Generators have our back in emergency situations or simply when we need a spot of portable power, but if we don’t have their backs by keeping them in tip-top shape, they may well leave us high and dry in our time of need — It’s a “we scratch their back, they scratch ours” situation.
In light of this, when you bring home your first generator, it’s important to bone up on essential maintenance.
Otherwise, that expensive piece of gear you just bought isn’t going to last anywhere near as long as it should. So, to make sure your generator is primed and ready for action when calamity strikes, let’s run through a comprehensive maintenance checklist.
Give your generator the TLC detailed below, and you’re guaranteed to get on just fine in an emergency.
Clean Your Generator
People often think that generator maintenance must be a complicated matter, but, for the most part, it’s really quite simple. Just keeping your generator nice and clean can help it to run efficiently, no to mention help you identify potential issues far easier.
Now, how to go about the cleaning process. Well, for starters, you can forget about using the garden hose, as water will destroy your generator in a matter of seconds. Instead, use a slightly damp rag to wipe down the enclosure. You can then use a soft bristle brush with a high quality degreaser for spot cleaning.
Check The Tank
Next up, it’s important to check if there’s any old fuel in the tank. If there is any, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions surrounding the draining of the tank, for if you go ahead and run your generator on old oil, it can gum up the fuel lines, fuel filter, carburetor, and so on.
It’s possible that you’ll have to clean the tank and carburetor if the generator is in a particularly poor condition. Both tasks are relatively easy, but if you’ve never done them before, it’s worth watching a few instructional videos before you get started.
Change The Oil
Much like fuel, oil has a shelf life, and it must be switched out from time to time to streamline performance, increase efficiency, and extend service life. There’s a knack to changing oil, but once you know the tips and tricks, it’s easy enough. Here are the main points to follow:
- Run the generator for 2 minutes or so to warm the oil up.
- Set your generator securely on some blocks.
- Position your drainage tray or canister beneath the drainage valve.
- Loosen the valve or remove the cap.
- Allow the oil time to drain. It should be a relatively short process if the oil is warm and thus less viscous.
- Tighten the valve or replace the cap.
- Replace the oil filter.
- Fill the reservoir with manufacturer-recommended oil — Be careful not to overfill!
- Remove generator from blocks.
- Fire it up for a couple of minutes.
- Shut the generator down and check if the oil level remains more or less the same, indicating there are no leaks and everything is working as it should.
As you’ll be dealing with a potentially hot generator and warm oil, it’s crucial that you wear protective gloves and safety goggles. My go-to gloves are the MCR Predators, and to protect my eyes, I use these 3M goggles.
Check The Air Filter
Where you’ll find the air filter and what it looks like can differ significantly from generator to generator, so you’ll need to consult your user manual to locate it. Sometimes they just pop right out, while other times, they’re secured with a wing nut or screw.
Once you’ve found and removed the air filter, simply clean out the socket before placing a new filter inside.
Check The Spark Plug(s)
Most residential-use generators only have the one spark plug, but larger engines may have a few, and these need to be cleaned relatively often to ensure peak performance.
To get started, disconnect the spark plug wire, then give the spark plug itself a quick once over before removing it for deep cleaning, as you don’t want any debris to fall in the spark plug hole.
Once that’s out of the way, remove the spark plug and clean it with a spark plug cleaner and a wire brush. While you’re at it, check for damage. If there are any cracks or immovable build-ups, the plug needs to be replaced.
To replace the spark plug, you’ll need to use a spark plug gauge to set the electrodes to spec, as per the manufacturer’s instructions. When the distance between the electrodes is correct, you can install the spark plug and reconnect the wire.
Check The Fuel Filter
Most generators use an in-line fuel filter that you can remove by loosening the fuel valve, removing whatever clamps are holding the filter in place, then pulling it out. Hold it up to the light.
If you can see through it, there’s some life in it yet, but if you can’t see through it, you should replace it immediately. To do so, all you have to do is place a new filter in position, tighten the clamps, and secure the fuel valve.
Check The Battery
Remove the battery, and clean off as much residue and corrosion from the contact points as possible using a baking soda and water solution. Next, use a battery checker to see how much life it has left.
Run For Half An Hour (Once A Month)
Sitting idle for long periods of time can be almost as bad for your generator as running constantly, plus, if you don’t test it frequently, you won’t know if it’s going to work when you need it most.
So, my advice is to run your generator for roughly 30 minutes every month just to shake the cobwebs loose and check it’s working as it should. It’s best to do this over a sheet of cardboard so leaks are noticeable and easily traced to their source.
Maintenance is the price we pay for the protection generators provide when the going gets tough. Can it be irritating and boring?
Absolutely, but it’s best not to put it off for too long, otherwise, as you never know when an emergency is going to come along, you may find yourself without any power when one does.