How to Break In A Portable Generator (The Right Way)

Did you know that what you do in the first few hours of owning a portable generator can have a big impact on how long it will last?

If you don’t carefully break in your generator, you will almost certainly have some big problems with it before you know it.

WHY you need to break in your new generator

When you don’t take the time to properly break in your new portable generator, you’re risking some pretty serious damage.

You’re also likely just shortening its lifespan. Buying a portable generator is an investment and it’s something that you should expect to last for quite some time.

If you don’t carefully break it in, though, all bets are off. 

The process for breaking in a generator is a cycle of letting it run and changing the oil.

It’s important to let it run so that oil is able to circulate throughout and cover all moving parts.

But it’s also important for another reason.

Something you might not know about engines is that when they are new, tiny pieces of metal are likely to break off and move around in the engine.

This can cause some serious engine wear so if you care about the longevity of your portable generator, it’s vital to follow these instructions for breaking it in properly.

How-to: Step by Step

It does take a few hours of your time but the process for properly breaking in a generator is quite easy, even if you don’t know much about engines. Follow these steps and your generator should be working well for years to come.

1. Go shopping.

Shelf of motor oil in a store

Before you can break in your generator, you need oil, gas, and a few other supplies.

  • For gas, you should buy the highest-octane gasoline you can get.
  • For oil, you should buy the oil brand recommended by the generator’s manufacturer.

You should also buy an oil conditioner like Lukas Heavy Duty Oil Stabilizer or Marvel Mystery Oil.

Dry starts are a major cause of wear in engines, especially new engines.

Adding some oil conditioner will ensure that there isn’t a dry start.

These products have special properties that help the oil stick to the cylinder walls. This means that even if your generator has been sitting around for a long time without being used, you can trust that the internal parts aren’t dry and at risk for faster wear. 

2. Start the lubrication process.

Remove the spark plug. Using a funnel, pour just a little bit of the oil conditioner down into the spark plug chamber.

This helps ensure that there is some lubrication in the cylinder before the first time you yank the cord to start the generator up.

You should never pull the starter cord before there is some lubrication on that cylinder wall.

After the conditioner is in, pull on the starter cord slowly about 10 times.

This allows the piston to move up and down in that newly lubricated cylinder. Replace the spark plug. 

3. Add the oil.

Bottle of motor Oil next to a portable generator

First, squeeze some oil conditioner right into the crankcase. Using a funnel, fill up your portable generator with the appropriate amount of oil. Check the manual to see how much oil your generator takes.

4. Add the fuel.

Next, fill the tank up with gasoline.

It’s a good idea to use high-grade gasoline whenever possible.

Generac Generator with the fuel cap open

Open the vent and switch it to the on position. Turn on the choke and then start the generator up.

It might take some extra pulls for this first start so don’t be alarmed if it doesn’t start after the first pull on the cord. 

5. The first hour.

Let it run for one hour at the lowest speed. It’s extremely important to let it run for this first hour on no load whatsoever

6. Change the oil.

Pouring motor oil from a bottle

After letting it run for 60 minutes with no load whatsoever, it’s time to drain the oil.

This helps get rid of the majority of those metal flakes and fragments.

Getting these out will prevent serious wear on the engine. Add some more oil conditioner and fill it up with fresh oil. 

7. The second hour.

Start it up again and let it run for another hour at no load.

8. Change the oil again.

After the second hour, power down and change the oil one more time. Once again, remember to add some oil conditioner.

You’ll notice that the oil will be significantly cleaner than it was after the first hour. 

9. The third and final hour.

Start it up for hour number three. This time, you should add a bit of load, around 500W is recommended.

After this third hour, your generator is officially broken in and you can start using it normally.

Other Considerations

If you live in an area where it’s hard to find gasoline without some amount of ethanol in it, you should add something like Sea Foam Motor Treatment to the gas.

This acts as a cleaner, an inhibitor, and a stabilizer for the fuel.

You should generally add 1-2 ounces per gallon to your fuel for best results.

Ethanol can cause a lot of damage to various generator components and a product like Sea Foam can help mitigate this damage. 

Although it’s the first few hours that are the most important, don’t forget about regular maintenance over the course of the generator’s lifetime.

Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance schedules, as laid out in the manual.

Just like with a car, regular maintenance can be easy to put off but it’s incredibly important.

Luckily, most portable generator maintenance doesn’t take too much time or effort. It just has to be done! Whenever you change the oil on your portable generator, it’s a good idea to add some oil conditioner. 

Did you find this guide helpful? Let me know in the comments section bellow if you have any questions!

35 thoughts on “How to Break In A Portable Generator (The Right Way)”

  1. Step 9 of this process. You have 500W. This is the recommended wattage for what size generator? In other words what percent of watts is 500w for that particular generator? Mine is 7000w.

