Get yer motor runnin': A few simple servicing steps can keep your lawnmower running smoothly

Get yer motor runnin': A few simple servicing steps can keep your lawnmower running smoothly

April 17th, 2015 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment

Jack Wilson diagnoses an engine problem on a riding lawnmower at the small engine repair shop at his home south of Cleveland on April 13, 2015. Jack's Small Engine has been his business since he left the Army in 1979.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Anyone who has ever struggled to get a mower started or endured the frustration of using a mower with a dull blade knows how aggravating it can be.

On the other hand, there's a good deal of satisfaction in using a machine that starts on the first pull or turn of the key, and more satisfaction still in sitting back with a cool drink while overlooking a fresh-cut lawn.

If you haven't cranked up ol' faithful yet this season, or if you have just a time or two, now is a good time to tune it up so it won't drive you crazy or wear out your arm yanking on the pull cord. Regular maintenance will go a long way to making sure it starts every time and that the blades cut cleanly, which helps the grass stay healthy.

Ronald Morgan does lawn work for several people in and around Soddy-Daisy and says he mows roughly 30 hours a week and has put a total of 2,500 hours" on his riding mower. He says keeping the blade sharp and the right amount of clean oil are key.

"I check it [oil] once a week and change it once a month because of the high hours and the heat," he says.

Jack Wilson of Jack's Small Engine Repair in Cleveland, Tenn., is well known in the tri-state area for the work he does on mowers. Just last week he had a fleet of about 20 riding lawnmowers in his home shop and several more push mowers that needed servicing.

Wilson recommends either servicing your mower yourself or having it serviced around the first of February to get a jumpstart on the process and to avoid it being stuck in a busy shop when you need it. Taking your mower to the shop at the beginning of April will almost guarantee that you'll have to wait a week or so before getting it back.

Jack Wilson diagnoses an engine problem on a riding lawnmower at the small engine repair shop at his home south of Cleveland, Tenn., on April 13, 2015. Jack's Small Engine has been his business since he left the Army in 1979.

Jack Wilson diagnoses an engine problem on a...

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

For servicing, Wilson charges $40 plus parts for push mowers and about $65 plus parts for the riders. But a handy DIYer can do it at home, he says, a task that should take about an hour to 90 minutes to complete.

"Change the oil, oil filter, clean or replace the air filter, sharpen the blade and check all belts," Wilson advises.

Use the manual to figure out how to do all these tasks or go online. YouTube has plenty of videos to show you how to do all of these maintenance jobs.

On riding mowers, you should also check the tire pressure if necessary and, for all mowers, replace the spark plug if need be. There are a couple of ways to tell if your plug bad or going bad. If it looks especially black or pitted, it's time. If the mower is getting harder to start, or if it is suddenly burning more gas than in the past, it could be the plug.

You can also check if the plug is producing a spark by removing it, reattaching it to the plug wire, grounding it to the engine body and pulling the crank a few times while you look for a spark. Go online and watch a video if you are unsure how to do it.

"I give everything a good greasing and clean the (mower) deck, too," Morgan says.

Before you take the blade off to sharpen it yourself or have it sharpened somewhere else, give it a visual check (detach the spark plug wire beforehand, just to be safe). If the blade is badly bent or the edge has a lot of nicks, replacing it might be easier than trying to get itback into sharp shape. If it's not too bad, remove it, place it in a vice and go over the edge with a file or a Dremel tool with a sharpening attachment.

If you have a bench grinder, you can use it for heavier work, but some people use a belt sander instead, he says. Either way, be sure to move the blade, sander, file or sharpening tool back and forth to get an even hone and avoid burning the metal.

You'll also want to check it for balance. A cheap balancer can be purchased at most home centers, he says. If the blade is slightly off balance, grind away on the side that slips down -- the heavier side -- until it balances evenly.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.