Easy Winter? No Excuse to Diss the Generator

Champion generator / Credit: WalmartEl Niño technically means unpredictable weather, but in some parts of the country, it has meant a welcome two-winter respite from the layer upon layer of snow we get some years. But if you haven’t checked on your portable generator in ages and now think you’re in the clear, don’t relax too much. Late winter and early spring, with hard rains and the lingering potential of a crippling glaze of sleet, still can pack a punch to the utility power we so take for granted.

Take a few minutes, then, to fill up a thermos with coffee or hot chocolate, and head out to wherever you keep that generator. Your objective: to ensure it will start when you need it. How difficult that’ll be depends on how much attention you’ve been giving the machine, represented below by two alternate states of readiness:

You do regular startups
In this scenario, you know your generator will start up without trying because you’ve powered it up every month or so on a schedule. You wheel it out far away from the house, check the oil, turn off any fuel shutoff, set the choke, and then on press the “on” switch. If you have electric start and have kept that function’s battery charged, you’re good to go. The generator fires right up. If your generator doesn’t have e-start, you give the recoil a few pulls. Same results.

You haven’t run it in months
Here, your mission is more complicated. You do everything as with above, but your e-start battery needs charging, which means you’re pulling the cord. Which doesn’t necessary improve matters. Ask yourself at this point when you last added fresh, stabilized gas. If you hadn’t started the generator since last winter, whatever fuel remains in the tank isn’t doing a thing for you.

Have a standby generator?
These are professionally installed outdoors, have weatherproof casing and run on natural gas or propane. They turn themselves on when your power blows but also switch on to diagnose themselves—and flash any service messages on a visible panel. This keeps you from having to remember when you last changed or added oil, as with a portable, but you do typically need to check the panel.

At this point, siphon out everything you can (here’s one way) and add fresh gas, but not before mixing in fuel stabilizer to help your odds. Check the oil and spark plug, too. If repeated cord pulls don’t bring your generator to life, you still have time to call your local repair shop. Many will pick up your generator, clean out (or rebuild) the carburetor and bring it back to readiness.

The first alternative, of course, is the one that works for you and your family. Keep the generator fueled with stabilized gas, start it up regularly and check the oil each time (and change it annually). That way, you should be ready when the power goes. Since power outages often strike during periods of rain or snow—when you can’t safely run the machine—consider also a weather-resistant canopy like the one we’ve just reviewed.

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