Basic Tips for Portable Generators


Generators are useful tools. If your electricity goes out, generators can provide power to your household, keeping the food cold, the house warm, the water running, the lights on, and the basement dry. However, since portable generators are seldom used, sometimes even less than once a year, and usually only during unpredictable or emergency situations, they don’t always get the care they should. The most common times for losing power for extended periods are after ice storms and high winds. If you live in a rural location, loss of power can happen often, due to failed electrical equipment from the utility.  A generator can come in very handy in these types of situations, as long as it is in good condition and ready to go.



Preparation Is Key

What is your best defense in making sure your generator is ready when you need it? Preparation. And preparation starts immediately after the last use.

Wait, it was simply put away without any preparation after the last use, and that was a year ago? More than likely your generator will not start when you want it to, as gasoline starts to deteriorate after 30 days. That’s 30 days from when it was purchased, not when it was poured from the can. After 30 days fuel starts to break down, forming varnish deposits that first clog the idle jet and then restrict or completely block the main jet. In worst case scenarios, the deposits can damage the carburetor beyond repair. Also, if you have gas from the summer, even if properly treated, the generator engine still may not start in extreme cold weather. The reason is, fuel is blended differently at different times of the year, and in particular, summer fuel in a winter engine has problems. Fuel needs to be more volatile in the winter–that volatility is the fuel’s ability to atomize as it is the fuel vapor and air that has the explosive energy to start the engine. 



Mobile Mower Can Maintain and Repair Your Generator for You

What to do? Mobile Mower Repair strongly recommends either bringing your generator to us or having us come to you. Why? Gasoline is extremely dangerous, and if not handled properly, a fire or explosive risk exists, not only dangerous to yourself and your dwelling, but to the environment as well. Most carburetors do not have drains and will require cleaning. Most people do not know the proper disassembly procedures or cleaning measures, and failure to do so could be more costly. The safest and easiest solution is to leave your generator maintenance to us; we are professionally trained and have the necessary parts and tools on hand to take care of a variety of scenarios.



A Service Log Helps With Preparation

If your generator is new or freshly serviced and repaired by us, in both cases it’s a good idea to have your own service log that you keep with the generator. In your service log you want to have instructions on how to use your generator, so in an emergency all family members know what to do. It is also a good idea to practice an outage–how to start, how to hook up loads with either an extension cord or a transfer switch–actually use the generator to make sure it is working properly. The engine is only half the equation; the generator components need to be tested as well. Below is a good list of information to have in your service log:

  • How to check the oil
  • How to add fuel and know the safe limit
  • How to start the generator
  • How to hook up the generator
  • Procedure of how to disconnect
  • How to shut off
  • How to store
  • Record of date ran, approximate hours used. (Most generators do not have hour meters)
  • Record of whether fuel was added and date of fuel purchase
  • Record of how old the fuel preservative is (that has a shelf life as well, once opened)



Best Starting Practices:

Before each start, check the engine oil level. If it’s just a test you may or may not need to add fuel; if it is an outage, fill the fuel tank with fresh gas. Wheel the generator to a level surface outside at least 15 feet away from your home, making sure that the exhaust points away from the house or any dwelling. Follow manufacturer’s recommended starting procedure and let the engine warm up and stabilize for 2 minutes. Plug in desired loads one at a time and let the engine stabilize after each additional load. If using a transfer switch, turn one load on at a time, starting with the circuits that need 240 volt first. A generator has 2 legs of 120 volt each, and a 5000 watt generator has 2500 watts available in each leg. Care must be applied with adding loads and keeping them balanced as best as possible. 



Best Practices for Preparation After Use:

With the engine off, add appropriate amount of fuel preservative based on estimated amount of fuel if preservative has not been added. Disconnect all electrical loads, and start the generator. Allow the engine to stabilize and run approximately 2 to 5 minutes, then turn the fuel supply off and let the engine run out of fuel or to stall out. After the engine cools off, store in a clean, dry area. If the generator is in a damp location, it can cause corrosion on slip rings and brushes, preventing the generator from generating current.

Check the engine oil. Every engine is different as far as how you check your oil, and it’s imperative to check the owner’s manual as to how. Many engines also supply a decal that instructs how to check the oil. It’s best not to assume a method of checking the oil level, as being overfilled can be equally bad as being too low on oil.



A Note About the Battery and Charger

Does the generator have a battery? Most generators do not have a charging circuit if they came with a battery charger. Did it come with a charger? Again, don’t assume anything and check the owner’s manual for the procedure to charge the battery. Some battery chargers are dumb and put out a continuous amperage regardless of battery charge. These chargers can kill a battery if left unattended. However, if the battery is severely discharged, this type of charger can help a battery recover. Smart chargers, on the other hand, can be left attached; they shut off and enter float mode once the battery has reached full charge. However, if the battery is discharged, a smart charger cannot restore a dead battery. 



A Note About the Fuel and Fuel Preservative

As far as the fuel goes, how old is it? Was fuel preservative added? If you don’t know, it’s best to drain the fuel into approved containers. The importance of being outside any structure, in an open area with good ventilation, cannot be overstated. Stay away from fire risks such as sparks, open flames, or electric motors. Gasoline is hazardous, explosive, and carries a high risk of fire. Gasoline fumes are denser than air and will seek the lowest point. Some garages have hot water heaters, freezers, or refrigerators; all these devices are potential flashpoints for gasoline fumes and a potential for explosion or fire, and that is why it is essential to be outside, away from the house and garage.

The best way to drain the fuel, once the above risks are understood, is to wear the minimum proper safety equipment, consisting of safety glasses or goggles and gasoline resistant gloves, (most will be nitrile coated). Turn off the fuel supply using your owner’s manual to locate the valve, as there are at least 4 different types. Using a standard pair of pliers squeeze the clamp and with a slight twisting motion move the clamp up approximately 1″, then twist the fuel line and carefully remove the line from the carburetor and put into the approved container. Turn the fuel on, watch so that the line stays on the container and doesn’t over fill it.

The oil level should be checked at each use and after each 8 hours. Before shutdown of the generator, disconnect all electrical loads from the generator. If needed, wait at least 15 minutes to refuel, as the engine heat could ignite spilled fuel. Always start engine and let it stabilize for at a minute before plugging or turning  on loads.

As long as they are handled with care and safety in mind, generators can be very helpful in emergency situations. Remember to practice good safety procedures around gasoline, and do the above-mentioned preparation practices immediately after using your generator so it will be ready to go in the next emergency. Last but not least, remember to call us at Mobile Mower Repair for any help you may need either with standard maintenance or repairs. We work on most brands, including Generac, Troy-Bilt, Briggs & Stratton, Coleman, Champion, and Homelite.


For information purposes only. Use all safety precautions when servicing your own equipment. Call a professional when in doubt.





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