Your Portable Generator Won’t Start? – Here’s What To Do

For many people, a portable generator is a tool that is only used rarely. But when you do need to use it, it’s generally pretty important that it actually works.

This is certainly true in emergency situations like power loss from extreme weather.

What should you do if your portable generator won’t start in an emergency situation? Read on to find out.

When your generator doesn’t start right up, there is a checklist of things to try. In most cases, this troubleshooting process will solve the problem and your generator will start running.

For several of these steps, you’ll probably need to check with the manual for your particular model of generator to find the exact location of the parts in question.

Check The Basics

man filling a portable generator with gasoline

Before trying any further troubleshooting, make sure that all the basics are present.

  • Does the generator have enough gas and oil?
  • Is the fuel valve on?
  • Is the choke engaged?

 It can be easy to forget any of these basics, so make sure they are all in check before trying anything else.

Use Fresh Fuel

One of the most common reasons a generator won’t start is because the gas is old. When fuel sits for a long period of time, it degrades.

If your fuel looks at all cloudy or like there has been some separation, this is your likely culprit for why the generator won’t start.

You’ll want to siphon the gas and fill it up with fresh gas.

You can prevent this issue in the future by making a habit of either running your generator dry after use or always adding some fuel stabilizer.

A good fuel stabilizer is an absolute must to have on hand when you own a portable generator. 

Check The Spark Plug

hand removing the spark plug on a generator

Pull the spark plug to check its condition. 

If it looks dirty, use some carb cleaner to clean it up. While the plug is pulled, go ahead and spray some carb cleaner directly into the cylinder. 

If your generator still doesn’t start, even after you try several other steps, you may want to try replacing the spark plug. 

Spark plugs can just go bad and wear out even if they visibly look fine.

Luckily, they are generally pretty cheap. It’s a good idea to always have a spare spark plug on hand for this kind of situation.

Check The Air Filter

To run, a generator needs some airflow and a clogged air filter can prevent this.

Pull the air filter and check to make sure it isn’t clogged.

If it doesn’t look too bad, you can try just cleaning it. You can try just giving it a light whack against the floor or a counter-top to try to shake off the dust.

If it’s really clogged up or it looks worn, you’ll definitely want to replace it.

Air filters are also luckily pretty affordable so it’s smart to always have a spare air filter on hand as well.

Check the fuel line and fuel filter

If your generator still won’t start, it’s time to check your fuel line to make sure there aren’t any pinches, clogs, cracks, or leaks there.

In some cases, you may be able to repair this damage but in most cases, you’ll want to just replace the line.

This is a less common problem so you don’t necessarily need to have a spare fuel line on hand but it doesn’t hurt if you want to be prepared for anything. 

Not all portable generators have fuel filters but this is another to check for those that do.

This is another part that can get clogged up.

Remove the fuel line from where it attaches to the carburetor.

Watch to see if fuel passes through the filter. If no gas drains out through the filter, it’s likely clogged and needs replacing.

Clean the carburetor

Old, degraded gas that gets in the carburetor can cause some problems there.

You may be able to clean it by just spraying some carb cleaner into the orifices and jets without removing it altogether.

In other cases, you’ll need to remove it. It’s important to keep in mind that carburetors are very sensitive.

As you take it out and clean it, it’s very important that you don’t scratch it.

Be very careful and keep careful track of all the screws. There are small parts involved and you absolutely do not want to lose any of them.

If you’ve never cleaned a carburetor before, it’s a very good idea to watch a video to walk you through the process:

Special considerations for electric starts

For generators with electric starting systems, you’ll want to make sure the battery isn’t dead.

You can check this with a multimeter. If it is dead, replace the battery.

If the battery is fine, you’ll want to check for blown fuses and replace if necessary.

Finally, check to make sure there is no corrosion on the battery terminals and that the connections are tight.

Even if things look good, you may want to remove the battery terminals and clean them with a wire brush before reattaching. 

Practice Regular Maintenance For Prevention

Ultimately, the best thing you can do to make sure your generator starts when you need it to is to perform regular preventative maintenance.

Follow the maintenance schedule laid out in the manual to the letter.

Changing the oil after every so many uses is important as is checking the air filter and spark plugs when recommended.

These regular maintenance activities will ensure that the machine is in ideal working condition for when it really counts. 

