Give your mower a little TLC before leaving it for the season

Consumer Reports News: September 16, 2011 05:16 PM

Mowing less as you brace for all those leaves? Here in the northeast, we surely are. But if you think you can just banish your mower or tractor to the garage or shed and forget about it until spring, think again—and take care of a few last chores while the weather allows. Chances are, your lawn gear will return the favor.

Drain the gas. If you don't generally add fuel stabilizer to your gas, now's the time. Siphon out whatever fuel you can; use a manual or electric siphon, not the oral. Get some fuel stabilizer, available at home centers and gas stations, and mix the appropriate amount with fresh gas in a can. If your mower has a fuel filter (few do), replace it. Refuel, start the mower or tractor, and run it dry. After the mower cools, removing the carburetor bowl drains out last drops that might otherwise cause trouble—even if stabilized—due to the fuel's ethanol content. Wait till next year to refuel again.

Give it a cleaning. While you're running your mower dry is a good time to hose down the deck. Many mowers and tractors now have a washout port (shown) to which you attach a garden hose. A leaf blower is helpful against clippings and other residue that collects around the wheels and housing. You can also use it to circulate air around the wet blade and deck—the faster it dries, the less worry about rust. Spraying the cleaned, dried deck with silicone spray can help prevent future buildup.

Sharpen the blade. Now is the time, if you haven't already done it, to remove the blade of your walk-behind mower and have it sharpened. With the mower free of gas, there's no concern about fuel spills as you raise the deck enough to get at the blade. A 2x4 will keep the blade from turning as you loosen the bolt. For tractors, a set of auto ramps will help you raise the deck enough to remove and sharpen the blades. You otherwise might spend $150 or more transporting your tractor or zero-turn mower to the dealer for the same job.

Change the oil. With the fuel tank empty, flip your walk-behind mower to drain the oil. Every lawn tractor and zero-turn mower has a way to drain oil without flipping; be sure to replace the fuel filter. Follow manufacturer instructions for what oil to add, and how much. You can take waste oil to a service station for disposal.

Replace any filters. If you have a walk-behind mower, replace its air filter. For larger gear, it's more complicated: If the air filter is paper, replace it. If foam, wash it in soap and water. Rinse and squeeze it dry. Check your owner's manual. Some suggest you also, at this point, oil a foam filter with engine oil. If so, squeeze the filter dry again before you reinstall it.

Don't neglect the electricals. Spark plugs typically get replaced every 100 hours of operation, but if you haven't been keeping track (a stop watch and memo pad will do), replace it annually. If the word "gapping" makes you scratch your head, look up the proper gap in your owner's manual and buy the plug at a dealer who'll gap it for you. Without the proper gap, the engine might run badly if it starts at all.

Battery care, even in an electric mower, is critical for its usable life. On an increasing number of electric mowers, you can remove the battery. Keep it indoors on a trickle charge as per your owner's manual. The same goes for the electric-start function of a gas mower; you might need to take the mower indoors periodically over the winter. If you don't charge it—typically in warm air—the battery's ability to recharge will diminish till it goes altogether.

Your manual likely mentions other tasks, such as repacking wheels with grease. The more closely you're able to keep your gear to a maintenance schedule, the better the chance your mower will last for the many years you expect.

Ed Perratore

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