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Regular Lawnmower Maintenance Saves Money 
by Stephen Carthy May 31, 2005

How to store a lawnmower in the fall.

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 be cheap.

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 already own.

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 wheels.

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 wrench.

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.


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