Andrew Pollack's Blog

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An amusing and productive -- if slightly irritating -- weekend

By Andrew Pollack on 10/19/2008 at 09:06 PM EDT

As I get ready for a long bout of travel I always get a bit rushed with things not done. It is exactly at this point that extra work pops up. First it was Ari's laptop that sucked a day of my time from me in a way I'll never get back. Just when I thought that was it, we had a power outage yesterday and the generator failed. All this while for some reason, I wasted too much time trying to be nice to someone who didn't even realize it. I don't do "nice" very often, so maybe I'm just not that good at it. lol.

Updated: I have something new to add to my security presentation tonight. Another epic fail by someone who knows half what they need.

Anyway, yesterday the generator simply didn't start up when the power went out. I went outside to take a look and found a red light on the panel (which they put INSIDE the lid -- my only complaint with this unit) saying it failed its last self-test due to over-cranking. I reset it and it started up, but after about 15 minutes the engine misfired and it shutdown. This is a 12kw Generac Guardian that's about 11 years old or so. I maintain it myself, but there isn't really much required. It's air cooled so there's no radiator, it runs on LP gas off the same big buried tank that fuels the heating system for the house, and it self charges its own battery. Mostly I just change the oil in the spring and the fall, change the plugs and so on. Before spending $300 to have one of the two area service people come out to look at this thing, I figured I'd give it a shot myself. As long as the problem is with the engine, I'm pretty comfortable working on it. I wouldn't really even attempt to work on the power generation side.

I pulled the spark plugs and found one of them to be pretty fouled and its insulator possibly broken. It came apart as I was taking it out -- I'm just not sure if I cracked it or if it was cracked and that's why the engine didn't run well. You can tell a lot about how an engine is running by looking at the spark plugs and the difference between these two plugs was remarkable. One was clearly 'normal' and the other clearly fouled with oil and showing detonation marks. I'm pretty sure that if there was a problem in the fuel system, both plugs would show signs of the problem equally. The same is true for a problem in the distributor. The problem has to be specific to that cylinder. That means a problem with rings, valves, plug, or plug wire.

On the great advice of Robert Persig, I opted to try the easiest to fix first. New plugs, new air filter, and a few hours later all seems to be well now. After it completed its self test, I gave it a real one by shutting power to the house off at the main breaker and letting the generator kick on and run things for while.

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