Generac GP500 Portable Generator: Product Review

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I neglected to take pictures while assembling our Generac GP5500 portable generator last summer, resulting in this product review (February 7, 2013) being just that: A product review. Readers usually get assembly instructions, complete with a photo layout, as a bonus.

Sorry about that.

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Update: As of midsummer 2013, with the generator just one year old, we have severely downgraded our rating for the Generac–all the way to ZERO STARS with a DO NOT BUY recommendation. You can scroll to the bottom of the post for details. (We’re leaving the older text in place so that you will have the most complete picture possible.)
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Nonetheless, the Generac is an interesting generator on which to report. During our seven years to date of off grid living (3 in Montana, 1999-2002, and four so far in Arizona, beginning in 2009), my wife and I’ve owned a total of nine gasoline powered portable units. For clean “pure sine” power to run sensitive electronics, lights, and the like, it’s been Yamaha all the way–two 1,000 watt gennies, followed by a three-machine series of EF2000iS models. All of the latter still start and run with a single pull of the starter rope, though the eldest misses badly and the middle child is getting there. Both machines have clocked in excess of 18,000 hours, light years beyond their rated life expectancy.

The newest EF200iS isn’t here yet. We just ordered it from Amazon a few days ago.

We’ve never purchased a larger Yamaha for the heavier electrical loads. That they would do the trick and then some, we have no doubt. However, a 5,000 watt (or better) Yamaha is a spendy proposition compared to cheaper brands that will definitely do the job without breaking the bank.

For Pam’s AC unit (Yep, AC off grid. My honey’s a heat-sensitive redhead. If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.), we ended up with an off-brand 1500 watt Champion that belched out a lot of noise but kept the little window cooling appliance going well enough.

Currently, we have one 5500 watt Troy Bilt gennie with a Briggs & Stratton engine that still has a lot of life left in it…but the endless struggle with a fuel supply problem finally got it benched indefinitely. It sits in a storage shed, sulking.

An excellent Homelite with a Subaru engine, a 5,000 watt machine, is permanently assigned to water pumping duty. Our well sits half a mile of underground piping away from our 500 gallon water storage tank. When the tank runs low, the Homelite gets it filled up again in short order.

Which brings us (Finally!) to the topic of this Hub. Our Generac GP 5500 has been on duty for some months now. It has two primary duties, those being to power the microwave oven (which is juice-hungry enough to make even the sizeable Generac squat and bellow some) and to power our laundry machines.

Note: It will run both washer and dryer at the same time, but it’s not happy about it. We generally run the washer alone, then the dryer alone.

As a third, more intermittent duty, the Generac is used to power the Skilsaw whenever I’m going to be doing a lot of cutting.

Note: We also have a sizeable portable solar generator, but more often than not switch the house electronics and lights over to the little Yamaha after the sun sets in order to keep from draining the battery bank too deeply during my all-night writing sessions.

That’s the backstory. TMI, too much information, perhaps–but at least (if you read all that) it may give you some idea of the experience behind this product review.

The review is broken down into four sections: Pros, Cons, Quirks, and of course a Rating Summary.

Our Generac GP5500 portable generator in its (formerly) permanent location, right out in the Arizona sun. Our machinery gets little pampering.

Our Generac GP5500 portable generator in its (formerly) permanent location, right out in the Arizona sun. Our machinery gets little pampering.

PROS

1. Generac generators are well known and available everywhere. You can snag one from Amazon or other online sources. Lowe’s has them (or did, at least, when I bought ours). Every small engine repair shop is familiar with the brand, and parts are readily available.

2. They use their own engines rather than purchasing them from other companies.

3. The machines are strongly built.

4. The travel handle on the GP5500 is really well designed in that it lets you get out away from the rest of the machine, which other brands don’t always do. This makes for more leverage and more comfort when moving the unit around, especially if you need to hand-tow it more than a few yards between jobs. You’re not always banging your heels against the frame.

5. They deserve kudos for the design of the fuel shutoff valve. On both the Homelite and Troy Bilt generators, those valves are inserted directly into the fuel supply hose line. This means that you either have to use two hands to turn the On/Off lever…or you end up putting a fair amount of stress on the hose connection every time you turn the fuel On or Off. With the Genrerac GP5500, the lever and valve are all part of a solid-mount setup; one-handed lever turning is no problem.

6. When it comes to the electrical outlet panel, the one 240 volt AC receptacle and four 120 volt receptacles are pretty much standard on this generator size–but to the right is an Hour Gauge telling you how much you’ve been using the beast. The other makes don’t have that. It’s easy to tell we’ve not been using it that heavily: 222.1 hours when I took pictures today. Just a baby.

7. The wheels are nice, big and sturdy.

8. Once up and running, it’s as reliable as they come.

The electrical outlet panel.

The electrical outlet panel.

Closeup of the hour gauge.

Closeup of the hour gauge.

CONS

1. There’s really only one serious “con” when it comes to the Generac GP5500: This is one cold-blooded beast. We bought it during an Arizona summer, when highs were running in the 90’s or 100’s and the overnight lows were seldom getting down to 50 degrees. Under those temperature conditions, it was not at all hard to start, usually taking somewhere between 1 to 3 pulls to crank ‘er up.

