Dear Ole Mechanic;
I'm getting ready to put my riding mower away for a two or three months. Is there anything special that I should do to keep from having problems like those I had last spring? The mower wouldn't start and I had to haul it in for repairs. The shop charged me over $100 to get it started.
Not Mowing for Awhile
Dear Not Mowing;
There are several things that you should do. The first is to clean the mower--and I'm not just talking about the outside of it. Get all of the old grass and dirt out from everywhere--down by the belts, around the battery, down by the shifter, and even from under the mowing deck. This is going to require blowing it out real good with compressed air. Don’t have an air compressor? The exhaust from a vacuum cleaner will work O--it just may take a little longer. I really do not like to use water, as it always seems to get someplace where it should not be and causes rust and corrosion. If you do use water, then be sure to blow it out of everywhere. Some areas like the underneath side of the mower deck may even require wire brushing.
While you are down there getting the stuff out, take time to look around. Are any of the belts cracked or worn? Are there any bolts loose or missing? Do you see worn or bent rods or holes that have worn oblong? I would bet that the blade needs sharpening. Why look for this kind of stuff now? Either you have time to fix it before hunting season, or, if you take it to a repair shop, they usually aren't as busy this time of year. Even if they are busy, it just means that they will be storing your mower at a time when you don't need it. Be careful, though, since once they get it fixed, they may charge you a storage fee if you leave it there too long.
If everything looks OK, then it is time to get it ready to store. First, change the oil. You don't want that old, dirty oil sitting in the engine and letting the sludge settle to the bottom of the engine where it will build up. Fill it to the recommended level with clean, fresh oil. Next is the gas. There are two way to proceed with the fuel system. Either drain it all out and then run the engine until the carburetor is empty, OR, fill it up with fresh gas and add a gas storage treatment, and then run the engine for a few minutes so that the treated gas gets into the carburetor. By the way, running the engine helps spread the new oil around inside the engine. I prefer to empty out all of the gas, but since the mower will only be stored for two or three months, either way should be fine.
A word of caution here: if you leave gas in the mower, before starting it next spring, be sure to check both the gas and the oil. I have seen gas slowly leak through the carburetor and fill the crankcase FULL of gas. If that happens, don't attempt to start the engine until all of the gas-diluted oil has been drained and fresh oil added to bring level back up to the FULL mark on the dipstick. Trying to start an engine that has a crankcase full of gasoline is a sure way to damage the engine--maybe beyond repair.
OK, we are getting close, but still are not done. Clean the top of the battery, and if it is the type that allows you to check the electrolyte, do so and add water if needed. Then, charge the battery. I like to remove the ground cable from the battery during storage. We are almost there, but you should also check the tire pressures. If any of them are low, air them up. If one or more of them have been losing air, now is a good time to get them fixed.
Now for storage. Do'nt park it under a tree for a couple of months and expect it to start. Find a dry place in a barn, garage, or storage shed. Then, before you cover it with a tarp, set a mouse trap, get a cat, or throw some rodent killer near it. For some reason, the little critters like to chew on wires, and I have even heard of them chewing on tires. That should do it--just don't forget to check the gas, oil, and tires, and charge the battery and put in a new spark plug before you fire it up next spring.
Of course there is a way to avoid all of this. Hook the mower up to a cart and use it to bring in firewood during the next couple of months.
Herr Professor Nuzanbolts