The portable and inverter generators on the market today are marvels of modern technology. While they can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, today’s generators have been engineered to work reliably for years. However, it’s important to note that these are not maintenance-free machines.
There are a few regular maintenance chores that you should take care of if you want your generator to start up and run smoothly when you need it most. The most important task is changing the engine’s oil on a regular basis. This blog post will explain why you should change the oil in your generator after every 50 or so hours of use. We’ll also provide you with step-by-step directions that should make completing the job a snap.
A Common Mistake
Neglecting routine generator maintenance is a common mistake. Generators are used on camping trips and provide backup power during emergencies, so the people who use them often have a lot to do when life goes back to normal. Returning campers have bags to unpack, equipment to put away and piles of dirty laundry to wash, and homeowners recovering from a natural disaster have even more to worry about. Taking care of basic generator maintenance tasks is often postponed in these situations, but it should not be put off forever.
You likely bought a generator to make sure that your loved ones remain safe and comfortable no matter what life throws in your path. You want your family to enjoy the comforts of home on a camping trip, and you want them to be able to cook food, take showers and entertain themselves if the power goes out and your neighborhood is plunged into darkness. A generator can provide reliable power when the grid is not available, but maintaining peak performance will require a little routine maintenance. Let’s take a look at some of the most important generator maintenance tasks and mistakes.
Maintaining Oil Levels
When generators run at or near their maximum capacities, they use quite a lot of oil. According to customer service representatives at leading generator manufacturers, failing to maintain oil levels is one of the most common causes of generators seizing up. These seizures are usually triggered by safety systems that shut the engine down automatically when internal temperatures reach dangerous levels. Topping up generator oil is usually very easy and usually takes less than a minute. If you’re not sure how to complete this task, check your owner’s manual for directions. If you have misplaced your owner’s manual, you can probably download a new one from the manufacturer’s website.
Using the Right Oil
Have you ever asked yourself what kind of oil does a generator take? Putting the wrong oil in a generator impedes performance and shortens engine life, so you should make sure that you stick to the kind the manufacturer recommends. Oil for generators is identified by numbers like 10W-30 or 5W-30. The number before the “W” tells you the oil’s viscosity, and it is very important. Manufacturers usually provide a range of viscosities because generators are used in all kinds of environments. If you use your generator in a warm climate, you will need a high viscosity oil. If you live in a colder part of the country, you should use a thinner oil with a higher viscosity that will flow faster.
Oil Leaks May Not Be What They Seem
Modern generators are extremely well made, so their engines rarely leak oil. If you notice what looks like an oil leak when you examine your generator, it was likely caused by a phenomenon known as wet stacking. This is a problem that occurs when generators are run for prolonged periods but aren’t required to provide much power. It’s caused by a buildup of unburned fuel and carbon particles that mix with engine oil and accumulate. If wet stacking is left unaddressed, it can severely damage the engine. Running the generator at near full power for a few hours should be all that is needed to remove wet stacking.
How Often to Change Generator Oil
The latest generator engines can produce large amounts of power despite their compact dimensions. However, the oil that lubricates and protects the internal components will break down and degrade over time. If you don’t change your generator’s oil regularly, it will not perform as well. In other words, it may not provide you with enough power in an emergency situation.
Many generators have a “running in” period that necessitates changing the oil after 25 hours of use. After this period is complete, how often to change oil is a topic of fierce debate. Most generator manufacturers recommend oil changes after every 100 or 200 hours of use, but some experts recommend changing generator oil after every 50 or 60 hours of use.
Changing Generator Oil
Once you have the right engine oil and a little free time, changing the oil in your generator is a task that you should be able to complete in just a few minutes with basic hand tools. Make sure that you dispose of the old engine oil responsibly, and take a note of the engine’s hours so you will know when the next oil change is due. Here are the steps for a generator oil change:
- Stock up on supplies: Generator oil lasts for up to five years, so you should have enough on hand to complete more than a single oil change. The last thing you want to be doing in an emergency situation is running around town looking for basic supplies.
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- Run the generator: Running a generator for a few minutes warms up the engine and loosens gunk and grime. Put on some protective gloves before you go any further because the engine oil will be quite hot.
- Cut off the power: Cutting off a generator’s power source before doing any kind of maintenance work is always prudent. Backup generators should be unplugged or disconnected, and portable generator batteries should be removed.
- Drain the old oil: Usually some sort of metal bolt, the oil drain plug is located on the bottom of the engine. Check your owner’s manual if you need help finding the drain plug. Use a socket wrench to remove the drain plug, and be careful to avoid the sudden rush of oil. Place a metal container under the drain plug before you begin, and allow the bolt to fall into the container along with the draining oil. The drain plug is magnetized to catch minute metal particles that could damage the engine, so be delicate when you remove it.
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- Replace the drain plug: The old engine oil will be hot, so use tongs to remove the drain plug. Run the drain plug under cold water to cool it down, and then wipe it dry with a paper towel. Once this is done, screw the drain plug back into place and tighten it securely.
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- Add new engine oil: The oil fill cap is located on the top or side of a generator engine. It’s often a bright color like yellow or red. Use a funnel when you pour in new engine oil, and look for either an oil gauge or dipstick to make sure you add enough.
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- Test the motor: After you’ve completed the oil change, run your generator for a few minutes to verify that all is well. Listen carefully for any unusual noises, and check the gauges are all reading as they should.
Other Important Generator Maintenance Tasks
Changing the oil in your generator will give you a perfect opportunity to take care of some other basic but important maintenance tasks. These chores are quick and easy to complete, and performing them regularly could add years to the life of your generator.
Check the Coolant
Generators run longer and more reliably when their cooling systems are in tip-top condition. These systems are sealed, so they should not need topping up very often. If your generator uses a lot of coolant or you notice puddles when you perform your pre-maintenance inspection, your cooling system could have a leak. Cooling leaks are usually caused by holes in block heater hoses. These hoses are made out of a durable silicone material that has been engineered to withstand high temperatures, but they are wear items that should be replaced every few years to reduce the chances of failure. Coolant lasts longer than engine oil but still deteriorates over time, so you should flush the cooling system every few oil changes.
Inspect the Filters
Generators are often used in places like construction sites where the air is thick with dust and debris, so their filters perform a very important job. Generator filters that become clogged with dirt and grime do not work as effectively. Furthermore, damaged air filters give tiny particles an opportunity to enter the engine and damage its internal components. Generators have to work harder when they struggle to get air, so their filters should be checked and cleaned regularly. Consult your owner’s manual to find out where the filter is located, how to remove it and how often it should be replaced.
Take a few minutes during your generator maintenance routine to visually inspect all leads, cables, plugs, chargers and connections for signs of wear or damage. If you notice any fraying, cracking or corrosion, make replacing the damaged component a priority. This kind of damage often occurs when generators are moved and cables become trapped or power cords are yanked out of sockets.
Keep the Fuel System Free of Air
When generators sit idle for months or years, air can enter their fuel systems. When this happens, generators may refuse to start or cut out unexpectedly. Running a generator once a week for about five minutes will remove air from the fuel system and prevent starting and performance issues.
Avoid Problems by Choosing the Right Generator
Generators provide us with comfort on the road and vital energy during times of crisis, and a little routine maintenance will keep them running like new for years. You can rely on GeneratorTools to provide you with useful generator maintenance tips, and our reviews, roundups and product comparisons could help you to avoid costly buying mistakes. We cover breaking industry news and new generator announcements, and we’re the place to go for information about manufacturer recalls, rebates and rewards programs.