The maintenance section of your lawn mower owner’s manual probably runs on for pages, with instructions on everything from greasing the pinion gears to gapping the spark plugs. If you want your mower to last for decades, you’ll be smart to follow every step. But if you don't have an entire weekend to burn, and you'll be happy just getting your mower to the point where it will start next spring, you can whittle the task list down to two musts.

Below are the two critical steps on how to winterize your mower, from the lawn and garden experts at Consumer Reports. If you get inspired, keep reading—you'll learn about several best practice maintenance measures that you'd also be wise to do if you have time before your kid's soccer game or other weekend obligations.

Step 1: Clean the Deck

Ideally, you should be in the habit of doing this throughout the season because keeping the blade housing clean helps ensure optimal mower performance. But the task is essential before winter to prevent moisture in the grass clippings from causing rust and corrosion to the underside of the deck.        

A shot with the garden hose might be enough to remove the clippings, especially if they’re fresh. For dried-on clippings, try a plastic paint scraper or old bristled pot scrubber; wear heavy work gloves to protect your hands from the sharp blade. If you have silicone spray handy, spray the underside of the deck with it to prevent future buildup.

When stowing your mower, we recommend putting a container of mothballs near the deck to prevent mice and other rodents from nesting in the dormant machine.     

Step 2: Stabilize the Fuel

Leaving fuel in the tank all winter can wreak havoc on the engine. Water from condensation can combine with ethanol in the gas, causing clogs, corrosion, and other problems throughout the fuel system. Come springtime, you could be in for a professional engine cleaning to the tune of $75 to $100.   

If there’s only a little fuel left after the final mow of the season, your best bet is to run the tank dry. If you keep your mower in the basement during the winter, you should remove the fuel regardless of how much is left because storing it inside could be a fire hazard. You can use a turkey baster or siphon to remove larger quantities of fuel. (You can add the leftover fuel to your car.)

If you store the mower in a garage or shed, it's better to fill the tank with gas, then top it off with a fuel stabilizer, available at home centers and gas stations. For good measure, run the mower for a few minutes so that the stabilized fuel can work its way through the carburetor.

If You Go the Extra Distance

Steps 1 and 2 should keep your mower safe over the winter. There are a few additional steps you can take now so that you don’t have to worry about them in the spring. That includes sharpening your mower blade (as well as any spares you keep on hand). See "How to Replace a Lawn Mower Blade" for step-by-step instructions.

Routine oil changes will help extend the life of any engine, as will changing or cleaning the air filter. Spark plugs used to be more of a concern, but their improved technology has reached the point where you only need to change the spark plugs every few years. 

Worried your mower might not make it through another season, no matter how diligent you are with the maintenance? Look for end-of-season deals at home centers, using our lawn mower ratings to find models that perform well and to check our exclusive survey data on most and least reliable brands.