[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Every year we tend to forget about our mowers for 6 months. Well today is the day, the day we can start thinking about them again. It’s time to usher in a new era, and almost time for the “Changing of the Guard” (from snowblower to mower). As we plan to retire our blower to the shed, and prep our mower for the short summer season, use these helpful tips to help extend the life of both machines.

I always recommend bringing your mower out and giving it a good checkup before the mowing season begins. This is something most people can do themselves, but there are professionals in Anchorage that can do it for you. Here at GEM, we go through all of our mowers starting in late March, and this article can help guide you through your lawn mower maintenance.

1) All new lawn mowers come with a manual, which you can use during the maintenance of your machine. You did keep that right? Yeah, I didn’t think so. You may be able to download a copy of your manual through your manufacturer’s website. I will give you some good rule of thumb suggestions in this article if you prefer to use them.
2) Lawn mower maintenance can go much smoother if you are prepared. Some tools you might need are a spark plug wrench, crescent wrench, oil drain pan, latex gloves, spray lubricant, and pliers. A bench or small table can be very helpful, so the work can be performed at eye level, or at least at a more comfortable level.
3) Clean your mower. Some people like to pressure wash them, or use the cleanout port many mowers now have on the deck. If it has been sitting all winter, the dried grass may need to be scraped from under the deck with a putty knife or large screwdriver. Using an air compressor to blow out the engines cooling fins is always a good idea. Lawn mower engines are air cooled, and a buildup of lawn debris around the engine can cause it to run too hot, reducing its life.
4) Check the spark plug. While removing the spark plug, be sure nothing falls into the plug hole, as that leads directly to the inside of your motor. Clean any dirt or debris from around the old plug before removal. If you find your lawn mowers spark plug to be difficult to remove, you can spray on a penetrating lubricant, and let it soak overnight.

I prefer to replace spark plugs every year, as they typically only cost a couple bucks, and can cause hard starting headaches if the act up. Spark plugs can be cleaned, and many residential mowers may go years without trouble, but spending a couple bucks a year will pay off in the long run. Take your old spark plug to the auto parts store, and they should be able to give you an exact replacement.

Before installing your new spark plug, be sure to check the electrode gap. Most spark plugs these days are pre-set from that factory, and will not need adjustment. If you don’t have s spark plug gapping tool, or feeler gauges, your new plug is most likely OK to use as is. Finger tighten the new plug, then use your plug wrench to gently tighten. Word of caution: do not over-tighten a spark plug!

5) Check your fuel filter. Virtually all riding mowers, and most walk behind mowers will have a fuel filter. This is very important to change out annually, as they typically manifest their problems very slowly, which means you may not be aware your filter needs changing for months! Some common issues with clogged or worn filters are; hard starting, high fuel consumption, loss of power, or an engine that won’t stay running. This is another item, that for a few dollars, can save you hours of trouble later.
Now you did drain the fuel last fall right? If not, it may be necessary to clamp off your fuel line, running from the tank to the filter. There are special pliers for this, or a pair of locking pliers will usually work as well. You may also be able to stop the flow of gas with your thumb, or a large screwed placed inside the fuel line. When installing the new fuel filter, be sure to note the direction of fuel flow typically shown on the filter. One side may also be labeled “inlet” or “out”.

6) I prefer to drain the gas from mowers before storage, but many manufacturers claim that using a product like Stabil is an acceptable alternative. Leaving gas, especially untreated, will slowly evaporate from inside your carburetor and fuel tank. This process will leave what is often called varnish behind, clogging the carburetor jets and fuel filters. The only way to fix this problem, is to disassemble and clean in internal parts of the carburetor.
One of the reasons I prefer to drain the tanks, is gasoline now often times contains ethanol. There are many articles out there relating to the negative effects of ethanol on small engines, as well as their fuel systems. Completely draining the system will reduce the impact of the ethanol, as well as ensure that no varnish can form inside your fuel system
Using fresh gas each spring is more important for small engines than in your vehicles. Your car is much smarter than your mower, and can make adjustments to help compensate for poor quality fuels that a lawn mower cant. If you used a fuel additive in the fall, you can top off with fresh fuel.

7) Change the engine oil. While doing your lawn care in Anchorage can be enjoyable, most people find that changing their lawn mowers oil isn’t quite as much fun. One of the most important oil changes for a lawn mower is after the first 5 hours of use. This is often called the “break-in” oil change, and should be done before the typical intervals. After the initial oil change, most homeowners will be well suited to change their lawn mowers oil every year. Many manufacturers recommend to change the oil every 50 hours of use. It is very important not to over or under fill your mowers crankcase with oil. It’s always best to add less than recommended, than slowly check and re-add oil until it is just to the full line.

The vast majority of lawn mowers recommend a 5w-30 oil. My suggestion is to use a high quality synthetic oil, and not the same brand oil as your lawn mower. I always use mobil 1 synthetic 5w-30. Many mowers require the unit to be placed on its side, and the oil drains out of the dipstick tube. Most mowers take around 12oz of oil, and it will usually be added through the dipstick tube.

8) Air filter. The air filter should be replaced every year, and can be purchased through your local dealer. Many air filters will have a part number printed on them, which can be used to find a suitable replacement online. Just remember, saving a few dollars on a knock-off brand may cost you in the long run, as this is the only line of defense between the dust you mow in, and the inside of your engine. Ensure the new filter is properly seated before installing the cover, as even a small gap can drastically reduce the life of your mower.
9) Sharpen your mower blade. If you mow more than 15 minutes per week, you should probably be sharpening your blade more than once per year. This is also a great time to check for cracks or nicks in the blade, indicating you may need to replace it. It can often be handy to have a second blade on hand, so your mower can be immediately put back into service while your blade is sharpened.

In order to remove the blade, air tools or hand tools can be used. If using hand tools, a small block of wood placed between the blade and the discharge chute opening will prevent it from turning while loosening the bolt(s). The same technique can be used when reinstalling the blade. Leather gloves are a good idea when handling the blade, and should definitely be worn if sharpening the blade yourself.

When sharpening a lawn mower blade, a bench grinder typically works best. However, a hand grinder can be used, with EXTREME caution. For many homeowner it may be easier to take the blade to a True Value, where they will sharpen your blade for only a few dollars. The blade does not need to be razor sharp, but it is important to maintain the original angle of the cutting edge.

10) Lubrication is an important step if you want your mower to last. A spray lubricant can be very handy on any place there is metal-on-metal contact. The controls on the handle, discharge chute, bagging flap, as well as any bare metal parts to prevent rusting.

With these annual maintenance tips, you and you lawn mower can have a long and loving relationship. Most small engine shops can perform all of these tasks for you, if you prefer to only spend the good times with your mower. Good luck, and happy mowing![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]