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The Generator That Could – 2 Years Later

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Chi-Com GeneratorAbout 2 years ago I wrote about this little 1000 watt Chi-Com generator sold by various merchants including Northern Tool for from about $100 to $150.

I tested this generator and found it to be a superb bargain. It outputs its rated power and does so without making much noise. Several people questioned the longevity of the unit. Of course I didn’t have any answers, as the generator was then fairly new to the market.

A friend, Mike Hendrix, who lives full-time in a motorhome and journals his travels here. He spends a good deal of each year “dry camping” (camping without utility hookup). Back when I wrote the first article, Mike bought one of these little generators.

Like most coaches, his motorhome is equipped with a large generator that can run all the appliances and the air conditioner on the rig. Running that generator for such things as lighting and recharging the coach’s battery is terribly inefficient so Mike bought one of these little generators to do that job. In a recent note he told me that he runs it from 6 to 8 hours a day (on a single gallon of fuel) every day that he dry camps.

I asked him how many hours he had on the little machine. He figured it up and the total came to right at 2000 hours! Still running strong and still no major problems.

Several other people have questioned the availability of spare parts for the little unit. Mike addressed that issue too. As stated in the manual, the generator is imported by Eastern Tools and Equipment. Telephone 888 908 6200. Mike has always talked to the parts department lady Amy at 877 668 9151.

3375 bad capacitorHe’s had a few small things go wrong. The gas tank developed a vibration crack and started leaking (replaced free out of warranty). The rubber feet wore out (!). His latest problem was that the voltage regulating capacitor failed. The capacitor is illustrated at left.

Like all the other parts, this 14uF capacitor was in stock at Eastern Tool and was inexpensive at about $14.

It took a little while for the capacitor to arrive via UPS so in the meantime Mike visited a local HVAC supplier and got a 15uF motor run capacitor to sub in its place. The motor run capacitor is physically larger than the ETQ one so Mike just let it hang outside the housing. It is also electrically 1 uF larger so that caused his output voltage to rise to about 125 volts under load. No big deal but it does illustrate how the capacitor sets the regulated voltage in this type of generator.

3377 comparisonHe sent along this photo. I love it when a plan comes together.

In addition to the obvious capacitor hanging out, notice the excellent condition the generator is in. To be sure, part of that is the new gas tank but even the plastic looks clean and like-new.

My Generator

My little generator is not so pretty, though it has about half the hours of Mike’s. It sits outside on the non-screened front porch of my cabin, subject to all the weather and debris the wind can bring. Though it looks kinda shabby, it still starts after a couple of pulls and supplies full output. I use it to supply my “vital bus” (lights, computer, refrigeration, etc) for my cabin when I don’t want to start my big standby generator. Power’s getting more reliable up here in Green Cove as the utility does Right-of-Way work but we still have the power go off for days at a time.

So. The two big questions have been answered:

  1. Will it last: YES
  2. Are parts available: YES

When these generators go on sale around Christmas time, I pick up several and keep them on hand for summer sales at this little fishing resort that I live in. Campers show up and find that they suddenly can’t live without power :-) I’ve sold a bunch of ’em and have never had a complaint. Further testimony to their ruggedness.

Posted by neonjohn on January 29th, 2011 under Power Generation, RV/Camping



16 Responses to “The Generator That Could – 2 Years Later”

  1. Tre LaDormin Says:

    Based on your review, I picked up 3 at Harbor Freight on Friday ($99/e). They will be running ’round the clock for a few weeks while powering some remote chart recorders, lights, battery chargers, etc. After fueling, all three started on the second pull. After this assignment, they will be set aside for emergency use at our remote construction trailer. I may have a need for a larger amperage supply. Is it possible to hook these up in parallel?, Is there any way to convert these to 240vac?…just curious. Thanks for the review. Keep up the good work.

  2. neonjohn Says:

    Hi Tre,

    Please post back here with your experience after the few weeks are over. I’ll be greatly interested in how things go.

    You mentioned battery chargers. The only thing that I’ve found that absolutely will not run on one of these cheap generators (burns out) is the Schumacher smart charger that Wal-Mart sold in its automotive department. I don’t think they sell this charger anymore but just in case you might have one, I thought I’d post the warning.

    Paralleling: I’ve done it just to prove that I could but I don’t think that it would be successful over the long term. The process involves manipulating one governor to get the RPM exactly matched to the other generator, then using a phase indicator (a 230 volt lamp is good for that), getting the phase exactly the same. At that point close the connection between the generators.

    To STAY in phase, the governors have to be pretty closely matched and I just don’t think that these are.

    My advice for more power would be to get one of the cheap ChiCom 4 stroke generators in the 2.5 to 3.5kW range. ETQ imports those too. Harbor Freight has them. Interestingly enough, the cheapest I’ve found them has usually been at a Pep Boys auto parts store.

    These generators use a Honda clone (rumored to be licensed from Honda) engine and so should last a long while. Disadvantages include more weight and somewhat higher fuel consumption.

