Find out how to service and maintain your lawn mower in the off-season so that it's ready to go come spring. Learn why you should never leave gas in the system over the winter and get tips on changing the oil and sharpening the blade.
LESLIE: Well, gas-powered lawn mowers  and trimmers take their share of abuse during the warmer months. So some care is vital to keeping their parts in good working condition year-round.
TOM: That’s right. And when the grass-cutting season is over, that care is especially important because you want to make sure the mower will run the following spring. Here to tell us how to do just that is landscaping contractor, Roger Cook , from TV’s This Old House .
ROGER: Welcome. Your lawn mower  all ready for winter?
TOM: Not quite just yet. But so many small-engine problems are caused by bad fuel. Is that something we really have to guard against when we put our equipment away for the year?
ROGER: Oh, especially for the winter. That fuel can gum up a carburetor and you’re going to go to start it up next spring and it is not going to run. And it’s going to cost you a lot of money to fix.
TOM: A lot of folks don’t realize that gasoline only is good for about 30 days, correct?
ROGER: That’s right. Right.
TOM: Unless you put a fuel stabilizer in it. But even at that, you don’t really want to leave any gas in the system over the season, do you? Over the winter season?
ROGER: Very simple to run the mower dry. That’s the best way to store it for the winter. Stabilizer is great. I use it in a lot of the products and especially the fuel that’s going to have – be going into my snow blower during the winter season, because that’s going to sit for a period of time.
ROGER: Nothing worse than starting a snow blower in the middle of a blizzard and have it not fire up.
Now, what else do you need to do to get your lawn mower serviced at the end of the season so it’s good to go next year?
ROGER: There’s a lot of things you can do in the fall and the winter to a lawn mower and all your tools, for that matter. We’re all so busy in the spring that wintertime is a great time to do some maintenance things.
Number one, change the oil on your mower. It’ll be clean and fresh and ready to go in the spring. Sharpen the blade. Very simple to do but early in the spring, you’re just going to grab that mower and go whether it has a sharp blade or dull blade. Do it now.
TOM: Now, is that something you can do yourself or you just take it off and send it out to have it done?
ROGER: It’s a very simple operation to do yourself. It involves tipping the mower, in some cases, on the side. And whenever you tip a lawn mower, you want the carburetor up so that none of the fluids will run into the carburetor. You may have to have someone hold the mower for you and you’re going to need a wrench and a pair of gloves and then you can remove the blade from underneath. Just put it on a bench grinder or even a hand filer: a good, flat file. Touch up that edge and it’ll be ready for spring.
TOM: It doesn’t have to be carving-knife sharp; it just has to be – have any of the chunks taken out of it that may be from a rock and that sort of thing, right?
ROGER: No, I like it carving-knife sharp. You have a problem with that?
TOM: No, no.
ROGER: Your grass – believe it or not, the grass will grow better when you cut it with a clean edge than if you have a big, ragged cut on the end of the blade.
LESLIE: Is it a good idea to remove the spark plugs just in case anything sort of kicks on? Or once you’ve got the fuel out, it’s not going anywhere.
ROGER: You can pull the wire off the spark plug and that way there’s no way that lawn mower’s going to fire up.
TOM: Now, what about the air filter? Good idea to change that, as well?
ROGER: Yeah and that’s pretty easy. You just open up the canister and in some cases, it involves washing it out with soapy water. In other cases, if it’s real bad, you can go down and get it and replace it then.
TOM: Same advice for, say, your weed whacker or any other small piece of a gasoline-powered equipment?
ROGER: Absolutely. And one thing we didn’t even talk about is spark plugs. It’s a great time to take the spark plug out, look at it, see what kind of shape it’s in. Some people like to clean them up. Usually, I’ll buy a new one and plop it in. And another step you can do before spring to be ready for spring.
TOM: That makes so much sense because, like you say, now you have the time. Put that equipment away properly. You’re just going to be so happy when you pull it out for the first time in the spring and it fires up instantly.
ROGER: If you’re anything like me, you don’t have that time in the spring to spend fixing everything. You want it ready and good to go.
TOM: Good advice. Roger Cook from TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
ROGER: Thanks for having me.
LESLIE: Alright. You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For your local listings, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House is brought to you by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.