Four Common Reasons Why Your Generator Won't Start

When the power goes out, our quality of life is reduced to 19th century standards or worse. In fact, as soon as the power fails, the modern home often lacks even the most rudimentary conveniences. That’s why a backup generator is so important. But what happens when your backup generator fails? Some generator problems have simple fixes while others are only dealt with through regular generator maintenance.

Here are four common reasons your generator fails you when you need it the most:

Battery Failure

A neglected battery builds up excessive lead sulfate on its lead plates when it isn’t maintained at full charge. This also happens when it’s been discharged and recharged too many times. The end result is a battery that can’t hold a charge for very long and won’t have the capacity to start your generator when you need it. If your battery was neglected or if it’s older than three years, replace it.

Sometimes you can start a generator with a weak battery by thoroughly cleaning and tightening its connections. A lot of power loss occurs over loose and dirty connections because they resist electric current. If your battery is “borderline” and the connections are bad, this is worth a try. Note your battery’s service life and replace it before the expiration date.

No Fuel or Degraded Fuel

If your generator has a mechanical fuel level gauge, it can stick and give you a false fuel level indication even though the tank is empty. Some tanks have a low fuel level function that prevents your generator from starting when the tank is close to empty. This prevents air from being drawn into the fuel system. Periodically do a direct visual check of the fuel level in the tank and top it off as needed.

Diesel fuel degrades with time, especially when water gets into the tank. This can happen while filling the tank on a rainy day or by condensation. Opening the tank on a warm humid day allows moist air inside. Water condenses out of the trapped air when the temperature drops below the dew point. Water in the tank encourages microbial growth, which can clog fuel filters and restrict fuel flow into the engine. The water itself can also directly damage the engine. Do a regular check on a fuel sample by looking for discoloration or an abnormal smell.

Not in Auto

This is the simplest fix for a generator not starting. However, it can cause a lot of problems if your generator fails to auto start when no one is around. Food can spoil and pipes freeze simply because the main control switch wasn’t set for automatic operation. After doing work on your generator, always double-check that the switch is not left in the off/reset position and that the emergency stop button isn’t pressed down. Also check that the alarms and switchgear are reset, and that circuit breakers are closed.

Coolant Problem

When coolant levels are low from leaking, or the coolant isn’t cooled because of a radiator problem, or it isn’t flowing properly, the engine gets hot. Sensors detect this and shut down the generator. Look for hose and belt drive wear, coolant puddles, drips, and crusted areas of dried coolant.

Sometimes grit, dust, oil, and internal corrosion obstruct the radiator core. Inspect the radiator for cleanliness. Check the coolant for dirt and other contaminants. Check for internal coolant leaks by looking for discoloration of the oil. Coolant in the oil will change its color or give it a milky texture.

Some of the above reasons your generator fails to start are easy fixes when you know what to look for. Some of the other issues such as a coolant problem, are more difficult to repair. The best approach is keeping a diligent maintenance schedule. If you don’t have the resources, time, or inclination to do the work yourself, we can help. Contact us today.