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Get your lawn mower ready for winter in the shed

Proper storage now means easy startup next spring

Published: September 23, 2014 12:45 PM

With the mowing season coming to an end, you may be tempted to just shove your mower into the shed. Don't do it. Bad things can happen to your mower when it's sitting idle. By ignoring simple maintenance tasks now you're taking the chance that your mower will be out of commission in the spring, or worse, need replacing.  Here's a to-do list from the mower team at Consumer Reports.

Empty the gas tank. Gasoline left sitting in the fuel tank for months thickens into what repairmen call varnish. The ethanol in today’s gas also stiffens rubber and plastic parts and coats linkages. Some people have success adding fuel stabilizer to gas—some are designed to counteract ethanol’s effects—and storing it that way. For the most assurance, add the proper amount of stabilizer or instead pour in some ethanol-free fuel (available for about $6 a quart at some outdoor-gear dealers, Sears, and home centers) and run it dry. Once the machine cools down, drain the carburetor bowl, too; a simple bolt holds it in place. Have gas left over in the can? Add it to your car’s fuel tank and buy fresh gas for your leaf blower or snow blower.

Change the oil. A walk-behind mower’s engine spins at 3,600 revolutions per minute, and it’s the oil that keeps it from overheating and failing prematurely. So change the oil now, and you won’t need to think about it later. First, you’ll need a container for the oil; a flat, auto-style drain pan helps. With the fuel tank empty and dipstick cap removed, tip the mower in the direction of the cap and drain the oil into the pan. You’ll probably need to hold the mower upside down for those last drops. Add fresh oil (see the manual for the grade) until it reaches the dipstick’s full line. Take the used oil to a local service station or recycling center for disposal.

Wash the underside. Washout ports on many new mowers help you prevent getting a coating of grass clippings around the blade, but if you tip the mower over (better when there’s neither gas nor oil in the machine) and see clippings, gently brush them loose to improve airflow and prevent deck corrosion. Wash the deck with a hose and let it dry thoroughly before storing. Spraying the cleaned, dried deck with silicone spray can help prevent future build-up. This is also a good time to remove the blade—jam in a short 2x4 to keep the blade from turning—and get it sharpened.

Change the spark plug. You shouldn’t need to change the spark plug every year. But if you don’t know when you last changed it, do it now—a new plug will improve engine startup and overall performance. Remove the spark plug lead, a cap over the plug, and use a socket wrench with a spark-plug socket (they’re deeper than other sockets) to remove the old plug. Take it to an auto-parts store or outdoor-gear dealer and get a new one. Coat the threads with a bit of anti-seize compound (sold where you get spark plugs) before screwing the new one in, so it’ll come out more easily next time. Push the plug lead back on, and you’re done.

Change the filter. Most walk-behind mowers have a paper air filter that you can remove in seconds. Take it to your local outdoor-gear dealer for a replacement; you might need to tell them the brand of mower and the engine’s maker, which is displayed on the engines of most major brands.

Electric mowers need maintenance, too. Depending on where you live, a cordless mower’s battery (removable on newer models) probably needs to be brought indoors for the winter and stay connected to its charger. The freezing temperatures in most of the country will shorten the life of a battery, which typically lasts five years.

Need a new mower? Now is a good time to look for a mower as retail stores clear their aisles to make room for snow blowers. Our mower Ratings have the test results for nearly 100 models, and we're already selecting a new batch of mowers to put through our tests this winter in Fort Myers, Florida. In the meantime, check out our lawn mower buying guide for walk-behind mowers as well as tractors, and riders.

—Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

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