Things You Can Do If Your Generator Won’t Start

We depend on our generators as backups during those unfortunate yet inevitable power failures. Power failures could occur due to natural causes like storms or technical issues in the supply system. We can all agree that it is terrible to be stuck at home without electricity, whatever the reason. Our dependence on utilities at home has increased all the more in the post-pandemic era as companies have continued to embrace the remote working model. Imagine a situation where you’re working from home when the electricity fails, and your generator won’t start.

Don’t be stuck in the dark in situations like these. However, before you call generator repair services, here are a few things you can do to try and start your generator. Firstly, to understand why your generator is not starting, you must understand its functionalities or how it operates.

How Does a Generator Engine Work?

The mechanism of a generator engine and your car engine is the same. Such an engine is called a four-cycle engine or a four-stroke engine. In a generator, the engine starts with one of these three mechanisms:

  1. Ignition key
  2. Start button
  3. Starter rope

The starter mechanism gets activated when the key is turned, the button is pressed, or the rope is pulled. Inside the engine, the starter engages the starter cup on the flywheel and rotates the crankshaft.
The crankshaft is connected to pistons inside the main cylinders. Once the flywheel begins to move, so do the pistons inside the cylinders. This starts the ignition process.

The permanent magnet in the flywheel rotates around the ignition coil. This generates electricity and powers the spark plug. The engine gets its name from the piston’s stages of motion.

In the first cycle, or the intake stroke, the downward motion of the piston creates a vacuum and sucks in air through the carburetor. In the second cycle, or the compression stroke, the piston moves upward and compresses the air inside the piston, and the spark plug ignites fuel and air. This leads to combustion, which pushes the piston down once again. This downward motion of the piston after the combustion is called the power stroke. This is the third cycle of the engine.

In the engine’s fourth and final cycle, the spinning flywheel’s momentum pushes the piston back up again. During this stroke, the exhaust gases from the fuel combustion are pushed out through the exhaust valve. This is called the exhaust stroke.

Your generator engine will keep repeating these cycles till the engine is switched off. To understand why your generator won’t start, it is crucial to have an idea of this primary mechanism.

Things to Do If Your Generator Is Not Starting

Check Fuel and Engine Oil Levels

The mechanism mentioned above runs smoothly because of the engine oil. It keeps the moving parts lubricated and prevents overheating of the engine. It is as essential as the fuel in your engine.

So first, check your generator’s fuel and engine oil levels. Sometimes it is due to simple issues like these that your generator will not start. You can check the oil level in the crankcase of your generator.

Check the Battery and Air Filter

The battery could’ve lost charge if you last used the generator a while ago. Disconnect the battery electrodes from all the connections and check if it is charged.

Similarly, check the air filter that supplies air to your carburetor. The air filter is placed on the side of the generator. Take it out and check the sponge-like filter element inside. Either clean it or replace it with a new one.

The Choke Lever Should Be Closed

The position of the choke lever should be closed while the engine is starting and open once the engine warms up. The choke controls the fuel-to-air ratio inside your generator engine. Once the engine warms up, it requires more air to function.

Hence, the choke should be open only when the engine has warmed up. Otherwise, the fuel-to-air ratio inside your engine will be incorrect, and you will be left wondering, ‘Why won’t my generator start?’

The Carburetor Could Be Clogged

You could face this issue if your generator is idle for too long. The carburetor then gets clogged with old and impure gasoline. Your generator won’t start if the carburetor does not mix fuel and air properly.

The best course of action here is to empty the carburetor. To empty it, make sure that the fuel valve is shut off. There is a carburetor drain at the bottom of the carburetor bowl, and you can open it once you’re sure that the fuel supply to the carburetor has been shut down.

Remove the entire bowl of the carburetor. Drain the clogged gasoline and clean the main jet with a needle. The main jet is a brass nozzle located at the center stem of the carburetor. Idle time is the real reason for your generator not starting. Use your generator at least once a month to avoid these issues in the future.

Check the Fuel Valve

The fuel valve is the system that controls the flow of gasoline from the fuel tank to the carburetor. Clogging in the fuel valve can obstruct the flow of gasoline toward the carburetor.

First of all, check if the fuel valve is ‘open.’ A closed fuel valve could be the reason for your generator not starting. If the fuel valve is set to ‘open,’ then check the vacuum valve at the top of the fuel tank and make sure it is also set to ‘open.’

If your generator is still not starting, unplug the outlet hose from the intake side of the fuel valve. Check if the gasoline supply to the fuel valve is free-flowing. It would be best to keep a spare bucket with you during this. If the fuel supply is fine, the bucket will collect the gasoline flowing out. Also, check if the fuel filter is fitted in your generator.

Check the Spark Plug

If your fuel supply is fine and your generator still won’t start, then it is time to check the spark plugs. Remove the spark plug from the socket to check if it is covered with dirt or deposits. See if the deposits can be cleared with a brush.

Use the generator manual to check the electrode gap of the spark plug. To check if a spark plug is working, you should hold it against the engine’s crankcase and pull the recoil starter. You should see blue sparks if the spark plug is working. If you cannot clean the spark plug properly, it is time to buy new spark plugs for your generator.

Check the Low-Oil Sensor

Your generator is still not starting? The next thing you check is the low-oil sensor. Sometimes, the generator is placed on an uneven surface, because of which the oil sensor gives the wrong output.

Check if your generator is on a level surface. See the oil sensor reading. Disconnect the oil sensor from the generator engine if it is still low. Your generator engine should start without the sensor.

Reading through this list should have helped you learn the basics of generator parts and their functions. This is a very generic guide to troubleshooting your generator. Read the generator’s user manual for specific information about its functioning.

Hire experts to maintain and service your generator regularly to avoid the abovementioned issues. This will keep your generator in working condition to ensure you have a power supply backup even in the most critical moments. Rest assured, you will never have to ask, ‘Why my generator won’t start?’ again.