Briggs & Stratton 5000 Watt Portable Generator, 2013 Model: Product Review

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June 14, 2013.

Living off grid as we do, portable generators are a way of life for us.The Briggs & Stratton 5000 watt model gets a product review right out of the box, as we do with any new power source. There may be occasional updates later on…especially if something goes wrong.

We hadn’t planned on purchasing any more generators this year. Unfortunately, our Generac GP5500 watt machine decide to bust its gas tank. With our favorite small engine repair shop on the outs with the Generac company, an immediate fix was out of the question.

Enter the shopping trip to Home Depot.

The idea was to pick up a second Homelite 5000 watt generator (with Subaru engine). We have one of those and love it. It starts easily, runs quietly, and gets something like 2. 1/2 hours of run time out of every gallon of gas.

That’s awesome for a 5000 watt unit.

Home Depot, however, had other ideas. The store’s Tool Corral department, which hosts portable generators in addition to various hand tools and power tools, did not have a single Homelite in stock. Every one of the half dozen generators on hand was a Briggs & Stratton.

Huh.

“We don’t carry those any more,” the helpful Home Depot dude explained, referring to the Homelites. “We had a lot of returns with them.”

“Oh,” I nodded. “Okay.”

I didn’t believe for a second that the Subaru engines would be anything but ultra reliable. On the other hand, mating one brand of engine with another brand of everything else does sometimes produce interesting challenges and post production problems.

Either way, it made no difference. Homelite (at Home Depot) is dead. Long live Briggs & Stratton.

“Well,” I told the fellow, “at least it’s all Briggs. That’s something.”

Besides, there weren’t any other good options.

Home Depot stocks a 9350 watt version of this same generator, but we didn’t need that much fuel consumption for the job at hand. Minutes later, I was $770 poorer and heading down the highway with the boxed 5000 watt critter happily ensconced in the cargo compartment of the Subaru Outback.

Today, two days later, it was time to get the new workhorse up and running. There was water that needed pumping, and tomorrow morning at first light, I’ll be throwing stucco onto the front porch walls. The new generator will power the well pump (a half hour job) and then keep the concrete mixer motor going all day long–or possibly all weekend long.

Barely in time, too. It rained a little today. The monsoons are threatening early.

There are only a few steps to setting up one of these machines:

    1. Get everything out of the shipping box. I usually do this the easy way by simply getting out my folding knife (a box cutter might do better) and cutting away anything that doesn’t look like a generator, spare parts, oil, or a manual.

    2. Bolting on the under-frame support piece. For the Briggs, this involves four bolts with really cool lock nuts. To finish tightening, the bolt is turned, not the nut. The nut “grabs” the frame, and only one wrench (socket plus ratchet) is needed. Very nice.

    3. Installing the axle rods through the supplied tubes that are part of the frame (at the far end from the travel handle). These turned out to be “good news, bad news” in that (a) there’s no need for a second wrench here, either, but (b) only a fairly small cotter key “braces” the inner ends of the axle rods…and I had to quit torqueing down the outer nuts onto the lock washers after the cotter keys had been “force-bent” about as far as I dared bend them.

    The manual does not expect you to rely on those cotter keys. It calls for an 18mm wrench to be applied (there is a hex surface) between wheel and frame while tightening–but that is one narrow puppy of a space in there. I had no wrench skinny enough to fit. If the wheel nuts ever work loose, I will have to go “skinny wrench hunting”.

    The wheels slip onto the outer ends of the axle rods before the nuts are applied, of course. Without those, what you’d have is a steel travois.

    4. Adding oil. We always put some Slick 50 additive into the crankcase first, but that’s not according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. We’ve just had excellent results with it; for us, Slick 50 is a given. Nor do we use whatever bottle of oil the company sends along in the box; it’s always Pennzoil 10W-40.

    That combinations has worked well for us for years. If it works, don’t fix it.

5. Add gasoline. The gas cap came wrapped in plastic, not screwed down onto the gas tank. There was a plastic insert in the tank to keep junk from getting into the tank; that was discarded (per manufacturer’s instructions) during the setup process.

    6. Check settings and pull the rope.
Our new Briggs & Stratton 5000 watt portable generator. The under-frame front stand has been bolted down, the rear axles and wheels added, the gas cap screwed on, with Slick 50 and Pennzoil 10W-40 added to the crankcase. Gas and go!