If you only tend to use your generator in emergency situations, that probably means it is typically sitting around unused for long periods of time.

In this case, it’s best to run it dry so it sits without gas. If you don’t want to do this, it’s absolutely vital that you use a fuel stabilizer.

It’s also a good idea to check on the generator and run it every so often just to make sure it is still working.

When dealing with an emergency, you have a lot of stuff going on and the last thing you need is to be trying to figure out why your generator won’t start.

Don’t let your portable generator just sit around collecting dust.

Take care of it and check on it periodically so you can trust that it will work for you when it really counts.

Conclusion

If your portable generator doesn’t start right away, there’s no reason to panic.

In almost all cases, you’ll be able to get it started again through some basic troubleshooting.

If, after trying all of these tips, your portable generator still won’t start, it’s time to check in with a qualified repairperson.

If your generator is still under warranty, it’s very important to go with a certified technician for your generator brand. 

I hope this guide to getting a portable generator started again was helpful.

Have you ever had the experience of a generator not starting? What did you do? Is this list missing any important tips?

Let me know in the comments! Do you have any other portable generator questions?

27 thoughts on “Your Portable Generator Won’t Start? – Here’s What To Do”

  1. FIRMAN SPG6500E2 generator taking too long to start but when i spray the carburator cleaner were the air pass it start immediatery

  2. Hi Matt
    I am off the grid in Alaska in the summers. My smarter tools 2000i generator was running all day then stopped. So thinking it ran out of gas I go to fill it back up. It still had some gas in it. I did fill it up so I checked the oil and added to it. It didn’t need much. Now it only spins. It will not engage. It’s a different sound than usual. I don’t know if it makes a difference but the screen at the neck of the gas dropped in the tank. It’s still intact but I can’t get it back up. The other thing is awhile back it spit a tiny chunk of what looked like white rock out the exhaust. But it kept running. And yesterday while running I heard a rattle. Is it blown.

  3. Hello,

    Question…I have a dual fuel generator and left some old gas in it. I followed your guidance and emptied the old gas and cleaned the carb. But no luck. It won’t start. So I tried to start and run the generator on the propane and it works just fine. Started first time and ran like a top! So I am guessing this has to be a fuel getting to the engine issue? What could be the probelm? I am at a brick wall!!

    Dave

  4. Hello

    I have a dual fuel generator (Duromax XP4850EH) and I left some old gas in the fuel tank from last time we used it. It sat maybe 6 months or so and when I tried to start the generator it wouldn’t start. So I preformed all the recommendations actions above yet no luck. Then I tried to start and run the generator using LP. Started and ran like a top!

    I am at a loss… I drained the gas, cleaned the carb with carb cleaner (did not disassemble) and it still will not start. Any ideas or thoughts would be great.

    Thanks!

  5. Hi David,

    I had the same problem with my generator (Honda EU2000i).
    Tried all the above, but no success.

    Disassembled the carb, and cleaned it thoroughly with carb cleaner and thin wire for the holes of the main tube.

    Your carb is a little different, but try to find online (google, youtube) info on how to disassemble your carb, and clean it.

    Hope that helps,
    Moses

    • Hi I’m talking out of turn here but I wanted to relate an experience with my Honda 2000. It wasn’t running well and went through every step carb plug gas filter lines. It turned out that to he entire spark arrester and muffler were full of carbon, apparently from some kind if California gas additive sold to me by my local country store. I was able to get the engine to operate without a total breakdown by momentarily plugging the exhaust with a screwdriver handle until the unit bogged and nearly shut down, we hen I removed the blockage (scrwdrvr hndl) the engine would catch and run on quite merrily for several hours then need “burped” once again.

  6. My Champion 9000 will only turn over or crank when I use the pull cord. Using the pull cord or start button it does nothing. Makes no sound at all. What could cause this. The battery is not dead.

  7. I have B/S generator model 030580-00 Engine model 216115 Type 0111-E1 Pull start works fine. Electric Start does not. Battery 12v Solenoid clicks or chatters, sometimes get a weak crank. Why?

