Generator Maintenance Tips: How to Extend Your Generator’s Life

October 6, 2022

Man starting up potable generator in backyard

Prepare for a long power outage by servicing and maintaining your generator regularly. Set a generator maintenance checklist and schedule to ensure your machine runs smoothly when you need it most. A complete system failure can occur when maintenance is neglected.

Why Generator Maintenance Is Important

During power outages, a properly maintained generator can keep your electrical equipment running. Practicing proper preventative maintenance throughout the year ensures your engine works in an emergency.

  • Preventive maintenance catches problems early to prevent costly repairs as they worsen over time.
  • Is your generator working as well as it should? Check the engine speed, oil and fluid levels, battery cables and terminals, cooling system, and other components. Regular maintenance keeps your engine running at its highest performance.
  • Poorly maintained engines can produce carbon dioxide, which can be dangerous or even lethal at some levels. Exhaust systems should point away from home.

How Long Does a Generator Last?

A generator’s lifespan depends on various factors, including the type of generator, the frequency of use, and storage environment. Diesel generators can last between 10,000 and 30,000 hours. Portable generators can last 2,000 to 3,000 hours.

Generator Maintenance Kit

Man starting up generator in garage

Scheduled maintenance is a must for all generators. A generator maintenance kit should have all the necessary elements to perform comprehensive maintenance on generators.

A generator maintenance kit may include:

  • Air filter
  • Oil filter
  • Oil pan
  • Motor oil
  • Funnel
  • Spark plug
  • Paper towels
  • Cleaner for components
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Basic ratchet set
  • Fuel stabilizer (optional)

Follow the Generator Maintenance Schedule

Refer to your generator’s user manual for a maintenance schedule that lists the maintenance tasks and when to perform them. Set a reminder in your calendar to stay on top of these necessary tasks, or it can decrease your unit’s performance.

Exercise Your Generator

Orange portable generator in backyard

Between emergencies, generators need to be run every so often at full capacity for peak performance. If you leave your generator in storage without running it regularly, its performance will decrease over time.

Refer to your generator’s manual for exercise guidance. As a rule of thumb, generators should be run every week or month for about 20-30 minutes. This ensures that your generator runs without a hitch during an outage.

Build a Generator Enclosure

An enclosure made from wood, galvanized steel, or concrete blocks protects your equipment from harsh weather, wildlife, and thieves. It also reduces noise and looks better than without one. Waterproof materials can protect your components from rusting or corroding.

Clean Your Generator

Dust, dirt, and other debris can get into critical components of your equipment. Regularly clean your unit with a clean cloth, a soft-bristled brush, an air compressor, and a non-flammable degreaser to maintain peak performance.

Check and Change the Oil

Most new generators will require an oil change after the first 25 hours of use. After that initial run, you can change out the oil every 50-200 hours of use based on the type of generator you own, the frequency of use, and its environment.

Stock Up on Supplies

For peace of mind, always have enough oil, filters, and other generator essentials for continuous use so you’re not left scrambling for the right oil and filter last minute. Running out of fuel in some models can actually damage the equipment.

Running on no fuel can cause a generator’s coil to lose its magnetism. If you try to restart your machine, it will start but won’t power your home. You’ll need to send it in for repairs to re-energize the coils.

Properly Store Fuel

Gasoline cans in garage

Remove the fuel when storing your generator for an extended period of time. If you are storing fuel in a gas can, a fuel stabilizer can help keep fuel fresh for longer. Without it, chemical reactions and evaporation of components in the fuel can prevent proper ignition.

For safety, store fuel in a well-ventilated area, not inside your home. Do not store it near electrical equipment, open flames, or ignition sources. Keep your fuel away from direct sunlight, too, since it can increase evaporation.

Refer to your local fire codes to determine the limit of how much fuel you can store. Avoid buying an extra-large gas can to reduce the times you have to refill it. It’s not safe or easy to pour a huge gas can without spilling. We recommend a couple of 5-gallon cans with trigger fluid control.

Change Fuel Filter

How often you change your fuel filters can vary by manufacturer and frequency of use. We recommend checking your fuel filter every 100 hours or during your annual checkup. A dirty or clogged filter can deprive your engine of fuel and affect capacity.

Change Air Filter

A dirty air filter can reduce the efficiency of the clean air intake, making the engine work harder. Refer to your generator’s manual for guidance on when and how to replace air filters on your unit. We recommend changing the air filter every year.

Check the Battery Health

For optimal performance, check your battery’s health every 100 hours of use or every year. Turn off the engine and clean the corrosion on the connections with a baking soda and water solution and a brush.

Use a battery tester regularly to determine its capacity. Batteries are usually replaced every two to three years. Avoid the hassle of finding the correct battery for your generator in an emergency.

Change the Spark Plugs

Generally, spark plugs should be replaced every 100 hours of use or one year. When servicing your generator, check that they are not cracked or damaged. The spark plug’s electrodes must remain clean to create the spark that ignites the generator.

Start by disconnecting the spark plug lead and cleaning the dust and other debris first to avoid getting anything inside the combustion chamber. Use a spark plug socket to remove the spark plug. Inspect its quality and clean it with a spark plug cleaner and wire brush. If your spark plugs are too worn or cracked, replace them.

When replacing the plugs, use a spark plug gauge to ensure the gap meets the manufacturer’s specifications. Refer to your manual for the torque recommendations.

Clean Your Carburetor

If your generator is not starting, that could be a sign of a dirty carburetor. Your carburetor can get clogged, preventing it from getting the correct ratio of air and fuel to power the engine. Carburetors may be cleaned without removing them, but heavily gummed-up ones may require removal and a deep clean with carburetor cleaner.

Add Fuel to a Cold Engine

Ensure that your engine is cold when performing any maintenance or repairs. If you add fuel when your generator is hot or running, you risk spilling fuel on a hot engine, sparking a fire or explosion. Allow your generator to cool for about 15 minutes before adding fuel.

Use a Heavy Duty Cord

Power your generators with a heavy-duty 12-gauge cord if you will be running your cord up to 100 feet. Generally, generators should be operated at least 20 feet from your house.

Use a Transfer Switch

Backfeeding is when a generator flows power to your home without using a transfer switch, which is illegal and dangerous. Invest in a transfer switch to avoid using an extension cord from your generator to your electrical equipment.

Keep Records

Knowing when your generator was last inspected, tested, and repaired can help determine if components need repair or replacement. Records also help you stay on track with your maintenance schedule.

Shop Generator Maintenance Supplies at Wilco Farm Stores

Stay on top of your generator maintenance checklist with the right tools. Wilco Farm Stores makes preventative maintenance affordable and easy with a premium selection of engine oil, oil filter, and many more components to extend the life of your generator.