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Old 12-26-2017, 10:09 PM   #1
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Pre-start pre-warm generator without electricity?

Any suggestions for using a propane or other non-electricity powered source to pre-warm the generator oil when faced with starting it in the winter at -20 or below temperatures with 10-40 conventional oil in it? We had expected to be enjoying much warmer temperatures "down south" by now, or I would have put fully synthetic oil in it during the fall oil change.

Any propane fueled radiant infra-red heaters I have acccess to will not work when laid flat on the ground, due to low clearance when the coach has not been aired up. I'm not thrilled about the old "CAT" operators oil warm up solution of using a "Tiger Torch" fired into a five gallon tin pail beneath the generator either due to the risk of melting the plastic oil filter door latches, or catching the motorhome on fire.

I don't have a small generator that I could use to power one of those magnetic attaching temporary external block heaters, which would seem to be the safest path.

By next season I hope to have plumbed in a way to preheat the generator by using the Oasis diesel heater that can presently be used to pre-heat the Cummins engine.

Any ideas from those with practical experience will be gratefully accepted.
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Old 12-26-2017, 10:35 PM   #2
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Your Gen set should have glow plugs for pre-heat.... I have had to cycle the glow plug circuit several times to get the cylinders warm enough to fire(-15/-20 deg.), but unless you have straight 40 or 50 weight oil should fire off ok.(I run 15/40 DELO for oil)
Also ...be sure to flip your battery "boost" switch to on so you are drawing off all batteries.
Just let the gennie get to operating temps before you try putting a full load on it.(flip the breaker(s) off until it warms up)
WARNING!!! DO NOT USE either, WD-40 or starting fluid!!! with glow plugs...that will fry the glow plugs in a NY second.
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Old 12-26-2017, 11:01 PM   #3
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TinMan - I think you are looking for a way to warm your lubricating oil before starting it. I live in San Diego now and do not have a cold issue, but when we lived back in the north east for a few years a couple of times my diesel car would not start because it was too cold. So it got towed to a garage and they used a hair dryer to heat it up. I think that would work for what you are trying to do also.
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Old 12-27-2017, 09:28 AM   #4
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He said no power! Unless he has a currant bush nearby a hair dryer won't help. As above when I started the diesel in cold weather I preheated with the glow plugs a couple times and it fired. Expect white smoke for a couple until there is a little heat in the motor.

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Old 12-27-2017, 09:46 AM   #5
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You refer to plumbing your Oasis system to warm the genny. That tells me you have battery power to run it to pre-heat the Cummins engine. If true, start the engine, turn on the inverter and plug in a magnetic pan heater. Your 10W40 oil is 10W at -15*, so just start it and run it slow for a few minutes. 50 years ago we did not have synthetic oils and engines were started all winter long that just had straight 10W oil. Wasn't a problem then and shouldn't be now.
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Old 12-27-2017, 10:11 AM   #6
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I think you may have a tough time getting a magnetic pan heater on the actual oil pan if this is a QD Onan - and it won't do a lot of good to stick it on the bottom of the generator enclosure. Crasher is right though - using the inverter and some form of electrical heat is probably your best bet. If electric will work you could use a dipstick heater, plumb in a hose heater, or use a pan heater if you can get to the actual pan - lots of options. As far as propane / diesel etc. - the best options I can think of still require electricity - or an open flame.
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Old 12-27-2017, 10:34 AM   #7
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To clarify my post, my goal is to be able to warm up the lubricating oil in the generator before I start it. I will need to start it to "exercise it" during winter storage, as well as to provide periodic charging for the house and chassis batteries.

The need to charge the batteries will likely occur during a cold snap, like the one we are in now, where temps will range down to -36. The Onan manual suggests that the present 10W-40 oil is usitable down to +10. If it had 5W-30 the manual says it would be O.K. down to -20. I didn't use the thinner oil since I expected to be in temperatures above its +50 upper operating limit. I feel that it is worth finding a way to pre-warm the oil to provide immediate ease of oil circulation to protect the generator engine during that first 10 minutes of operation.

