is a perfect example of how affordable these machines have become. This 3,500W inverter generator costs less than some the first 2,000W models.