5 steps to putting away your mower

A little time now avoids lots of hassle

Published: November 22, 2013 04:30 PM

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It's a helpless feeling watching the springtime grass grow wild while you try in vain to start your lawn mower. A little spent time now, before you stow your mower and other outdoor gear for the winter, will avoid trouble down the line. Here are the key measures.

Fuel matters most. Siphon off any remaining fuel in the tank and run the mower dry. From there, you can either put in fresh gas with added stabilizer, start up the engine, and run it a bit before storing the mower. (Some additives are especially designed to ward off the harmful effects of ethanol.) Or, for maximum protection, add a bit of ethanol-free fuel, start the mower up, and run it dry again. That way, no ethanol-laced fuel should be left in the lines. Be sure to empty the carburetor bowl.

Check the spark plug. Technically, spark plugs need changing every 100 hours or so of operation. But if you don’t remember when you last changed yours, replacing them now is a good idea.

Change the oil. Chances are you’ll need to flip a walk-behind mower to drain the oil; the best time is when you’ve run the engine dry, since fuel will otherwise spill. Look for the designated mark on the dipstick while refilling, as too much oil can be as bad for the engine as too little. You can take used oil to a local service station or recycling center for disposal.
 
Clean the underside. Many new mowers have a washout port, which can prevent buildup of grass clippings. Whether or not you’ve been cleaning the deck, you’ll need to spray or scrape off any remaining clippings to prevent rusting. (An old bristled pot scrubber might do.) Spraying the cleaned, dried deck with silicone spray can help prevent future build-up. And while you’re at it, remove the blade and have it sharpened. Keeping a spare blade on hand helps.

Air filter. To protect the engine, you’ll also need to replace the air filter, and the end of year is a good time. Not sure which one to get? Take your old one to your local dealer. That should give the technician enough information to supply a new one.  

If you have an electric mower, or even just a battery-powered starter system in a gas mower, you’ll need to periodically charge the battery throughout the winter. Otherwise, its ability to fully recharge will diminish gradually before failing altogether—and sooner than you expected. The batteries for some electric mowers can and should be brought indoors over the winter; check the manual for temperature specifics.

We’ll be heading south soon to test the next batch of walk-behind mowers, lawn tractors, and riders to add to our Ratings. The newest models start appearing in stores before the spring, so if you need a new model, be sure to read our buying guide as you wait out the last weeks of winter.

—Ed Perratore

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