    • I followed your advice. Yes the first oil change showed very dirty as you said. I used 5w-30 conventional oil the three changes then I went over to full sym 5w-30. Syn oil lubes better and it handles high temps better

  2. This is great advice here for breaking in any brand new small motor. I know a lot of people will not follow the advice of using a high-grade gas, even though it will save a lot of headaches later on. Case in point: I bought a riding mower from Lowes, that they used to mow their grass around the store. They used the cheap gas in it and the mower was spitting, sputtering and backfiring when I got it. After running two tanks of 91 octane through the mower, it runs like it is brand new and it does about 2x the work on a single tank of gas now. Did not do anything else to the mower to get this. If people are thinking of using the cheaper gas to save money, don’t. It will cost you more in the long run.

    • Hi Will.. does this high octane advice apply also to my new Ford Thor Axis RV.
      Recommended fuel 87 octane..
      Appreciate your advice..

      • No, you use whatever is recommended.
        87 is normal for a work truck like the Ford F53 that you have.
        Higher octane means it is harder to ignite, so the pistons don’t fire at different millisecond rates. High octane is needed in a Ferrari that has a precision engine and expects the pistons to fire at very specif timings, using low octane will cause it to kick and stutter.
        A Ford V10 box truck like you have doesn’t care about precision and in fact can end up losing power with higher octane, the higher compression gives more power, not being able to make that high compression will lose power and cost you more at the pump

  3. Sounds like good advice was offered. …I did not realize that high test gas was mentioned….my instruction sheet just stated to use fresh gas. I always do and I also out in Stay-bill gas stabilizer.

  4. Hi, and thanks for the informative article. Two questions come to mind.

    1. When you mention “high-grade” gasoline, do you just mean name-brand (Mobil, Gulf, Sunoco, etc.) vs no-name or do mean premium (91 or 93 octane vs 87)?

    2. Rather than long term storage (draining gas, etc.), would it be just as beneficial to just run the thing for a half hour or so every couple of weeks all year long?

    • Hi,

      1: Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation on octane and get it from a station that does a lot of business to ensure it’s fresh. Non-ethanol gas is a good recommendation in any use case where the engine sits unused for extended periods. Also, use a fuel stabilizer and the replace the fuel once a year. Doing it on your birthday helps you remember.
      2: Yes that is definitely fine if you run it every week or so and don’t mind doing that.

  5. i heard something about putting a different spark plug in ? also something about using diesel grade oil? can u comment, thx!

    • Iridium spark plugs have better longevity, but it’s not that big of a deal for generators. If you are looking to replace yours, E3 Spark plugs are better than most OEM due to the electrode design.
      Regarding Oil, it depends if you intend to use it in lower temperatures, it may be easier to find a 5W-40 or 15W-40 diesel oil than gasoline oil.
      Diesel grade oil used to be tougher than gasoline oils for a number of reasons, including higher viscosity and more robust detergency additives, but it isn’t really the case nowadays.

  6. Just got my new generator and will be following this process. I did similar for my last unit and it worked well. The only addition to my process I found here was the oil conditioner. I’ll give that a go as every little bit helps with equipment that doesn’t run regularly.

    One question, is ethanol free gas more important than the octane rating? In other words, should I use non ethanol 89 octane over 93 octane with ethanol. I believe the non-ethanol would take priority correct?

  7. I have 1 hour on my Kohler Pro5.2E, noload. I will do my first oil change. Has been run mostly on idle. Used a half inch drill to bring it up to speed and let it throttle up and back down I will get some Lucas oil treatnent for it That is good advicr for the break in. Thanks

  8. Very informative.

    1) What is a little bit of conditioning oil? 1/2 to 1 oz?

    2) Should you break in a new generator using gasoline or is propane fuel OK?
    Planning on installing Hutch kit on new Honda 2200 but unsure if it should be
    broken in with gasoline.

  9. The prolonged running at idle equals low pressure and heat between the rings and cylinder wall, causing the rings and bore to glaze, or become shiny (higher oil consumption and loss of compression). It will also cause the oil slinger to sling less oil and reduce oil “misting”. It’s the oil that removes the heat from the internal

    Pistons and rings are designed in such a way that the greater the explosion, the more the rings are forced out against the cylinder walls. This is the range that you want your rings to “bed in” for maximum efficiency under load.

    To break a motor in (air cooled generator) I would use conventional oil and vary the load from the start, slowly increasing the load, but always bringing the motor down to idle or no-load condition every few minutes to cool down and let the oil remove the heat. Change the oil as often as you want, the more, the better. Once broken in, I would use Mobil 1 only (my personal choice) with no additives. Additives can have an effect on how the oil slinger does it’s job. If there was a magic additive, companies like Mobil would have added it and cornered the market.

    This is my 2 cents worth, and how I break in new and rebuilt engines.
    Cheers.

  10. Run the generator at fifty percent resistive load fifty percent duty cycle for twenty-four hours total time. Spaced out over time and not all at once. Proper break in is the most important thing for long lasting engine.

  11. great tips!!! I just purchased 2 champion 2000 watt stackable inverter generators for my rv,,
    as a new owner of this type of equipment,,, I wanted to make sure I was performing the break in period correctly,,, thanks!!

