7 Ways to Improve the Life of Your Lawn Mower

by Annie Mueller on 15 April 2011 6 comments
Photo: puuikibeach

When I first got married, I couldn't have told you the difference between a carburetor and an air filter. That's one of the things I love most about marriage, actually — how educational it is. My husband is a small-engine mechanic with multiple certifications and shop manager at the family business, Arco Lawn Equipment. I never knew how much there was to know about lawn mowers, but I've picked up quite a lot. This list is compiled from my husband's top tips for getting the most use out of your lawn mower. (See also: 6 Slick Tools to Save Money on Car Repairs)

1. Maintain Your Lawn Mower Every Season

Lawn mowers are getting cheaper and cheaper, and many people see them as disposable commodities now — purchase, use, and just get a new one in a couple of years when the old one wears out. That's one way to think about it, but it's not the smart and frugal way. Even if you purchase the cheapest lawn mower out there, you can extend its life and get better performance from it by maintaining it regularly. It's not too difficult to do an at-home service, either. The basics you should cover are changing the oil, putting in a new spark plug, checking (and replacing, if necessary) the air filter, and lubricating the machine.

2. Keep the Blade Sharp for Better Cutting

A dull blade on your lawn mower will tear off the grass rather than slice it cleanly. Torn grass will turn yellow or brown at the tips, making your yard look like it has some sort of horrible disease. Not exactly the lush, green look you want. Keep your blade nice and sharp. You can sharpen it yourself, or you can remove it and take it to a lawn mower shop and get it sharpened for usually under $10. Make sure it's tightened back on properly.

3. Use Your Owner's Manual

When you purchase a new piece of equipment, spend fifteen minutes reading through the owner's manual. You'll find out all sorts of interesting tidbits, like where and how to lubricate the mower, what kind of oil to use and how often to change it, how to tighten the blades down, how to troubleshoot minor problems, and other tips. Don't assume that your new mower works just like your old mower. Some lawn mowers need to be lubricated around the gears, wheels, and axles; others have a "closed system" and don't need to be greased, and that's just one possible difference. A few minutes doing a bit of reading can save you lots of time and money.

4. Use Fresh Fuel and Keep It Fresh

Gasoline has a high percentage of ethanol in it, and that ethanol decomposes rather quickly. For a lawn-mower engine, this can be problematic; the old, broken-down fuel creates this gunky kind of varnish that can cause the whole fuel system to act like it hates you. If your machine is starting and dying, revving up strangely, or just refusing to run at all, fuel varnish might be your problem. Purchase a handy little item called fuel stabilizer, and add it to the gas can every time you fill it up. It's cheap, and it will keep your fuel stable longer.

5. Check the Oil with Every Use

Yes, that's right — every single time you use your lawn mower. It takes 30 seconds to pull the dipstick, wipe it, and do a quick check. Keep the oil filled to the correct level, and use the right kind of oil. Too much oil will make your lawn mower smoke, and too little oil will cause all sorts of problems, most of them expensive.

6. Clean Wet Grass Out From Under the Deck After Every Use

Those clumps of wet grass can cause corrosion on your lawn mower deck, which will end up shortening the life of your lawn mower unnecessarily. It's not difficult to get it out from under the deck, especially if you do so as soon as you're finished mowing. Use a stick or a screwdriver to encourage those stuck-on clumps to come off. If you hose your mower down, be sure you let it sit out in the sun to dry thoroughly before you park it back in the cool, dark garage.

7. Get to Know Your Local Lawn-Equipment Shop

I'm a little biased here, admittedly, about how much cooler family-owned shops are than big box stores. But seriously, even if you purchased your mower at the big box store down the street, you can benefit from the expertise of the employees at a smaller shop that specializes in lawn equipment. If you're someone who likes to tinker with stuff yourself, you can get help finding the right parts. Many smaller shops also run regular specials; my husband's business offers annual deep discounts on pickup and delivery, which is a huge savings as a pickup/delivery service can run up to $50 in our service area.

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Guest's picture
Hunter

This is timely information. Just this month I have spent almost $200 on seed and fertilizer to groom the lawn.

I purchased our mower 2 years ago and was miffed to read in the manual that the expected working life of this macine is only 7 years. My parents are about to get their 35 year out of their trusty 2 stoke grass cutter. Has manufacturing really gone backwards? This built in obsolescence drives me nuts. Corporate culture understands that they need to keep selling you stuff so they can stay in business. We all lose as a result of this mad consumer culture. Let's keep'm honest by maintaining our mowers, for starters, like you suggest.

Annie Mueller's picture

I'm with you, Hunter. It's disturbing to see how quickly lawn equipment - and similar products - are being shifted to "disposable" items. My husband says they often have to turn away people who want service on equipment such as blowers, chainsaw, etc., because the service parts simply aren't available for them; the manufacturers don't expect (or want) people to repair them, just to buy another new one.
Of course, there are some brands (such as Stihl) who don't hold to this mentality; and there are better-quality machines at higher price-points. But overall, the industry is changing and it's not good, all around.

Guest's picture
K-ro

Please be aware that a significant proportion of people in this country use ELECTRIC mowers, the maintenance of which is completely unaddressed in this article about lawn mower maintenance.

Annie Mueller's picture

Good point, K-Ro. This article covers how to get an electric mower ready for spring use: http://www.canadiangardening.com/how-to/lawn-care/get-your-electric-mowe...

Guest's picture

Fuel Stabalizer is great especially if storing your lawnmower for a while.

Dwight Anthony
Financially Elite Blog dot Com

Guest's picture
ischriscrazy

The Alameda Repair Shop says that gasoline starts to go bad after 30 days and that additives are of little use. Use fresh gasoline and dump the remaining gas into your car, when its time to refuel get fresh gas. (The current gasolines contain ethanal which absorbs water and dirt as it ages) Store your mower in a dry place and not where the weather can affect it. Most mowers will last over 30 years if serviced, used and stored properly.