Preparing lawn mowers for summer season

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Great lawns start with well-kept mowers.

By James and Morris Carey ~ The Associated Press

If, after mowing, you discovered later that what was once a green and beautiful lawn became a bright white patch of something else, read on. A dull lawnmower blade is the culprit.

When grass is torn by a dull lawnmower blade -- instead of cleanly cut with a sharp one -- the result is frayed edges of grass that dry out and turn white. It's like the difference between a slice with a surgeon's scalpel and a rip with Captain Hook's claw. Besides the resultant bad coloring, each torn blade of grass means you've a lawn susceptible to disease.

Unfortunately, the blade isn't the only part of the mower that you must maintain each season. This is especially true if you own a gas-powered mower. Getting ready for the year's cutting and edging will require much preparation.

Even a sharp blade can do some damage if it isn't spinning fast enough. A sharp blade that is turning slowly is just as bad as a dull one that is spinning at the proper speed. When the grass is too long or when the lawnmower motor isn't running just right, the blade turns more slowly. In this case, even a sharp blade can tear your lawn to pieces. That's why a mower should always be properly tuned.

Tuneups can save money

A tuneup can save you big bucks in many ways. First, a well-tuned motor burns fuel more efficiently. This means lower fuel costs, more horsepower and greatly reduced emissions. A well-tuned motor even runs a little quieter. When a motor runs properly, it lasts longer. Engine replacement is a big cost that you'll want to avoid.

Besides a full-blown tuneup, you'll also want to perform regular maintenance:

Check oil.

Check the oil level before every use. Make sure it is filled to the mark on the dipstick. Don't overfill. Experts say you should change oil after every 50 hours of operation. We think it's a good habit to drain and replace the oil in your mower at the beginning of every season, along with the tuneup.

Change air filter.

Experts say you should change your air filter "at least" every three months or after 25 hours of use. If you live in a sandy area, you might want to change your air filter monthly. Cleaning your air filter can be helpful, but there is no substitute for replacement.

Use clean fuel.

To avoid a slow, sloppy-running motor, don't use old gas. Use fresh gasoline and keep it in a well-sealed can.

Check blades.

Periodically inspect the blade for wear or damage and have it professionally sharpened at least once a year. Yes, it is OK for you to sharpen the blade. However, having a pro bring it up to snuff occasionally might end up saving money in the long run. If you own a riding mower, be careful not to leave the blades engaged while the mower is stopped. This can stretch the drive belt and result in decreased belt life.

Spark plug.

Replace or clean the spark plug after every 100 hours of use. If you don't use your mower for 100 hours in a season you might want to replace the plug after each year of use anyway.

Clean blade housing.

Buildup can occur inside the blade housing. Wet grass sticks like glue. A wooden stake is sturdy enough to loosen such buildup, and it won't damage the paint job that prevents rust. Remember that a slow blade can result when grass buildup occurs in the blade housing.

Vegetable oil.

Spray vegetable oil in blade housing to prevent mud and grass buildup and to reduce the amount of cleaning you have to do.

Keep engine clean.

The engine must always be clean and free of all debris, including mud. Lawnmower engines are air-cooled and can only cool when the engine parts can get to the air. An overheated engine can cook in a matter of minutes.

Keep all your garden equipment stored in a sheltered area to prevent water in the fuel, and rust everywhere else.

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