Standby Generators are a unique asset to own. For the most part, they sit idly somewhere on a piece of property. The only time the engine starts and operates is during a power failure or through routine testing. As such it is easy to forget about the generator…until, there is a power failure, and it doesn’t start.
The primary cause of a generator not working when it is needed is typically a lack of maintenance. Over time, the effects of idle time can slowly reduce system reliability. Some of the common problems found on neglected equipment include the following:
- Batteries get old. The charger provides a voltage, but if the battery has failed it will not be able to crank the engine when called upon. Additionally, battery terminals can corrode and the connections become unreliable. Clifford Power recommends replacement of starting batteries every two years.
- Belts and hoses will also deteriorate over time. In particular, hoses connected to a block heater will become brittle after several years. As part of a regular maintenance program, all belts and hoses should be inspected by a knowledgeable technician. Replacement should be made at the first signs of cracking or deterioration.
- The engine cooling system has several areas of concern:
- First, making sure that the radiator remains clean is required to ensure it will cool the engine properly on hot days. Sometimes leaves, paper, and other debris can block the radiator airflow. Sometimes oil residue and dust can cake on the radiator, thus reducing its ability to cool. Or, someone could place a piece of equipment in front of the radiator, which can also reduce the cooling capacity. Always keep the area in front of the radiator clear of anything that will block its airflow.
- The engine coolant also requires regular maintenance or changing. Inhibitors in the coolant will prevent rust buildup in the engine cooling system. It will also help lubricate the water pump.
- Making sure the coolant will not freeze in cold weather is also a concern.
- The radiator cap is also an item that requires regular testing so the cooling system can hold pressure to the manufacturer’s specification.
- Engine oil will also break down over time. Oil and filter changes per manufacturer specifications will help ensure lubrication to the engine.
- Generator safety shutdowns and alarms should also be tested to ensure that if a problem does develop, the protection systems will work properly.
- Diesel fuel can go bad over time. Making sure the tank is filled with good diesel fuel will help ensure proper operation. Monitoring fuel consumption during extended power failures is also an important consideration.
- Any oil or coolant leaks should be addressed to contain the issue.
- Rats, mice, snakes, wasps, birds, and all sorts of critters can make a home inside a generator enclosure. Rats and mice, in particular, can set up a nest and may chew through electrical wiring.
- Engine block heaters can fail, causing engine starting issues.
- Battery chargers can fail, allowing starting batteries to go dead.
- Expansion and contraction may allow electrical connections to loosen over time. A good inspection should be performed periodically to assure connections remain tight.
- Wet stacking or fuel issues can create engine horsepower problems. A load test of the generator can quickly identify if there are any issues.
The key to generator system reliability is planned maintenance and regular testing. Most transfer switches include an exercise clock that will start and operate the generator automatically. A facility load test, performed periodically, is recommended to assure the entire system performs as required. It also makes sense to test the generator manually to assure it starts, and there are no visual concerns.
Keeping a maintenance log on the generator is also useful for recording that the equipment is being reviewed on a regular basis. Simply recording the hour meter reading can demonstrate that the generator is regularly starting with its exercise cycle. Other simple checks such as oil and coolant levels should also be monitored and recorded.
A good maintenance program requires much more than simply changing the oil and filters. Having a trained generator technician inspect and test the complete generator system is the best way to ensure a reliable generator system. Clifford Power Systems offers many maintenance programs tailored to a customer’s requirements.
For more information, see Selecting the Right Generator Maintenance Plan