Our new Briggs & Stratton 5000 watt portable generator. The under-frame front stand has been bolted down, the rear axles and wheels added, the gas cap screwed on, with Slick 50 and Pennzoil 10W-40 added to the crankcase. Gas and go!

The Briggs & Stratton axle assembly. Note that the cotter key is slightly bent from having cinch-down torque applied to the outboard axle nut (against instructions, but better than nothing). The sticker shows the model #030551.

The Briggs & Stratton axle assembly. Note that the cotter key is slightly bent from having cinch-down torque applied to the outboard axle nut (against instructions, but better than nothing). The sticker shows the model #030551.

Adding a bit of Slick 50 to the generator's crankcase, always the first fluid applied to any new engine in our care.

Adding a bit of Slick 50 to the generator’s crankcase, always the first fluid applied to any new engine in our care.

Things we do not like about the Briggs & Stratton 5000 watt generator

Happily, there aren’t many negatives to report. In fact, aside from the minor point about the axle cotter keys being a touch on the light side for the job at hand and the space between wheel and frame being too narrow for the average wrench, there’s only one:

1. The gas tank has a deep well around the filler neck, and the top of the neck rises only an eighth of an inch or so beyond the level of the well.

This is a problem, why?

One word: Monsoons!

For much of the year, it rains little or not at all in southern Arizona. However, when it does rain during the monsoon months of July and August, it flat out rains. Water splashing from that deep well can and will get into the gas tank if the operator makes the slightest error. That is, if the gas cap is “run loose” (as we are forced to do with our other generators of this size due to “poor breathing” with a cinched-down gas cap), the Rain Gods will have their revenge.

Clearly, the reasoning behind the deep well design is predicated on preventing accidental fuel spills. If a bit of incoming fuel “blurps” and misses going inside the tank as it should, the well provides an ample catch basin.

But for monsoon country, it’s not a good design.

The Briggs & Stratton 5000 watt portable generator sports a huge, deep well around the gas tank's filler neck. Obviously designed to ameliorate fuel spills, this well will also encourage rain water to splash into the tank.

The Briggs & Stratton 5000 watt portable generator sports a huge, deep well around the gas tank’s filler neck. Obviously designed to ameliorate fuel spills, this well will also encourage rain water to splash into the tank.

Things we do like about the Briggs & Stratton 5000 watt generator

The “do like” list is quite lengthy, enough so that it had to be trimmed a bit for this page.

Here are the details that made the cut:

    1. The gas cap cinches down very tightly and has a rubber gasket.

This is especially important as a “counter factor” to the deep, splash-prone well surrounding the cap. If this cap is tightened as far as it will go, no rain water will penetrate its defenses to contaminate the fuel inside the tank.

    2. The gas tank is made of solid steel and should last approximately…forever.

In other words, there won’t be any “busted gas tank” problems with this unit. Every other generator we own has a plastic tank. Pardon me for being old school, but I like steel.

The Briggs & Stratton gas cap has a rubber gasket and cinches down very tightly, preventing moisture infiltration. Also, the gas tank is solid steel and should last "forever".

The Briggs & Stratton gas cap has a rubber gasket and cinches down very tightly, preventing moisture infiltration. Also, the gas tank is solid steel and should last “forever”.

    3. The transportation (pull/push) handle is outstanding.

This is by far the best handle for moving a generator around that we’ve ever seen, period. The length gets the operator far enough away from the machine to let him (a) lift the unit’s near end almost effortlessly and (b) turn around with his back to the unit, one hand palm-up on either side, and take off across open land without once bumping his heels or ankles against the generator’s frame.

If you’re not going to move a generator much, that might not be a big deal. In our case, it’s a very big deal. These days, we usually station a generator over at the wellhead, padlocking it to a buried steel eyebolt, so that it’s readily available whenever we need to pump water.

In prior years, however, we didn’t have enough money to stock that many generators.

With only one large (5000 watt or bigger) generator on hand, I’d have to drag the beast from the Border Fort to the wellhead, roughly 1/8 mile away, over varying terrain…and then drag it back home again after the water storage tank was full.

With that scenario always a possibility, I’d have bought this Briggs & Stratton for the handles alone.

They’re nice and thick in diameter, too, not some little skinny pipe that’ll try to cut right through your hands along the way.

The Briggs & Stratton move-it-around handles are outstanding, great length (i.e. leverage) with large diameter pipes that won't hurt your hands even if you're hand-towing the machine a considerable distance.

The Briggs & Stratton move-it-around handles are outstanding, great length (i.e. leverage) with large diameter pipes that won’t hurt your hands even if you’re hand-towing the machine a considerable distance.

