My Generator won’t Start, what’s wrong? This is a common problem that many generator owners eventually have. Let’s face it, for any product with an engine, eventually it won’t start. Whether it’s a chainsaw, a car or a portable generator — what do you do when your generator won’t start?
My Generator won’t Start | Troubleshooting
If your generator won’t start, there could be any number of problems. I know that it can be infuriating if the power fails or you arrive at a campsite, just to find that your generator has just given up the ghost.
From many years of experience, I know that the problem is usually quite simple if you know what to look for. In this article, I’m going to look at the common reasons why your generator won’t start and some of the less common ones. If, after following this advice, your generator still won’t start, you might need to contact your dealership for help. Though, it’s very likely that you’ll find the cause and have your generator up and running in no time.
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The most common cause for a generator not starting is because of engine flooding. This means that unburned fuel has collected in the combustion chamber causing wet fuel to collect on the spark plug. If you continue to pull on the recoil starter or crank the electric starter too many times with no success, you’re just aggravating the problem.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to just wait 5-minutes and then try again.
First check that you’ve done everything correctly. The on switch must be in the correct position, otherwise there will be no spark. This may seem obvious, but you’ll be surprised how many people can forget this and then start to panic.
The fuel tap must be in the correct position and so must the choke if you’re performing a cold start. Of course, you must make sure there’s gas in the tank.
Make sure the power supply to your electrical outlets are switched off before starting your generator.
If you have a 4-stroke engine, it probably has a low oil shutoff switch – so check that the oil level is sufficient. For a 2-stroke engine, make sure you’ve mixed the oil and gas at the correct ratio.
If you’re sure that you’ve followed the correct starting procedures and your generator still won’t start, there may be a simple technical problem. Here’s how you go about addressing these generator starting issues.
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Your Generator Needs Spark
If the on/off switch is in the correct position, you should have power to your spark plug, unless there’s a problem. Using a spark plug tester can simplify things. If you don’t have one, there’s a lot you can determine by a visual inspection.
Before you remove the spark plug, check the cord from the ignition coil to the spark plug. It often happens that a generator won’t start because the HT lead that conducts the current to the sparkplug has worked loose, or is damaged. If you disconnect this lead from the plug or coil, you should here a slight popping sound as you break the vacuum inside the connection. If you don’t, this means that the cord was not properly connected.
So remove the cord from either end and blow it clean to make sure there’s no debris inside that could interfere with the spark. At the same time, check for any obvious damage to the cord. If you observe any breaks or burns, replace it. After doing this try start your generator.
If your generator still won’t start, check the spark plug. Remove the spark plug and inspect it for any obvious damage. If the porcelain part is damaged, the spark plug won’t work. Carbon buildup is another common sparkplug problem. If the spark plug is black and sooty, use a small piece of sandpaper to clean the terminals.
Oil on the spark plug can also be a problem, but this is usually an indication of something more serious and your rings are probably damaged. Even then, you should be able to start your generator by removing the oil. To do this, dip the terminals in some gas and rub it off with a clean cloth. You may get the generator started by doing this, but you should get it to the dealership as soon as possible to address the root cause of the problem.
If you spark-plug is wet, but not full of oil, this means it has unburned fuel on it. You should dry the fuel by blowing onto the spark-plug (gas evaporates quickly) then replace the spark-plug.
Once you’ve checked all these elements and you still have no spark, it’s likely that your ignition coil is faulty. If this is the case, you’ll need to replace it.
If you’re sure that you’re getting a good spark at your spark-plug and your generator still won’t start, it’s time to move to the next obvious issue.
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Your Generator Needs Fuel and Air
It’s quite easy to check if fuel is reaching your carburetor, you just need to check that there’s fuel in the hose. If it’s not a clear plastic hose, you’ll need to remove the fuel hose from the carburetor and see if there’s a flow of fuel. Fuel lines can become blocked and may need to be flushed with clean gas to allow it flow to the carburetor. Sometimes it’s better to replace the fuel hose.
A dirty air filter can cause a generator not to start. A visual inspection should give you an idea as to whether you’re getting enough air into your carburetor. If you have any doubt, you can try starting the generator without an air filter. If it starts, you should clean or replace the air filter. Never run the generator without the air filter, this can damage your carburetor and possibly the engine itself. If you remove the air filter for testing purposes, switch the generator off immediately after establishing that it can start.
A dirty carburetor is another common problem. This will often happen if you’ve stored the generator for a long period without draining the fuel from it before storage. A carburetor may also become clogged or blocked because of a lack of correct service. Use carburetor cleaner to remove any debris.
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Modern generators have a few electrical components that could fail. You need to check that the on/off switch and low oil protection switch are function properly by using a multi-meter to check for continuity. Faulty switches should be replaced. Attempting to “bridge” a faulty switch is not a good idea.
You may also have a bad connection to your electric starter and you should be able to diagnose this with a visual inspection. If you’re going to replace electric wiring, make sure that you use the correct gauge – it must match the thickness of the wire that you’re replacing.
When you pull on your recoil starter, you should feel the resistance of the engine as you try start the generator. If the recoil rope is slack, it may not be engaging the flywheel and will need to be replaced.
Prevention is better than cure
Most of the generator starting problems that I’ve listed can be avoided with the correct care and maintenance. You should have your generator serviced by an authorized agent according to the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual.
If you choose to service your generator yourself always use the specified grade oil in the engine and the correct filters.
Do regular visual inspections of your generator. Replacing frayed or damaged pipes and electrical wires before they become a problem will save you a lot of hassle.
Before storing your generator for periods of 3-months or longer, drain the fuel from the carburetor and empty the gas tank. To drain the carburetor, you simply switch the fuel tap to the off position while the engine is running. It will continue for a while and then engine will die from fuel starvation. This means there is no residual fuel in carburetor than can cause a blockage later.
Now you know what to do if your generator won’t start…
Hopefully, after reading this article, and watching the videos you’ll no longer be asking the question : “My generator won’t start, what do I do?” My hope is that you’ll be the portable generator starting expert in your circle of friends. Learning how to start a generator that simply won’t start is valuable to know, especially during an emergency when having an operational generator is an absolute must.