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The 10 Most Common Reasons Generators Fail

The performance of your standby generator is only as reliable as its weakest link. Because most generators are used only as an emergency power source to keep equipment up and running during a power failure, their infrequent operation makes them vulnerable to potential problems going undetected. Additionally, as generators age, there is a greater risk of mechanical failure if the equipment is not serviced regularly.

To keep your unit operating reliably and efficiently, it is important that generator maintenance be performed on a regular basis. Organizations that fail to prioritize routine maintenance are much more likely to experience a generator failure. Industrial generator maintenance plans and repair services not only provide peace of mind that power equipment will perform as expected when you need it most, but also help to extend the life of your generator. Considering the significant upfront expense of a generator system, it is prudent to maximize its lifespan by engaging in regular preventive maintenance.  

The 10 Most Common Reasons Generators Fail

1. Weak or Dead Battery

While there are many reasons generators fail, battery problems rank among the most frequent culprits. A variety of factors can adversely affect battery performance, including wires that come loose, dirty or rusted connections, excessive age, or buildup of lead sulfates that accumulate on battery plates and impact the ability to provide sufficient electrical current. Usually, by the time this occurs, the battery will require replacement. Because batteries are so vulnerable to failure, it is critical to check them thoroughly during monthly, quarterly, and annual inspections. While a standard generator battery should last several years before needing to be replaced, routine maintenance can help extend that lifespan.

2. Leaks

Oil, fuel, or coolant leaks are another common source of generator failure ── and particularly deceptive because they tend to occur slowly over a period of time. As a result, you may not recognize there’s a problem until it’s too late. Oil leaks are sometimes a result of wet stacking, a condition in which oil, fuel and other liquids build up in a generator’s exhaust pipes. Depending on the severity of the leak, you can potentially lose enough oil to damage your engine. When there is a fuel leak, it not only negatively impacts generator performance but can pose extreme danger, potentially leading to malfunctions and fires that can damage property and injure personnel. To prevent fuel leaks, make sure that the pump systems, fuel lines and storage tanks are inspected on a regular basis and promptly repaired. Finally, because coolant leaks usually occur in the hoses of the block heater, it is important to use only silicone hoses that are specifically designed to withstand extreme heat. Properly maintaining the cooling system and replacing hoses every few years will reduce the risk of failure. Additionally, since coolant can deteriorate over time, the system should be flushed and replaced per the manufacturer’s guidelines.

3. Insufficient Coolant

Another top reason for generator failure is inadequate coolant levels, which can result in sudden failure and cause damage from overheating. Because of this, it is important to check coolant levels frequently; if you are losing any, there may be a leak in the system. Also be aware of any visible puddles around your diesel generator. If you note either of these conditions, a qualified technician should inspect the unit right away.

4. Poor Maintenance

Operators who neglect maintenance tend to experience a much higher rate of generators failing. For instance, because dirt builds up in filters over time ── impacting air quality and making the generator system work harder ── filters should be replaced annually. At a minimum, your generator should receive a quarterly inspection, as well as an annual major generator maintenance service call, which includes an oil change, filter replacement, checking of connections and a run test.

5. Bad Fuel Mix

Lack of fuel maintenance is another key factor in standby generator failure. Without proper service, microbes, debris, additives and oxygen can build up in the system, diminishing fuel quality. Never use bio fuel in any standby generator, as it breaks down over time. To protect your generator, make sure that storage tanks and fuel quality are regularly inspected and fuel samples taken at least annually by your service technician.

6. Water Damage

When it comes to problems with emergency generators, water can also be a chief offender. If water accumulates on the outside of a unit, it can cause rust to form, which can lead to corroded wires and impede electrical connections. Similarly, if water reaches the inside of the engine, it can corrode parts and promote bacteria growth, which can clog filters and cause engine damage. This same type of damage can also occur in partially filled tanks, which attract water through condensation.

7. Air in Fuel System

If your generator fails to start, another reason might be air in the fuel system. This tends to develop when the system isn’t used on a regular basis, as is the case with most emergency generators. Air can block fuel from getting to the fuel injector, which then prevents the engine from starting. This issue can be avoided by turning on the generator once a week for at least five minutes, which enables air to clear from the fuel system.

8. Control Setting Errors

Human error is another top reason that a generator may fail to start. Most standby generators rely on an automatic transfer switch (ATS) that enables the system to turn on during a power failure. However, this setting is often turned off during routine maintenance or testing. If you set the auto mode to “off,” be sure to turn it back to auto when service is complete; if the proper resetting procedure is not followed, a control error could also occur after a fault shutdown. Ensure optimal efficiency and safe operation by regularly reviewing your generator’s control setting parameters.

9. Electrical Faults

Another common source of problems in standby generators can be attributed to fault currents. These high current flows within an electrical system can cause a generator’s winding to heat up and become damaged. If such a fault occurs in your system, it is critical to have the unit checked immediately by a service technician.

10. Intake and Exhaust Valve Debris

Issues originating within intake and exhaust valves can also negatively impact a generator’s engine. Debris can impair key engine components, potentially leading to expensive repairs. To avoid this, be sure to perform valve adjustments based on manufacturer guidelines, as well as at regular intervals afterward. Valves that are not correctly adjusted can become damaged.

What to Do When Your Generator Fails

Generator maintenance and repair services are best left to the professionals. The optimal way to ensure that your emergency generator will perform when you need it most is by engaging in regular preventive maintenance completed by professionally trained technicians. Equally important is having access to a trusted service provider who will respond quickly when your generator experiences an unanticipated problem. If your unit fails to start, or if it appears to be underperforming, it is critical to contact a service company immediately. When considering a service provider, look for a company that provides fast response times and is qualified to serve as a one-stop industrial generator maintenance and repair shop, which means you won’t have to deal with multiple OEMs and service providers.

Choose Unified Power for Generator Maintenance

As a national, one-stop generator maintenance and repair provider, Unified Power staffs a team of highly trained technicians who can deliver emergency services and maintenance plans to keep your facility up and running at all times. We provide planned maintenance and repair services for industrial generators in both standby and critical power applications utilizing diesel, natural gas or propane. Our preventive maintenance services will help your facility avoid unplanned downtime and costly generator repairs by providing the opportunity to catch potential issues early on. In addition, these services ensure that you remain compliant with the requirements of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 110 code for generator services and testing.

Along with our prompt service responses, we also provide a 24/7 dispatch facility so if you do experience loss of power, we can get your system up and running as soon as possible, preventing loss of productivity and revenue. Along with generator repair, we also offer retrofit and upgrade services to replace or upgrade either the entire unit or individual components. No matter what type or brand of generator you have at your facility, Unified Power is prepared to handle all your power requirements through our monthly, quarterly, semi-annual or annual service plans. Request a quote today!

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