With a storm bearing down on the mid-Atlantic US and robocalls from the local power utility warning of the possibility of extended power outages, I figured tonight would be a good time to check the status of my 5700W portable generator. After turning the fuel valve to 'on' and engaging the choke, I pulled the pulled the starting cord, and pulled, and pulled. No luck.

The generator is fairly new -- I bought it at the end of June '12. I last started it a few months ago -- around November I think -- and since then it's been sitting in a dry shed with half a tank of treated gas and the gas cap closed tightly. The gas appears to be okay -- it's not cloudy, doesn't look separated. I get a whiff of gasoline after a few pulls, so I think there's some fuel flowing. The spark plug wire seemed firmly seated, but I pulled it and reseated it just to make sure.

What else should I be looking at to get this small engine started?

  • @HerrBag Thanks, good advice. Found the socket, pulled the plug, and it was indeed a little black looking. No loose soot or anything, but the center electrode was somewhere between brown and black. Cleaned with some mineral spirits, blew it dry with compressed air, reinstalled, still no luck. I'll get some carb cleaner in the morning and try that next. The generator has a switch, but it's a normally-on/momentary-off switch that you use just to kill the engine.
    – Caleb
    Mar 6, 2013 at 2:35
  • 3
    most common problems: 1) no fuel flow (gummed up carb)....2) too much fuel (flooded)...3) bad spark plug. Try removing plug, give it a small shot of carb cleaner or starting fluid directly into cylinder, put plug back in quickly, pull. Plugs are cheap, try a new one. Mar 6, 2013 at 11:04
  • Small Engine Related: diy.stackexchange.com/a/25575/6086 Mar 6, 2013 at 13:12
  • My Grandfather always said that engines must have air , fuel, spark and , or Suck Squeeze Bang Blow is how he described the 4 stroke cycles. An E 3 spark plug is always a good start, Stabil (fuel stabilizer)in the fuel or better yet run it dry when stored, the float/fuel bowl etc can be varnished by gunk if not properly stored. Outboard motors are ran dry then oil fogged into the intake as its dying to oil fog the cylinders to avoid a piston ring from rusting on the cylinder's wall or condensation rusting a piston in place etc. Starting fluid or ether sprayed into the intake prior to starting
    – user15176
    Sep 19, 2013 at 6:18

3 Answers 3


I would replace the spark plug and remove the air filter to make sure it isn't plugged up. Then, while the air filter is still removed, spray a little starting fluid into the carb through the hole under the air filter and start it up. If it runs for just a couple seconds and dies, that means the gas in your carb was probably bad. Starting it with the starting fluid a couple of times will work that out, and it should start running fine. Keep your face and other body parts away from the hole you spray the starting fluid into so you don't get burned by a backfire. Put the air filter back on after you get it running.

Other common fixes are pinched or clogged fuel lines or a clogged fuel filter, but if you're smelling gas, that probably isn't the problem.

You should also check that the spark arrester in the exhaust pipe isn't clogged up with carbon. Undo small bolt adjacent to exhaust pipe and remove insert. All small holes should be clear.

  • Starting fluid is pretty volatile, so easy-do-it .. Still not as hot as ether was {KABOOM}.
    – HerrBag
    Mar 6, 2013 at 15:05
  • 3
    Turns out that the problem was indeed some sort of pinch or blockage in the fuel line. I removed the float bowl and it was as clean as a whistle. There were only a few drops of gas in the gas filter, though, and playing a bit with the fuel line got the gas flowing much better. After that, the generator started on the first pull. Thanks.
    – Caleb
    Mar 17, 2013 at 13:56
  1. Pulling the plug is quick, easy check if you have the right socket. Should be fairly clean, with a gap.
  2. BTW, my Gen has a separate on/off switch, yours?
  3. Next up would be some carb cleaner (after pulling air cleaner)
  4. Remove and clean carb bowl, float and orifice.
  5. Would also drain gas, put in car day after fillup, refill with new gas and treatment
  6. Next time, shutoff petcock below tank while running and run gas out of carb. Takes a bit longer to restart, but guarantees no gum inside carb.
  • +1 Great list -- thanks for taking he time! Turns out I apparently did #6 last time, was happy to see no gunk at all in the carb bowl.
    – Caleb
    Mar 23, 2013 at 1:03

No one mentioned running out of oil. Our generator ran out of oil and totally stopped. When new oil was put in the generator started right up again.

  • Welcome to the site Cheryl. I edited out the part of your post that was not relevant to the original question. Home Improvement Stack Exchange is a Q&A site not a forum, so answers should address the question directly. Please use the Ask Question link at the top of the page if you want to post a new question. Thanks!
    – Niall C.
    Nov 8, 2014 at 16:05
  • Good point about the oil -- I'll keep an eye on that in the future.
    – Caleb
    Nov 8, 2014 at 20:23

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