Winter has a way of delivering one last smackdown before it pushes off, and this one was a case in point—with snow still lingering in some areas despite the approach of Passover and Easter. But even if you can’t yet see the lawn, this is a good time to prep your walk-behind mower for a lawn just itching to grow. You’ll need less than an hour if you have parts and tools ready, and it’s time well-spent.
What to have ready: fresh gasoline, fuel stabilizer, oil (SAE 30), and possibly a replacement air filter and spark plug. Your manual will specify which plug is appropriate. You’ll also need a socket-wrench set, a short (about three-foot) 2×4, a drain pan, a pair of work gloves and, if you’re blessed with the gift of foresight, a spare mower blade.
Drain those fluids
Your first chore is to tip that mower over, and this is a good time to put on the gloves. If your fuel tank has old gas to which you had added fuel stabilizer, you might be able to start the mower with it. But if you hadn’t stabilized the fuel—just left it sitting over the winter—you should drain out every drop possible. For that, you’ll need to remove the gas cap and slowly turn the mower over with a drain pan beneath. (Many service stations will accept old fuel.) But don’t add fresh fuel yet.
If you had changed your mower’s oil before putting away the machine last fall, you needn’t do it again now. But once that old fuel is out, tip the mower back upright and reposition the drain pan on the other side. Remove the oil cap and turn the mower back over, in the other direction. Don’t yet refill it.
Start with a sharp blade
Many people pay no attention to the blade, but it’s important for a couple of reasons. A sharp blade means less work for the engine—less resistance as it turns—and it also is less stress on the grass. A dull blade rips rather than slices the grass, and you’ll soon see its effects from the brown-tipped lawn, the beginning of a season gone bad.
So while your mower is on its side, check the direction the blade turns and wedge in the 2×4 to keep the blade from moving. Use a socket wrench to remove the bolt or two holding the blade in place, and removing it while noting the order you’ve removed the parts accompanying the blade. (Here are more-detailed instructions.) If you have a spare blade you sharpened (or took for sharpening) at your leisure, install it now. If you have only one blade, the rest of your mower prep will need to wait till a blade is back on the machine. Unless you have a mower like Toro’s Recycler SmartStow line of models that store standing up, gas tends to spill out when you tip the mower over.
Once you have the newly sharpened blade on, of course, it’s time to refuel and add oil if necessary.
The filter matters
Given that it takes seconds to change a mower’s air filter, you might think it’s a task you can shrug off. Before you do, consider the part of your yard that gets the driest during the summer. Running a mower over that section might leave you wishing you’d used a dust mask for yourself, and that’s exactly what the air filter is. Even if your entire lawn is pretty moist all summer, the air filter stops a lot of fine debris that otherwise would make it into the carburetor. That, as much as old oil, is what will shorten that mower’s service life. Take those few seconds and remove that old filter; some foam filters can be washed and reused. Your manual will give you more detailed instructions, but some advice is here as well.
And now the electrical
Remember the last time you replaced your mower’s spark plug? If you keep good track of it, you know you needn’t change the plug every year—though a good wire brushing and regapping (see video below) could help. If you don’t know how old the spark plug is, replacing it removes one last potential obstacle to starting. You’ll need your socket set’s smaller spark-plug socket for this. Hand-tighten first to be sure the plug is straight before finishing with the socket wrench.
Mowers with electric start typically use lead-acid batteries that need May temperatures to charge. In other words, you might be using the pullcord to start the mower at first. While you do, check it for fraying. You might not need it much once you can regularly charge the e-start battery, but next fall—or during a days-long rainy week—you can take the mower in to replace a cord that’s wearing thin.
If you have a cordless-electric mower, lucky you: You can skip everything above. But one thing you must do, every fall, is take the battery indoors for a winter-long trickle charge out of the cold. If you’d left it in the mower over the winter, you might be replacing that battery sooner than you think.
There’s more you can do to help your mowing, such as spraying the underside of your mower’s deck with silicone spray, a lubricant that helps keep grass from stick to the deck. Manufacturers also recommend greasing your wheels’ axles and provide instructions in your manual. Want more still to do? Read through that manual. The steps above, however, are the most helpful for getting you going so you can enjoy the spring in your hammock—instead of shopping for a new mower at your local home center.