ASK CECIL

Written by admin. Posted in Dear Cecil

Published on July 28, 2010 with No Comments

by Cecil Mesner

(Note to all readers: I work in home improvements. Every once in a while, I get a question about lawn and garden. Although I am somewhat trained in this field with various seminars and certifications, I do not possess a degree in horticulture. However, when it comes to operating the many power tools used to ensure that you have the best opportunity to master the outdoors, I can help. So, please do not send me questions for planting tips, as I do not have the “green thumb”. Good luck to all of you, and may your grass stay green and free of weeds, your garden be beautiful and your flowers bloom beautifully.
Dear Cecil:
Each year about this time I take my riding mower that I use to cut my large lawn (11/2 acres) to a repair shop for routine maintenance. Sometimes the cost is around $225, sometimes as much as $400. It is a rather large lawn tractor – you know, the green kind. So, needless to say, transporting it is difficult. The past few years we have had it picked up and delivered – another expense. The equipment is only eight years old. With the yearly maintenance costs and the amount of fuel used, the chore of maintaining a nice landscaped property is getting quite expensive. For a couple of retired folks who love the outdoors, can you give us a few tips on maintaining our mower?
Thanks.
Tom and Diane
Dear Homeowners and Chronicle Readers:
Each year at the beginning of summer I get this question a lot. Some folks start maintaining their lawns starting in early spring. Three months later, their lawn tractor requires routine maintenance. I researched your particular make and brand. I found that your equipment was no different than most. Although yours was one of the larger lawn cutters, maintenance can be performed by you with minor effort.
Remembers these tips at each cutting before and after use:
Keep cutting deck above and below free of debris.
Check oil before and after use. Make sure it is clean; change accordingly.
Check air filter for cleanliness; change when appropriate;
Check spark plug for burnt areas. Check gap; change as needed.
Check the fuel filter for cleanliness; change when necessary.
Now I know you are not going to do all five each time. The clue was to remember my five tips. You can add a couple of other things as you get more experience. For example, grease the fittings near the axles. Learn how to change the belts. Change your belts yourself. Above all, don’t use gas that has been stored in a can for more than 30 days. This is one of the biggest causes of starting problems and engine malfunctions.
So, now does all of this sound complicated? It really isn’t. I will go through the steps for you to make it real easy. Most households already have the necessary tools. An additional tool you may want to purchase is a torque wrench. A few other tools needed: an adjustable wrench, pliers, garden hose, spark plug gap, sock set and dynamite. (Just kidding about the dynamite.) Remember to wear safety goggles and never perform maintenance while engine is running.
O.K. Let’s start. Tip No. 1:
A clean deck is essential to the operation of your lawn tractor Plus, it says something about the owner. There are many reasons to keep the deck clean. Your pulleys have belts around them. Without them, the mower doesn’t cut. When these belts and pulleys are in operation, they tend to intake dirt and grass. They suck things in like an airplane turbine engine.
Keep clean by blowing off the deck with a leaf blower or compressor, if you have one. Remove the belt guards and scrape away buildup first. Simple and easy. If you are not letting your lawn grow too high, this shouldn’t be a big problem. Therefore, this task can be done every three to five mowings. When finished, spray upper deck with a hose. The underneath side can be cleaned easily. With engine off, simply reach under there and scrape off all buildup and wipe the blades. If you don’t have tractor ramps, buy them. It’s well worth it. Blow out underneath, then spray it down with a hose.
Tip No. 2:
Always check your tractor engine before operating oil. Whenever it is down, replace it with the manufacturer’s recommended oil. You do not have to wait until it needs an entire quart. Remember to only fill to the “full” line. Pay attention to the recommended viscosity. There may be a difference for warm weather as for cold, such as if you are using the tractor to remove winter snow. When filling, wipe up any overflow or spills.
Check the owner’s manual for the period to change the oil. Change the oil filter each time you change the oil. The filter is on top of the engine and can easily be changed. Screw (turn) left to loosen and remove. The oil; plug is removed the same way. Make sure you drain this oil into a pan, not on the ground. Pour into a container and take to recycler. When replacing the oil, make sure the oil has an SM on the container. That symbol means you may use for tractors. Now oil the gasket on the filter and screw onto the right-hand tight, then plus a quarter turn. Then refill the oil. Wipe up. All Done.
Tip No 3: Air Filter Maintenance:
The air filter usually sits center on the engine, either top or side. This little item can cause continual running or starting problems. This filter only needs to be changed according to your owner’s manual. However, if you want to extend the life of the current filter and extend the engine life, keep the filter clean. If it is made of foam, simply wash it. Only use a mild soap. A cleaning solvent will ruin it. In most cases, you can just blow it out; in your case, probably every three to four weeks.
Tip No. 4 – Spark Plug Maintenance:
This is a tricky area of maintenance of a tractor. This small little item can cause major headaches, from as minor as misfires that can cause fuel inefficiency to major engine repair. A spark plug change at about $3 each can save hundreds of dollars later.

