How to Check Portable Generator Output in Four Easy Steps

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Measure Portable Generator Output

Camp generators are designed to provide a convenient source of power, whether you’re enjoying a night of karaoke in the backyard, camping out with family and friends, or you’re on the road in your new RV. But if you’ve owned your inverter generator for more than a year and you’re planning to take it out of the garage and dust it off, you should also learn how to check portable generator output, otherwise you could end up in the middle of nowhere with a generator that’s producing little to no power. Testing a generator is recommended at least once a year.

How to check portable generator output is done with the use of a voltmeter. This testing method is fast and easy and can work to tell you whether or not your generator is producing the type of power it’s supposed to. Handheld voltmeters are small devices that can be found at any local home improvement or hardware store.

To test:

  • You’ll first need to turn the voltmeter to the AC voltage setting
  • Ground the voltmeter to the generator
  • Connect one of the wires to the generator
  • Connect the voltmeter to the generator’s output plug

And it’s that simple. You should get a voltage reading right away.

As you can see, testing your inverter generator’s power output is fast and easy and will only take about ten minutes. This simple test is necessary and should always be done before a big trip.

After you have tested your generator, if you’ve noticed that it’s not producing the type of power it should, we’ve included some great tips to get your generator up and running again in no time.

Read on to learn how to test your generator’s power output, what you can do to increase a generator’s power output, and what to do if your generator stops working.

How Often Should I Test a Generators Power Output?

Inverter generators will come in handy when you’re camping out, traveling in your RV, or whenever you need an emergency power source. But a generator may not always perform the way it should, which is why you should always test it ahead of time. In order to function properly, the generator must produce a certain voltage. Testing a generators power output is fairly easy, all you need is a voltmeter. These can be found at most home improvement or hardware stores and they’re simple to use.

You should test your generator once a year, or right before a trip, especially if the generator has been in storage for several months.

Using a Voltmeter to Test an Inverter Generator

A voltmeter is a handy tool to have around the home. While large models of voltmeters can be pretty pricey, small voltmeters designed for home use are reasonably priced and can be ordered online or found at a local hardware store.

If you’ve just purchased a new voltmeter and you’re ready to go, let’s get started testing your generator to learn if it’s still offering a solid performance or if some adjustments need to be made.

Start off by switching on the handheld voltmeter. For generator power testing purposes you’ll want to place it on the AC voltage setting. You should use this setting only, otherwise, you can blow the voltmeter’s fuse.

Begin by connecting the voltmeter’s ground to the generator’s frame using the included alligator clip. Next, take the voltmeter’s other connection and touch it to the output plug on the generator. Now you should be able to see the voltage reading on the display of the voltmeter.

And that’s it.

This very easy test can be performed once a year or whenever your generator seems to be struggling with power output.

So, what can you do if your generator’s power output is low or nonexistent?

What Causes a Loss or Drop in Power Output?

The loss of residual magnetism is often the cause of inverter generators failing to produce enough power.

An inverter generator functions by moving electrical conductors through a magnetic field. A portion of the output voltage is converted to DC and fed to a coil in order to create the magnetic field.

Residual magnetism involves a small leftover amount of magnetism from the last time the generator was used. This magnetism is usually enough to produce a low amount of electricity and it’s needed in order to create a much stronger electric force.

Once the engine starts causing the magnet to move through the magnetic field, the generator is able to produce a higher power output.

If the residual magnetism is lost, the generator will not be able to start up. But what causes this loss of residual magnetism?

Typically, the residual magnetism is lost from the generator’s load being connected when the generator is off or from not being used for a long period of time. This issue can also occur if you run the generator for a long period of time with no load.

When a generator is running, a load should always be connected to it. This helps with creating a very strong magnetic field. But before a generator is switched off, the breaker or switch should be turned off before disconnected. If you end up switching the generator off with a load connected then it can easily demagnetize or drain the generator’s electromagnet. You should also keep a close eye on the fuel level for this reason.

