On the cusp of winter, it’s time to put away the lawn care tools and equipment and bring out the snow removal tools and equipment. Depending on the size of your lawn or driveway, this may be a simple and easy job or one that is difficult and a hassle. We’re Minnesotan, it’s part of the deal! In our household, Mr. Man is the primary caretaker of equipment, regardless of season. For your information (and mine!) I asked him what he suggests regarding preparing equipment for the winter ahead.
The equipment we’ll address includes lawn mower, weed whip, backpack blower, and roto-tiller, though the suggestions below apply to essentially all small gasoline engine power tools. While not all these pieces are standard for each home, they definitely are in ours, not exclusively because Mr. Man used to have a lawn care business. And certainly partially because he is a mechanically-savvy-motor-head that loves to have the aid of machines in accomplishing outdoor projects. “Every job goes better with the appropriate power tool” he says.
He began by relaying that all small engines – likely your lawn mower, weed-whip, backpack blower, and roto-tiller will all require a few treatments to keep them in prime running order for years to come. While not all of these steps are critical they are an investment in time and materials for the safe, long-term, use of equipment with fewer costly repairs and replacements. If you aren’t comfortable performing these tasks personally, local small engine folks can winterize your equipment on your behalf, for a fee.
Fuel stabilizer is a must to keep engines happy. Before our discussion, I thought the best tactic for gas machines was to drain the gas before winter. Turns out, as I learned, that’s not a good idea. Instead, add the appropriate amount of fuel stabilizer for the size of the gas can. And if possible, fuel your equipment with stabilized gas while still using during the last month before winter. He additionally recommends storing equipment with full [stabilized] fuel tanks. *Note, small engines should be fueled with non-oxygenated/normally 91 octane fuel. This is important because the ethanol in typical 87 octane can make fuel system components brittle and the alcohol can contribute to moisture and corrosion in the fuel system. Additional fuel note – modern gasoline has a short shelf life where it begins to degrade within ~1 month (if not treated with stabilizer) regardless of time of year. Final fuel note, if you have an engine that requires mixed gas but your use of that piece of equipment is limited consider purchasing shelf stable mixed fuel from an auto parts or small engine store.
Drain and refill oil tanks. This is important to do as oil that is exposed to internal combustion has acid and contaminants in it that can be potentially harmful if they sit in the engine. Many folks think to change the oil in the Spring before seasonal use but the strong suggestion here was to do it in the Fall because oil has three jobs: to lubricate, help cool the engine, and keep the engine clean. Summer use has made that oil dirty, don’t let it sit in there. *Note, if you are working on a 2-cycle engine you will not have a separate oil tank as they operate with mixed gas (a mixture of oil and gasoline).
If there is an external spin-on oil filter, change that at the time you change the oil. Equipment that has a pressurized oil system will likely have this external oil filter, like many riding lawn mowers.
Clean or replace air filters. If you have a foam filter wash with warm water and mild detergent and let air dry. Before putting it back onto the equipment, reapply the air filter tack oil. If your air filter has paper elements it will need to be replaced. Filters (and filter supplies) can be found at auto parts stores.
Fogging, perhaps like me, you’ve never heard of this! Let me tell you more. To fog, the engine must be running with stabilized fuel long enough to be warm. Fogging oil is sold in spray cans, again available at hardware or auto parts stores. Once the engine is warm and before you’ve finished the above step of reinstalling the air filter, spray fogging oil into the carburetor in small bursts. After a couple of those applications, attempt to kill the engine by spraying fogging oil until the engine dies as it can’t burn off the amount of oil you’ve applied. *Exhaust will smoke significantly in the fogging process. If you aren’t able to kill the engine with fogging oil, release the safety handle or turn off the engine then spray while the engine stops rotating. The function of fogging oil is to prevent rust on internal engine components that don’t get engine oil. An additional location to consider spraying fogging oil is into the upper cylinder head of the engine. To find this, remove the spark plug and spray into space inside. Pull start-cord a couple of times to distribute that fogging oil. These are quick “cht-cht” sprays of the fogging oil. Replace the spark plug. *Note, the internal protection that the fogging oil provides may prove to be damaging to the spark plug so in the Spring they may need to be replaced.
A bonus note about lawn mowers, while you (or your trusted equipment maintenance team) are putting the mower to bed for the Winter – also consider sharpening the mower blades. Sharp blades cut the grass and dull ones tear the grass. Torn grass looks browner and more unhealthy on your lawn.
This is by no means a comprehensive maintenance list for all the equipment in your life, but this hopefully can help you go into the Winter season with greater confidence in the Spring performance of your equipment. We wish you luck with end-of-Fall wrap-ups!