Generators can be lifesavers, but they aren’t cheap. 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 that’s 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. Ironic how that always seems to happen…
Thankfully though, generator maintenance is easy if you know what to do. And if you do it right, 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.
Important Note: every generator comes with an owner’s manual. So, become familiar with your manual, as it’s unique for every generator model. Also, follow the recommended maintenance schedule in your manual.
These 12 generator maintenance tips do not supersede information 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. It’s no different than with your portable generator.
So, I recommend replacing your air filter if it looks dirty. For one, air filters are cheap and can 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. Check your air filter every time you run your generator to check its condition. And for sake of simplicity, just replace your air filter 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 you want to keep it clean and in supreme condition.
Also, this is a great time to spot any issues in your generator. Maybe you find a broken part as you look through the engine crevices.
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.
#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. If the strainer has damage for example holes, replace it in kind.
You can clean it by backflushing fuel or carburetor and choke cleaner through the nozzle. If that doesn’t work, try blowing low-pressure air back through the strainer nozzle. This will help with the release of clumped-up particles. But don’t use any pressure greater than 10 psi.
A clogged fuel strainer can cause you all the following problems:
- Difficulty starting
- Drop in fuel efficiency
- Sputtering engine
- Irregular high engine temperatures
#4 Check fuel lines
With a lot of use, generator fuel lines will naturally take on a lot of wear and tear. This means fuel lines can crack, get tears, or become clogged.
Then damaged fuel lines will prevent gas from reaching your generator’s fuel system. In return, your generator won’t run efficiently, or it may not even start.
So for any damaged fuel lines, I recommend immediately replacing them. And I know, you can try to fix them yourself. But given their cheap price, it’s not worth the hassle.
Just as important, replace your fuel filter when it’s damaged. And if your generator doesn’t have one, add one. The fuel filter will screen dirt and rust particles from the fuel.
#5 Replace engine oil
You replace your car oil every X,000 miles, right? You need to do the same with your generator’s engine!
And if you run your generator at full load continuously, you’ll need to change your oil more often. Every 50 or so hours give or take, you’ll need to replace your oil. So, empty the old oil and replace it with regular or synthetic oil. Synthetic oil will perform better for cold starts, and while running in extreme heat.
I suggest keeping extra oil on hand too, so you can replace your oil on schedule. Also, in a time of need, you won’t need to scramble to find oil. You don’t want to worry about finding oil 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. And to no surprise, your generator won’t run.
#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. Also, couplers can come loose.
Next, check your carburetor bowl gaskets. These gaskets can dry out or get damaged. This compromises the seal, and fuel can leak from below the carburetor
Finally, check the following as well:
- Fuel tanks: fuel tanks become brittle over time. Welds on seams weaken, and corrosion and punctures happen. This happens from extreme temperatures, overfilling, and the build-up of acids and salt.
- Pipes: pipes become loose. Also, they experience the same wear and tear as fuel tanks.
- Shut-off valve: valves become loose and damaged over time.
If you spot an oil leak, fix the issue, or replace the part. Don’t run your generator until you address the issue. Because a leak can lead to an explosion, fire, or the escape of toxic fumes.
#7 Check battery
Not all portable generators have batteries. But if your generator has an electric start, you need to give attention to your battery.
For long storage periods, make sure your battery is fully charged. And if you can, plug your battery into a trickle charger to keep it ready for when you need it.
Now, if you’re running your generator a lot, you need to do some other battery checks. First, check to be sure your battery is free of corrosion. Then, make sure your battery cables aren’t loose at the 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 the health of your battery. You can do this every month or so.
#8 Check your spark plugs
If your generator doesn’t start, it may be because of your spark plugs. Damaged or dirty spark plugs won’t deliver electric current. So, you can’t start the combustion process to start your generator 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.
Keep in mind, you may not always have engine starting issues when it’s time to swap out your spark plugs. But as a good general practice, if your air filter is overly dirty, it’s time to replace your spark plugs too.
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. In short, don’t neglect your generator!
So, 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 load, it may cough and not run.
I always connect a piece of lawn equipment to my generator and let it run. It’s 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. Also, this allows the residual fuel in your tank to evaporate. And 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 left unused for more than 30 days? If yes, you need to take extra protective measures.
First, remove your battery. Then, clean the terminals and make sure the battery is fully charged.
Next, drain the fuel from your fuel tank and carburetor float chamber. As well, remove the spark plugs from your engine and inject a few drops of oil into the plughole.
Finally, clean all cooling air slots and openings. Make sure nothing is blocking the flow of air. For example, leaves and bits of tree branches.
When you’ve completed all the above, place your generator in a dry location. Also, make sure your generator isn’t placed in extreme temperatures. With all that checked off, 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 for protection.
#12 Create a log
Keep some type of log to track your maintenance work. For example, for oil changes, in your log you’d include the following information:
- Date of the latest 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 diagnosing solutions 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. And your stress will further grow if you have a new generator staring back at you that doesn’t start. It’s not a fun experience, and in fact, it can be dangerous.
And speaking of danger, even simple generator maintenance can be dangerous. So always refer to your owner’s manual, and be sure your generator is off before you do any work. You want to avoid electric shocks, burning yourself, and explosions.
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.
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.