While maintaining your generator isn’t nearly as fun as using it, maintenance is an incredibly important part of owning a generator. A properly maintained generator can run smoothly for years – allowing you to get the most out of your investment and ensuring that you won’t be left without power unexpectedly.
Keep in mind that maintenance is something that needs to be done every time you use the generator and during periods of prolonged storage. If you wait until your generator stops working to think about maintenance, you’re too late!
8 Essential Tips for Maintaining your Generator
1. Check and Change the Oil
Changing the oil is the single most important thing you can do to keep your generator running like new. You should change the oil after the first 20 hours of use for a new generator, and every 100 hours of use after that.
It’s also good practice to keep extra oil and filters around your generator – especially if you’re planning to use it during an emergency. The last thing you want to have to do during a major storm is to go looking for oil for your generator.
Also keep in mind that while most modern generators have a low-oil indicator light and a low-oil shutoff, you should check your oil levels every time you use the generator. By the time your low oil indicator comes on, you may already be doing irreversible damage to your generator’s engine.
2. Don't Let the Gas Run Out
Most portable generators can only run for a handful of hours before they run out of gas. But you should always power down the generator before you use up the last drops of fuel.
If you let your generator come to a stop by running out of fuel, the engine cuts out while the generator is still putting out power. That can damage your generator coils so that the next time you start the generator, the engine revving won’t actually produce any power. You’ll need to take it into a shop to have the coils repaired.
Similarly, it’s a good idea to always unplug any appliances from the generator before powering it down. While forgetting to do this won’t necessarily damage your generator, it’s better to play it safe.
3. Cool Down Before Refueling
While you’re being careful to shut down your generator before running out of fuel, it’s also important not to get over-eager about starting it back up. Pouring gasoline into a hot generator is a significant fire hazard – if you spill gasoline onto the hot engine parts, it’ll burst into flames and the fire can quickly expand to the gas tank you’re holding. On top of being a huge safety concern, even a small fire can damage your generator beyond repair.
For that reason, always allow your generator to cool down completely before refueling. Under most conditions, this should only take about 15-20 minutes.
4. Never Use Stale Gasoline
Stale gasoline is an engine’s worst enemy – running stale gasoline through your generator can permanently damage the engine. That’s why it’s important to empty your gas tank before putting the generator away for a few months, like after a big trip or at the end of the storm season. Most generators have a drain to make emptying fuel out of the carburetor easier – use it!
If you use your generator infrequently, but at least once every two months, you can also add a stabilizer to your gasoline to make it last longer. Just remember that stabilizers aren’t the perfect solution, and your gasoline will still have a limited lifespan.
5. Never Backfeed Power
Chances are you’ve come across an article explaining how to “safely” backfeed power to your home – essentially plugging your generator directly into an electrical socket in your house.
But the truth is that there is absolutely nothing safe about backfeeding. Backfeeding generators kills people every single year and can completely fry your generator if the grid power to your house comes back on while you’re backfeeding power.
The only safe way to plug your generator into your home’s electrical grid is to use a transfer switch with your circuit box.
6. Use Heavy-Duty Extension Cords
It’s not uncommon to run one or more extension cords from your generator to your appliances inside. But it is also important to pay attention to the type and lengths of extension cords you are using.
Your extension cords should be heavy-duty, 12-gauge cords or thicker and the total cord length should be kept to less than 100 feet. The reason is that lesser-diameter cords and longer run lengths create a larger voltage drop between your generator and your appliances – which can lead the engine in your generator and the motors in your appliances to burn themselves out more quickly.
Also be sure to check your extension cords for wear and tear. Extension cords should be replaced if they have any nicks, since these pose a risk of electrocution.
7. Don't Exceed Your Generator's Wattage
Running your generator at or below its rated wattage – the amount of power it can continuously put out – seems self-explanatory. But every once in a while, you might be tempted to try to run the generator continuously at its surge wattage – the amount of power it can put out for a few seconds.
While most generators will simply shut themselves off if you try this, in some cases the generator might keep humming along. But don’t be fooled – the motor is slowly overheating. If you don’t lower the wattage, you’re very likely to burn out the engine or damage sensitive components of the generator.
8. Check Your Air Filter
Just as you change the oil in your generator every 100 hours, you should also change out the air filter with at least that frequency. A clogged air filter is a good way to reduce the efficiency of your generator and even damage the engine. Keep in mind that if you run your generator in a smoggy area, you may need to replace the air filter even more frequently.
Generator Maintenance is Easy!
Maintaining your generator is the best thing you can do to keep it running smoothly for years to come. Most of the essential maintenance tasks you need to perform only take a few minutes, and you can save yourself time and money by ensuring that you check on the health of your generator every time you use it.