Don't Forget About Your Generator!
When I was in the military I was in charge of some very large maintenance operations. One of those maintenance assignments was with the 82nd Signal Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division. In addition to a large wheeled vehicle fleet we had hundreds of generators to service and maintain. When we conducted preventive maintenance checks and services generator operators were required to start and run generator sets with a load, to prevent starting and running issues from sitting in storage.
You might say this was my early indoctrination in generator care and maintenance.
When I retired from the Army I went to work for an RV dealership in North Carolina. Every spring, when camping season arrived I noticed the service department was booked with appointments for generators that either wouldn't start, or if they did start had that all too familiar surging sound. I immediately knew this was a result of letting the generator sit in storage without starting and exercising the generator.
It might seem odd, but the lack of use is one of the biggest problems with gasoline generators. Fuel starts to break-down in a couple of months When the generator sits for months at a time the fuel starts to varnish and gum-up resulting in hard-starting and surging problems.
Fuel related problems are the number one reason for exercising the generator, but there are other reasons too. Moisture build-up can result in damage to the generator. When you exercise the generator it heats up the generator windings and eliminates moisture. Additionally, it helps lubricate the engine seals and internal components, and helps prevent carbon build-up.
That is 3 good reasons to exercise your generator, but how do you go about doing it?
Safety First! Whenever you are working on, or using your generator there is the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning. Always inspect the generator exhaust system prior to using it. Do not operate a generator with a damaged exhaust system. If you are using a portable generator set make sure the exhaust is directed away from the camping area. Test your carbon monoxide detector for proper operation prior to using the generator.
Another thing you might find odd about generators is, they are designed and intended to run with a load, as opposed to no load. By load I mean an electrical load.
Generators are rated in kilowatts (KW). One kilowatt equals 1,000 watts. So a 4 KW generator would be a 4,000-watt generator.
How do you exercise a generator?
Onan recommends running the generator 2 hours every month at 50% load, and up to a full rated load if practical.
So, as an example, you would exercise a 4000-watt generator with a minimum 2000 watt load. This is roughly equivalent to running one RV air conditioner.
Generator Tip: It's always better to exercise the generator for longer periods of time with more load than it is to run it for short time periods with no load.
In addition to the monthly exercise regime I recommend you use a fuel preservative to help protect the entire fuel system when the generator is in storage. Follow the manufacturer instructions for using fuel preservatives.
Check your generator owner's manual for load ratings specific to your generator. If you don't have the owner's manual you should be able to locate one online.
These generator problems mainly occur during winter months when the generator sits in storage. If you have not started and ran your generator with a load this winter, now would be a good time to do it.
Note: Using fuel preservatives applies to any gas powered items you have sitting in storage like lawnmowers, weed-eaters, ATVs etc. A good habit to get into is to add the preservative to the gas can every time you fill it with gas.