We all know that regular maintenance for your lawn mower is important and helps keep the mower running and operating reliably. Most mower owners think about tune ups and maintenance in the spring, when the grass begins to grow again and the spring yard work season starts.
However, in the winter a large majority of people simply park their mower in the garage or shed, where it sits until it is time to start mowing again. This ‘down-time’ for your mower can cause a multitude of problems which can and will foster reliability headaches such as start/run issues, quality of cut issues, internal engine problems and external rust/corrosion to the cutting deck, wheel axles and brackets, etc.
In our shop, we see this happen year after year. A significant segment of these mowers need additional repairs outside of normal maintenance. Simply put, proper winterization of your lawnmower will help you avoid spring time headaches and help keep your mower running reliably. I have compiled a short list of action items that are integral to keeping your mower running, healthy and reliable for many years. These are all items we address when performing a winterizing tune up on a customer’s mower and we highly recommend that each list item be performed on your mower regularly. Your mower’s manufacturer also recommends them as part of normal, regular maintenance. In fact, some manufacturers state clearly right in the owner’s manual that failure to perform the recommended regular maintenance could void your warranty.
1Clean grass and debris from under the mowing deck
Moisture in grass clippings cause the clippings, dirt and debris to stick to the underside of the deck. This traps moisture underneath the layers of clippings and debris, accelerating rust and corrosion. This is something that should be done regularly through out the year, but at the very least, give the underside of your mower a through cleaning before you store it for the winter. Additionally, we have seen some mowers that have such a thick build up underneath that mold has began to grow wildly. For those that store their mower inside the garage, this can cause health issues for your family, and pets. Regularly cleaning the underside of your mower will help avoid this as well.
2Sharpen the blade(s)
Sharpening the blade(s) now will ensure you have a fresh cutting edge to start the coming spring mowing season with. Keep in mind that mower blade sharpening requires a bit more than simply putting a new edge on the blade. Proper angle, and balancing are important to a proper, good quality of cut. If you are not confident in your mower blade sharpening skills, let a reputable shop perform the work. Most shops, including ours performs the blade sharpening as part of a tune up, so be sure to ask your local shop should you choose to have a shop handle the work.
Also, if you store your mower in a shed, or any place it is susceptible to the elements and moisture in the air, Use a small amount of wd-40 or similar product and give a light coating to the freshly sharpened areas of the blade where the metal is exposed. This will help avoid surface corrosion and keep the edge sharp and ready for the spring.
3Change the oil and if so equipped, the oil filter
Changing the oil is one step you must not overlook before winter storage. The way engines are designed, a small amount of exhaust gases escape past the piston rings and enter the crank case. This design is a controlled escape mechanism referred to as “Blow By”. This design helps keep the engine gaskets in tact.
These blow by gases are trapped by the oil in the crank case. If allowed to remain for long periods of time, ESPECIALLY during extended storage, the oil will become diluted and chemically degraded over time, decreasing its ability to lubricate and increasing the potential for engine damage. Changing your mower’s oil prior to winter storage will not only keep the oil clean and ready for the spring, but also helps avoid additional sludge build up in the crankcase which translates to a healthier engine.
4Change the air filter and spark plug
These two items are not only an important part of regular maintenance, but also integral to keeping your engine healthy and running reliably. A dirty air filter obstructs air flow causing the engine to work harder.
In addition, the lack of proper air flow into the engine means your engine will run rich (more fuel than air) causing carbon build up, which robs your engine of power and performance. Additionally, a dirty air filter allows dust and dirt particulates to enter the engine acting as abrasives which will cause internal engine damage over time, eventually destroying the engine. A clean air filter will help you avoid these issues.
Changing your spark plug regularly also helps the engine run more efficiently. Over time and normal use, a spark plug will become fouled as carbon will naturally build up during use. As the plug becomes more fouled over time, the plug’s electrical path becomes obstructed and a weaker spark will begin to occur. This robs your engine of performance and accelerates additional build up of carbon inside the engine. If left in too long, an old, fouled spark plug can eventually cause hard and no start issues, even engine failure.
5Address potential fuel stability issues
Today’s pump gas contains ethanol and an oxygenate designed to help the fuel burn cleaner. Pump dispensed fuel has a shelf life of 30 days if untreated, and a good stabilizer added to fresh fuel can extend the fuel life to about 90 days. After the shelf life (30-90 days) has been reached, the fuel will begin to stale from a process called “phase separation”. The volatile compounds (the stuff that makes gas go “boom”) evaporate leaving behind ethanol, water and sludge, all of which cause serious problems in your fuel system.
Ethanol will deteriorate soft parts such as fuel lines, diaphragms and float assemblies. Once these parts deteriorate, your engine will not start/run smoothly at the very least. We see these problems frequently and have seen it happen in as little as 30 days of storage.
You have two options to avoid these potential issues:
1) Purchase fresh fuel and add a good stabilizer. Fill your tank with the fresh fuel/stabilizer mix. this option will keep your fuel stable for approximately 90 days.
2) Drain the old fuel out completely and run the remaining fuel out of the system and store the mower dry of fuel. Use this option if your mower will be stored for longer than 90 days.
Alternatively, you can use canned fuel. The canned fuel is free of ethanol and oxygenates, and once opened has a shelf life of 1 year. Using the canned fuel can help you avoid most all potential fuel system problems year round. If you choose to utilize the canned fuel, purchase a quality name brand and NEVER mix canned fuel with pump dispensed fuel. Some mower owners prefer to use Non-Ethanol fuel, but keep in mind that Non-Ethanol and ethanol fuel should never be mixed, and even Non-Ethanol Fuel still has the oxygenates with the same shelf life as Ethanol fuels.
6Maintain the battery
If you have a riding mower or a push mower with electric start, you will want to remove the battery and clean the terminals. Store the battery indoors and use a trickle charger to maintain the battery’s electrical charge and keep it ready for the spring.
Also, NEVER store a battery on a concrete floor or the ground. Both of these options will drain your battery fast and ultimately will cause the battery to prematurely wear out. Once this happens, the battery will not hold a proper charge and it will not start your machine reliably if at all.
With some work and planning, these steps will help you keep your mower healthy and ready for the coming mowing season.
As always, if there are any steps you do not feel comfortable performing yourself, seek out your local repair shop and let them handle the winter maintenance for you. If you choose a reputable, knowledgeable shop with factory trained technicians the peace of mind and a mower ready for the next season is well worth the money invested in letting a professional handle the work for you. Many small engine repair shops offer discounts and tune-up specials this time of year, which will save you money while keeping your mower healthy and ready to work come springtime.