How to start a generator?

Are you looking for a guide on starting a generator?

Our detailed article will walk you through the basics of starting a generator for the first time and after it has been idle for a long period. It is important to read the owner’s manual and follow all the necessary safety precautions before attempting to start your generator.

Once you have followed all the preparation steps, it is time to start your generator. We will provide instructions on how to do this and what to do if there are any problems.

Read through the full article and learn how to start a generator!

How to start a generator for the first time (New Generator)

Having purchased your first portable generator, it is understandable that you will be excited and want to run it as soon as possible. But, it is always better for your own safety and the life and health of the machine that you carry out detailed planning and basic checkup before putting them into service for the first time. This involves the planning and preparation phase as explained below


In the planning phase, you must finalize

  • the location where you will be placing your portable generator,
  • how much power you intend to utilize,
  • finalize what earthing arrangements you need
  • finalize the plan for hook up
  • the time you plan to run your generator for, and
  • the refueling arrangements considering their shelf life.

Let us briefly explain these points.

Read the owner’s manual

It is very critical to go through the owner’s manual provided by the manufacturer and read all the manufacturer’s instructions and safety information provided in it. As a good practice, note down all important pieces of information and consider placing safety information along with the generator so that it is easy to find when needed.

Many manufacturers place safety alert symbols on their units with Danger, Warning, or Caution written, with “Danger” being the most serious. The manuals carry a list of items falling into these categories. Also, there are Safety and Hazard markings on the set. You need to respect them.

Finalizing location

Proper placement of your generator is another very important step in ensuring your family’s and neighbor’s safety. Always place your portable generator outdoors, as far as possible from any dwelling and at least 20 feet away from open doors or windows. Point the fumes away from any nearby people.

Never place your generator in a garage, basement, or crawl space. The generators produce a huge amount of carbon monoxide gas, killing in a few minutes. If you feel dizzy or experience headache, nausea, fatigue, or shortness of breath, get to the fresh air immediately, away from the generator.

The finalized location must be in a dry place with a minimum distance of 5 feet from anything else. Never store the fuel in the vicinity of the generator.

How much power the generator can deliver

We presume that you have already worked out what appliances will your generator run in emergency situations and have analyzed their starting and running watts before selecting your generator. If not, do it now to ensure the trouble-free running of your generator.

Earthing and Electrical arrangements

For this stage, you need to figure out answers to some of the important questions like

  • Is your generator neutral bonded or with a floating neutral?
  • Did you study and analyze what earthing arrangements you require for your generator?
  • Do you intend to use a transfer switch?
  • Are you planning to power the whole house or some essential loads only?

These answers will decide the earthing arrangements you must have, the type of power transfer switch needed (whether it should transfer neutral or not?), the size and length of the power and extension cords, and the modifications you require in your main circuit breaker box.

Never plug your generator directly into a wall socket to avoid back feeding, which may result in an accident or electrocution.

Do you require local municipality approval?

Check your local regulations if you require any authority approval, particularly if you are using transfer switches.

How much time it can run and refueling Arrangements

The final step is to think and plan the usage pattern in terms of load and time of your machine. This will help you to work out fuel consumption and storage requirements. You may need to add a fuel stabilizer if you intend to store it for long periods of time.

Will you use your existing gas lines to fuel the generator?

Dual Fuel Generator

Preparation to Run The Portable Generators

In the planning section, we had listed all the items you may require to carry out before running new generators, and we presume that you have carried them all out.

So, you are now ready to run your unit, having gone through the owner’s manuals, finalizing the location, loads, earthing and electrical arrangements, fuel requirement, procuring other recommended spares, and taking the necessary steps to execute these works.

Set up or Mandatory Checks

Let us now go through the setup for a new machine and mandatory checks before powering up the machine. We presume you have unpacked the generator, installed the support legs and wheels, installed and connected the battery for electric start, etc.

Add the Engine Oil

A new generator will not carry any engine oil in the crankcase. Engine oil is essential for proper operation and lubrication of the running parts. The properties of engine oil vary with the temperature. Most manufacturers will provide a chart and recommendations of the type of engine oil based on ambient temperatures.

Usually, the amount of engine oil required matches the capacity of the crankcase and is explicitly mentioned in the manual.

To add to engine oil, place your generator on an even surface, unscrew the oil filler cap, and fill the engine oil using a funnel up to the lower lip of the opening and close the filler cap.

Do not overfill the crankcase.

Add Fuel, Check Fuel Line and fuel valve

Ensure that your generator is on a level surface. Unscrew the fuel cap and slowly add fuel while continuously monitoring the fuel gauge so as not to overfill the tank.

Place back the fuel cap and wipe any spillage with a clean cloth. Here are a few things to keep in mind while filling the fuel in your generator:

  1. Use only fresh fuel or fresh gasoline unleaded with an octane rating of 87 or higher.
  2. Never mix oil with the gas or use an old gas.
  3. Never leave fuel in the tank for extended periods.
  4. Never fill the tank to the top, as the gas may expand and cause an explosion or fire.
  5. Never fill the tank near an open flame as gasoline and gas fumes are inflammable.
  6. Avoid water or dirt ingress.

