May 12, 2013

Spring tune-up can revive lawn mower

Apart from avoiding the cost of a replacement, maintaining the mower is better for your grass.

By ANGIE HICKS McClatchy Newspapers

It's that time of year. Drive through your neighborhood on heavy trash pickup day in early spring and you'll likely see them: lawn mowers sitting forlornly at the end of driveways, worn but otherwise seemingly intact; cast aside because they no longer function as they should.

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A lawn mower tune-up should include having the blade sharpened, replacing spark plugs and air filters, changing the oil and replacing old fuel if necessary, repair experts say.

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"Usually in the springtime, about now, people try to start their mower and it won't run, so they'll want to throw it out," said James Feehan of Treasure Valley Premier Services, which offers lawn mower service and repair in Boise, Idaho. "Instead (of paying for a tune-up) they spend $500 on a new mower. People don't call when a problem exists. They just throw the mower away."

Having your mower serviced before you need it can help avoid inopportune breakdowns and extend its life.

A professional lawn mower tune-up should include having the blade sharpened, cleaning under the mower, replacing spark plugs and air filters, changing the oil, replacing old fuel if necessary and inspecting the carburetor, cables and belts.

A spring tune-up should cost between $50 and $150, depending on the mower and what needs to be done. The professionals recommend an annual inspection and tune-up.

"First off, it makes the grass look prettier," said Jeff Breton of Precision Outdoor Power Equipment in Raleigh, N.C. "A dull blade just tears the grass, whereas a sharp blade will cut the grass and give you an even cut. Plus, we can see anything that might potentially go wrong (before) they might have to end up having to replace it."

Warning signs that your mower needs maintenance can include difficulty in starting, a smoking engine and reduced horsepower.

The most common issue the pros say they see is trouble with carburetors, especially in mowers where fuel has sat in the gas tank for an extended period of time.

"It typically will start up, run for a few seconds and then die," Feehan said. "Once the fuel starts to gel, it will clog up right away. That's 90 percent of the repairs I get."

Feehan recommends using a fuel stabilizer throughout the season to minimize potential issues.

"It will extend the life of the gas and keeps it from gelling up when it sits," Feehan said, adding that the No. 1 thing homeowners can do to keep their mowers working well is to drain fuel from the mower before storing it during the months when it's not used.

Feehan, who studied turf grass management at University of Maryland and combined his knowledge of lawn care with a lifetime of experience working on small engines to form his company, said neglecting your mower will ultimately lead to neglect of your lawn.

"When you don't maintain your lawn mower, it's going to break down," Feehan said. "When it breaks down, you can't mow your lawn regularly. Regularly cutting the lawn is very important for its health. If you miss a week, it grows taller. When you come back to cut it, you're ripping a lot of the moisture out of the lawn. You're causing a lot of problems by not doing it regularly. Even one time a year alters it for about six weeks."

Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, a resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care.

 

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