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How to Start a Generator (Recoil Start and Electric)


If you got a brand new generator, everything is much easier and all you have to do is fill it oil, gas and get it crankin’! Generators that just came out of the garage, need to be inspected for leaks, low oil and coolant levels, clean filters, and fuel delivery system.

You will also need to check your battery if your generator is equipped with an electric start. First things first, and before you do anything with your generator, you need to pull out the owner’s manual and at least keep it nearby in case you have any problems.

How to start a generator for the first time (new generator)

If you just received your generator, you will probably need to put some oil in it and make sure everything is connected properly (consult owner’s manual for setup). After filling up with oil and fresh gasoline, you will need to follow proper steps to start it up safely.

Here are the steps to follow for starting your brand new generator:

  1. Turn the breaker OFF
  2. The gas valve should be turned to the ON / OPEN position
  3. The choke should be CLOSED (turn a handle or push a button)
  4. Start generator
  5. After the generator warmed up, you can now OPEN the choke (or put it to the OFF position)
  6. Turn breaker ON
  7. Connect the desired equipment

** Important note! The choke close/open could be rather confusing since different manufacturers use different terminology to describe the same thing. Here are some common variations:

Choke OFF Choke ON
Choke RUN Choke START

How to start a generator that has been sitting

Starting a generator that has been sitting in your garage for a while is not complicated if you stored it properly, which means WITHOUT gasoline inside. If you did not, you will need to clean the carburetor and the rest of the fueling system (including the gas tank) before filling it up with fresh gasoline.

Only then you can try to normally start it. The reason for this is that gas over time (older than 1 month) starts losing its liquid consistency and becomes sticky. It will practically clog your fueling system.

Following parts of the fueling system need to be cleaned after storage (with gummy fuel inside):

  • Carburator (cleaned)
  • Fuel valve (cleaned)
  • Fuel tank (cleaned)
  • Fuel cap (cleaned)
  • Fuel filter (replaced)
  • Fuel lines (checked for cracks and replaced if necessary)

The following things need to be checked and replaced if necessary:

  • Air Filter
  • Spark plugs

Don’t forget to check your fluids (and add if necessary):

  • Gas
  • Oil
  • Coolant

After you filled up your generator with gas and all the necessary cleaning has been done, this is how you start it:

  • Step 1. Turn the breakers OFF
  • Step 2. Turn the fuel line ON
  • Step 3. After that put choke in the CLOSED (ON) position.
  • Step 4. Start your generator by pressing a button, using a key, or pulling a cord
  • Step 5. After few minutes of running, turn choke to the OPEN (OFF) position
  • Step 6. Turn breaker ON
  • Step 7. Start connecting your equipment.

How to start a generator with an electric start

If you have an electrical start generator, it can be started with either button (like this):

Or like this:

Once you located the button, all you have to do is press it until it starts running and let it go:

It can also be started with a key (a procedure similar to starting your car engine):

The above pictures are taken from the DuroMax website. Electric generators could be started remotely as well (if such an option is available from the manufacturer).

Make sure you follow the above step-by-step instructions for preparing and starting your generator. Here is a nice video on starting generators with an electric start:

Westinghouse - How to Start Your Westinghouse Electric Start Portable Generator


The Electric-start generator is not starting

One problem with such a generator could be – “Dead battery”. If your generator is not starting, it may be due to a bad battery or connections. Check your battery with a voltmeter and examine it for corrosion at the terminals.

For more information on generators not starting, feel free to read this article: “Why generators won’t start

How to start a generator without a key?

If you lost your key, don’t panic. Many generators come with a backup recoil startup ability, so all you have to do is pull on the cord instead of turning the key.

In some cases starting a generator without keys (via recoil) is a bit more complicated, but there is usually some information available from the manufacturer on how to do it. Here is an example from Champion (PDF file).

After you accomplish the desired task, you may want to ask your manufacturer for a key code (or it could be somewhere within your documentation or hardware):

  1. User’s manual
  2. The label on the manual
  3. Metal plate on the housing
  4. On the spare key

Then, you would be able to go to any locksmith (call before to make sure they can do it) and get a key. Better get a set of keys and hide them in different places…

How to start a generator with a pull cord

If your generator is equipped with a recoil start, you will notice a handle (usually located to the right of the air filter) that looks like this:

Starting a generator with a recoil start is a three-step process:

  1. Step 1 – Partial pull. Pull recoil handle slowly until you start feeling resistance
  2. Step 2 – Complete pull. After that, pull it quickly all the way (until fully extended)
  3. Step 3 – Letting it go. The handle should be released ONLY after the cord has been retracted!

Hopefully, in one or two tries you will be able to start your engine. If your engine doesn’t start, your problem is probably not with the recoil mechanism itself, but several things that needed to be taken care of BEFORE the start of the engine is attempted:

Generator Does Not Start?

What if your pull cord is broken? How do you start a generator without a pull cord? Here is how you can fix it:

HOW TO - Generator Pull Cord Repair

Pull cord hard to pull

Is your generator recoil cord hard to pull? There could be several reasons behind it. The number one problem in such a situation is when the combustion chamber gets filled up with liquid. There could also be problems with the recoil assembly itself.

1. You have liquid in the combustion chamber

The piston within the combustion chamber cannot compress liquids but can compress gases. This is sometimes called a “HydroLock”. You can start by removing a spark plug and looking into the combustion chamber to check for any signs of liquid.

If the liquid is visible, find a thin stick and tape a clean piece of cloth to the edge of it, and dip it into the liquid. After that, you will need to flush out your cylinder (literally).

To continue the cleaning process, move the generator outside and keep your face out of the sparkplug hole (you may want to cover it with something as well). Now you will be able to pull on the starting cord and to get the liquid out of the spark plug hole you will need to pull it rapidly several times.

“If the liquid bursts out of the spark plug hole 10 feet high, this is normal”

Now you can reinstall the spark plug and start the generator normally. The problem in this situation is that you don’t know what exactly caused it hydro lock. Here are some possibilities:

  • Oil issue. The oil could seep through the piston rings and rest on top of the piston if the generator had been rested on a severe angle for an extended period of time.
  • Fuel issue. Your carburetor’s float needle valve is malfunctioning and will not halt the flow of gasoline into the carburetor bowl. If that’s the case, your carburetor needs to be checked and cleaned as well. You will also need to change the oil BEFORE starting the generator.
  • Water issue. Rainwater can get inside the combustion chamber through the exhaust if the generator was left outside and it rained hard enough. If water is not cleaned out, it will cause rust as well. After “flushing out” the water in the way mentioned above, you will need to change oil BEFORE attempting to start the generator again.

2. You have a problem with a recoil start assembly

Since the assembly is equipped with a cable, it could become tangled and trapped from time to time. These assemblies are not difficult to repair and here is a full disassembly procedure:

How to Fix a Recoil Start Assembly and Start a Generator Without One

If nothing is wrong with your pull cord, you may want to inspect your flywheel for any damage, as well as the flywheel keys. After removing the starter cup and the fan disc you will be able to see a flywheel.

Examine the flywheel for any damages. The flywheel keys may be found precisely where the flywheel is linked to the shaft in the middle. If you end up with a damaged flywheel, get professional assistance for resolving this problem.

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