Emergency Generator Inspection: Seven Reasons Why Generators Fail

Generators are often used as backup or emergency power supplies. They typically serve as a secondary power source during an outage. Because of their infrequent use, some problems go undetected. And, as generators age, there is greater risk of mechanical failure if the equipment is not serviced regularly.

Monthly inspections — which should include exercising the transfer switch and running the generator for a minimum of 30 minutes — can help detect most problems. But not all organizations prioritize routine maintenance, so when a problem occurs it can limit or stop a generator's power production and cause a failure. A technician is dispatched for an emergency inspection which can take six times longer to perform than monthly maintenance.

Emergency inspections usually reveal one of seven 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, which could lead to a failure when a facility needs it most.

Fuel Leak. Due to the odor emitted, fuel leaks are usually detectable during regular maintenance. If they are discovered while a generator 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 the generator vents.

Control Setting Errors. Many generators fail to start because controls were left on an incorrect setting after 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 if it were out of fuel.

Empty Fuel Tank. Stuck fuel gauges or fuel gauges that show faulty levels commonly cause empty fuel tanks. Empty tanks can also result from testing a generator monthly without checking the fuel level.

How Quickly Can a Failure Be Fixed?

Unfortunately, a quick fix cannot be guaranteed during an emergency generator inspection. The smartest way to prevent power failures and avoid a catastrophe is scheduling routine maintenance with Prime Power.

Whether your generator is old and experiencing problems, or if you need to establish a routine maintenance program, Prime Power is here to help keep the lights on when you need it most.