Generators can be lifesavers, but they aren’t cheap. And to keep them operable, there are 12 generator maintenance tips to follow.
Because let’s face it, you want your generator to work when called on. Especially, if you live in an area prone to natural disasters. But like any machine, if you don’t care for it, it’ll fail you when you need it the most. It’s ironic how this always happens…
Thankfully though, generator maintenance is easy if you know what to do. Also, with good maintenance, your generator can last you anywhere from 20 to 30 years!
To point out, these generator maintenance tips I recommend to my industrial clients. So, they’ll certainly work for your at-home portable generator. More importantly, though, be sure your generator is off and cool before you do any work. You want to avoid electric shocks, burns, and explosions.
Important Note: every generator comes with an owner’s manual. So, become familiar with your manual, as it’s unique for every generator model. Then, follow the recommended maintenance schedule and safety guidelines.
The 12 generator maintenance tips in this article do not supplant what’s in your manual. Rather, they supplement your manual if it’s incomplete.
#1 Maintain superb airflow with a clean air filter
If you’ve ever replaced your HVAC unit or car filter, you know how nasty they can get. Portable generator filters are no different. So, replace your air filter if it looks dirty, no questions asked.
I say this because air filters are cheap and they’ll save you future repair costs. Secondly, a poorly conditioned air filter is more likely to tare. Then, you can really damage your generator.
Now, if you’re constantly running your generator, you need to take extra measures. I recommend checking your air filter’s condition every time you run your generator. Then for sake of simplicity, just replace it every month to avoid future issues.
Important Note: if you decide to wash your air filter, take caution so it doesn’t tare. Gently wash with soapy water and a clean soft cloth. Then, allow it to air dry for 24 hours before inserting it back into your generator.
#2 Engine cleaning and inspection
The engine is the heart of your generator. So keep it clean and in supreme condition. But remember, don’t ever use a pressure washer. You can do more harm than good.
Instead, use a compressed air duster to remove dust. Then, use a clean soft rag with a degreaser to remove any dirt and grime. As an added tip, when you clean your generator, always be alert and look for issues. Maybe you find a broken part as you clean the engine crevices.
#3 Check the fuel strainer
Inspect the fuel strainer in the fuel tank monthly. Look for any particles in the fuel strainer. If you find any particles, clean the strainer. And if the strainer has any type of damage like holes, replace it in kind.
To clean your fuel strainer, backflush fuel or carburetor and choke cleaner through the nozzle. If this doesn’t work, try blowing low-pressure air back through the strainer nozzle. This will help release clumped-up particles. But don’t use any pressure greater than 10 psi.
A clogged fuel strainer can cause all the following problems:
- Engine starting difficulties
- Reduced fuel efficiency
- Sputtering engine
- Irregular high engine temperatures
#4 Check fuel lines
With a lot of use, generator fuel lines take a beating. They can crack, tear, or become clogged. In return, gas may not reach your generator’s fuel system. Your generator then may not run efficiently, or it may not even start.
So I recommend you immediately replace damaged fuel lines. It’s not worth the hassle to try to fix them with an adhesive either, because they’re cheap in price.
Just as important, replace your fuel filter when it’s damaged. And if your generator doesn’t have one, add one. Fuel filters screen dirt and rust particles from the fuel.
#5 Replace engine oil
You replace your car oil every X,000 miles like clockwork, right? Now, do the same with your generator’s engine!
I recommend every 50 or so hours of run time, to check and replace your oil. Simply empty the old oil and replace it with regular or synthetic oil. Synthetic oil performs better for generator cold starts and running in extreme heat. Even more, if you run your generator at full load continuously, change your oil more often.
I suggest keeping extra oil on hand too, so you can replace your oil on schedule. Plus, in a time of need, you won’t need to scramble to find oil. Imagine worrying about finding oil in the dark when you’ve lost utility power to your home.
Important Note: it’s good practice to check your engine oil before starting. Running your generator with an empty oil tank will damage your engine. Your generator won’t run either.
#6 Check for leaks
This seems like a no-brainer, but oftentimes, small leaks go unnoticed. So, pay special attention to leaks. Because they’re common with generators.
First, look around your fuel lines, where leaks tend to happen the most. Weather and age can cause cracks in fuel lines, and couplers can come loose. Next, check your carburetor bowl gaskets, as they can dry out or get damaged. This compromises the seal, and fuel can then leak from below the carburetor. Also, check the following:
- Fuel tanks: fuel tanks become brittle over time. Because welds on seams weaken, and there’s corrosion and punctures. This happens from extreme temperatures, overfilling, and the build-up of acids and salt.
- Pipes: pipes become loose and experience the same wear and tear as fuel tanks.
- Shut-off valve: valves become loose and damaged from normal usage.
