Spreaders, Mowing & Tools
How to Tune Up a Lawn Mower
Proper maintenance in the fall or winter makes starting your lawnmower in the spring a snap.
It's a beautiful spring day, the grass is green again, and you're thinking about pulling out the mower for the first cut of the season. Your lawn mower, though, has other ideas. You yank and prime and swear and yank some more. Nothing happens. So you call the lawn mower service shop, and they tell you they can squeeze you in—next month. Don’t let that happen to you! If you take a few extra steps before you put your lawn mower away in the fall, starting your mower in the spring will be a breeze.
How to Tune up Your Lawn Mower
Your lawn mower owner's manual comes with instructions for maintenance, so be sure to read it. Below are some general tips for what to do before you put away your lawn mower in fall. Doing some or all of the maintenance yourself can save you a little bit of money, which is always a good thing. Set aside a few hours to do the tune-up. You’ll need your toolbox, gloves, and any mower parts you plan on replacing (see your handbook for specific parts or ask an expert at your local hardware store).
- Do fuel system maintenance. Add a fuel stabilizer to the fuel tank and run the motor for about 5 minutes to circulate the stabilizer through the system. Another option is to drain the fuel tank, start up the motor, and let it run until the engine stops.
- Replace the engine oil. Before doing any work on your lawn mower, always disconnect the spark plug to prevent the mower from starting accidentally. To drain the oil, remove the drain plug with a socket wrench (check your owner’s manual for exact location) or tilt the mower to drain the oil out through the oil fill tube. DO NOT pour any oil into the garbage or down a drain. Pour it into an empty bucket or milk jug. Most auto service centers will dispose of used oil, though you may need to pay a small fee. Once all of the old oil has drained, replace the drain plug and add fresh oil.
- Care for the pistons. If you have a 2-cycle motor, slowly pull on the starter rope until you feel some resistance. Slowly release the tension on the rope. This closes the intake and exhaust ports to keep air from corroding the cylinder. For a 4-cycle motor, remove the spark plug, then add about a tablespoon of oil into the hole. Slowly rotate the engine several times using the starter rope or key starter to distribute the oil. Put the spark plug back in, but do not connect the wire to it.
- Sharpen the blade. Put on a pair of work gloves to protect your hands, then use a pair of locking pliers and a socket wrench to remove the blade from your mower deck. If the mower blade only has minor wear and tear, secure it in a vice clamp and sharpen it using a metal file. For badly damaged blades, it’s best to take them to a repair shop and have a professional sharpen it for you.
- Clean the mower deck. While the mower blade is off, tilt the mower on its side and use a garden hose to spray the underside of the mower deck. This will help loosen any dirt and caked-on grass clippings. For really caked-on dirt and grass clippings, use a putty knife to pry them loose. Then use a scrub brush and hot, soapy water to finish cleaning the underside of the deck. Rinse, then thoroughly dry. This is also a great time to touch up any rusted or chipped paint surfaces and replace any damaged or worn parts.
- Replace the air filter. Service the air filter as described in your owner's manual. Clogged air filters are a leading cause of starting problems.
- Store the battery (if applicable). If you own an electric lawn mower, remove the battery from the mower and fully charge it before you store it.
- Replace the spark plug. Use a plug wrench to loosen the plug, then remove it with your hands. When placing the new plug, you’ll notice it has a small gap at the end of the plug. Make sure the end isn’t touching the plug itself, as that will prevent a spark and keep the mower from starting.
- Store the mower. Make sure the engine is cool, then move the mower to a dry, clean location out of the reach of children, and cover it. Never store it in the house or near an ignition source.
Remember: Proper maintenance in the fall or winter makes starting your lawn mower in the spring a snap.
Schedule Your Mower Maintenance in the Fall
Don’t have the time or desire to tune up the mower yourself? Another option for handling mower maintenance is to have a professional do it for you. Just be sure to avoid the spring rush. Taking your mower in during the fall or winter saves you weeks of waiting, and the money you spend will translate into easy mowing next spring.
Ready to get out there an mow? Check out these tips and tricks for proper mowing first.