    • Battery may need to be replaced, if a lead acid battery is heavly sulfated they will behave like this, so they will surface charge and quickly go to 12 volts when charged so it looks great, but they won’t develop any real power, but sometimes this is fixable, try attaching a 12 load across the battery like a car headlight bulb for like a minuite and then use a 12 volt battery charger to properly charge the battery for like 14 to 16 hours, go back and test it again and see if it will start, and sometimes if the battery has sat for months on end in the same spot the acid can also stratify, this is normally easy to fix, remove the battery give it a really good shake, if it’s a sealed battery you can even spin them upside down to get the acid mixed up again so it’s not stronger in the bottom of the cell and lighter in the top. Then charge them for 14 to 16 hours.

      Also if you have access to an equilization charger it wouldn’t hurt to run this on your battery.

      If this doesn’t work though it might be time for a new battery.

      But it doesn’t sound like an issue with the starter circuit or starter motor, you might want to check the charging output when the generator is running though and it never hurts to get a small automatic battery charger ( I use the ones from Noco, the genius gen1 4 amp, they are waterproof and take a ton of abuse ) and leave it running when your not using the generator if it’s stored close to a wall socket to keep the battery full all the time.

  8. Lots of info on other brands but I have the Ford inverter 2200is and for some reason it won’t start. Any suggestions?

  9. I have Master Craft 7500 Dual Fuel generator which will start manually but after putting in a new, charged battery I cannot get the electric start to function. No clicking or anything when I push the starter. It did not start electric switch with the old battery either. Does anyone have any solutions? Thanks.

  10. I have a Generac RS5500, the spark plug wire housing has gotten cracked and will not make contact with the plug. Is this something that can be repaired easily, if anyone has suggestions.

  11. I have a storm cat I put a new carb on it I ran. A little while ,and then it’s cut off what could be the problem

    • Did you replace the fuel filter, some times they are in the fuel tank, or inline, and check the fuel valve stop cock sometimes they fail and it might also be a good idea to replace the fuel line, sometimes they swell as they age limiting the amount of fuel that can go through them. But it is a harbour freight special so before you go and drop any real amount of money into it you might want to check out some autions / kijiji /local classified rags and see if you can get a better generator for less money, I ‘ve seen honda powered GX120/GX160 engine generators for ~$50 used which is only what $18 more then a new carb for that generator, there is lots of coleman powermates and those little honda engines will run longer then any thing harbour freight makes.

  12. Daniel:

    I purchased a 3100 Generac and I have the same problem. Did you ever resolve
    your problem? if so, what was the problem?

  13. Hello. I have a Honda 2500 h genarator. Have spark petrol compression but won’t start. If I wet a cloth with petrol and putv over air intake it start. What can be wrong

    • It’s not getting fuel, either you need to clean the carb, replace the fuel filter, sometime the fuel stop cocks fail (fuel shut off valve) bascially I’ll disconnect the fuel pipe going into the carb, open the valve, see if fuel comes out, if so it’s in the carb, they are normally two screws holding them on, remove the carb and clean it with some carb cleaner and an old tooth brush, put it all back together, you might have toi replace the gasket if it’s ripped or torn (only a few bucks ) and you should be good to go.

  14. I have a Westinghouse 2200 IXLT used it only once and now it wont start. we have done everything we were suppose to do ! when i want to start the Gen it says overload even though nothing is hooku

  15. Hi matt i have a question, i have a small tailgator generator, we bought off a guy who said it was like brand new. We looked it over and everything looked new. We used it twice but the third time it kept dieing. We replaced the spark plugs and it has fresh fuel. And the oil is still good. The air filter is clean. So my question is: can high winds kill a generator?

    • Normally high winds won’t do much to a generator, so long as it doesn’t get blown over, in which case yes they can do damage and in very short order, that really doesn’t happen very often though as generators are pretty heavy. But some times high winds will kick up some dust which long term is not ideal but if your air filter is clean and in good working order you shouldn’t have an issue with this either.

      Have you replaced the fuel filter, and made sure the carb is getting fuel ? ( inline fuel filters are only a few bucks, if your not sure just replace them ) you might also have to clean the carb, over time varnish will build up this is common if the generator is not run on a regular basis, and allowed to sit full of fuel, but for the most part can be avoided by disconnecting the load, and turning off the fuel valve and allowing the generator to continue running until it dies ( if you do this with a load connected it can damage the AVR/Generator/ Load, physically pull the plug ) it only takes a minuite or two, but only do this if your putting it away for a month or longer.

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