Here we go again—rummaging through your garage for your portable generator. A hurricane will be bearing down in just a matter of hours, but just when you go to fire your backup power source up… nothing! The generator won’t start.
Don’t be stuck with a broken generator. Proper generator maintenance is essential if you want to avoid panicked maintenance calls and unneeded, last-minute stress.
Keep your portable generator running strong with these seven maintenance tips:
1. Run your portable generator every few months
Just like humans, generators need to get a little exercise every once in a while. Electrical experts agree that running your generator every few months will keep the electric starter’s battery fresh and charged. Before firing up your dusty portable generator, make sure it’s outside in a well-ventilated area to avoid breathing in harmful fumes.
2. Routinely check the fuel in your portable generator
Chances are you only use your portable generator a couple times every year, if even that often! In the interim, don’t make the mistake of leaving old gasoline sitting in the generator’s fuel tank. To prevent stale fuel, either add a fuel stabilizer to the tank, or empty the remaining gas at least once a year. We don’t recommend letting oil just sit in the tank between fire ups either; instead, fill it with fresh gasoline right before the next storm hits.
3. Check your fuel lines
With time and usage, your portable generator’s fuel lines can become cracked, torn, or clogged. This can prevent the supply of gas from reaching the fuel system and cause your generator to not start or run efficiently.
While you can do some DIY work to clear a clogged fuel line, it’s often easier and more reassuring to simply replace a worn or problematic fuel line— especially because they’re sold in many sizes and are often pretty cheap.
4. Stock up on extra oil
Powering your refrigerator and stove is hard on your generator’s oil! If you’re running your generator that hard, you’ll need to change your oil frequently. Since you can expect to change the oil every 50 hours (only 25 hours for the first oil change), keep an ample supply of oil in your garage.
5. Replace or clean that dirty air filter
Most experts will say that if an air filter looks dirty, ditch it for a new one. This is solid advice, as the thin mess of these filters can really wear down with time and use. If it rips or becomes damaged, this could mean real bad news for your generator if left neglected.
If you do decide to clean your generator’s air filter instead of replacing it, use caution to avoid tearing the filter. Wash in soapy water and dry gently with a clean cloth or allow 24 hours to air-dry completely before inserting back into your unit. Much like generator fuel lines, air filters are relatively cheap so it’s probably easier to just replace it to avoid future problems.
6. Check in on your spark plugs
A relatively common reason portable generators won’t start is because of a bad spark plug. Either the plug is dirty, compromising its connection, or it could be on its last leg and have trouble igniting. Either way, if the plug isn’t creating an arc of electricity, your generator could be struggling to power up.
Make sure your engine has fully cooled before removing your plug and inspecting it. If it’s marred up, clean it with a wire brush and insert back into your generator with a torque wrench. When doing this yourself, be careful not to over-crank and strip the threads on your plug, which could compromise your connection or even break your porcelain insulator and cause damage to your engine. If the plug looks fine on the outside, try swapping it out for a new one and see if that helps.
Even if your generator isn’t experiencing problems and you’re just giving it a routine checkup, it might be time to replace the plug. As a general rule of thumb, if your air filter is dirty enough to need cleaning or replacement, it’s time to replace that spark plug too.
7. Invest in a long, heavy-duty extension cord
It’s no secret, generators are loud! To cut down on noise, most people position their portable generator further away from the house. But as an extension cord increases in length or decreases in gauge, the amount of voltage it can carry diminishes. This could mean that your generator is working harder to transmit less power, and have extra unnecessary wear on your unit over time. If you place your generator at distance, make sure you use a heavy duty 12-gauge cord, no longer than 100 feet.
We hope these tips will help you to ensure that your generator is ready to go when you need it most!