    4. The fuel gauge looks like it might actually remain functional for more than a week or two.

We’ve not had much luck with fuel gauges on portable generators under this southern Arizona sun. In at least one case, the gauge never did work, but we didn’t complain–because after the UV rays around here have cooked the plastic gauge faces to a nice, murky yellow, you’re not going to see much through them, anyway.

On the Briggs, however, there’s a chance the gauge may be readable even after the sun discolors the see-through plastic. It does work, and a big red wheel a good 3/8 inch wide fills the entire viewing space when there’s fuel in the tank.

That much red (instead of the usual dinky little needle) may continue to be visible. Or nor. We’ll let you know in a few months.

The fuel gauge looks like it might have a chance to remain functional after months under the blazing noonday sun. We'll let you know how it turns out.

The fuel gauge looks like it might have a chance to remain functional after months under the blazing noonday sun. We’ll let you know how it turns out.

    5. Weather protected “push to reset” circuit breakers are provided for all three electrical circuits (two 120 volt circuits and one 240 volt circuit).

All four of our larger generators (two of which are temporarily down, remember) do have “push to reset” circuit breakers, but only Briggs & Stratton bothered to protect those push buttons from the weather.

    6. All electrical outlets are provided with rain flaps.

These may or may not mean much. The Homelite came without any rain flaps. The Generac had them, but the sun baked them till they fell right off of the machine. The Troy Bilt…don’t recall, and don’t dare chance waking my wife by opening the noisy steel shed door where that machine is resting momentarily.

If these flaps can survive, though, we’d rather have them than not.

On the Briggs & Stratton generator, flexible rain flaps--nice if they can survive the Arizona sun--cover the unused electrical outlets. Circuit breakers are fully weather protected.

On the Briggs & Stratton generator, flexible rain flaps–nice if they can survive the Arizona sun–cover the unused electrical outlets. Circuit breakers are fully weather protected.

    7. The machine starts like a dream. I did apply full choke on the first pull as instructed without getting any results. Then a second pull with no choke applied…and it started right up.

Beyond that, after running the unit for a few minutes just to make sure oil had a chance to get to all the places oil is supposed to be, the generator got another chance to shine at the wellhead. It had been shut off for perhaps 30 minutes or so while I rigged planks to use as a loading ramp, loaded it into the car, bungeed the planks on top of the luggage carrier, drove over to the wellhead, and reversed the process.

This time, following a hunch, I did not even touch the choke–and the Briggs fired right up on the first pull.

    8. Quiet running.

For the first couple of minutes after the first time it was started, the new workhorse had a bit of a “tingy-clangy” sound I didn’t much like. I’m guessing that might have had to do with dry parts meeting one another before the crankcase oil (and Slick 50) had gotten around to thoroughly coating every moving surface with a sheen of lubrication.

At any rate, the not-so-pretty sound went away after a while, and the resulting purr of the engine was even milder and sweeter than that put out by the Homelite.

    9. Projected fuel economy.

The manual states that this particular Briggs & Stratton generator (5000 watt) should be able to run for two hours under half load on one gallon of gas. We never run any generator any harder than quarter load, so two and a half hours per gallon might well be doable.

I expect to start mixing stucco about four hours from now, as soon as it’s light enough. By the end of the day, we may have some fuel economy test results to report.

Overall, while the deep gas tank well and the “skinny wrench” space between wheels and frame are minor irritants, the overwhelming number of high quality “good things” about this machine are more than enough to earn it a whole barrel full of kudos.

Product rating for the Briggs & Stratton 5000 watt portable generator (2013 model): FIVE STARS.

The Video

I felt considerably blessed when I found the following video. It presents an unbiased, honest overview of almost the exact same Briggs & Stratton generator we’ve been discussing. The only differences are:

A. The generator in the video is a 6000 watt unit, providing 1000 more watts of running power than our 5000 watt machine. It also has a surge capacity (startup) of 7500 watts vs. our smaller 6250 watts. All of this takes more fuel, so it also has a 7 gallon gas tank vs. our 5 gallon tank.

B. The larger gennie (in the vid) has an hour meter and a low oil shutoff safety feature; ours has neither.

C. In the video, they give the generator a 4.75 star rating…which is exactly right, but since we round to the nearest star, we’ll stick with giving it Five Stars.

Special note: The same engine (342 cc, 16.5 horsepower) Is used in both models.