Pat Byrne and Matt Price didn’t need the Weather Channel — or even to look outside — to know a hurricane was coming.
The stream of customers bringing portable gasoline-powered generators that wouldn’t start shortly before Hurricane Isaac made landfall was a sure sign.
Byrne, owner of Pro Power Outdoor Superstore on Airline Highway, and Price, who runs PriceCo Supply on Greenwell Springs Road, sell and maintain the generators that so many area residents use to keep refrigerators and window air conditioners running through post-storm power outages. With a storm approaching, few things are more exasperating than a generator that won’t crank.
Unless that generator was recently purchased, the reason it won’t start is almost always the same — failure to properly store it, especially if it hasn’t been used in a long time.
“It’s a recipe for disaster,” Byrne said. “It’s almost guaranteed not to run.”
Ethanol that is mixed with most gasoline sold today absorbs moisture from the atmosphere and forms a gel that gums up carburetors over time. That isn’t the only problem the ethanol can cause, but the one most likely to cause the generator not to crank.
“That ethanol gas will just tear up a carburetor,” Price said. “We’ve had people come in here where we’ve had to replace the carburetor because it was gummed up so bad you couldn’t even get the jets out to clean it.”
The solution is to make sure the gasoline is out of the carburetor while being stored. To do that, turn off the gas valve while the generator is running. The engine will shut off when the last of the gasoline has left the carburetor and has been burned.
Byrne recommends a further step: draining the gasoline from the tank and putting it into a car or other machine that will be used while the generator is being stored.
“The ethanol itself will melt rubber parts in the engine, such as a tank grommet or the fuel lines, and when that stuff settles and goes through the petcock, that gets plugged up,” Byrne said. “A lot of the newer machines have a rubber grommet that connects the fuel shut-off valve to the tank, and when that melts it will just fall out or start leaking. I had a fellow in this morning who was running his (generator) overnight and it just fell out and all the gas went all over his carport. It could have caught on fire.”
Although fuel stabilizer additives can help prevent the problem, and some stations sell ethanol-free gasoline, getting gasoline out of the carburetor when the generator is not in use remains the best choice, Byrne and Price said.
Diesel- and propane-powered generators don’t have this problem.
- Crank and run the generator engine once a month for at least 15 minutes. Plug in a hair dryer to engage the generator itself, Price said.
- Keep the air filter clean. Wasps have been known to build nests there, Byrne said. Rodents sometimes chew on wiring, so check that, too.
- Change the oil and oil filter.
- Don’t wait until a hurricane is bearing down to check on the generator, or risk local dealers running out of repair parts when demand is high.
- Get familiar with your generator. “I had a gentleman in here this morning who had one that wouldn’t crank,” Price said. “Before he unloaded it, I went out and turned the gas valve on, choked it, pulled it and it fired up. A lot of people overlook that.”