    Thanks,
    John

  3. Tre LaDormin Says:

    Thanks for the kind words. So far everyone likes them. The concept of a two cycle needing special oil/gas mix eluded them at first. After a short explanation, the scientists have been able to keep the 2 cycle oil gas mix close enough to keep ’em running. I set up each team with their own six pack of pre-packaged syn 2 cycle oil (one mini jug to a gallon of mogas) and a poly one gallon gas jug (actually holds one gallon four ounces US) and sent them on their way. (A full tank and a jug to top ’em off seems to get them through a 10-12 hour day.) The teams liked the gen set’s portability, and ease of starting. Next phase of the mission for the little blue beauties will be to power some hammer drills in the boondocks. I like ’em ’cause they don’t break. (I’m the wrench on this project.) HFT also sells engines that seem to come from the same manufacturer (China Honda Clones Inc.). I have been using them as replacements for worn out Briggs, Kohlers, and Jakes on APU’s, small tugs, and other equipment. Sorry to say it’s cheaper and faster to swap out engines than to rebuild.

  4. Brian Says:

    I’ve been curious about those harbor freight 800/900 gennies. Are they the same as the Etq 1200?

  5. Doug Says:

    About putting them in parallel — once it’s done, they will stay in phase as there’s strong forces that would oppose it if they didn’t.

    More on how to do it here — http://yarchive.net/car/rv/generator_synchronization.html

  6. Tre LaDormin Says:

    Shortly after buying the first three, we bought more. After a while two expired. The users said they ‘just couldn’t get them running’. They were correct – they just wouldn’t run…’course the busted spark plug, and ripped out plug wire had nothin’ to do with it. Seems they ‘might have fallen off the truck’. All others are still running strong. We also use them for emergency lighting with ‘cfl’ bulbs. I love ’em ’cause they don’t weigh much, run, and just won’t quit.

  7. hugh williams Says:

    that’s really cheap. i got something similar for camping

  8. Tre Says:

    We now have six.Still running strong. They sometimes need a whiff of ether on a snowy morning to get going. Last bunch were $89 each. We picked up a 50 amp unit for bigger jobs. It is a 4 cycle unit, runs great and cheap. Love those Chicom genny’s!

  9. Tre LaDormin Says:

    Still running strong. They get a fair amount of abuse, and get run in bad weather outside. I gave up on paralleling multiple sets. We also use the little guys on boats to power auxiliary gear.

  10. Tre LaDormin Says:

    Still running strong – used them over the last two weeks to light up job site during an enforced power outage (had to work inside the main switchgear). First morning it was zero ambient – a little ether, and vrrroom, lights on. We probably have a few hundred hours on them running everything from cfl lighting to recharging laptops on remote duty to running pumps and heaters. Love ’em. Next project will be to duplicate NJ’s portable super spotlight with a BACFL and reflector.

  11. Tre LaDormin Says:

    Just one more thing – if you forget to drain the carb bowl before storage, and you are worried about gum, varnish, etc try draining bowl and tank before starting after long term storage, and use a tank of 100LL avgas with synthetic 2 cycle oil. Avgas usually will disolve moderate gum and varnish. Auto gas with ethanol blend tends to lose it’s volitility rapidly and leaves gum/varnish in it’s wake. I use a 50-50 blend of avgas with non-ethanol 87 octane autogas with synthetic 2 cycle oil for my personal gen fuel. Very reliable and doesn’t gum up the carb if I forget to drain it.

  12. neonjohn Says:

    Hey Tre.

    I always run premium gas and synthetic oil in mine. That stops the partial load pinging.

    Never thought of the avgas angle. Great tip.

    John

  13. Toby Says:

    I have two of these ETQ TG 1200’s that I bought about 3 years ago. I bought them for recharging the battery bank and inverter setup that I put in my house in case of extended power outages. We haven’t had any since, so they’ve just been sitting around in my garage. I had this plan to at least start ’em up every 6 months or so and then just kind of forgot about them for the last two years.

    So today I thought, let me just see if they still work at all. At first the results were not promising, no start at all. Then I checked the manual to see if I was moving the choke lever the right way. I wasn’t!

    After getting that right, both of them started up in 2-3 pulls. On 2 year old gas that had been sitting around in my garage with no sta-bil or anything added to it. Ran my test load (a ceramic heater) no problem.

    So not only do these things survive heavy use, they survive sitting around neglected for a couple of years, too.

  14. Farmer Brown Says:

    I’m too late, can’t find one for sale :(

  15. Tre LaDormin Says:

    Well we finally scrapped all but one of the little blue beauties. After our teams of scientists & engineers completed their last use, the lads tossed the little gens that could into the back of a truck and trundled back to the jobsite. The team returned the next day upset that gens didn’t work. I went out to give a quick look & a tug…every sparkplug snapped off, several plug leads torn up, etc.Heck, even a broken casting. Dumpster bait, and what a shame, not worn out,just beat to death. BTW they are on sale last month for $99.

  16. W Shooke Says:

    Had similar issues with capacitors. One swelled up in the middle, another leaking wax, 3rd low capacitance. I bypass the breaker and wire direct to spec grade outlet or extension cord (after losing volt in burned connectors, and a weak breaker). Have one that only puts out about 60 volts until you connect load, then jumps to about 110. Guessing it might have a bad diode in the rotor?

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