Should I Pick a 2 Cycle Engine for a Portable Generator

A recent question has come up asking about using a 2 cycle or commonly known as 2 stroke engines for portable generators rather than the 2 cycle engines. Are there any advantages or disadvantages of using the 2 cycle engine?

This is an area that wasn’t covered in our buyer’s guide as it wasn’t a focus at the time of the writing. This short article will provide you with a few considerations to help gather your thoughts on using a 2 stroke generator.

In the final analysis the basic considerations seem to be more of personal choice as well as manufacture choice in building a more cost effective portable generator.

Definitions of cycle

A 2 cycle engine fires on every compression of the cylinder. A 4 cycle engine fires on every other compression. I’ll refer you Wikipedia for the 2 stroke engine and 4 stroke engine detailed explanations. My intent here is to cover what is available and why you might choose one over the other.

State of the portable generator nation

The 4 cycle engine is the default design for the vast majority of portable and standby generators on the market. It is a proven technology and provides better control for emissions and is easier to tune to meet the higher standards imposed by the CARB rules. The 4 cycle design also gets better fuel economy and has a better engine wear profile.

2 cycle designs are utilized for smaller applications where a smaller engine size is needed and power can be controlled in a small range. They produce more emissions based on the fuel consumption being greater and utilizing an oil/gas mixture. However the small size makes them attractive for compactness and power delivered.

2 Cycle Engine Pros and Cons.

Typically you’ll find the two cycle engine used for sizes up to around 1200W and more often for generation in the 500 to 800W size.

Pros of a 2 cycle powered portable generator.

  • Small size so they are compact and highly portable.
  • Weigh less than 4 cycle engines, can be 10 to 15 lbs lighter.
  • Require no crankcase oil (lubrication is provided via the oil/gas mixture
  • Oil requirements are low and often at 32:1 ratio of gas to oil.
  • Good power output at small sizes
  • Can be made very quiet with good muffler and insulating enclosures
  • More cost effective to build at lower generator output sizes.

Cons of using a 2 cycle powered portable generator

  • Requires mixing gas with oil
  • Can’t utilize the mixed gas for other equipment
  • Maintenance is needed more often requiring more attention to cleaning spark plugs and filters. Although without the crankcase oil consideration there is an offset.
  • Limited power output ranges choices
  • Can be harder to start and keep running effectively
  • Higher emission output is typical
  • Fuel usage is higher
  • Louder operation if not using a good muffler.

Manufacture Differences

For the most part the manufactures seem to be using a similar design and may be bulk purchasing the same engine which is 2HP and putting their own spin on the output and wiring. The assembly and use for the generator will determine the longevity of the units. You’ll be able to look at them and see just how similar they are, but again the supplier’s specific specs and final assembly will determine the performance and durability.

Should You Get A 2 Cycle Engine Powered Probable Generator?

If you have a need for a compact lightweight and versatile generator in under the 1000W range, then a 2 cycle design may fit your needs. For plug and play crowd this may not be your cup of tea. It does require more effort to mix the gas/oil and maintain the units and for the handyman this is usually not a problem.

For those using a small generator on an ongoing basis and using it in many different places this can be an appropriate choice. For those using a small generator only occasionally this may not make sense at all.

I’d suggest reading the reviews of the popular 2 cycle portable generator units and getting a feel for what your choice would be. That’s why I say it’s a personal choice, you’ll find you either love it or hate it.

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