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What Happens If You Overload A Generator?

What Happens If You Overload A Generator
Written by Jamie Masterson

Maintaining your portable generator to avoid overload is critical to keeping expensive appliances from being damaged.

Not only does an overheating generator damage appliances but may also ruin the portable generator.

Here we will look into what happens if you overload your generator.

What Causes Generator Overload

When an appliance is plugged into a generator and first turned on, there is a temporary increase in power use that stops when the appliance is fully powered up. This is not an overload, though it may appear that way.

Overload is caused by the total wattage of all the appliances plugged into it being more than the generator can handle.

What Happens if You Overload a Generator?

1. Equipment damage

Intermittent power output is a common scenario in the case of generator overloading. The situation is unstable and can be harmful to electronic devices as they are designed to work under a stable wattage. This can even damage your expensive and sensitive devices like smartphones and laptops.

2. Fire or explosion

Anytime there is overheating, there is a chance of a fire. Generators use gasoline to create power; if the gas container is near the generator, when it overheats, it can cause a fire or, worse, an explosion.

You don’t want a generator full of gasoline to overheat! Monitoring your generator for overheating will avoid a possible explosion if sparks and flammables are in the vicinity.

3. Reduced life

A burnt-out alternator and damage to other components of the generator will shorten the life of the generator… and the appliances attached to it.

Nothing Plugged In; How Can It Be Overloaded?

If you have been running your generator for some time without a load (appliances plugged into it,), the overload light may come on, or the generator will simply shut off.

If this happens, you will need to shut off the generator and restart it.

Signs of an Overloaded Generator

1. Exhaust with soot

While it’s normal to have some carbon in the exhaust that gives it a dark appearance, soot in that exhaust is not normal.

Whether it’s a clog or a bad filter (there are other more complex issues as well) causing the soot, ultimately, the generator is not working correctly and needs to be repaired.

2. Begins to overheat

When the equipment is warm and continues getting hotter, the generator is overloaded. Newer models have a fail-safe that will turn it off.

If you have an older model, you will need to do frequent checks to avoid overheating.

If it’s too hot or you are not sure, turn it off for half an hour and let it cool down.

3. Odd noise

Any noise that you don’t usually hear is an odd noise. These noises are saying, help me!

4. Losing power

When the generator is working harder and is putting out less power, there is a good chance the generator is overloaded.

This overload will cause poor generator performance, working on half of its power.

In addition, it can lead to power surges that will damage the equipment dependent on the generator for its power.

5. Fuses

Older generators have fuses, if they are tripped it will stop the current from passing through the generator during an overload.

Pro tip: Check your fuses every time you use the generator!

6. Stators

Stators are hard to repair; they force the heat through the generator. So if the generator overheats, the stators will also overheat.

Newer versions have breakers and sensors to alert you; older models do not and need checking. When the stator quits working, that’s the end of the generator.

7. Breaker trips

Circuit breakers protect the generator when an appliance pulls more amperage than the generator can provide.

The generator will overheat when you have more wattage than your generator can create.

The fail-safe built into newer generators will shut it off to cool down.

In an older generator, you are the circuit breaker, and it is up to you to cool down the generator by turning it off.

Pro tip: When you restart the generator unplug all the appliances first and only then start the generator.

8. Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)

The GFCI receptacles sense when electrical current is leaking for any reason and shut the generator off. It is a fail-safe to prevent fires, burns, electrocution, and electric shock.

How to Stop Generator Overload?

1. Get the right unit

Make sure you have the right generator for the job. Know the wattage of your appliances and what you will need to survive a power outage.

Buy a quality unit that will cover all your needs and have the appliances’ proper wattage.

2. Keep it well-maintained

  • Make sure you have enough fuel in the generator
  • Replace the fuel from last year with new gas before using it this year
  • Make sure the oil is full before using. Always check the oil level before using the generator
  • Check the battery; if it appears drained or won’t hold a charge, you may have to “field flash” (jump-start) the battery

See the video below:

  • Make sure all the fuses are good
  • Spark plugs are clean and in good working condition
  • Replace the air filter at the start of the season

3. Be astute

Use common sense, don’t use all the appliances at once; only use the ones you absolutely need e.g. heat in the winter and the refrigerator.

Know the signs of overload and check the generator to ensure there are no problems and the generator is not getting hot.

4. Protect the fuses

Only using a one or two appliances at a time with the generator will help protect the fuses.

Make sure all the fuses are in good working order before using the generator for the new year.

5. Install correctly

Having your generator professionally installed gives you the satisfaction of knowing the job is done right.

Never connect the generator’s power directly to your house’s wiring. They should understand standby power systems and NEC requirements.

Make sure to have them install an automatic power switch.

How to fix Overloaded Generator

  • Disconnect all equipment connected with the generator
  • Now, check if the overheating was caused by the total load being greater than your generator’s load capacity
  • For restarting the generator, press the reset button and and hold it for at least 1 second
  • Check if the overload indicator light. If you see the light gets turned off after the restart, you can reconnect the appliances.
  • If the light is still on, there may be some underlying issues with the generator, call an expert.

Overloading Avoidance Tips

  • Run only the appliances needed
  • Keep generator use within its output rating
  • Do regular generator maintenance
  • Have your generator professionally installed
  • DO NOT have your generator installed as a part of the house wiring

How to Choose a Perfect Generator to Avoid an Overload?

There are a few things you need to consider before buying a generator–

  1. 9,000 or more running wattage.
  2. There should be sufficient overload protection.
  3. The generator should be highly portable.

How Long Can a Generator Run Nonstop?

Portable gasoline generators are made to run as a temporary power solution. They can safely run for seven to 12 hours then need to be turned off and rested for a few hours.

Newer models can run for 18 hours.

Check the owner’s manual for the recommended run time.

Remember to fill with gasoline while the generator is off and ensure nothing is plugged into the generator when restarting.


Q. Do generators have overload protection?

Yes, but only some newer models have circuit breaker protection to handle overload. Older models may not have any kind of protection.

About the author

Jamie Masterson

With decade-long experience as a generator technician, Jamie has worked with USA’s top generator manufacturers and suppliers as an independent contractor.

The long years of service to the industry has taught Jamie the ins and outs of troubleshooting, repairing, and maintaining all kinds of generators in home, industrial and outdoor settings.

Jamie thinks this platform is a great opportunity to share his tips and tricks with you so you can make the most of such power equipment for better living.

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