Repairing Your Generator: What You Need to Know

A portable generator is a great backup option for emergency situations like hurricanes or blizzards. These situations can leave your home or business without power for extended periods of time. Unlike standby generators, which are usually permanent and cannot be moved around, a portable generator is exactly what it sounds like – portable. That means you can move it around and take it on trips or your next tailgate. (Note that, for safety reasons, you should never run a portable generator inside your home; it should always be at least ten feet away from any openings).

If you’ve already taken the first step of buying a portable generator, you may wonder how you can repair if it becomes damaged or stops working. After all, a portable generator will not be of much use in an emergency if you try to run it and find that it does not work. Read for a few tips to keep in mind to repair your generator.

Repairing Your Generator: What You Need to Know

What to Do if Your Portable Generator Will Not Start

If your generator refuses to start, the first place you should look is the fuel tank. Obviously, without gas, your generator won’t run. Many portable generators also have battery-powered electric starters. If yours has a self-starter but doesn’t turn on, try starting the generator manually. If it works, your electric starter is either out of batteries or needs to be replaced. Electric starters often recharge automatically when your generator is running, but if you have gone a long time without using your generator, the battery may become drained. It is also not unusual for such batteries to “die” and stop working altogether after months of no use. To test your battery, you can buy an inexpensive multimeter (around $20); if it reads under 12 volts (the typical voltage for a portable generator), you can try connecting it to see if it will recharge. If it doesn’t, it probably died from lack of use and you will need to replace it.

Repairing Your Generator: What You Need to Know

What to Do if Your Portable Generator Produces No Voltage or Output

If your generator starts but fails to produce any voltage, you may be dealing with a blown fuse, a damaged in-built circuit breaker, or broken breakers. You should replace the blown fuse or reset the circuit breaker. You should also engage a mechanic to figure out what caused either of these problems to begin with, since it may point an underlying issue. If the issue is the breakers, you should replace them with the manufacturer’s approved replacement part.

If your portable generator seems to be producing no output, you should start it and check the output using a voltmeter. A properly functioning generator should generate 125 to 135 volts when off-loading with a 63 Hz supply. If you apply a load, these numbers should change to 110 volts and 58 Hz. If yours is generating different figures, it may have a damaged engine, exhaust system, piston rings, or governors. In this situation, you should call a professional mechanic for repair.

Repairing Your Generator: What You Need to Know

Some Precautions to Take to Keep Your Generator Running Effectively

Thankfully, there a few steps you can take to try to prevent your generator from breaking down in the first place and leaving you stranded in an emergency.

  1. Check the oil level. Some generators are equipped with devices that automatically shut off the engine when the oil level is too low for the generator to run properly.
  2. Check the filter. A dirty or clogged filter will keep the carburetor from getting the fuel necessary to run. If your generator contains a fuel filter, remove the fuel line and check the filter to make sure it is not clogged. If it is, replace it (they cost only a few dollars). If you’re unsure how to do any of this or have any safety concerns, make sure to read the manufacturer guidelines or engage a professional mechanic.
  3. Make sure your generator always runs on fresh gas. If you notice that your engine is running rough, you should drain your generator of the old gas and replace it with new fuel.
  4. If you’re having trouble starting your generator, or if it’s running rough, you should check your spark plugs. If they look oily or tan/white, you should replace them. It’s generally a good idea to replace your spark plugs regularly.
  5. Be sure you follow all the manufacturer instructions carefully. Many will include a list of precautions and tips to keep in mind in the event your generator stops working and needs repair.