Portable? What Is Portable?
Before I did this review, I had a picture of a portable generator as roughly the size of a small suitcase, and suitable for powering the till and lights for an exhibitor at a craft show. But having tried the CAT RP 4400 Low Power Generator Set, I have a more flexible interpretation of portable. The CAT weighs 80 Kgs, and therefore it takes two to lift it from its delivery carton and then to add the wheels and stand. However, once the wheels are added, the CAT does indeed become portable. One person, even me with a slightly bad back, can easily wheel it about and get it up a few steps and through a standard doorway. Clearly this is enough portability for its intended use on worksites, and where back-up power is needed. The wide treaded never-flat wheels are big enough to allow it to be manoeuvred over even softer surfaces like grass and unmade paths.
Also useful is that it will fit into the back of a medium-sized hatchback (with the back seats down) but, again, it will take two to lift.
What Goes into the RP4400?
The RP4400 is the most powerful genset in a small series of three machines that are intended to cover a range of demands from small users for serious power in workplaces, on smallholdings and back-up power for the home.
With its maximum output of 4400W the CAT will power anything from TVs to power tools, so it is really flexible. We in the UK are blessed with a pretty reliable power supply, but I have relatives in Africa and friends who live in the further reaches of Scotland, who all have a back-up generator as standard equipment for the house. For them it is a necessity of life.
Powered by a modern and reliable 300cc four stroke engine that will produce the required power at a pretty unstrained noise and 3000 RPM rev level, it is also quiet enough that it won’t deafen you even when you are quite close to it.
Having had my share of getting various petrol powered machines going straight out of the box, I know that some motors can be a bit capricious. But having filled the 30-litre petrol tank and added the required amount of oil, I followed the clear instructions for starting. To my absolute surprise the motor started on the first pull of the recoil starter cord, and then settled to a steady muffled roar that was by no means a pain in the ears.
The genset produces AC voltage of 115 or 230v at 50Hz frequency, and it has AVR or Automatic Voltage Regulation that is needed for the safe use of modern electrical equipment.
According to the specs, a full tank of fuel should last up to 18.5 hours – enough to get you through a full dark night in Scotland in midwinter. Filling the tank is easy since the fuel cap and tank are located on the top of the machine. Removing the metal cap reveals a fuel filter – an absolute necessity when filling from fuel containers that can be more easily contaminated with sediment etc. The fuel gauge, also on top of the tank, gives an adequate reading of the fuel available.
Handily, all the controls and power outlets are located on one end of the generator. This is a genuine ’user friendly’ move because having bits and bobs everywhere would be difficult to manage if you were having to get the generator going, and perhaps connect ancillary machines to it on a cold wet night after a power cut.
The controls are simple and self-explanatory, and a handy quick guide is mounted on the fuel tank for easy reference and is also supplied with the comprehensive instruction booklet. I guess it would be a good idea to keep it in its plastic bag and keep it near the generator at all times. (All manuals are also available as PDF download from www.cat.com/homeandoutdoor)
On the other side of the machine is a foldable, two-position tubular steel handle. This can be locked into its positions with a pin. The handle and the wheels are the keys in making the RP4400 portable. Acting like wheelbarrow handles, the weight of the machine is largely over the wheels, so it is easier to move.
Examining the frame revealed that it is a simple, but very strong space frame, made from steel tubing welded together. It provides a solid base on which to attach the motor and generator, as well as providing good protection for the vital bits when it encounters the inevitable bumps and bangs of the work site.
What I Got Up to…
Occasionally serendipity happens and this month I have had a diamond disc cutter to review and a large outdoor swimming pool to refurbish.
The swimming pool predictably enough was at least 75m from an electrical power source, so it was really handy to have the CAT to wheel down to the pool enclosure (fortunately dry weather meant that the usual Sussex clay was firm enough to wheel the machine easily)
With the switchable 115/230v option on the CAT, I was able to power the disc cutter a few times when I needed it on bits of pool masonry that needed replacing, but I was also able to connect up my 230v jet washer, by simply changing the plug on it so that it could fit into the site-style plugs on the CAT.
The jet washer had a lot of hard use and of course so did the CAT. It remained easy to start up when needed and simple to move around when the limits of the pressure hose on the jet were reached. In this situation, I was much better able to appreciate how a machine like this would be used and also to appreciate its power and convenience.
I guess you could still use this generator as a portable power source at a craft fair – but it would be at home powering several stalls and even more lights. And in winter maybe even powering a heater or two for stallholders.
Aimed at: more demanding domestic users, smallholders and professionals needing site power.
Pros: Powerful with big power outputs, 115 and 230v, and portable using big wheelbarrow handles.