Last Updated on May 3, 2023 by Rod Olivares
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 big problems before you know it.
Why Do I Need to Break in My 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 can circulate throughout and cover all moving parts.
But it’s also important for another reason: when engines 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 takes a few hours, 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.
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 you yank the cord to start the generator up the first time.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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, inhibitor, and 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 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 bellow if you have any questions!
Scott Krager purchased generatorgrid.com in the summer of 2020 and quickly began to buy every generator under the sun! He currently has over a dozen generators and the number is growing quickly. He lives in Portland, OR near his family and friends.
GeneratorGrid.com is an independent review business. I am not affiliated with any manufacturers and do not accept paid reviews. When you buy through my links, I may earn a commission which helps me purchase more generators for testing. - Scott Krager