  12. Just purchased a Champion 5500 watt duel fuel. Mfg. says : ” We consider the first 5 hours of run time to be the break-in period for the unit. During the break in period stay at or below 50% of the running watt rating and vary the load occasionally to allow stator windings to heat and cool. Adjusting the load will also cause engine speed to vary and help seat piston rings. After the 5 hour break-in period change the oil.”

  13. We are about to purchase our first generator since we live in Florida and hurricanes seem to be getting worse. For many years, we just ‘ride them out’, but as we get older, we figured a generator would allow us some comfort, while power is off. This is a great article, and we’ll be sure to follow these instructions to prolong the life of generator. Thanks so much!!

  14. Great tutorial and comments. I researched this before starting this new inverter generator (FIRMAN W03083) as to whether to use the supplied oil that comes with the generator (standard 10-30 oil) or go straight to full synthetic. This is my 3rd inverter generator (RV use). I have been thoughtful with care initially and throughout past generator break in and service but have not been quite as diligent as your tutorial recommends. Hard to tell how long they would have lasted as 1st one stolen after 4 years and second actually failed electronically after 2 years. Both were Champion 2000’s from Costco (which offer remarkable warranty) and appeared in pristine condition as i used them rarely and kept them clean and protected.
    Based on tutorial and comments, I believe I will use the supplied oil for break in, then switch to synthetic on the second oil change post 1 hour of moderate operation.

    Thank you.

  15. When it says to put a bit of oil condition into the spark plug chamber, how much are we talking as I cant find any reference as to how much a little is please.

    Thank you!

  16. Running a generator or any small motor for one hour at no load is not a good way to break in the motor for longevity. Varying throttle settings (by applying load) and avoiding prolonged full throttle operation (max load) during the first hour or two will allow the piston rings to seat properly and other components to break-in. That combined with frequent oil changes will help ensure good internal motor health.

  17. Followed the instructions. Gotta love marveral mystery oil, OG, my dad used it on his air guns as a kid. No joke, oil was clear in and the oil was dark gray with silt out the 1st change and grey the 2nd. May change a third time after 5 hours. Costco I power, Yamaha 2000 wt. Btw 52 decibels at 1/4 power.

  18. My dad bought a generator and let it sit brand new, without ever starting it for about four years. What would you recommend for its first start up now?

  19. Stephen, pull the spark plug and add just a little bit of a lubricant oil like the previously mentioned Marvels in the spark plug hole. The original article speaks of this process but everyone gets hung up on the amount used. If i had to put a quantity on it I would say around 1 teaspoon. Not enough won’t coat the cylinder wall and too much you’ll be fouling your spark plug. I have rebuilt 2 & 4 stroke engines so the initial start is very important on making sure there is lubrication. Less metal to metal contact is best!

  20. Most genny’s are pre run in factory so all this 1hour and pre lubing cylinder is more of a easing your ocd then anything my firman 9500 watt I just bought says to change out oil 1st time after 25 hours then every 100 hrs thereafter. Ps you could see engine oil in mine new out of box although it had been drained they are run and drained in factory. My brothers generac he just bought new 10000 watt you could see had also been run and drained in factory.

  21. most generators are run for a short time in the factory. And then the oil is drained. The main thing is make sure you use conventional oil for break in!

  22. One thing you forgot to mention: Check valve clearances after the break-in, and again, after 50-100 hours. Some engine manufacturers recommend 3 hours full speed, no load, than change the oil. Others aren’t as concerned about how the engines is loaded, but universally, they ALL recommend that initial oil change after a very short initial operation period.
    The original flat head Briggs and Stratton engines really didn’t have a convenient way to adjust valve clearances, but the modern over head valve engines do. By keeping up on the valve clearances, that will allow the engine to run more hours without any noticeable loss of performance.

  23. You might want to add the oil first to the engine, then add about a tablespoon of Marvel Mystery Oil to the cylinder. You don’t want to pull with zero oil in the crankcase.

    When pulling very slowly, with the plug missing, you should draw up some oil from the crankcase.

    I am doing a 1 hour no load, change oil, then 4 more hours, one hour idling again, then with a varying load, electric heater outside for the last 3 hours.

    The Champion just says load it up with oil, run it a bit no load, then vary it over 5 hours total. Change the oil, it is broken in.

    That first hour run on Economy mode, aka no load, should pick up most of the metal.

    Would be interesting to drop one of those strong magnetic into the oil after you have drained it to see if it picks anything up.

    What you are trying to do after the first hour idle run, is to set the rings which requires varying loads. Also heating up and letting it cool down via of varying loads on the electric producing parts so they settle in.

    When you store this thing, be sure to do the tablespoon of oil to the cylinder, slowly pull 10 times to lub the cylinder, it will help get rid of any moisture and lub the cylinder walls, protecting it from the air i.e. from rusting.

  24. you said break in with conventional oil ….. first oil change be conventional and
    can the second one be synthetic oil…is there a value to using synthetic

  25. Rick,
    I prefer synthetic oil AFTER break in, especially in air cooled engines, as they tend to run pretty hot. Synthetic oil resists thermal breakdown better than conventional oils.

    Not all synthetic oils are created equal!!! 😉

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