I am finding that despite having 1300 watts of roof top solar output capacity, the low winter sun angle up here does not generate sufficient photo voltaic output to offset the 5 watt drain created by operating the inverter/charger, even when the solar panels are kept clear of snow. The 5 watt solar panel supplied by the factory for maintaining the engine batteries is even less useful.

Thanks for the ideas you have suggested so far, however I am really looking for a slim, safe, controllable, flameless method to heat the genny oil without having electricity available.
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Old 12-27-2017, 10:52 AM   #8
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If your solar can't maintain the batteries because of load, maybe you can disconnect the inverter and other no-essential items while in storage.
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Old 12-27-2017, 11:00 AM   #9
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I always store with the inverter OFF! Course I also have the unit plugged in and in a shed.

Our shed is not heated but when you hit the start button on your genset it activates the warming elements and won't even turn over until it has warmed them sufficiently. I do find that sometimes I have to repeat this process several times to get them warm enough when it is really cold. Right now it is -7 degrees and I'm not going to bother it. But if you have to get started, just do what I described and take your time. Once running in cold weather I will run it all night just to keep it warm. Doesn't hurt it and doesn't take much fuel either.
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Old 12-27-2017, 11:04 AM   #10
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What Twinboat said. I leave ours parked with the inverter and charger off and the batteries stay near 13 volts. I only have 620 watts of solar. That inverter takes more than you would think when you have no shore power. I think more potential harm can be done to the generator engine than any benefit to the generator during a cold start. If turning off the inverter allows the solar to keep the batteries charged, the genny can sit for several months without "exercising" just like the new coaches sitting on a dealers lot. It's not a problem.
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Old 12-27-2017, 12:25 PM   #11
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The cold snap isn't going to last until next spring so might be best to eliminate any electrical load on the batteries and just wait cold weather out. Cold air is very dry so the generator side of the unit will be fine until the temps move up into a more comfortable range.

Onan appears to be a bit overly conservative regarding air temps and oil weights. 10 weight oil should flow well enough at starting to around -5 or so but you might have bigger problems with diesel gelling at extreme low temps described. Consider pulling a sample from the tank, a filter or bleed line if possible. If its milky, cloudy or you can't get it to flow might be best to wait for warmer temps before trying to start anything.
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Old 12-28-2017, 12:48 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Crasher View Post
Your 10W40 oil is 10W at -15*, so just start it and run it slow for a few minutes.
If the OP has a 10 or 12.5KW Onan, there is no running it slow. One speed, 1800rpm !
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Old 12-28-2017, 07:31 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TinMan Trvlr View Post
To clarify my post, my goal is to be able to warm up the lubricating oil in the generator before I start it. I will need to start it to "exercise it" during winter storage, as well as to provide periodic charging for the house and chassis batteries.

The need to charge the batteries will likely occur during a cold snap, like the one we are in now, where temps will range down to -36. The Onan manual suggests that the present 10W-40 oil is usitable down to +10. If it had 5W-30 the manual says it would be O.K. down to -20. I didn't use the thinner oil since I expected to be in temperatures above its +50 upper operating limit. I feel that it is worth finding a way to pre-warm the oil to provide immediate ease of oil circulation to protect the generator engine during that first 10 minutes of operation.

I am finding that despite having 1300 watts of roof top solar output capacity, the low winter sun angle up here does not generate sufficient photo voltaic output to offset the 5 watt drain created by operating the inverter/charger, even when the solar panels are kept clear of snow. The 5 watt solar panel supplied by the factory for maintaining the engine batteries is even less useful.

Thanks for the ideas you have suggested so far, however I am really looking for a slim, safe, controllable, flameless method to heat the genny oil without having electricity available.
Not sure where you are at, but most of the cold snap for the north is suppose to be gone by next week, with temps closer to or above ther freezing mark.

I'd wait until then to start the generator and top up your batteries. Next cold snap I would use the battery disconnect switch to isolate the batteries and you should be good to go when the cold snap passes.
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Old 12-28-2017, 08:31 PM   #14
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As a bush pilot in Alaska we would drain the oil and keep it in the house overnight.

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