How to Service a Generator


This is a generator. They have to be periodically serviced, which is kind of a pain in the ass.

Although I consider myself a mystic (more on that here) and it may seem counter-intuitive, I’m also a practical, do-it-yourselfer, kind of like Robert Pirsig.  I do as much of my own home repairs and maintenance as I’m able.  Like keeping my generator ready for emergencies.

With all the cold weather and the snow up north, this past weekend I figured it would be a good idea to get the old girl ready — just in case.

Generators that run on regular gas require frequent oil changes.  Some models recommend changing the oil as often as every 8 operating hours.  That’s what my owner’s manual says.  But after 8 hours the oil is usually still amber, so as a rule I just change mine after every 24 hours of running time, or whenever the oil gets dark.  When I went to service mine today, the oil was dark so I drained and refilled.


See that hole? That’s where the oil comes out.

Get yourself a drip pan, a small funnel, and some bricks.  Prop the generator up, a little higher on the side away from the drain plug, and put the pan beneath the hole.  Remove the plug and let it drain until the drips stop.  Make sure your pan has some kind of screen to prevent a dropped drain nut from falling into the used oil reservoir.  You don’t not want to have fish around in there like a kid looking for a bar of soap in the bath water.

When drained, replace the plug.  Be very careful that the nut is properly threaded before you tighten.  If the nut is cross-threaded and you strip the threads on the header, you will turn your generator into a very greasy and expensive paperweight.  Add oil to the fill line on the dipstick (that’s what the funnel is for).  Run the motor for a few minutes, check again, and add more if needed.

wpid-IMG_20140105_150816.jpgIf it has been awhile since the generator has been operated it might not want to start.  If that’s the case, there’s a good chance that you have gummy gas in the carburetor.  Remedy that by loosening the carburetor bolt just enough to let the bad gas run out.  Stick in the nozzle of some carb cleaner and shoot in plenty of that stuff.  Be careful and do not remove the bolt all the way.  If the carb comes apart, putting it together will be harder than solving a Rubik’s Cube.  Re-seat the bolt.  I advise putting something beneath the carb when you do this so that you catch the gas and carb cleaner that runs out — you don’t want all of that going into the environment.


That bolt right there in the middle of the photo will drop the carburetor cover. Be careful during loosening. If the carb falls apart, you need a PhD to put it back together again. I’m not kidding.

If it still won’t start, make sure that (1)  the running switch in the “on” position (2) there’s gas in the tank (3) the choke is all the way on and (4) the spark plug wire is attached.  Try again.  Still won’t start?  Remove the spark plug, clean it, and shoot a short blast of carb cleaner in the hole.  Replace the plug carefully, attach the spark plug wire, and try again.  If you still get no love, you’re gonna need a pro.

In the picture on the left, just behind the carburetor (the round thing with the hex bolt in the middle), you should see a silver oval thingy with a black cover.  That’s the air filter.  You should replace that once in a while.  It can get pretty crappy and obstruct air flow.

Before you put your generator away for an extended period of time, condition the gas with some Stabil gas stabilizer.  This will prevent moisture buildup in the fuel and help ensure easy starts.  Follow package instructions.

Most importantly of all, get your generator out once a month and let it run an hour or so.  Engines are made to run.  They like it.  It makes them happy.  If you keep them happy with regular operation and service, they will make you happy.

Warning:  Be careful around motors and gas.  Sparks can ignite spilled fuel.  Keep gas containers capped and ten feet away from clanking tools.  Safety first!

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