How To Fix An Overloaded Generator

While many of the products we review here are readily available to purchase and operate without a license, we always recommend hiring a qualified electrician to install and demonstrate their use.

In some cases, improper use and installation may result in a breach of insurance. Even worse, you could be putting yourself or your family at risk as an incorrectly installed electrical device could start a fire. So, don’t risk it - seek the services of a fully licensed electrician instead.

There’s a lot of math involved with using a generator, and if just one calculation goes awry, we could end up overloading our unit, potentially leading to a whole host of serious issues.

The good news is that - if we’re quick off the mark - we can fix the issue before any real damage is done.

How To Fix An Overloaded Generator

Of course, prevention is far better than the cure, so we’ll discuss measures you can take to eliminate the chances of overload, but we’re only human, and we’re bound to make a mistake here and there, so first, let’s run through how to fix an overloaded generator.

I Overloaded My Generator. What Do I Do?

It’s best to act swiftly in the event of an overload, but it’s important not to panic. Stay calm and address the issue by following the steps detailed below.

Generators With Overload Protection

Generators with overload protection follow one of two possible protocols when overloaded.

Some will completely shut down, while others will cut power to the outlets but keep the motor running.

For generators that shut down completely:

  • Turn off the power to the outlets.
  • Switch the motor off.
  • Assess the situation — What caused the overload? In all likelihood, it will be the result of a miscalculation. If so, reduce the load by unplugging some of your appliances.
  • Activate the choke and fire up the motor (for electric starts, you may have to hold a reset button down for a couple of seconds first)
  • Return power to the outlets.
  • Check the onboard indicators to make sure everything is running as it should. If the overload light is still blinking despite the load being well under capacity, it might be worth taking it to a shop for repairs.

For generators that cut power to the outlets:

  • Press the outlet switch to the off position.
  • Disconnect all electronics from the generator.
  • Cut the power to the motor.
  • Reset the motor if you have to.
  • Try to find the cause of the overload and then fix it.
  • Ready the choke and restart the motor.
  • Flick the outlet switch into the active position and reconnect your appliances.
  • Check the indicators or display to make sure you’re fine to proceed at the current load.

Generators Without Overload Protection

Generators without overload protection are just going to keep on running in order to try and satiate the load, which is why it’s such a precarious situation.

Here’s what you need to do to prevent serious damage to your generator:

  • Turn it off immediately by cutting the fuel injection and closing the choke.
  • Allow the generator time to cool off.
  • Adjust the load.
  • Fire the motor back up, connect the load, then assess performance. The overload might have caused lasting damage, so check for abnormal running conditions such as overheating or black smoke coming from the exhaust.

My Generator Overloaded With No Load. Help!

You’d be forgiven for thinking that to overload a generator, it needs to be supporting a pretty hefty load, but sometimes generators might signal an overload without any appliances connected.

It’s not a common occurrence, but it can happen if you run your generator for extended periods with no load.

Luckily, the fix for a no-load overload is exactly the same as a fix for a typical overload:

  • Cut the power to the outlets.
  • Turn off the motor.
  • Hold down your motor reset button (if your generator has one)
  • Allow your motor some time to recoup.
  • Fire up the motor and wait for it to stabilize.
  • Plug in some appliances and monitor performance for a minute or two.

How Do I Know If My Generator Is Overloading?

Depending on the age and model of your generator, one or more of the following things will happen when it’s overloaded:

  • The circuit breaker will trip, shutting off power to the outlets. Consequently, any electronics you were powering will suddenly switch off.
  • The generator itself will completely shut down, motor and all. If your generator doesn’t have overload protection but still shuts down, it could be that it has become too damaged to run.
  • For generators without overload protection, the behavior of the cooling fan is often a dead giveaway. Typically, it will either go into hyperdrive trying to keep the overworked motor cool, or it will understand it’s beat and stop running altogether.
  • There may well be smoke rising through the ventilation system of your generator.
  • In severe cases, you might even notice sparks flying beneath the cover. If left too long, those sparks could become full-blown fire.
  • An overloaded generator will also start to overheat as it tries to complete an impossible task, so if you notice the enclosure getting abnormally hot, it’s a sure sign you’ve overloaded your unit.
  • If your electronics begin to lose power or flicker on and off, you’ve got an overload on your hands. This is particularly noticeable when powering lights with your generator.
  • Seeing black, sooty fumes emanating from your generator’s exhaust? Again, that’s a symptom of overload.

How To Prevent Overloaded

There are a number of ways you can stop an overload in its tracks!

  • Triple-check all load calculations to ensure that your electronics don’t exceed the starting or continuous output of your generator.
  • Invest in an AVR (automatic voltage protection) generator. These units are fitted with technology that automatically adjusts the output of your generator during dips or spikes in demand, and, as a bonus, it also limits the amount of damage an overload can do.
  • Invest in a more powerful generator.
  • Turn off all non-essential appliances.
  • Don’t leave your generator running without a load for extended periods.
  • Carry out regular maintenance to ensure running capacity doesn’t diminish over time.

Final Thoughts

Overloading can do some serious damage, so it’s important to do everything in your power to prevent it from happening in the first place, but not to worry if it does happen from time to time, as most newer generators are designed to reduce the impact of accidental overloads.

That said, if you’re using an older generator without overload protection, the risk of taking on overload-derived damage increases dramatically, so, when you can, I’d highly recommend investing in a more modern unit.