So Your Portable Generator Starts But Doesn’t Produce Electricity…

A portable generator that sits unused for many years could lose its ability to produce electricity. Here’s how to re-energize it.

While you might live in an area where power outages are few and far between, it’s important to run your portable generator occasionally, not only to ensure that the engine will start and run but to confirm that the generator will actually produce electricity. The alternator — the component that makes the electricity — is able to generate power because it contains a magnetic field. Without regular use, however, that magnetic field will diminish and dissipate altogether, leaving you with a unit that starts but doesn’t actually produce electric power.

Fortunately, there is a relatively easy way to fixing this with a corded electric drill. It’s called “field flashing,” because you are reintroducing the magnetic field to the alternator. Here’s how it’s done. 

Field Flashing Your Portable Generator

  1. Plug your electric drill into one of the generator’s outlets. This is key. A cordless drill will NOT work.
  2. If your drill is reversible, make sure the direction switch is in the forward position.
  3. Start the engine on the generator.
  4. Depress the trigger on the drill and spin the drill chuck backward a few times with your hand. This turns the drills motor into a small generator, which sends a small amount of electricity into the alternator through the outlet, re-exciting the magnetic field. 

Do not hold the drill chuck tightly, and spin it backward carefully. Why? Because once the magnetic field is induced, the generator will immediately begin producing electricity, and the drill will turn on and begin spinning in the forward direction.

The video below demonstrates the process.

If this doesn’t work, try spinning the drill forward, as you might have it in the reverse position. If that fails, then you might have additional problems with your unit that require professional diagnosis.