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Equipment care

End-of-season lawn-equipment guide

Last reviewed: August 2009

When packing lawn and garden gear away for the winter, don't just toss it in the shed or garage. Here's how to take care of your equipment so it's ready to go when spring rolls around.

Safeguard fuel

Gasoline-powered mowers and tractors can survive the cold months fine, but the fuel in them begins to oxidize quickly and can cause deposits that clog the carburetor and prevent starting. The best way to prevent that is to add a stabilizer to the fuel. (Home centers, gasoline stations, and garden-supply stores sell stabilizer.) Let the engine run for a few minutes to ensure the stabilized fuel reaches the carburetor. Stabilizer manufacturers claim their products keep fuel from oxidizing for up to 12 months.

  • If you store a mower or tractor in the basement or in an attached garage, run it dry the day you mow your lawn the last time for the season.
  • If you store the mower in a detached shed, make sure the fuel tank is filled with stabilized fuel. This method has two advantages over running the engine dry: In metal tanks, a full fuel tank prevents rust-causing condensation from forming and keeps the carburetor float from sticking. It also means you minimize fuel use and air pollution.

Clean the deck on your mower or lawn tractor

To prevent corrosion damage to the underside of the deck, use a plastic scraper to remove the dirt and grass clippings and follow up by rinsing thoroughly with the garden hose. (To easily access the underside of a lawn tractor, consider purchasing an auto ramp, available at auto-supply stores for less than $40.) Once you've cleaned the deck and it's dry, coat the deck with silicone spray to reduce clippings buildup next spring. Now is also a good time to sharpen the blade. Consider buying a second blade so that one is always available while the other is at the shop being sharpened.

Remove the spark plug

Check the electrodes for wear and deposits, squirt a few drops of fogging oil in the cylinder, pull the starter cord a few times (on an electric-start mower, jog the engine with the key), then reattach the plug. (You can buy fogging oil at power-equipment and auto-parts stores.) Leave the wire off to keep children from starting the engine. If the electrodes are badly worn, replace the spark plug.

Protect the battery

For tractors or riding mowers with a starter battery, remove the battery, charge it fully, and store it inside for the winter (unless, of course, you'll be using the tractor to move snow during the winter). For added protection, charge the battery again one or two times while it's in storage. If you have a battery-powered mower, bring it inside and follow the manufacturer's instructions for keeping it charged during the winter. Those precautions can ensure longer life for the battery.

Perform routine maintenance

The end of the mowing season is a convenient time to perform those preventive-maintenance chores that keep a mower or tractor running longer. Check the owner's manual for specifics. Change the oil (four-stroke engines only), replace the air filter (or clean it if it's an older foam type), and lubricate moving parts such as cables, levers, and wheels.

Store other power equipment

Much of this advice applies to garden tillers, string trimmers, leaf blowers, edgers, and other power equipment. Check all moving parts for damage. Cover any bare metal parts with oil or rust preventive. Clean caked-on grass and wipe debris from tillers, edgers, and trimmer housings.

Here's more maintenance advice on lawn mowers and other yard equipment:

Getting winter tools ready to use

These steps can get your snow blower and chain saw ready before the first storm of winter:

For your snow blower

  • Before the first flake falls, fill the tank with stabilized winter-grade fuel and start the engine to make sure it's running well.
  • Change the oil if you didn't do so at the end of last winter; make sure you check the owner's manual for the correct grade and viscosity.
  • Check other parts of the machine, including the spark plug (clean or replace if necessary), tires (add air if necessary), and all moving parts (lubricate them and make sure they're properly adjusted).
  • Spray the discharge chute with silicone spray to prevent snow from clogging it later.
  • For more information, see our snow blower Ratings and recommendations (available to subscribers).

For your chain saw

  • Fill the tank with a stabilized mix of winter-grade gasoline and two-cycle oil for easier engine starting; replace the bar oil with a winter-grade variety that flows more easily in cold weather. Sharpen the chain or install a new one.