Lack of Residual Magnetism: The Solution

You can go about fixing this problem a couple of different ways:

  • Battery
  • Drill

The first method involves using a twelve-volt battery. To do, first, find the generator’s voltage regulator and unplug the wires that are connected to the machine’s brushes. There are usually two wires. Next, take one of the wires and connect it to the generator’s ground battery terminal. Plug in a small device, such as a light and switch on the generator’s breaker and turn on the motor. Now, grab the battery and connect it to the red wire on the terminal for a period of three to six seconds.

Disconnect the wires and replace the plug. In order to avoid damaging the regulator, unplug the brush wires from the voltage regulator. Because dangerous voltages may be present, don’t make contact with the voltage regulator.

This should solve the issue and your generator should be up and running, producing the correct amount of power output.

If using a twelve-volt battery proved to be ineffective, then the next best method is using an electric drill.

Grab the drill and plug it into one of the outlets on the generator. Fire up the generator. While you’re pressing the trigger on the drill, you should spin the chuck in the opposite direction in order to excite the field and cause the generator to produce power. If you’ve tried to spin the chuck in one direction, with no luck, then try spinning it in the other direction.

The reason behind this method is that the drill’s motor acts as a sort of generator when it’s spun backward. Inside the drill, the motor’s magnets will induce a voltage into the motor winding. This is then fed back via the trigger cord, into the generator’s outlet. It then travels to the power winding of the stator.

Both methods are very easy to use and should quickly have your generator up and running. However, if your generator has not been used for several months, you’ve used a voltmeter to test the power output, and you’ve noticed that its performance is off, then you may need to adjust the generator’s voltage output.

We’ll tell you exactly how to do that, below.

Calibrating Power Output

Inverter generators are known for their lightweight design, quiet operation, and low maintenance needs. They’re also very reliable and can provide you with some of the comforts of home when you’re on the road.

The big issue with inverter generators is the fact that too much voltage can cause equipment failure or a fire, while too little voltage can fail to power the appliances you need it to. By monitoring the machine’s power output with a voltmeter, you can easily adjust the generator’s voltage in order to meet your power needs or if you notice a dip in performance.

To do, find the voltage dial on the generator. This will usually be located on one of the sides near the dial that displays the voltage output. Now, adjust the dial to the desired voltage. Unfortunately, not all models will come with this feature.

Next, you’ll adjust the generator’s throttle in order to decrease or increase the motor’s RPMs. When you slow down the RPMs it reduces the voltage output, while raising it will increase the power output. You can easily find the throttle on the side or top of the generator.

Now, use the voltmeter in order to verify the voltage output when you’re adjusting the voltage. This helps to ensure that the generator is producing the right amount of power before you plug in your sensitive devices.

What does the AVR on a generator do?

The AVR, or automatic voltage regulator, is a small device that’s located on the alternator. Its job is to monitor the power output. These very small devices will work hard to maintain the electrical output terminal voltage. This type of device is more commonly found on diesel generators and ensures that the required level of power remains constant.
Without an AVR, the amount of power the generator produced would not be consistent. You’ll know the AVR on your generator is working fine if your generator is functioning correctly. If the AVR isn’t working, you’ll notice right away as the generator’s engine begins to struggle to maintain a consistent level of power.

Can I use a portable generator for camping?

Yes! In fact, most inverter generators are used for camping, overlanding or RV’ing.

What is the most common cause of voltage fluctuation?

The most common reason your generator may not be producing a consistent level of power is often a result of a low-quality power supply. Fluctuating power levels are also caused by corroded connections or loose connections.

Final thoughts

If you want to ensure your generator runs smoothly, then testing it out at the beginning of the season is essential.

How to check portable generator output is an easy test that should be performed at least once a year and whenever the generator has been stored for more than a few months without use. Ensuring that the generator is producing the right voltage means it can provide the type of consistent power you need to operate your appliances and devices. Should you find that the generator is not producing the right level of power, try the simple fixes we have included here that are designed to get your generator up and running within minutes.

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