Generator Troubleshoot

Does a Generator Need Battery to Start the Engine?

Generator Battery

Generators are always our savior during storms and hurricanes. However, they have the habit of not starting correctly after months of no use, and most of the time, it’s because of an old or dead battery. Unless you use a portable generator that uses a recoil start only, you will ask yourself the question at one time in your generator usage – can you start a generator without a battery?

The answer is – Yes and No. It’ll depend on the type of generator and its electric start system. If you’re starting a portable generator with an electric start, you need the battery for ignition. However, if there is a recoil backup, you can pull it for the same purpose. But if you’re starting a standby generator, you cannot start it without a battery.

As I mentioned, you can start a portable generator with a recoil backup, and I will guide you on how to do it here. However, if you have a standby generator, you will need enough DC power supply to the ignition system to start the generator. So, how do you do it? That is what I will be explaining here. Be sure to continue reading.

How to Start a Portable Generator without a Battery

If your portable generator uses an electric start as its ignition starter, then it needs a battery, usually provided by the manufacturer, for it to work.

However, the battery won’t last forever, especially if your generator will be sitting too long without use. And even if the generator battery is in good condition, it might be low on charge.

When a battery sits for an extended period, it will eventually lose its charge, usually 2-3 months for a fully-charged new battery. An old model might take less time.

And assuming your portable electric start battery is dead or low on charge, there is always a backup to help you start the generator, a recoil starter.

It’s there for you to pull and have the generator ready and running in no time. But you have to do it right, or else; you will spend the whole day pulling the cord. Here is how to do it right:

Step 1: Place Your Generator in an Ideal Spot

Find an open, well-ventilated area to place your generator. It must be away from any doors and windows. The carbon dioxide production as exhaust fumes are dangerous and could kill. That’s why you must never place your generator in a covered area where the fumes can accumulate.

If it’s on a wet day, get a generator tent or invest in a generator enclosure if you live in an area that received drizzling more often.

Step 2: Check and Add Gas

Check how much gasoline your generator has. If there is fuel in the generator tank, make sure it’s less than 6-months old, or if it’s producing a foul smell, else you have to drain it as it has gone wrong.

You can use the generator’s fuel drain or siphon it out using a pipe before adding new. It’s always best to add a fuel stabilizer if you’ll be leaving fuel in the generator.

But, the best habit would be to run the generator until it consumes the last drop or drains the remaining fuel after use.

Once the fuel line is clean of the old fuel, you can add the new gasoline. If your generator uses anything other than gasoline such as propane, connect it.

Step 3: Add oil

A generator must have enough engine oil. If your generator engine oil is old than 100 hours of use, it’d be best to change it.

Check your generator manual to know the type of engine oil recommended, normally 5W-30, 10W-30, and SAE 30.

Follow the generator instruction and add only enough oil. Don’t overfill it as that will chock the engine.

Step 4: Set the Choke to OFF

When starting your generator, the chock must be on the off, start, or chock position. What you might not have known is, a chock can prevent the generator from starting. It’s responsible for regulating the amount of air-fuel mixture getting to the engine.

Step 5: Locate and Pull Cord

Check your user manual to locate the recoil starter. Usually, it will have a yellow handle at the top and a rope running into a cover.

But before you can pull it, check to see if your generator has a RUN and OFF switch and make sure it’s on the RUN position.

Now you can pull the recoil. When pulling it, try to pull it fast to give the necessary momentum. It might take one or two cranks to start, especially on a cold day.

If the generator doesn’t start, try spraying some fire starter or brake fluid in the carburetor hole under the air filter. It’s a trick that worked for me with a Honda EU2200i.

Step 6: Set the Choke to ON

When the engine starts, allow it to maintain its speed and then set the choke to the ON position. Now you can connect it to the outdoor generator INLET (not an outlet) through a transfer switch or connect your appliances directly.

But, NEVER connect it to any of your home outlets as that will back-feed the mains and end up damaging your appliances or land you in jail when there is electrocution of the serviceperson.

Why You Can’t Start Your Standby Generator without a Battery

A standby generator is a more heavy-duty machine run mainly by diesel. It features a diesel engine with a drive shaft connected to an alternator.

The alternator is the piece responsible for converting mechanical energy to electrical energy. It does come with two windings, a stator and rotor windings.

The battery is the necessary piece that provides the stator with enough juice to kick-start the engine and run from its power. You need the battery to transfer enough power to start the mechanical energy conversion by converting the electrical energy from the battery.

During operation, the generator stator winding stays (stationary), but the rotor winding rotates in a circular motion. Its rotation is maintained by the connection shaft rotated by the engine.

For smooth generator operation, it needs a battery. It supports the generator operations during power production. It’s the central part of the system that helps keep the generator running reliably.

Trying to start the generator without the battery is like waking it up powerless. The generator needs the battery juice to keep the necessary electronics on and ensure you have power.

And if it’s an automatic standby generator, the battery must be in good condition for the transfer switch to communicate with it during an emergency.

Related Questions

What’s the best way to maintain a generator battery?

Always keep the terminals clean by cleaning them with a mixture of baking soda and water. Don’t forget to smear the terminals with petroleum jerry or some corrosion-resistant. Measure the voltage output regularly. If it’s low, try charging it. If nothing improves, replace it. The same applies when the battery reads fully charged without load but reduces significantly when a load is applied.

Final Thoughts – Starting a Generator without a Battery

You cannot start a generator without a battery unless it’s a portable model with a recoil backup. The battery is necessary to provide the juice needed to start the engine. When the engine starts, it’s there to give power to other parts of the generator, like the control panel that’s always on. A portable generator can be started by pulling a recoil rope which gives the stator enough energy to kick-start the engine. If your generator battery is low on charge, you could use a jump starter to boost it enough to start the generator engine.

About the author

Sharif Gen

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