Ah, the trusty lawnmower. The weekend warrior to battle the horticultural hodge-podge we call our front yard. The restless laborer, faithfully starting on the first (or second, or third) pull of that dirty, fraying rope. This year, let’s work together to honor this stalwart of the yard and garden by pampering the mower with a long overdue tune-up.
If you are like most of the estimated 54 million homeowners who cut their grass every weekend, then you have a lawn mower powered by a gasoline engine. Just like the engine in your car, there are a few key maintenance items you can take care of to restore your mower to peak performance.
1. Change the Oil: Most mowers will have a drain plug underneath the engine. Lift your mower on to a pair of saw-horses to get easy access. Drain the old oil out, remember to put the plug back in, then fill with new oil. An of course, take the old oil to a legitimate waste or recycling station. Cost: $5 or less for new oil. Time: 15-30 minutes.
2. Replace the air filter: Gasoline engines need to breath, and your mower’s air filter keeps it from wheezing like a broken accordion. The air filter should be replaced every year, and cleaned after every 3 or 4 mowings. Cost: $5-10 depending on your engine. Time: 10 minutes.
3. Replace the Spark Plug: Unlike your car, which probably has 4 or 6 spark plugs, your mower has only one. On most mowers you will not need a special wrench or socket to get the spark plug out, an adjustable wrench should do. It is very important to get an exact match for the spark plug part number. If your mower has a hard time starting up, a new spark plug will probably help. Cost: $5-10 depending on your engine. Time: 20 minutes.
4. Sharpen or replace the blade. In truth, your mower doesn’t care if it is spinning a razor sharp blade or a butter knife dull blade. But your grass sure does. A sharp blade will actually cut the grass, instead of tearing it, and that will lead to a healthier lawn. Under your mower where the blade mounts to the engine there is normally only 1 or 2 bolts to remove. Be sure to put the blade on facing the right direction – most blades are marked with what side should face the grass. It is a good idea to performance this maintenance at least once during the middle of the summer, too. Cost: $10-20. Time: 30 minutes.
5. Generally clean and polish: Cutting the grass is dirty work. A basic cleaning of your mower will help prevent grass and dirt and dust from causing problems in the long run. Use a putty knife to scrape the underside of the mower deck to get any caked on grass. You can wash the rest with soapy water. Cost: $0. Time: 20 minutes.
With a well spent hour in the cold of winter, you can get your mower ready for the long spring and summer months. Or, if you would prefer to outsource, many local hardware stores offer small engine repair services and can do a full tune up for between $50-75. Either way, your mower (and your grass) will thank you!