Lawn mowers are typically the home owner’s most expensive outdoor tool. While zero-turn riders understandably cost thousands of dollars, even simple push mowers can cost hundreds to replace. Let’s cover a few ways to reduce the odds of expensive maintenance or replacement, and keep your mower sharp.
Blade — The blade is probably the single most important part of the mower, as everything else is pointless without it. Make sure it is free of bends, dents, and cracks. Take a close look at your lawn after cutting. Are the blades of grass ragged where the mower cut it? If so, your blade needs sharpening. A sharp blade makes a smooth straight cut, which is easier on the plant and the machine. A blade sharpening kit sells at home improvement stores for about $10, but new blades only run $20 to $40.
Oil — Just like a car, oil is critical for this little engine. If your mower is less than 10 years old, odds are it is four cycle, and takes SAE 30 or 10-W30 just like a car. Changing the oil is super easy, as unlike a car, you can tip the mower to drain the oil, and it is very affordable, usually needing 1 quart or less. Change it at the beginning of the season, or every 30 – 50 hours if mowing under severe conditions (regularly cutting a neighbor’s giant lawn, using in a lawn care service, etc).
Air Filter — The air filter should be replaced when it is dirty, or every year. Off brands seem to work as well as name brands, just be sure it is designed to fit your mower. The spark plug should also be replaced at this time. Take it off halfway through the season and have a close look. Check for heavy black carbon buildup, or white ash. These are both signs of an improper air/fuel mixture from the carburetor, which can cause engine damage. Sure, you can also check for cracks in the spark plug, but any actual damage is probably too small to see. If you have misfire issues, just drop $3 on a new one.
Rust — Inspect the deck for rust. This is mainly a problem in the coastal states and Midwest, but any steel deck mower can eventually rust. Take care of that with “naval jelly” before it gets bad, then primer and repaint. Grease the wheel bearings with any water dispersing oil spray, and check the plastic wheels for damage. Check the handlebars for excessive play, and tighten the bolts as needed. Inspect the pull rope, and replace for less than $5 if frayed.
Finally, remember to winterize the mower at the end of the mowing season. This is usually just draining the fuel, or adding stabilizer, but different brands vary, so check your mower’s manual. If you are unsure about what’s involved, just check out the DIY videos on YouTube that can walk you through all of it step by step.