It’s spring, birds are chirping, and your grass is growing as fast the weeds.
It needs some cutting. You head to your garage or your garden shed to drag out
the ol' lawnmower from where you shoved it and forgot it last fall. Hey, what do
know? It still has gas in the tank!
You pull the rope. The engine makes spinning noises, but that’s all. Oh,
well, it has been sitting for months, after all. You pull again. Nothing. And
again, and again, and again. So it’s off to a repair shop. This isn’t going to
Some simple maintenance done last fall would have avoided all that the
aggravation and expense. It can also help you avoid having to buy a new mower
sooner than necessary. You don’t have to be a mechanic to do this; all you need
is the will, about a half hour, and some simple, basic hand tools you probably
If you don’t have these tools, you can buy them for a lot less than a repair
bill or, worse yet, the price of a new mower. The same tools can be used for
many other jobs around the home.
A good quality, inexpensive socket set and a screwdriver with a selection of
interchangeable bits is all you need. Make sure the socket set includes a spark
plug socket. You will also need some rags and quart of SAE 30 motor oil. You
will also need an inexpensive spark plug gapping tool, which found at many
hardware store or any auto supply store.
Before you make your last cut of the season, check how much gas is in the
tank. All you need is just enough to finish the job. After you have cut the
grass don’t shut off the mower, let it run out of gas. When it has stopped, set
the controls as if you were going to start it again and pull the starter. If it
starts, let it run again until it stops by itself. Do the same again, only this
time pull the start three or four times. This will ensure all the fuel has been
used up. You want an empty tank when storing your mower for the winter or any
other long period. An alternative is to fill the tank and add fuel stabilizer
according to the directions on the container.
Now, following the manual that came with the mower, find the air cleaner. It
is usually the top of the engine. This filters the air going into the engine
when it is running. You need to clean or replace the filter located inside the
air cleaner. The manual will describe how to do this. If the air filter element
is foam, wash it with dish detergent in warm water, wring it out, and let it
dry. Once it is dry, put some motor oil on it, wring out the excess, and it is
ready to be put back in the air cleaner. If the air filter element is paper, it
can be cleaned by blowing it out with compressed air. Direct the air from the
inside of the filter out. Then hold it up to a light. If you can see light
through it, you can reuse it, but if you can't see light, replace it. This step
is important because airborne dirt is the engine’s worst enemy.
Once the air cleaner has been cleaned, check your manual on where the oil
drain plug is located. You will need a wrench, a shallow pan to drain oil into,
a couple of rags to wipe up any spills, and a quart of good quality motor oil.
Most lawn mower makers recommend SAE 30 oil, though 10W-30 oil may also be used
in most mowers. When you have located the oil drain plug, usually on the bottom
of the engine under the deck, carefully tip the mower so you can get at the
plug. Remove it with your wrench by turning it counter clockwise. Have your pan
ready to catch the oil but use caution, the oil may still be hot and can burn
you. Next, let the mower down on its wheels with the pan underneath and give oil
a few minutes to drain out. Then, rag in hand, tip the mower up again so you can
wipe away any oil around the plug hole and reinsert the plug, tighten it snugly
but do not over tighten it. Wipe up any spills and lower the mower back onto its
Now, find where the new oil goes in. If the mower has a dipstick, as most now
do, pull it out and pour in a little less than half of the quart of oil. Wait a
minute for the oil to run down into the engine and then check the level with the
dipstick. If more oil is needed, add only very small amounts until the level on
the dipstick indicates full. Do not overfill the engine with oil. That can cause
damage. It is important to change the oil after every 25 hours of operation
because most mowers do not have a filter to clean the oil. Dirty oil causes
serious and often fatal internal damage.
Remove the spark plug using your spark plug socket. Clean the spark plug by
wiping with a clean, dry rag. If most of the dirt stays on, you should consider
replacing the plug. A new one is inexpensive, but take the old one with you to
make sure you get the right one. Use your spark plug gapping tool to set the gap
between the two electrodes at the base of the plug for .030. You do this by
gently bending the outer electrode up or down with the gapping tool. Now the
spark plug is ready to go back in.
Do not over tighten the spark plug when you put it back in. Screw it in until
it makes contact with the engine and then give it another quarter turn with your
Ok, the other thing that needs to be done is to remove the blade to have it
checked for defects, sharpened, balanced, and reinstalled. There are serious
safety issues involved when it comes to the blade. It needs to be serviced
correctly, and this is best left to a professional. It’s better to spend a few
dollars than losing a toe or a foot. If you don't want to have this done in the
fall, do it in the spring.
Water from rain or melting snow can seep into the gas tank through the tank's
vent holes, so store your mower and other equipment in a dry place. As an
alternative, securely cover the machine with a tarp.
Now your mower is ready for next season. Come spring all you need to do is
add gas and cut some grass.
Note: The author is not responsible for any personal injury or damage caused by following the above. Readers follow the above advice at their own risk.