Generator maintenance is a crucial requirement to keeping your portable generator ready to go at a moment’s notice. Whether you purchased your generator for recreational camping, emergency power outages, or remote work site power, a poorly maintained generator is more likely to let you down when you need it the most.
A common source of trouble with any portable generator is failing to properly care for the engine’s oil. Here are some quick tips on looking after your portable generator’s oil requirements. This thereby ensures that it will function properly when you need it to.
Know your generator, know your generator maintenance
Every generator is different. Read that manual and don’t assume you know how generators work. The market is flush with multiple manufacturers. Each manufacturer offers different models. Even if you purchase two identical generators, they will undoubtedly operate with slight variances between them.
Think of your portable generator like you think of your automobile. You know when your car needs attention, you know the limits of what your car can do, and you know the consequences of what happens when you go beyond those limits. Well, your generator is after all simply an engine. However, ignoring that “check engine” light is doubly dangerous on a smaller engine as it has fewer safeguards as your car does.
Get a feel for how your generator’s engine works and know the limits on what it can do. Know how your generator sounds when it is running smooth and investigate immediately when you hear it sounding “funny”. Ignoring your generator’s maintenance can leave you in the dark.
Check and change the oil
The more common failures of the home portable generator maintenance comes down to the engine’s oil. Either it doesn’t get changed often enough or it doesn’t get added. Unlike your automobile’s radiator-cooled engine, most portable generators are forced-air cooled and therefore run fairly hot. This means the engine is going to use more oil. It’s a simple fact, one that is all too often overlooked, and you should be prepared to pay close attention to your generator’s oil.
Some of the generators on the market today have low oil indicator lights and a few of them even have an automatic shut-off when the sensor registers low oil. These features are becoming more prevalent because the absence of oil will catastrophically damage your engine and cause your generator to fail.
The longer you run your generator, the more oil it will burn through. Small bursts of short-time use will extend the life of your oil. Longer continuous use will require close attention to the oil levels.
At a minimum, checking the oil level and topping off to full should be something you do each and every time you stop the generator to add fuel. Don’t wait until the emergency situation occurs. Know how much oil your engine requires and how to read the current oil level before you deploy the generator.
Pay close attention to your manufacturer’s oil recommendations for your engine. The SAE assigned “weight” of a motor oil is determined by how it flows through the engine’s moving parts at standard running temperature, close to 210’F. The higher the number the thicker; lower, thinner. The “W” in (for example) 5w30 oil stands for “winter”, the first number represents the oil’s viscosity when cold. So 5w30 oil will be a thin “5” when starting your engine and a thicker “30” when running hot.
You don’t need to understand this oil weight designation to run your portable generator in standard climate, the manual will tell you the weight of the oil recommended for your generator. Some oil wells even have the oil type embossed on the lid.
However, if you are running your generator in extreme weather, it would be advantageous to find out if it is recommended that you change your oil’s viscosity accordingly. Extreme heat may require a thinner, higher weight oil. Running the generator in extreme cold conditions may require a thicker, lower weight. Check your manufacturer’s recommendations for your specific situation.
Along with the other maintenance tips you should be following when you put your portable generator away for the season, changing the oil should be up on the top of your list.
Even if you only ran the engine for a few hours, replacing the oil seasonally is a good idea. You should be starting the generator occasionally while in storage. Also, fresh oil will keep those internal moving parts clean and lubricated.
Fresh oil when you put it on the shelf means you won’t have to worry about old oil when you have to quickly put your generator into service. For the minimal time and cost involved in a quick oil change, you will save yourself time and money in the long run.