If the engine is hard to start or sputters a lot after starting, if it misses or skips while cutting, or if it has been a year or more, then it’s time to change it.
You will need a deepwell socket and ratchet to change this. On most tractors, you can use a spark plug socket. Locate the spark plug. It is usually on the side of the engine. First, clear off all debris. You don’t want anything to fall in the plug hole. Loosen the plug and remove it. If it is stubborn, then spray it with some penetrating oil and wait a few moments. After removing the plug, clean the plug cavity by just wiping with a lint-free cloth wrapped around your finger. Consult the owner’s manual for proper placement of plug. You can buy your plug at most garden center, hardware stores and auto parts stores. Before leaving stores, make sure the plug is pregapped correctly. The firing head has a small space between it and the plug. Ask the clerk at an auto store and they will perform this service for you. For accomplishing this yourself, you must own a gap tool. This requires about another $3 expenditure.
Now, return to the mower and re-insert the plug. Tighten to the right with your plug socket until you feel it getting tight, then turn it one eighth more. Done!
Tip No. 5: Fuel Filter:
Another tricky area of needed engine maintenance is changing the fuel filter. Check the owner’s manual as to how often the filter needs changing. If changed when needed, the engine will run properly as the gas will filter cleanly into the carburetor. Clean burning fuel is essential to the engine life. Running dirty fuel is the major cause of carburetor repair and replacement.
Start by putting on a pair of watertight gloves. Get two small 1” or 2” clamps, a pair of pliers and a small pan. I am not crazy about getting gasoline all over me and carrying the lingering smell around all day. Therefore, I take the small clamps and apply them on the fuel lines near the connections on the fuel pump. I put the small drain pan underneath. Then take your pliers and remove the spring-type clamp affixed over the fuel line that attaches to the pump. When removing the fuel line, use your finger to stop the small amount of gas that will drip. Then guide this into your drip pan. With a small slant on the filter, push down and remove. Toss it in the pan. Install the filter according to the instructions. Follow the arrows to match up with fuel line. Now slide the pinching clamp back over the line attached to the filter. Remove the clamps on the fuel line, and you are done.
Five easy steps!! If performed all at one time, you probably will spend a half an hour. Costs should be under $20. Savings will be at least $200.
Here’s a couple of other cost savings tips for you. A clean engine runs more efficiently. When your engine is free of debris, such as grass clippings and oil buildup, it runs cooler. A cool running engine lasts longer and is cheaper to operate. Remove the air assembly. Wipe off the buildup, remove any debris, and blow off the rest. Use a penetrating cleaner on the engine. I use Citrol by Schaeffer Mfg. of St. Louis. I have found over the many years of caulk, stains and paint use in my home improvement business that Citrol is the best cleaner. Spray on and wait a minute, then wash off with your garden hose. Presto! Clean engine!! You just saved more money.

Now, if you are ambitious, you may want to go to the automotive store and buy a grease gun (about $20). There are fittings by the deck and axles that need greased. I usually like to check them once a year. First, spray them clean. Then attach the hose of the grease guns to each fitting. Apply enough grease until the old oozes out like dark gunk. Then wipe the area and go on to the next fitting. Seems pretty easy, doesn’t it? Remember to only use products that are recommended by the manufacturer.
When you are all done, spray your hands with Citrol, wipe off the oil, then go to your sink and wash your hands with soap and water. Your tractor should last a lifetime.
Changing your blades is not a hard task, either. If you have not ever done this before, I will be more than happy to give you instruction if you email me at: www.midwest-remodeling.info. Although I like to do my own maintenance, it could benefit you to have a certified technician perform the maintenance every few years. Your blades will always come back sharp.
I hope my tips could help. Like I stated, I usually don’t get involved much in the lawn and garden area. I appreciate your question.
Coming up: Storage sheds and building a tool shop. Keep your questions coming.
Cecil
(Cecil is a home improvement consultant, general contractor and features write for The Chronicle and its readers. Cecil may be contacted at Midwest Remodeling, or on the Web at Midwest-Remodeling.info.)

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