The 5 Things You Should Do Before Using Your Lawn Mower

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As the weather warms up enough for the perennials to begin blooming, you’re probably calculating how many days to wait until you fire up the lawn mower. While you’re watching your lawn slowly come back from hibernation, you should take action right now to avoid a frustrating “first cut of the season” experience. If the lawn mower has been sitting unused in the shed since last fall, here are the five things you can do to ensure your mower is ready when you and your lawn are:

Tune-up the lawn mower engine

The most important part of regular lawn mower maintenance is to tune-up the mower’s engine. An engine that won’t start, runs rough, or stalls is not something you want to have to deal with when your lush lawn is starting to look overgrown. Here’s what you’ll need to do to keep the engine humming:

  • Install a new air filter – A dirty air filter inhibits good air flow, preventing the proper ratio of fuel and air from entering the engine cylinder. The lawn mower air filter is easy to replace and should be done annually or whenever the filter appears soiled.
  • Change the spark plug – Due to carbon build-up and a weakened electrode, a lawn mower spark plug will degrade over time. You can inspect the spark plug for damage and test the component using an ignition tester to determine whether it’s defective or not, but this is another part that should simply be replaced once a year.
  • Replace the oil – To keep the engine crankshaft, piston, and gears working smoothly, you need clean oil. While the procedure for replacing the oil will differ depending on the engine model, you can usually unthread the oil tank cap, remove the dipstick, if applicable, and carefully tip the mower to empty the old oil into an approved container. Old lawn mower engine oil, like car engine oil, can be recycled at most auto parts stores. Once the oil tank is emptied, return the engine to its upright position, and pour the new oil into the oil fill tube. To avoid overfilling, pour in approximately three-quarters of the bottle, then check the tank with the dipstick to determine if the oil level is at full. You can then add more oil, as necessary.   
  • Use a fuel stabilizer – Old or bad fuel can leave a gummy residue inside the carburetor which can create an obstruction resulting in the engine stalling or running rough. While you should only use only fresh fuel when filling the lawn mower fuel tank, you can use a fuel stabilizer to help maintain the quality of that fuel. The stabilizer can be added to a fuel can or the mower’s fuel tank, but you should refer to manufacturer’s instructions to determine the proper amount for both. If adding the stabilizer to the mower’s fuel tank, be sure to run the engine for at least two minutes to circulate the stabilizer throughout the fuel system.

Sharpen or replace the cutting blade

A dull or damaged cutting blade is going to result in more hacking than precision cutting. Keeping a mulching blade sharp is especially important as a dull blade will have a much harder time re-cutting the grass clippings which can result in clumps of grass being left on your lawn. Best practices say the average lawn mower blade should be sharpened every other month during the mowing season. You can use a grinder, a dedicated lawn mower blade sharpener, a power drill with a sharpening attachment, or a simple file to sharpen the cutting edge of your blade. However, if the blade has nicks along the cutting edge, is bent, or is otherwise visibly worn or damaged, you should replace the blade with a new one. When installing a new blade, be sure to torque the mounting nut or bolt to manufacturer’s specifications to confirm the blade is properly secured.

Inspect the drive belt

On many self-propelled lawn mower models, a V-belt rotates drive pulleys to turn the mower’s wheels. If the belt is broken or slipping on the pulleys, the self-propel feature may fail to operate. You should inspect the drive belt for cracks or other damage and replace the belt with a new one, as necessary.

Check the trail shield

The trail shield is easily the most neglected lawn mower part. Still, this simple device helps to protect you from small stones and other debris that may be propelled out by the spinning blade when your mower is in action. Before you start using your mower this season, examine the trail shield to see if it’s warped, torn, or missing altogether. A new trail shield is relatively inexpensive and easy to install. Your ankles and shins will thank you.

Confirm the starter rope is up to the task

Another component you should inspect is the starter rope. Since stress is placed on the rope every time you pull it to start the engine, you’ll want to make sure the rope is up to the task of successfully rotating the starter cup dozens of times during the mowing season. If the rope is frayed or worn, you should replace it immediately with a new one, or you can you replace the entire recoil starter which will be easier if, only slightly, costlier.

Repair Clinic can help you identify the right lawn mower parts

In addition to replacement blades, belts, trail shields, starter ropes, and other lawn mower parts, Repair Clinic carries engine tune-up kits to ensure your mower is ready for the season. To identify the right kit for your mower, you should enter the full model number of the mower’s engine in the Repair Clinic website search bar, then select “Tune-Up Maintenance Kit” from the “Part Category” filter followed by the specific “Part Title” selection if necessary. While Repair Clinic stocks lawn mower parts for all the top brands including Craftsman, Honda, Husqvarna, Murray, Snapper, Troy-Bilt, and Toro, it’s important you select the specific part or kit that matches your mower or engine model for the tune-up or repair to be successful.

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