Backup Power

Harbor Freight 800 Watt Portable Power Generator Review

For quite a while I've been wanting a portable power generator that we could use to power a few essential items during an extended power outage. Problem is, I haven't been willing to fork over the cash. Then I noticed that Harbor Freight has an 800 watt generator that currently retails for $149.95 but can frequently be had for much cheaper. In my case, my wife found a coupon for $89.95.

Now 800 watts isn't a whole lot of power; what I really want for a portable emergency power generator is something in the 3000 to 5000 watt range. But I reasoned that  800 watts of power beats the heck out of zero watts. So, after visiting the Harbor Freight website and reading the customer reviews for this generator, I decided to give it a try.

 

Unpacking and Setup

After unpacking the generator, the first thing I did was attach the handle. Next, I removed the spark plug that came with the unit and replaced it with an equivalent NGK spark plug. Why replace a brand new spark plug? Well, because several of the reviewers on the Harbor Freight website were not exactly thrilled with the performance of the stock Bonin spark plug, and reported that the generator ran much better after they replaced that plug with an equivalent NGK, Autolite or Champion spark plug. So I decided to heed the voices of experience and replace the plug. The equivalent spark plug part numbers are:

  • NGK: BP6ES
  • Champion: RN11YC
  • Autolite: 64

 

Fueling the Generator

This generator is powered by a two-cycle engine. This means that rather than filling the fuel tank with just gasoline, you need to fill it with a mixture of gasoline and two-cycle motor oil. The manufacturer's manual specifies a 50:1 ratio of unleaded gasoline to 2-cycle motor oil, and notes that the correct mixture can be obtained by mixing 2.5 ounces of 2-cycle oil to 1 gallon of gasoline.

NOTE: If you ever have to figure out for yourself how much 2-cycle oil to add to gasoline in order to obtain the correct ratio for a two cycle engine, don't sweat it, it's actually fairly simple. All you need to know is the required ratio, the quantity of gasoline you are adding the 2-cycle oil to, and that 1 gallon=128 ounces. Now divide the total quantity of gasoline - in ounces - by the ratio. The result is the number of ounces of 2-cycle oil you need to add to the gasoline. For example, I'm using a full one gallon gas can so I have about 128 ounces of gasoline, and this generator requires a 50:1 ratio of gasoline to 2-cycle oil. So I divide 128 by 50, and the result is about 2.5. So I need to add 2.5 ounces of 2-cycle oil to the gallon of gasoline to get a 50:1 ratio.

When I removed the fuel tank cap I noticed a couple of neat features. First, sitting inside the mouth of the fuel tank is a measuring cup for measuring out the proper amount of 2-cycle oil to be added to the gasoline:

 I removed the measuring cup and found that it actually sits inside of a fuel strainer that will filter out any debris that may fall into the tank during fueling:

 

I measured out the oil and added it to the gas can, shook the gas can several times to mix the oil and gasoline thoroughly, then filled up the generator gas tank.

 

Starting and Running the Generator

 Starting the generator is straightforward:

  • Turn the fuel switch to the "Open" position
  • Move the engine choke lever to the "Choke" position
  • Set the engine power switch to the "On" position
  • Pull the starter rope until the engine starts
  • After the engine warms up, move the choke lever to the "Run" position

I followed the steps above and the generator started on the third pull of the starter rope. The manual recommends that the generator be allowed to warm up for 3 minutes before connecting a load. The manual also states that the break-in period for the generator is 25 hours, and during this period the generator should not be operated at more than 75% of it's load limt (600w). With this in mind, I connected a 300w halogen work light to the unit for testing.

 

The generator ran a bit rough with no load connected, but as soon as I plugged in the 300w work light it settled down to a nice steady hum. While it's not whisper-quiet by any means, it's not terribly loud either. I wouldn't use it in a campground with other campers close by, but if I knew I was going someplace where I wouldn't be too close to other people, I would gladly take this generator along.

 

Overall Impressions

All-in-all, this is a pretty neat little generator. Among it's benefits:

  • Inexpensive (especially if you find a coupon)
  • small and lightweight
  • easy to start
  • not excessively loud

So what will this generator power? 800w certainly won't even come close to powering your whole house, but it will power a few things that could make your life a bit easier in an emergency (though it won't necessarily power all of them at once) The following is just a partial list:

  • lights
  • cell phone chargers
  • rechargeable lantern chargers
  • radio / weather radio
  • television
  • small refrigerators and freezers
  • fans
  • small electric heater on low power setting
  • blower on wood burning stove

Other owners have reported that they have used this generator to power full size refrigerators and freezers, laptop computers, amatueur radios, satellite television receivers, and small window air conditioning units (5000btu).