Ground Your Generator

Connect the ground wire to the grounding nut and tighten it. Ensure the other hand is connected to the copper and brass rod driven into the earth. Usually, AWG 12 size standard copper wire is used for the purpose. However, checking the owner’s manual before procuring the wire is better.

Other Precautionary checks

Ensure that the weather is clear and that no rain, wind, or snow is predicted. Ensure the area around the generator is free from water, moisture, or any other obstruction within 5 feet, restricting natural air cooling. Check for any nearby functional electrical appliance that may add more heat to the area.

Also, ensure that no load cables are connected to the generator before attempting to start it. If you are planning to use an electric start, check the charge level on the battery.

Starting Your Generator

You can start your new generator with all this planning, preparation, and checkups. Let us lead you into the necessary steps:

  1. Turn off the main circuit breaker from the generator to avoid accidental loading while switching on.
  2. Turn on the fuel valve, usually located at the bottom of the fuel or gas tank.
  3. Turn the choke position to close to reduce the air and allow more fuel supply to the generator engine to facilitate its starting.
  4. Turn the start key to the “Start” position and return to the “On” position once the generator starts.
  5. Move the choke to the “ON” position after the generator’s engine has warmed up sufficiently.
  6. If the engine fails to start, do not engage the starter motor for more than five seconds, as this could cause permanent damage to the motor. Wait for 15 to 20 seconds before trying again.

Using the Generator

You are now ready to use your generator. We presume you had completed your planning and procured the correct cables to hook into the generator. Let us start providing electricity to your loads now.

  1. 120 V devices can be connected to 120 V receptacles directly
  2. 120 V devices can be connected to 120/240 V receptacles through suitable adapters.
  3. 240 V devices should be connected to 240 V receptacles only.
  4. If you are using 120/240 V mode, balance the loads to avoid unnecessary trappings of the circuit breakers.
  5. After making all the connections, operate the main breaker to power the receptacles.
  6. Turn on the receptacle breakers, starting with the bigger loads.
  7. The voltage selector switch allows you to use the generator in either “120V only mode” or “120/240V mode”. If you intend to power only 120 V devices, you should use the 120 V only mode to double the amperage. Use “120/240V mode” if you plug in any 240 V appliance.
  8. The 12 V receptacle is primarily for battery charging applications, and many manufacturers warn users to refrain from conducting any other device. The battery must be connected to use this receptacle.

Starting a Generator that has been Idle for a Long Time

Let us now consider the case where you are using a generator after a long gap. You need to take additional steps every time you run your generators lying idle for prolonged periods, in addition to what we have already covered above. They are:

  1. Checking the oil level: All the quality generators are equipped with low oil level sensors and automatic shutdown features. It is still recommended to check if there is enough oil for operation using a dipstick. Fill it out if required.
  2. Check the fuel level: Check the adequacy of fuel through the fuel gauge. Many fuel gauges will not register if the level is below one-third of the full-tank volume. If the old fuel has been left in the generator for more than a month without a proper fuel stabilizer, it can cause permanent damage to the fuel system. Carry out proper cleaning of the carburetor (with carb cleaner), fuel valve, fuel filter, and fuel lines after removing the stale gasoline or any other stored fuel.
  3. Check the air filter: The generator’s air filter might have trapped debris or dirt from previous use and may not be able to supply adequate air for combustion. Replace them if and dirty or clogged.
  4. Check the spark plug: check the condition of your spark plug and clean with the carb cleaner if found dirty.

The balance steps are similar to the ones described for the new generator.

Issues with Electric Start System

We have described the troubleshooting method to be adopted in case your generator fails to start electrically in our detailed article on “Generators Won’t Start.” You may use them for guidance to resolve your problems.

Starting with a Pull Cord

The procedure of starting with a recoil cord is similar to the electric one, except after turning off the choke and turning the engine switch to the “ON” and “RUN” positions, you need to pull the recoil cord slowly till you feel resistance from the cord. Then pull the cord handle quickly till it is extended fully, starting the generator.

The pull cord not functioning.

The problems with the rope could be due to

  • Broken rope
  • Failure of the rope to retract,
  • Hard pulling due to misalignment between the starter and the flywheel.
  • Noise while pulling – This indicates misalignment in the starter assembly.

If you are new to the generator, it will be difficult for you to rectify. However, if you want, you may refer to our detailed article on the subject.

Stopping the Generator

Having ensured it is working properly, or if you have to refuel it, you will need to stop your generator. The steps involved are:

  1. Put your main circuit breaker in the Off position.
  2. Turn off the generator using its key or power switch.
  3. Turn the fuel valve to the Off position.
  4. Allow the generator to cool off before attempting to refuel it. Depending on the ambient conditions, this time could last anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes.
  5. Disconnect all the loads and any extension cord connected to the generator before attempting to restart it.
  6. Follow the same procedure as listed above to restart your generator after refueling.

Storage and Maintenance

It is important to store your generator and fuel as per the manufacturer’s guidelines. Inspect your generator regularly and run it for a short time every month to ensure the lubrication of the parts and conformance to its healthiness during emergencies.


That’s it! You now know how to start a generator. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below, and I’ll do my best to help you out. And before you go, make sure you check out our other posts on generators for more tips and information that will come in handy when using your generator.

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