Before tending your lawn, care for your tools

Written by Cecil Messer. Posted in Featured, Home & Garden

Published on May 19, 2021 with No Comments

Lawn Mower

With the return of warmer days, many homeowners have begun tending to their lawns and gardens. But, without giving their mowers and tractors attention first, some may find their lawn care equipment not quite up to the job.  A little routine maintenance may be in order.

So, before you begin revving up those mowers this weekend, here are a few tips to help start the lawn care season out right.

Before and after use:

1.  Keep cutting deck above and below free of debris.

2.  Check oil before and after use. Make sure it is clean; change accordingly.

3.  Check air filter for cleanliness; change when appropriate;

4.  Check spark plug for burnt areas.  Check gap; change as needed.

5.  Check the fuel filter for cleanliness; change when necessary.

Does all of this sound complicated?  It really isn’t.  I will go through the steps to make it easy.  

Most households already have the necessary tools, such as an adjustable wrench, pliers, garden hose, spark plug gap and socket set.  An additional tool you may want to purchase is a torque wrench.  

Always remember to wear safety goggles.  And never perform maintenance while the engine is running.

Tip 1:  Clean the deck

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 just like an airplane turbine engine does. 

Blow off the deck with a leaf blower or compressor. Remove the belt guards and scrape away buildup first.  If you are not letting your grass grow too high, this shouldn’t be a big problem and this task can be done every three to five mowings.  

When finished, spray the upper deck with a hose.  The underneath side can be cleaned easily.  With the engine off, simply reach under 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 and then spray it down with a hose.

Tip 2:  Check the oil

Always check your tractor’s 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. When filling, wipe up any overflow or spills.

Pay attention to the recommended viscosity.  There may be a difference for warm weather use, especially if you use your tractor in the winter to remove snow.  

Check the owner’s manual for the recommended oil change schedule.  And 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 a recycler.

When replacing the oil, make sure the oil has an SM on the container.  That symbol means you may use it for tractors.  Oil the gasket on the filter and screw onto the right-hand tight, then plus a quarter turn. Then refill the oil.  

Tip 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. 

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, probably every three to four weeks.

Tip 4: Spark plug maintenance

This is a tricky area of maintenance of a tractor.  This small little item can create headaches, from minor misfires that cause fuel inefficiency to major engine repair.  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, it’s time to change it.

You will need a deepwell socket and ratchet.  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 a plug at most garden centers, hardware stores and auto parts stores.  Before leaving, make sure the plug is pregapped correctly.  The firing head has a small space between it and the plug.  Ask the clerk at the auto store and they will perform this service for you; a gap tool is needed.  

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.  

Tip 5:  Fuel filter maintenance

Another tricky area of needed engine maintenance is the fuel filter. Clean burning fuel is essential to the engine life.  Running dirty fuel is the major cause of carburetor repair and replacement. 

Check the owner’s manual as to how often the filter should be changed. If changed when needed, the engine will run properly as the gas will filter cleanly into the carburetor.   

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, so 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 and 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.  Slide the pinching clamp back over the line attached to the filter. Remove the clamps on the fuel line and you are done.

Here are a couple more cost savings tips.  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.) Spray on, wait a minute, then wash off with your garden hose.  

Grease the fittings near the axles.  Learn how to change the belts. 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.

Changing your blades is not a hard task, either.  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.

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Cecil Messer is the owner of Midwest Remodeling Windows and Doors located in Portage.  For more information, call 219-465-8101 or 219-763-6314.

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About Cecil Messer

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Cecil Messer started general contracting in 1986 and has been a full-time general contractor since 1993. He is a window and door design specialist as well as an interior and exterior home consultant. He has lectured at Indiana University about business sociology and received the only award given by the Better Business Bureau to a home consultant. Cecil is the owner of Midwest Remodeling Windows and Doors located in Portage. You may write to him at 208 Elm Street, Valparaiso, IN 46383 or e-mail him at

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