Manufacturers get the blame when lawn gear doesn’t start easily, if at all, or lasts fewer years than you expect. But in an economy that seems to encourage throwing away unruly products rather than fixing them—or taking care of them in the first place—it feels better to complain. But property upkeep still needs doing. Wouldn’t you rather get the most out of your investment? The following tips cover the most critical ways to ensure that your mower, tractor or rider will make it intact through the winter.
Fuel for Love
If you love the sound of your mower firing up readily when you want it, do your springtime self this favor: Drain the gas once you’re done for the season. Sure, it’s possible to get away with starting next season with last year’s fuel. You’re just hurting your odds—and helping the owner of your local repair shop put his kids through college.
Any gasoline will “varnish,” or gum up, if left sitting in the tank. The ethanol mixed with fuel, however, complicates matters further. Siphon out whatever fuel you can (the Arnold Siphon Pump Kit is shown above), and then start the engine and run dry the rest. For extra insurance, pour in just enough ethanol-free fuel (sold by the can in home centers, Sears and dealerships) to start the engine again. Then run it dry again so that all gas with ethanol is gone from the carburetor and fuel lines.
With lawn tractors and riders, their larger engines and the way they feed fuel helps them avoid trouble. Still, they’re not impervious to fuel issues. With these machines, do the opposite: Top off the tank off to leave little room for moisture. Just be sure to add an appropriate amount of fuel stabilizer to the gas in the can before fueling up, as you should with any gas-powered outdoor gear.
There’s the Rub
Run a walk mower for a half hour, and the mower’s engine will spin more than 100,000 times. It’s oil that keeps the engine parts that rub together from overheating and seizing up, but changing it once a year is nevertheless a commonly neglected task. Some newer walk-mower engines from Briggs & Stratton and Kohler don’t require oil changes—just adding oil when needed. For the vast majority, do it now unless you change it at the start of every season.
This isn’t easy with the usual lawn mower: You have to slowly flip over the machine to let the oil drain into a container you’ve set in place, as shown below. (This is better done when the fuel tank is empty.) For tractors and riders, you can drain the oil without giving yourself a backache.
Swab the Deck
Grass clippings that build up in your mower deck can speed corrosion, which will eventually ruin a mower even if you’re careful otherwise. Most walk mowers have washout ports to which you connect a garden hose; they work best when you lower the deck all the way. Once you’re done, be sure it dries before you put the mower away. (A leaf blower comes in handy.) For extra protection, remove the spark plug’s boot, tip the mower over and inspect the deck. Chances are that you’ll find more crud to scrape off. Spraying the dry deck with silicone spray as a last step helps keep clippings from sticking.
For tractors and riders, landscape pros seem unanimous in hating washout ports. Besides warnings about wetting the deck spindles and soaking rather than removing the clumps stuck beneath, the major concern is that since you have to work at getting beneath the deck, unlike walk mowers, you can’t easily find out how much all that water is helping to extend the life of your machine—if it is at all. Many pros, consequently, avoid the practice as a rule. One Texas contractor, instead, scrapes off buildup twice a year when he removes his tractor’s blades for sharpening.
Sound the Charge
A battery gone bad from neglect can prove even more of an expense than skipping maintenance on a gas mower. That’s because battery-powered mowers tend to cost more. Unfortunately, neglect with earlier cordless models wasn’t always avoidable. Batteries don’t like near-freezing temperatures, so unless you had somewhere indoors to keep the mower, its battery might not have lasted as long as you expected—such as a few years beyond the warranty. Today’s cordless mowers have removable batteries, so be sure you bring yours in and keep it charged if that’s what your owner’s manual instructs.
Even gas-powered gear might need a charge. The battery-powered starter system of a mower, tractor or rider needs to be periodically charged throughout the winter. If you don’t, the battery’s ability to recharge could diminish before it no longer will at all. Here’s another time to check your manual: Some batteries only recharge in warm air, which requires a garage if not a heated space.
Certain tasks, such as replacing your spark plug and filters, need to be done periodically but not necessarily at the end of the season. We cover those here.