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5 Tips to Keep Your Diesel Generator Running Smoothly

Posted by Scott Goldfarb on

Whether you own a large construction company or simply want to provide backup electricity for your home, a diesel generator is an excellent power source to meet your electrical appliance or equipment needs in an emergency.

Rolling blackouts, severe weather, and man-made accidents, to name a few, can quickly shut down your local power grid for hours, days, or even weeks. That's unacceptable if you're a busy hospital or working from home on a tight deadline.

Why Diesel?

First, you may ask, why use a diesel generator? Aren't those purely for industrial and commercial use? Actually, not anymore. Technological advances in engines, generator enclosures, and fuel sources have mitigated some of the more unpleasant aspects of diesel generators, namely the smell, the noise, and many of the earth-unfriendly emissions. That means you get the workhorse with a considerably less amount of the horse puckey.

Diesel engines also rate highly for reliability and power output, use less fuel than traditional gasoline engine generators, and are significantly less dangerous than the machines that run on natural gas.

With that in mind, smaller diesel generators that can produce up to 3,000 volt amps - enough to power all of your appliances, computers, phones, TVs, etc. - are becoming popular for home and small business owners.

Keeping Your Generator Running Efficiently

Clean and reliable service doesn't happen by accident, though. It's up to you to maintain your diesel system, so it doesn't fail you when you really need it and functions optimally to give you the most power with the least fuel usage. As a long-time diesel parts retailer, we recommend doing the following:

1. Change the Oil on a Schedule

Like your car, your diesel engine needs regular oil changes and flushes. Your manual should provide more exact recommendations, but a good rule of thumb is to change the oil after every 50 hours of use for smaller generators and every 500 hours of service for larger generators. It's also a good idea to change the oil filter when you change the oil.

Generator diesel engines have a dipstick for daily level checks and an easily accessible oil filter and drainage screw for when you need to change the oil.

2. Let Your Engine 'Exercise'

Before powering everything on, it's a good idea to wipe down outside surfaces and clear your machine of any debris first. Be sure to check the cracks and crevices for any little creatures or insects who may have decided to nest in your generator enclosure.

Turn the generator on and let it run for roughly 30 minutes on no-load (meaning none of your appliances are hooked up) about once a week to once a month, even if it's not being used regularly. In addition, you should run the machine on full-load at least once a quarter.

Running your generator engine is known as 'exercising,' and it's a critical step in your regular maintenance plan. It's also a great time to check for leaks, corrosion, unusual noises or vibrations, and fuel performance. In addition, take a look at your hoses and belts to ensure they're not suffering from cracks, tears, or thinning.

3. Keep Your Cooling System Clean

Manufacturers build diesel generators with two types of cooling systems - air-cooled and water-cooled. Air-cooled engines use outside air that circulates around the engine, cooling it down. With the help of a pump and hoses, water-cooled machines surround the engine with a liquid, usually oil or coolant.

Typically, your smaller, portable generators, up to 22 kilowatts, will use air-cooled engines. Larger, fixed-position generator engines that provide more than 22 kilowatts will generally use a more expensive water-cooling system.

Regardless of your generator's system, keeping your filters, hoses, pump, and other components clean and clear and replacing any necessary equipment at regular intervals is critical. You’ll find all the components you might need to fix your cooling system at your local diesel parts supplier.

Finally, we recommend that you don't run an air-cooled generator for more than a few hours at a time, as they tend to overheat more quickly with constant use.

4. Fight Fuel Injector Gunk

Many modern diesel generators have fuel injection systems that can become clogged or completely non-functional if not adequately maintained. At the very least, dirty fuel injectors will pull down your fuel performance, and your machine will emit greater levels of environmentally harmful gasses.

Manufacturers recommend that you clean your generator's diesel engine nozzles after every 1000 hours of use and check, clean, and repair, if necessary, the entire fuel injection system at around 2500 hours.

5. High-Quality Hibernation

Let's face it, we mainly require a generator in emergencies, so it will likely spend most of its time in storage. The best way to hibernate your machine so it's always ready to jump into action is to drain the fuel from the tanks and the lines completely after each use if you don’t anticipate you’ll need it again soon. For example, in April or May after the majority of the blizzards and ice storms have already passed through your area.

If allowed to sit in your tank, untreated, old (more than 6-12 months) diesel fuel can oxidize and gum up your entire fuel system, possibly damaging your engine when you turn it on again. If you must keep diesel in the generator during storage, polishing the fuel at least once a year to ensure it doesn't get sludgy and stays sediment-free is essential.

However, we believe that draining your tank before storage represents a more reliable option. Make sure the generator is off, the engine is cool, and all your power loads are disconnected. Turn the fuel line valve to the 'ON' position and remove the drain screw under the carburetor to drain thoroughly. Or you can detach the air filter and remove the fuel line from the carburetor to draw the fuel directly from the tank.

Once everything is drained, you'll want to turn on your generator for a 'dry' run. Let it operate until any remaining diesel in the fuel lines burns out, and the generator shuts off on its own.

A diesel generator can last up to 30 years if you maintain it. And considering that some whole-home diesel generators can cost anywhere from $5,000 to more than $20,000, it's worth this extra bit of time and effort to ensure the best return on your investment.


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