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Your lawn mower might not have a 450hp big block, but believe it or not, the same tune-up principles for your classic muscle car apply to your lawn and garden equipment. If it has an engine, it's going to need a little bit of prep work to perform its best this spring. Here's a guide to what needs replacing, what just needs attention, and some general mower maintenance advice.
Walk-behind push mowers have some of the simplest engines currently made. That makes them easy to work on for any skill level. If you've never done any kind of maintenance work before, give it a try with these super-simple tasks.
Like with your car, you need to change the oil in your mower on time. This depends on the number of hours and how you use it. Usually most homeowners can get by with changing the oil once a season. Push mowers are cheap and easy to maintain; they don't have an oil filter and only need one quart of oil. It's definitely faster and easier than changing oil in your car: tip the mower on its side to drain the oil out the filler spout, then set it upright and refill with fresh oil. Remember to drop off the old oil for recycling.
Spark plugs wear out, too. Like with oil, it's a good idea to change them at the start of each season. All it takes is a single wrench. Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to buy lawn- and garden-equipment spark plugs at a power-equipment store. We stock your Honda's BPR6 spark plug or your MTD's RC12 at stores and online too.
The air filter keeps dirt, grit, and grass out of the precision internal-engine components. Being down near the debris and spinning blades makes for one filthy air filter that decreases performance. Check the filter throughout the season and replace as needed, usually at least once a season.
Before you fire up the mower, check the condition of the blade(s). Clean off any excess grass clumps and check for cracks or large chips in the blade. If you find any, it's time for a replacement. This is easier than it looks—use a wrench to remove the center bolt. If your blade is in good shape, it may only need sharpening. A sharpening kit is about the same price as a new blade but will save you money in the long run.
Most small engines prefer ethanol-free gas, so fuel up with that if it's available in your area. Never use E15 or higher ethanol fuels in small equipment not rated for it.
If you've gotten this far, we're guessing you don't have a small lawn. Riding mowers are great for cutting large amounts of tall grass in a small amount of time, but they do need some extra work. All the above advice for push mowers also applies to riding mowers. The oil change needs a couple more quarts, and there's oil and fuel filters to swap out, too. Here's what else to look for.
Under the deck, check the condition of the blade belt and pulleys. A slack belt will cause excessive noise and lack of cutting, so adjust the tensioner and/or buy a new belt. Grease the pulleys to ensure they freely spin.
Pull out your multimeter and check the voltage of the battery. On a 12V battery, if it tests at less than 10.5V, trickle charge until full and give it a try. If it does not stay charged between mows, then it's time for a new battery.
That rider has could've been sitting in the same spot all winter. That's never good for the tires. Look for cracks, dry rot, or flat spots, then inflate to the recommended pressure listed on the side of the tire. If the tires are damaged or don't hold air, replace them.
... And prep yourself
Safety comes first, so wear gloves when working near the blades. Eye protection is recommended while riding or using a side-discharge push mower. Small engines are disproportionately loud for their size, so remember to wear ear protection any time the mower is running.
Do it right and safe, so you can get your lawn done on the first pass. Spring and summer offer perfect car-show weather, so do your mowing, then get back to wrenching.
Share your lawn and garden tips and tricks with others in the comments below.