Every week, consumers take their portable generators to local stores hoping for good news.
They swear they’ve been performing the recommended monthly maintenance on the machines so loud, but so valued when the power goes out following a storm. But the tell-tale thick brown sludge in the generator’s carburetor gives them away.
It’s OK, say local generator store owners. There’s no need to lie — especially now that we’re in the height of the hurricane season.
The important thing, they add, is to bring in that unused generator to be serviced before a storm is on the way.
For fees typically ranging from $65 to $125 — depending on the amount of work to be done — local generator “specialists” say they can get that neglected piece of equipment back on track.
“I get a couple of generators a week that come in for maintenance,” says Justin Suggs, general manager at Stuart Lawn & Garden. “They won’t start. People have left gas in them, or they are not doing the monthly run on the engine.”
His standard generator maintenance advice: Once a month, put a half gallon of gas in your generator and run it for at least a half-hour. A month later, do the same thing.
Even a generator that’s out of gas still has vapors that create a blockage in the carburetor, says Suggs, whose also owns and operates Suggs Lawn Equipment in Royal Palm Beach.
There are easily hundreds of portable generators idled in garages and storage sheds that haven’t seen the light of day since Wilma left town four years ago. What’s more, the current recession has moved generator maintenance to the back-burner for many owners.
Still, in one week last month, customers dropped off five generators to be brought up to snuff at Blast Off Equipment Inc. in West Palm Beach, co-owner Felix Finnegan Jr. says.
He said that’s a sign that despite the recession, the storm season is making folks recognize the need for maintenance.
“People have … left gas in them and gummed up their carburetors,” Finnegan says, which can lead to a generator mechanic having to remove the fuel completely and dry out the system with an air compressor.
One area of generator sales that has jumped during the recession is "whole house" or stand-by generators.
Jon Andio, co-owner of 1 Stop Generator Shop in Palm Beach Gardens, said since people can't sell their homes, they figure they might as well install a generator.
He says while the store sells portable generators, sales of stand-by units — which start at $8,000 — are up 65-70 percent over 2008 and make up the bulk of his business.
But, he warns that the stand-by generators, which operate automatically and start instantly in the case of a power outage, also require maintenance.
“The big ones are car engines,” he says, “And just like a car mechanic tells you to change your oil, you should change the generator’s oil every six months.”
Generator neglect is common, say mechanics. But there are some basic maintenance tips to avoid a bill that could easily top $100.
Running the basics
Generator size: 5,000 watts
Price: $1,000 (average)
What it will run:
Neglect vs. proper care
Cost of generator: $1,000
Cost of proper do-it-yourself maintenance: a half gallon of gas ($1.50) for 12 months = $18
Cost of neglect: A dead generator that takes $65-$125 in service. And if it requires parts …