Standby generators are a unique asset to own. They have the important job of powering critical facility operations in emergency situations, but most of the time they sit idly somewhere in a back corner of the property without receiving much attention. The only time the engine starts and operates is during a power failure or through routine testing. As such, it is easy to forget about this piece of equipment tucked away behind the facility – until there is a power failure and it doesn’t start. This topic covers why planned maintenance is important for your standby generator system.
The primary cause of a generator failing to operate is most often a lack of maintenance. The effects of idle time can slowly reduce the system’s reliability. Here are some of the common problems found on neglected equipment, and how they can be avoided:
- Battery failure. The battery charger provides voltage to keep the batteries charged, but if the battery charger fails or a battery is old, it will not be able to crank the engine when the generator is called upon to start. Additionally, battery terminals can corrode, and the connections can become unreliable. We recommend replacing the starting batteries every two years.
- Belts and hoses deteriorate over time. Belts and hoses will become brittle after several years and can potentially become damaged. As part of a regular maintenance program, all belts and hoses should be inspected by a knowledgeable technician. Replacement should be made at the first signs of cracking or deterioration.
- The engine cooling system has several areas of concern:
- Keeping the radiator clean will help ensure it has enough airflow to cool the engine properly on hot days. Leaves, paper, and other debris can block the radiator airflow. Oil residue and dust can cake on the radiator and reduce its ability to cool. Or someone could place a piece of equipment in front of the radiator which can also restrict the cooling capacity. Always keep the area in front of the radiator clear of anything that will block its airflow.
- The engine coolant requires regular maintenance or changing. Inhibitors in the coolant prevent rust buildup in the engine cooling system and help lubricate the water pump. This also ensures that the coolant will not freeze in cold weather.
- The radiator cap requires regular testing to verify that the cooling system can hold pressure per the manufacturer’s specification.
- Engine block heaters can fail, causing engine starting issues.
- Any oil or coolant leaks should be addressed to contain and repair the issue.
- Engine oil breaks down over time. Regularly changing the oil and filter per the manufacturer specifications provides proper lubrication to the engine.
- Shutdowns and alarms. Generator safety shutdowns and alarms should be tested to ensure that if a problem does develop, the protection systems will work properly.
- Check electrical connections. Expansion and contraction may allow electrical connections to loosen over time. A good inspection should be performed periodically to assure connections remain tight.
- Critters cause problems. Rats, mice, snakes, wasps, birds, and all sorts of creatures can make a home inside a generator enclosure. It is common for rats and mice to build nests and chew through electrical wiring.
- Poor diesel fuel quality. Over time, diesel fuel can deteriorate and become contaminated or even useless if not properly maintained. The generator fuel tank should be filled with good diesel for proper operation. This also provides a longer runtime during a power outage.
We recommend keeping a maintenance log on the generator to record that the equipment is being attended to on a regular basis. Simply recording the hour meter reading can demonstrate that the generator is regularly starting with its exercise cycle. Other simple checks such as oil and coolant levels should also be monitored and recorded.
The key to generator system reliability is planned maintenance and regular testing. A good maintenance program requires much more than simply changing the oil and filters. Having a trained generator technician inspect and test the complete generator system is the best way to ensure that it is ready to perform when the next emergency occurs.
Clifford Power offers customized generator maintenance plans to meet your specific needs. For more information, see Selecting the Right Generator Maintenance Plan