Fall maintenance can help you avoid Mower woes

Don’t wait until spring to make sure key outdoor equipment is in good condition

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FALL MOWER MAINTENANCE

John Deere provides these tips to ensure you’re getting the best cut quality and longer life from your equipment.

Tighten all nuts and bolts.

Check all belts, filters, safety shields and guards.

Replace any damaged or missing parts, including spark plugs.

Check tire tread and pressure.

Add a fuel stabilizer to the gas tank.

After adding stabilizer, run the engine for five minutes.

Change the oil (or in the spring).

Replace the filter.

Sharpen the blade, but be careful not to sharpen it to a razor’s edge — it will crack, peel back and hack grass to shreds. Leave a thickness of about 1/64 of an inch to keep the blade strong

Balance the blade to prevent vibration. Put the center hole of the blade on a nail hammered into a garage stud. If one side goes down, file it until it becomes level.

Do not store in an enclosed place where fuel fumes can accumulate or be exposed to an open flame, spark or pilot light.

That first taste of fall means the beginning of a big run of goodbyes: so long to summer vacation, goodbye grilling season and farewell to football-free weekends.

But before you give a hasty send-off to the mowing season, be aware that there’s a pretty decent checklist of prescribed fall mower maintenance tasks you might want to tackle.

A bit of work now will save you quite a bit of time and money when it comes time to roll the mower back out of the garage next year.

“Maintenance makes equipment easier to start,” said Roy Berendsohn, senior home editor at Popular Mechanics. “That may or may not result in direct cost savings, but it certainly reduces the wear and tear on you. Few things are as frustrating as trying to start a cranky piece of outdoor power equipment.”

Before you even put the mower away for the season, one particular aspect of fall presents its own challenges for mowers: leaves.

“The best thing to do during fall use is to double-check your air filters,” said Ryan Hays, manager at Rick’s Lawnmower in Blue Springs, Mo. “The air filters get dirtier faster when you mulch leaves. If they get stopped up, they have to suck air from somewhere, and then they’ll suck unfiltered air, and you can damage the motor. Also, some manufacturers tell you to change the oil in the fall because the dirtier and dustier conditions from leaves can impact the oil faster.”

Another key through-the-season task: Keep a sharp blade, particularly with the added strain of leaf mulching.

“You can use better than 20 percent more fuel with a dull blade,” said Peter Sawchuk, program leader for home improvement with Consumer Reports. “I always recommend people buy a second blade for the mower. It’s usually under $10.”

Keeping the mower deck clean is also an important task — certainly before you stow away the mower for the year.

“Having clippings and debris build up on the underside cuts the air flow and dramatically impacts the effectiveness of the mower,” Sawchuk said.

At the end of the season, Sawchuk recommends turning the mower on its side with the carburetor facing up and cleaning the undercarriage with a hose. “If you leave clippings under there at the end of the season, it can start to rust and corrode.”

Changing the oil is more of a judgment call. Most experts recommend changing the oil frequently during the mowing season. As for prior to storage, though, mower maestros are split.

“Some people recommend an oil change at the end of the season because it prevents dirty oil and sludge from sitting around in the engine’s crankcase over the winter,” Berendsohn said.

“I think it’s better to change the oil in the spring before beginning the next mowing season. That ensures that the oil is as fresh and clean as possible at the beginning of the season.”

Own a riding mower? A lot of the advice is the same, but the job ahead of you is a bit bigger.

Clean the deck, naturally, watch the oil, filters and gas. Maintain the air pressure in the tires. Wheel bearings may need lubrication.

“You’ll also have to charge that battery over the storage season, or you have to buy a new one every other year,” Sawchuk said.

David Fittje, department manager of seasonal at the Lowe’s in Kansas City, Mo., said that riding owners may want to make sure they check their belts on the rider. If it’s a little worn, over the winter it can crack or break.

“Spending the 20 minutes prepping a mower for winter can save you a lot of hassle come spring.”