Aurora Generators Diesel Backup Generator

In the second part of our series on home backup power, I'm going to review the generator we chose: the Aurora Generators AGI6800DE 6500 watt diesel backup generator.

This is an open-frame diesel generator rated at 5500 watts continuous power, with 6500 watts peak power (note: peak power is how much the generator can put out for short periods of time, such as when a refrigerator kicks on and needs more power during startup). However, the documentation indicates 6800 watts continuous and 7800 watts peak load, but I haven't been able to confirm at this point which is the real deal.

After doing a lot of research, I found that the products from Aurora Generators seemed to have all the features I was looking for, particularly electric - and even remote! - start and glow plugs, at an extremely competetive price. In short, it was exactly what I was looking for in a diesel backup generator at a price ($1199) that wasn't all that much higher than a lot of the gasoline generators in the same power range. The only trick was the shipping, which was fairly steep at around $250 for delivery here to Maryland.

However, the shipping charge is understandable once you get the generator: it's over 200 pounds, and it isn't fluff! The engine is really beefy and takes up almost the entire interior of the right side of the frame, with the generator/alternator on the left side as you're looking at the front panel.

The engine itself appears to be made in China, but at this price point I'm not going to complain. I've done some research on "chinese diesels" used in generators, and while I doubt the quality will compare to Cummins diesels, for example, the general concensus seems to be that they run without a lot of problems, and that's what I need.

The control panel is well laid out and easy to understand. As you can see, the generator can be switched between 120V and 240V, and has a variety of outlets to support both 20 and 30 amp feeds (the 30 amp would normally be used to feed a transfer switch, which we'll deal with in a later article). In addition, it has a 12V output for charging batteries. For normal operation here in the US, just leave the AC switch in the 120V position: that will supply the AC120V group of outlets with normal 120V power.The generator needs a little bit of assembly, installing the wheels, rear feet, and the handles to move the beast. Doing this wasn't hard, but the instructions were not very helpful. What I finally wound up doing was just separating out the various-sized nuts and bolts, then it was fairly easy to see which ones went with which assembly. One thing to keep in mind while putting these pieces on is that this generator is very heavy, over 200 pounds, so I'd recommend getting something sturdy to prop it up on so you won't throw out your back trying to lever it up to add the wheels and rear feet.

Once you've got that little job out of the way, you'll need to connect the battery, fill the oil reservoir, then add diesel fuel to the tank.

The generator ships with a 12V maintenance-free battery to provide power for starting the generator using the electric starter. You'll need to hook this up (red/positive wire to the positive battery terminal, then black/negative wire to the negative battery terminal) and then make sure it's firmly secured to the battery tray with the included hardware. Note that the documentation says that the battery is a wet-cell battery shipped dry, and that you'll need to get battery fluid - you won't. This is a good thing - who wants to deal with battery acid?

Next is adding the oil. My first bit of advice here is to spend a few bucks getting one of those goose-neck funnels with a fairly small opening. The oil reservoir opening on the generator is in a bit of an odd place, and it was impossible to get to with the regular funnel I had. Not wanting to make another run to the auto store, I made do with some aluminum foil I wrapped into an ad- hoc funnel.

As for the oil to use, the manufacturer recommends 15W-40. Further, for the engine's break-in period (roughly the first 25 hours of light loads only), they recommend only natural mineral oil, not synthetics. Then you just fill up the oil reservoir until the level is between the high and low marks on the dipstick that's part of the reservoir cap (take the measurement with the cap screwed in).

Finally, add diesel fuel! For the first tank or so, I decided to just use dino- diesel, as it was more convenient at the time. But after that I plan to use only biodiesel fuel. One thing I'd recommend, and is next on my purchase plan, is a hand pump to move the fuel from your fuel storage can(s) into the generator's tank (3.3 gallons). There are third main reasons for this: first, you're less likely to make a big mess when filling up the tank; second, holding up a five- gallon can of fuel (something on the order of 30 pounds or so) over the generator is a real pain in the back, literally; and third, sort of a spinoff of number two, is that if I'm not here, I know my wife could fuel the generator with a hand pump, but she'd have a very hard time dealing with the weight and bulk of the fuel cans. And that's part of my overall home backup power strategy: barring the unforeseen, I want things set up so that my wife can run and the generator with confidence in case I'm not here.

This generator has two ways to start it up: electric start and the traditional pull-cord start. I'll be entirely honest and admit that I tried to do the He-Man thing and start it with the pull-cord first. After carefully following the directions, I will also admit that I failed miserably and got a sore shoulder for my efforts.

Then it was time to try the electric start. For this you have to make sure the fuel valve from the tank is turned to the down position, slide the "Run" lever to the run position, stick one of the two included keys into the main panel, then turn the key clockwise to the start position and hold it there until the engine is running. If you really want to show off, do all of the above except turning the key, and start your generator by pushing the ON button on the included keychain-size remote (which will also turn the generator off).

This worked on the first try, and after a minute the generator was running smoothly. Note that if it doesn't start up right away, you may have to clear the air out of the fuel line. There are instructions on how to do this in the manual, and it isn't hard, just a little messy.

When the generator is running, it's pretty loud, but I don't think any louder than any of the gasoline generators in the same power class. I've been running it in our front driveway during its break-in period, and with the windows and garage doors (which aren't insulated) closed, you can barely hear it inside the house. Since my plan is to put it inside a small shed near the house, I think the noise won't be a major issue for us or our neighbors.

The exhaust should be clear after the engine is running at normal RPM. If it's not, follow the troubleshooting procedures in the manual or get in touch with the folks at Aurora Generators.

Once it's running, make sure the AC switch is in the 120V position, then flip the breakers on. You should immediately see the voltmeter swing to the 120V mark and stay steady. I checked the generator's output using a Kill-o-Watt meter, and at zero load it was putting out roughly 120V +/- 2V at a pretty steady 60 kHz. So, as with most generators, this is not "clean" power where the voltage is carefully regulated. So some electronics may not like this power input. However, in most cases you can get a small UPS to put between the generator and the electronics to clean the power (which might not be a bad idea, anyway, especially for your computer or big-screen TV), and some high-end surge protectors now even clean minor power fluctuations.

Note, however, that the manufacturer recommends that you let the generator run for a few minutes to warm up before switching on any loads.

Turning the generator off is just as easy. Just make sure to remove all the loads from it and let it cool down for a few minutes before shutting it off. Make sure that the engine is cool before you handle anything, and be particularly careful of the exhaust, which is on the side of the engine opposite the control panel.

The last thing I'd like to mention, is to make sure your generator is properly grounded. If you're just running extension cords from your generator to your appliances, you should probably be using a ground rod (your generator's instructions should show you how to connect this up). This is to prevent accidental electrocution. If you're using a transfer switch, you'll have to double-check the documentation: if your switch keeps the neutral solidly interconnected to the house supply circuit (and its ground), you should be fine. If, however, the switch breaks or isolates the neutral from the generator, you'll need to ground the generator properly. Take some time to check, and don't hesitate to contact an electrician if you're not sure - this is a big safety issue!

So, wrapping it up, the Aurora Generators AGI6800DE - or any of the company's other diesel generators - is a good choice for medium home backup generator use. Customer service responding to the questions I've asked has been good, and the price was right.