Emergency Generator Inspection: Seven Reasons Why Generators Fail

The older a generator gets, the more likely it is to experience a mechanical emergency. Because a generator (a.k.a. genset) is operated infrequently, certain problems can go undetected by monthly tests, which are typically conducted for thirty minutes—less time than a genset might run during a power outage. When a problem occurs that limits or eliminates a generator’s power production, a technician performs an inspection within two to three hours. Often, the inspection reveals one of the following problems:

Battery Failure. Battery failure is the most common cause of generator failure. In most cases, battery failure is caused by loose connections or sulfation buildup—a condition where lead sulfates accumulate on battery plates.

Insufficient Coolant. Generators are designed to shut down when they become too hot. When a generator has insufficient coolant, it is not prepared to operate for a long time, and could shut down when a facility needs it most.

Fuel Leak. Due to the smell they create, fuel leaks are usually detectable during regular maintenance. If they are only discovered after a genset is running, the problem could be a malfunctioning fuel pump, or a broken fuel line.

Oil Leak. Oil leaks are caused by wet stacking, a condition where oil, fuel and other liquids build up in a generator’s exhaust pipes due to carbonized fuel injection tips, and faulty crankcase breathers that release too much oil as it vents.

Control Setting Errors. Many generators fail to start because of their controls being left at the wrong setting following maintenance or testing. If the proper resetting procedure is not followed, a control error could also occur after a fault shutdown.

Fuel Bleed Back. When fuel bleeds back into a generator’s fuel tank instead of going to the engine, air in the injection mechanism or faulty check valves could be the cause. In either case, the generator behaves as it were out of fuel.

Empty Fuel Tank. Stuck fuel gauges and fuel gauges that read fuel levels incorrectly commonly cause empty fuel tanks. Empty tanks can also result from testing a generator month after month without checking its fuel level.

How Quickly Could a Generator Problem Be Fixed?

The only way to know how quickly a problem could be fixed is to have a technician perform an emergency generator inspection. Consequently, the best approach to generator problems is to prevent them from happening, which can be done by applying the following measures, as needed:

• Regular maintenance
• Annual infrared testing
• Monthly and annual testing using NFPA 110 guidelines
• Retrofitting and modernization measures
• Load bank testing

At Prime Power, we provide these services and more. If your genset stops working or fails to start, we can perform an emergency generator inspection in a short time. We can also help you avoid generator failure. Whether your genset is old and experiencing problems, receives infrequent maintenance, or operates at less than thirty percent of its nameplate kilowatt rating during monthly tests, call us today. We can restore your genset’s dependability and have it ready for the next power outage.

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3 Responses to “Emergency Generator Inspection: Seven Reasons Why Generators Fail”

  1. Chris March 22, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

    What about testing the stored diesel fuel since many generator failures are misdiagnosised as mechanical failure when in fact high degraded fuel is the root problem?

  2. Bonnie April 14, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    From Richard Knittel, VP Technical Services

    “Couldn’t agree more. We do advise, as does NFPA 110 (section A.7.9.1.2), to test your fuel on a regular basis, at least once per year.”

  3. robert lucas October 31, 2012 at 3:02 am #

    the biggest reason gensets fail is the person maintaining it.this industry is not state licensed anywhere !! no apprenticeships or certifications other than manufacturer certs for there mechanics.i’ve been in it my entire career and am embarassed when something like a hospital system(s) in new york fail during a hurricane..shame on this industry….and state and federal agency’s that claim to regulate these systems…..bob

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