 

Conclusions

 There are other generators in the 800-1000w range that have more features and run more quietly than this Harbor Freight generator ... and they cost several hundred dollars more. And while I still plan to buy a larger generator eventually, this little generator gives me at least limited emergency power capabilty while I save up for a larger unit, and it gives me that capability at an attractive price.

 So if you're looking for an inexpensive, low-power, basic portable power generator for emergency use or use in remote locations where electric power isn't available, take a look at the  Harbor Freight 800w portable power generator. It just might fit your needs at a price that won't strain your bank account.

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Comments   

 
0 #21 digital binary 2014-02-19 10:16
WOW just what I was looking for. Came here by searching
for generator
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0 #20 Gary 2014-02-10 23:22
Quoting Rusty:
[quote name="George"]These are junk. I purchased mine to run 600w light. After the first 3-4 starts it took 25 to 30 pulls to start. I am only on my second tank of fuel oil mix and I can't keep it running for more than a few seconds. I didn't have high expectations for an $80 generator but this has proven to be worthless.


I always keep a spray can of starter fluid around, especially for snow blowers. Quick squirt and I get a first pull start!
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+2 #19 Rusty 2013-04-26 00:39
BTW: I now own two of these generators. One is the Harbor Freight "Stormcat" brand, rated at 800W. The other is a "Coleman" brand, rated at 1000W.

Using a "Kill-a-Watt" meter and ten 100 watt bulbs, I measured the voltage, frequency, and power output of each generator at 100W intervals. Both performed well, power output pretty-much matched the load...until...

the 1000 watt Coleman was only able to provide 120v through the 9th bulb. Once the 10th bulb was turned on, the voltage dropped to 110v. At 1300W of load, the Coleman was only providing 82v of electricity.

the 800 watt Stormcat under the same conditions provided 118v under 1000w of load. At 1300W of load, the Stormcat was providing 88v.

So what does all this mean? I interpret the data to mean that these generators are only trustworthy up to 800W. Don't rely on the label glued to the generator. Anything beyond 800W and let's just say "your mileage may vary."
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-3 #18 Brian 2013-04-25 21:37
Change the spark plug to a name brand one. The hard starting problem will go away. This has been documented in other forums. Brand new units would not start....change the plug, fires right up.
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0 #17 Kenneth 2013-04-14 00:49
I bought this little generator as a quick go to generator after a lengthy power outage in December a storm dropped trees on the power lines in my neighborhood I have a larger 6000 watt rated 8500 surge watts generator and it was so noisy it drove the neighbors nuts like a lawn mower that never stopped running a guy across the street was running one of these and it was half as loud it will keep the lights tv and fan going and that's about it no fridge or ac change out the bonin plug with a autolite #64 plug run 40-1 gas oil and you can't go wrong it runs 40-1 with premium gas no problem premium has no ethanol in it any ethanol is certain death to the engine
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+2 #16 Rusty 2013-03-31 02:47
Quoting George:
These are junk. I purchased mine to run 600w light. After the first 3-4 starts it took 25 to 30 pulls to start. I am only on my second tank of fuel oil mix and I can't keep it running for more than a few seconds. I didn't have high expectations for an $80 generator but this has proven to be worthless.


Mine has the same problem. I figured it out this weekend: The fuel pickup sits high in the tank. You need at least a quart of gas in the tank for it to start and keep running.

Try putting a 2x4 or a brick under the left legs of the generator so that the fuel tips towards the carburetor.

BTW: I darned near broke my wrist and strained my left elbow pulling a gazillion times to get it to start this weekend. It was only after I removed the fuel petcock and noticed no gas flowing that I understood the problem.
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+1 #15 Kevin 2013-03-19 22:39
@George,
try changing the plug to a champion or Bosch. The plugs that come with them are questionable at best. Hope this helps
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+1 #14 Ronnie 2013-03-16 21:19
@George,
Sorry to hear you're having problems, you may have just got a bad unit, might try taking it back and exchanging it for another one. We've had ours for at least 2-3 years. It has worked so well for us that we recently bought a second one.
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0 #13 George 2013-03-16 19:16
These are junk. I purchased mine to run 600w light. After the first 3-4 starts it took 25 to 30 pulls to start. I am only on my second tank of fuel oil mix and I can't keep it running for more than a few seconds. I didn't have high expectations for an $80 generator but this has proven to be worthless.
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+1 #12 Ronnie 2013-03-11 23:15
@Kevin,
Yeah, ours gets a workout every time we go camping, still runs great.
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