At 40 degrees, or even into the high 30’s, still no problem.

But then we had a cold snap, or at least what passes for a cold snap a mile from the Mexican border. For three days running, the temperatures at dawn were in the low teens. Not quite in the single digits, but pretty close.

In that temperature range, having sat in the cold for some hours, the Generac would not start. Not at all. Full choke, 20 pulls, nada.

I could have “done some stuff”. Heck, I’m a retired truck driver, grew up on a ranch, worked in the oil patch. I know how to start engines, how to use a can of ether, where and how to remove the air cleaner to make things happen.

But we weren’t that desperate, so the decision was made to let the day warm up a bit. When things got a bit warmer–say, the mid-20’s–it started…after 9 pulls. Once it was well up in the 30’s, no problem at all.

The end of the Generac GP5500 that houses the starter rope. Expect to give that rope a serious workout in cold weather

The end of the Generac GP5500 that houses the starter rope. Expect to give that rope a serious workout in cold weather

QUIRKS

1. First mention goes to the gas cap, which appears to be common across brands in this generation of generators. We suspect the feds, regulations forcing companies to route air to the top of the tank via those funky little hoses that come up the side and over the top of the tank, entering at the fuel-filling neck.

The problem is that if you cinch the cap down snugly, the generator will eventually either choke and die or at least sound like it wants to commit suicide. Our suspicion is that those top-running hoses just don’t work; there’s no air (or too little air) getting to the tank, and the fuel is not being allowed to drop down to the carburetor like it should.

Our solution is simply to loosen the cap whenever the generator is running. That might sound like kind of a redneck fix…but like most redneck fixes, it works.

To reiterate: We do not believe this is specifically a Generac generator problem, but a problem affecting a number of brands.

2. For whatever reason, this particular machine likes to run with a bit of choke applied. Not much, just a bit. I start it on full choke, turn the choke all the way off, then slip it back to the first detent, and it’s a happy camper. Not a problem, just a quirk.

It’s possible that the carburetor could be adjusted to change that, but we don’t see the point. If it works, don’t fix it.

3. The choke lever operates in the opposite direction from the other brands we’ve had. Not the Yamaha; that has a pull choke. But on both the Troy Bilt and the Homelite, you move the lever to the right to apply choke while on the Generac, you move it to the left.

No big deal, once you’re used to it.

We run the Generac with a loose gas cap. Not quite this loose, of course.

We run the Generac with a loose gas cap. Not quite this loose, of course.

RATING SUMMARY (The original, before the severe downgrade that happened during the summer of 2013.)

The Generac GP5500 portable generator gets a Four Star Rating–or, using the alphabet, and A- rating. It would deserve a Five Star, A+ accolade, but the difficulty in getting the machine to start in cold weather can’t be ignored.

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Update: Summer 2013. The Generac’s gas tank broke. Split open, a crack in the bottom that spilled the fuel right out on the ground. We’ve never had any other brand “bust a tank”, not even under our severe Arizona sun–besides which, the crack was in an area that was more or less shaded.

However, we didn’t get too concerned about that at first. Machinery does break. The tank was clearly an inferior product, but as long as a replacement didn’t get too spendy, things would work out.

Unfortunately, our guy at the top repair shop in this area visibly shuddered when I told him I had a Generac with a problem. It turned out that he’d been a Generac dealer…and Generac had stuck it to him, every which way but loose. His shop had seen an awful lot of generators that had failed during the warranty period. He’d done the repairs–but never received the reimbursement from Generac. Even calls to the company’s tech support people did not go well.

By the time they went their separate ways…let’s put it this way: Generac is the only brand the shop refuses to service.

In summary, then:

1. Generac’s fuel economy is not good; every other brand we own in the 5500 watt range beats it on that score.

2. The machine absolutely will not start in seriously cold weather.

3. They do not stand behind their warranty the way they should.

4. Contact with them (I tried a time or two) is difficult if not impossible.

5. They give their dealers no respect.

Based on all that, we will likely rig an old gas tank from a junked-out car someday, to run the unit we have, but we will never buy another Generac…and our rating is ZERO STARS with a DO NOT BUY recommendation.

2 thoughts on “Generac GP500 Portable Generator: Product Review

  1. I live in New Hampshire. You’re correct; this GP5500 will NOT start in temps under 20 degrees F. I wonder if changing the oil to a thinner, cold temp oil might help? Our immediate solution is to park the beast in our foyer in our house… my wife is not happy about that one. Does Generac not have a solution to this? I would think, since there are so many of them where we live, there would be some solution to this problem. In the summer and spring, this is a great generator, but only for emergencies, I would imagine… thank you

  2. Tom, I don’t know if Generac has a solution or not. My solution has been, finally, to go buy a different generator after the gas tank decided to spontaneously split wide open. We now have a 6500W industrial Subaru for the biggest stuff and a Honda Eu3000si inverter unit (ordered and on the way) for everything else. So far, we’ve so-so luck or worse with every brand we’ve tried except for three: Yamaha, Subaru, and Honda…and we’ve been getting reports from readers (on the Yamaha review page) that Yamaha is going downhill a bit, having begun making a lot of their units in China. Our newest Yamaha is, fortunately, made in Japan.

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