Should You Let A Generator Run Out Of Gas?


A generator is a valued tool on any Off-Grid Homestead.  If it’s treated with care it will last you a long time.  Problem is, most off gridders only know how to start a generator and plug it in.  That’s going to shorten the life of one of your most expensive tools.

One of the main things I see folks do is let their generators run out of gas. 

If your generator runs out of gas, you run the risk of the generator’s coils running out of magnetism.  The generator keeps putting out power while it sputters to a stop, but the load on the generator sucks all the juice from the coils.

Luckily it’s a pretty low cost to get those coils remagnetized at the repair shop, but what if this happened during an emergency and the shop wasn’t able to open?  Have some extra gas tanks on hand and keep the tank filled.  

Related: My favorite generator that I can count on is my Honda EU 2200i Generator. I have mine for over 15 years and it has not let me down once.

HONDA EU 2200i GENERATOROpens in a new tab.

What happens when a generator runs out of gas?

A generator is designed to put out power and any load on a generator is designed to suck up that power.  As the generator runs out of gas, that power is still going out, but in a reduced amount. 

However, the load on the generator keeps wanting to suck the power at a constant rate.  If there is not enough being supplied by the generator, it will take it from the generator’s coils until the generator finally gets drained and shuts off.  This can also cause your load to get damaged as well.

Overall, having your generator run out of gas is not a good habit to get into.  You can get away with it a couple of times, but I bet you, it will happen when you need the generator most.  So get into the habit of properly operating your generator.

How To Ensure Your Generator Always Has Gas

I have a system for ensuring my generator has gasoline in it.  First off, I always have extra gas on hand, near the generator.  I like to have two 2 gallon gas cans ready to go.  Having your gas across the property when your generator starts to run out will ensure that it does.

Each time before I start the generator I unscrew the gas cap and look inside.  If your generator has a fuel gauge even better.  If you can’t see any gas, put some in.  If the tank is full, set a timer for 4 hours to remind you to refill.

Most times, I’ll only run my generator for an hour or two.  That’s because that’s how long it takes to fully charge my solar batteries.  So it might take me a couple of days before I have to refill my generator.

To help me remember how long before I need to refill, I will place a special rock next to my generator for each time I run the generator to charge the batteries.  Once I have 3 rocks, I’ll add more gas. 

You can use whatever you want to help you remember.  Maybe you have a spot where you can have a tally sheet.  Whatever it is, having a system will help ensure that you won’t forget to refill.

Related: Is It Safe To Run A Refrigerator On A Generator?Opens in a new tab.

My Favorite Off-Grid Generator 

I have been living with a fully off grid solar system for over 20 years now.  (Damn.  Time Flies). During that time I have had one generator that has provided me with all the backup power that I have ever needed.

HONDA 2200i

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The Honda 2000i is an amazing generator.  It provides the power that I have needed when I have needed it.  I bought this generator years ago and I have never replaced it!  Gas has run out.  The oil has run dry.  It’s been left out in the rain more times than I can count and still it is powering whatever I ask it too.

The generator has provided backup power for my solar system, to recharge those solar batteries on a cloudy day.  It has also been there as I built not only my current home, but a home for my mom next door as well.  Power tools don’t work so well straight off of my solar system.

So if you are in the market of getting an off grid generator for your homestead, don’t mess around with the other brands that will just break down in a couple years.  Get the Honda 2000i and ensure you will have a machine that works when you want it.

Can you put gas in a generator while it’s running?

When a generator is running it can get pretty hot.  So hot that spilled gasoline can ignite or even cause an explosion.  You should NOT put gasoline in a generator while it’s running.  In fact, it is advised to wait 15 minutes to allow your generator to cool a bit before adding gas.

It’s easy to want to fill up the generator right away and get going with your day.  However, the risks just aren’t worth it.  In fact, you should refer to my procedure above to ensure that your generator has gas before you start it.  This will help you minimize the times you will have to refill while the generator is hot.

Related: 7 Ways To Get Internet Off GridOpens in a new tab.

How to start a generator after running out of gas?

After a generator runs out off gas, it can sometimes be tricky to start.  Especially if your coils have demagnetized, which may have to be checked out.  If your coils are good, then follow the procedure for what I do and your generator should start up almost every time.

First off, make sure you are refilling your generator with good gas.  If your gas has been sitting around too long, it may no longer be any good.  You can tell this if your gas looks a bit cloudy. 

I like to have a system for my gas tanks where I have 12 gas cans, each one numbered.  I place them on a shelf in number order and take from the right and replace them on the left.  So as soon as I take and use gas tank #1, I will put it behind gas tank #12 and move the rest over one spot to the right so that gas tank # 1 won’t get used again until the other 11 tanks are used first.  I’ll do this with each gas tank.

Now that your generator is filled with good gas, I will engage the choke, turn the generator to the on position, ensure the gauge on the gas cap is in the on position and then pull the rip cord.  

The generator may run a bit sluggish at first, you may even have to play with the choke a little bit, but as the engine begins to catch, you can slowly release the choke all the way out.  Now your generator should be running at full speed.

If it doesn’t happen this easy for you at first, try again.  Then perhaps you might just have to troubleshoot other areas such as clogged fuel filter, low oil, bad spark plug, dirty air filter, bad coils.  But hopefully you just need to try again.

Knowing how to properly run your generator will probably come best from personal experience.  Mine has been with me so long that we can practically speak to one another.  This will happen to you too as your relationship with your generator builds over all those years living off grid.

Aloha Kakou.

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Sean Jennings

Sean has been living simply Off-Grid in Hawai'i for over 18 years. He lives debt free on Hawai'i Island with his family and over 40 chickens. When he's not tinkering around the homestead, he's off exploring the shorelines for fish & surf.

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