If you spot an oil leak, fix the issue immediately, or replace the part. Don’t run your generator until you address the leak. Because a leak can lead to an explosion, fire, or the escape of toxic fumes.
#7 Check your battery
Not all portable generators have batteries. But if your generator has an electric start, you need to give attention to your battery.
For starters, if you don’t run your generator for long periods, make sure your battery is fully charged. If possible, plug your battery into a trickle charger to keep it ready for emergencies. Next, if you run your generator a lot, do the following battery checks:
- Look for corrosion
- Ensure battery cables aren’t loose at terminals
Also, it’s good practice to test your battery’s voltage with a multimeter and perform a load test. This will let you know your battery’s health. Do this test every month or so.
#8 Check your spark plugs
If your generator doesn’t start, your spark plugs may be dirty or damaged. So, they won’t deliver electric current to start the combustion process through ignition.
To check your spark plugs, first, be sure your generator isn’t heated from running. If it’s fully cooled down, remove your spark plugs for inspection. If they’re dirty, clean them with a wire brush before placing them back inside your generator.
As a good general practice, if your air filter is overly dirty, it’s probably time to replace your spark plugs. This despite not having engine starting issues.
Important Note: with any spark plug work, be careful not to over tighten and damage the threads on your plug. You may ruin the connection or even break the porcelain insulator. This will damage your engine over time.
#9 Run your generator
Like your car, don’t leave your generator sitting unused for months on end. If it goes unused for too long, it may not turn on when you need it the most.
It’s best to create a schedule to run your generator for about 15 or so minutes every month. This will cycle fuel through your generator’s engine and carburetor. This helps prevent the build-up of gunk.
Also, you’ll keep your battery for the electric starter charged. Just make sure you connect a load to your generator. Because it may run with no load, but when connected to a load, it may cough and not run. I always connect a piece of lawn equipment to my generator and let it run. This is quick and easy.
Important Note: start your generator outdoors and not in your garage. You want to keep the carbon monoxide fumes away from your home.
#10 Remove all fuel from your generator
Run your generator dry if it’s not periodically used. This will remove all the fuel from your unit.
Say you’re going to leave your generator unused for months on end. And yes, I know, this goes against Tip #9. But not everyone wants to continuously run their unit. So just be honest with yourself with how you’ll maintain your generator. In return, you won’t risk your generator not starting from stale fuel.
Important Note: gasoline when oxidized, goes through a chemical reaction. The reaction is between the hydrocarbons in gasoline and the oxygen in the air.
Through this chemical reaction, the chemical structure of the gasoline changes. As a result, deposits can form in your fuel system and lines. A generator then may have difficulty starting, or it may not start at all.
Some carburetors have a drain valve on the bottom, to let them drain. This also allows the residual fuel in your tank to evaporate. If this doesn’t get the last bit of fuel out, stick some clean rags into your tank. This should remove any leftover fuel.
Finally, store your generator with the fuel valve in the off position, and the chock in the close position. You’ll prevent insects from finding their way into your carburetor and causing problems.
#11 Storage and maintenance for long-unused periods
Do you want to leave your generator unused for more than 30 days? If yes, you need to take extra protective measures.
- Remove your battery, clean its terminals, and make sure it’s fully charged.
- Drain the fuel from your fuel tank and carburetor float chamber.
- Remove the spark plugs from your engine and inject a few drops of oil into the plughole.
- Clean all cooling air slots and openings. Make sure nothing is blocking the flow of air, like leaves and bits of tree branches.
After you’ve completed all the above, place your generator in a dry location. Avoid extreme cold or hot temperatures. Then finally, cover your generator to prevent dust buildup.
Important Note: make sure your generator’s storage location is clear of debris. Also, make sure rodents or pests can’t make a home in your generator. You can buy sealed enclosures to place your generator inside of, for added protection.
#12 Create a log
Keep a log to track your maintenance work. For example in your log, for an oil change, you’d write the following information:
- Date of the oil change
- Type of oil used
- The exact quantity of oil used
I recommend recording this same information for all your new replacement parts. This includes filters, batteries, spark plugs, and so on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve referred to my log because I forgot something.
Also, write down any issues your generator is having. This will help with troubleshooting in the future.
Caring for your generator is like caring for your car. The only difference is, with a generator you can easily forget about it and cause it great damage. And this is where you need to be proactive.
Ask yourself, can you do monthly generator maintenance? If you can’t, then plan the long-term care of your generator in storage. Because imagine how frustrated you’d get if your car breaks down and you’re late for a meeting. Now, multiply this feeling by 10 if you’re left without power for a week at home, especially with a generator at home.
In the end, with proper generator maintenance, you can sleep well at night. Because you’ll know you have on-demand backup power when you need it the most.
What type of generator maintenance do you follow? Has your generator ever failed you because of lack of maintenance?
Featured Image Photo Credit: Petr.adamek (image cropped)
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.