Too Cold for Your Portable Generator?

By Linda Li on Thu Jan 16, 20

Have you ever had that moment of wonder when the first snow falls and blankets your surroundings in a beautiful white glow that seems to shimmer back under the light of the sun? It’s enchanting. 

Until the snow falls for days on end, the power lines cut out, and you’re in the middle of the blizzard of the century freezing your buns off in the bitter cold with no end in sight and desperate for survival.  

You’re not worried though, you knew this was going to happen as it inevitably happens every year which is why this year you went out of your way to purchase a portable generator. You’ve done your research and this one has enough power to run your whole house through a transfer switch with all the bells and whistlesAs soon as the power goes out, you drag the dusty thing out of storage and start that bad boy up like you’ve been doing every month for proper engine maintenance. 

Exceptnothing. Not even a sputter. 

An extreme drop in temperature has suddenly brought your once revving machine to a standstill. There are a few reasons why this could be happening, and by understanding the necessary means, can be easily addressed to alleviate our concerns.  

A generator will begin to face difficulties starting when the temperatures dip, especially when it drops below 40°F. This occurs due to the engine and its components being too cold to function properly. Since the air in the cylinders and the cylinders themselves are chilled from the outside temperatures, the gasoline that flows through it can’t vaporize correctly for proper combustion thus resulting in a lack of ignition. Combined with thicker oil viscosity and a cold battery amongst other areas, you’ve got a dead generator on your hands. 

Here’s how to avoid that. 

1. Properly take care of your generator. 

Make sure you read the user’s manual! From front to back with no page unturned. This book is your generator bible and will leave you with all the information you need to know to take care of your generator with TLC (tender loving care). It’ll contain all the warnings and procedures you’ll need to know, including what to do in instances of cold start. 

Do not leave your generator out to be exposed to the elements. The first step in making sure your generator works in the cold is by not leaving it out there in the first place. Use a cover or ventilated shelter when in use and put away into safe storage for long periods of inactivity. 

If you plan to use your generator soon when chilly weather comes, and it has a battery, keep the battery warm by taking it inside your home. Avoid the hurdle of battery failure or reduced battery power by keeping it at optimum temperatures and maintaining a charge with a battery charger. 

Use fresh fuel. Gasoline should always be siphoned out before storing away for prolonged periods of time as gas stored for as little as 30 days can begin to corrode and gunk up the fuel lines in the small engine of your generator. When this occurs, the carburetor will become irreversibly damaged and will need replacing which can be tedious and cumbersome with snotsicles running down your nose. 

2.) Change the viscosity of the oil. 

As a means of lubricating the engine, oil is extremely important to the health of your engine. In colder months, the oil tends to get thicker thereby cranking the generator to start will prove extremely difficult as the viscosity changes. The recoil cord will be harder to yank, and you may even find the “Low Oil” sensor going off. While your engine may not actually be low in oil, the thickness of the oil is causing the sensor to misread and behave as there is no oil at all and shutting down on its own accord which is extremely frustrating. 

Typically, generators will require SAE 10W-30 oil in normal ambient temperatures. Pulling the cord over and over again in attempts to get it started may be near impossible with the 10W-30 oil as it actually causes the engine to work much harder than intended which shortens its lifespan.  

By switching to a lighter weight oil like synthetic SAE 5W-30 that flows through much faster, it prevents needless wear-and-tear on the engine and will be able to support it in firing up much quickerBe sure to drain and replace the oil with the recommended viscosity oil in your user manual when the temperatures rise again to prevent excessive engine damage with the right amount of lubrication. 

A block heater is a great alternative as well by keeping your engine in a constant warm state which will keep the oil thinner and have it already prepared. Running your engine on the heater for a couple hours prior to use will be enough to keep your engine ready to go. 

3.) Adjusting the choke. 

So you’ve made sure to change the oil and your battery has been hanging out in your living room since Thanksgiving, what’s next?  

For recoil-start only and inverter generators, changing the viscosity of the oil may be the only step needed to take prior to starting your generator like normal. It may require slightly longer choking times than usual by pulling the cord extra which properly primes the fuel lines. 

An electric start generator with automatic choke, however, will need manual choking when it’s cold. Factory settings typically have the choke set to engage in a broad range of temperatures but extreme cold or heat will extend beyond the original setting which is not designed to deliver the additional fuel it needsManually doing so will allow the choke to remain open longer to provide the engine the fuel it needs to turn over and get started. 

Locating the choke for Westinghouse Generators is easy! 

Most choke locations on Westinghouse Portable Generators are located by the air filter. Once you have located it, by moving the choke to the right to close and starting your generator via the start button, key fob, or recoil cord, you can turn the choke to the left to open it again once the engine has started. 

In special instances such as the iGen4500 and iGen4500DF, the choke can be found by removing the side service panel as shown here. 

As always, if you run into any concerns, please contact our customer care team here where we'll be happy to help you get to the bottom of it.

Next winter that comes, you’ll be ready and prepared. You will be able to gaze at the astonishing power of nature as it coats the earth with marvelous white twinkling specks of snow. All from behind the glass of a cozy heated home with a movie on and a cup of hot chocolate made by your Keurigpowered with a Westinghouse Portable Generator.