Few pieces of home equipment take a beating like the lawn mower, yet it's often neglected until it won't start or something breaks.
A lack of preventive maintenance almost guarantees an early death for your lawn mower, but you don't have to be a mechanic to keep it buzzing.
READ THE OWNER'S MANUAL
"It tells you how the maker of your mower wants you to take care of it," says Chris Arvin, owner of Mow Better in Greenfield, Ind. "It's in their best interest to keep you, the customer, happy with their product so when it finally wears out in 10 to 15 years, you'll buy another."
DRAIN GAS AT SEASON'S END
Lawn mower repair technicians say old gasoline is one of the main suspects when a mower won't start. Arvin says you should run the remaining gas out of the mower or drain it at the end of each mowing season, and always use fresh gas in the spring.
CHECK THE OIL
Monitor the oil level and look for floating debris or oil that looks dark black. Old or contaminated oil should be drained and replaced.
To change the oil, remove the drain plug underneath and allow it to drain completely.
If your mower doesn't have a drain plug, you'll need to carefully tilt the mower on its side and drain through the fill hole. Be sure to consult your manual for the correct method and type of oil to use.
CLEAN OUT THE UNDERCARRIAGE
Grass caked in the undercarriage can clog a mower's discharge chute. Use a wire brush to scrape grass clippings and dirt from the undercarriage and spray the remaining debris away with a hose. Always disconnect the spark plug beforehand.
INSPECT THE AIR FILTER
A clogged or dirty filter puts added stress on the mower and burns gas less efficiently. Most mowers have a paper or foam filter that can be easily accessed.
Replacement filters are inexpensive, so most pros recommend an annual replacement to ensure optimal performance.
CHANGE THE SPARK PLUG
Like the air filter, the spark plug is extremely important to a functioning mower, yet inexpensive and easy to replace. Change it every year to ensure an easy start.
Unhook the spark plug wire and remove the old plug with a socket or spark plug wrench.
Install the new plug but don't overtighten it or it could prevent the mower from starting.
SHARPEN THE BLADE
Mower blades endure a great deal of stress thanks to rocks, large branches and other hidden objects. A dull blade rips and tears grass instead of providing a clean cut.
Some people sharpen their own blades with a vice and metal file, but it's not recommended for the inexperienced.
A mower repair shop can sharpen your blade for a small fee, and it's usually included with mower tune-up.
GET A PROFESSIONAL TUNE-UP
It's a great way to ensure your mower is in top working order for the season. A mower repair shop will drain the old gas from the mower, replace the air filter and spark plug and perform basic diagnostic tests.
For a quick turnaround, take your mower in at the close of the mowing season or before spring grasses start to grow.
Prices will vary depending on the shop, but you can expect to pay $50 to $75.