Sputter, sputter, sputter…kick, kick, kick. Does this sound like the relationship between you and your lawn equipment? If so, it’s time for some tender loving care. No, not for you (although that’s never a bad idea), but for your lawn equipment. Before your lawn mower, weed eater and other machinery go into hibernation, you should winterize them so they’re “spring ready” for next year.

Lawn mower spark plug

Is it time to change your spark plug? Don’t know where (or what) it is? Look in your owner’s manual to help you locate it on your machine.

Photo Credit: Rachel A. Margolis

Checking lawn mower oil

Check your oil on a regular basis – and change it once a year to keep your lawn care equipment running smoothly.

Photo Credit: Rachel A. Margolis

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This lawn mower’s air filter was changed in spring. Look how dirty it got in just 6 months!

Photo Credit: Rachel A. Margolis

Lawn mower blades

Don’t forget to carefully clean under your mower deck – and when you do, check what kind of shape the blades are in. They should be sharpened or replaced once a year for a crisp-cut lawn.

Photo Credit: Rachel A. Margolis

The basic maintenance most equipment needs is fairly easy to tackle. Your car needs regular attention (oil changes, new filters, etc.), and so does your lawn care equipment. Regular inspections and maintenance keep them running smoothly, as well as cuts down on repairs and replacement costs. If this is new territory for you and you cringe at the thought of getting your hands greasy, stay with me and just keep reading. Trust me when I say you’ll think, “I can do that!” It’s just a matter of getting more familiar with your equipment.

Let’s start with the spark plug. Without the spark plug (alias, “Sparky”), your machine won’t start. The spark plug provides the electrical spark that ignites the gasoline/air mixture. Typically, you need to change the spark plug in any lawn maintenance tool once a season. If you’re pulling and pulling the chord on your machine and it’s still not starting, there’s a good chance that ol’ Sparky is the culprit. Each lawn equipment model requires a different spark plug and spark plug gap. To find out which one you need, just pull out the spark plug that’s in the machine right now, or check your operator’s manual. (You can also buy an inexpensive spark plug gap tool to have at your disposal. It sure comes in handy.)

Next, let’s talk oil. First, you need to make sure you’re using the right kind. Again, your operator’s manual will explain your machine’s specific oil requirements – and you must pay attention to them. Putting the wrong oil in your lawn equipment is like the pharmacist filling your prescription incorrectly. It could mean the death of your machine.

The next step is to actually look at the oil and the oil level (which you should do regularly throughout the season). If the oil is low or dirty, your machine won’t run like it should. Plus (just like cars), if the oil gets dangerously low, the engine will burn up. Not good…not good at all.

Most machines have a number of hours of minimal operation before changing the oil is necessary. Even if you don’t find yourself using your mower or other machinery that often during a season, it’s a good habit to change your oil once a year to keep your equipment running smoothly. (And remember to dispose of your old oil safely by taking it to your local hazardous-material recycling location.)

You’ll also need to regularly inspect the air filters of your lawn equipment. The air filter prevents dirt from entering the carburetor. If it’s dirty or soaked with fuel, the filter can’t do its job, and you’ll need to replace it. Changing this little filter will save your carburetor, as well as time and money.

The same applies for your fuel filter and line. If these get clogged, the machine definitely won’t run. Check around your fuel cap for loose dirt and remove it with a clean rag. Inspect the fuel line and filter, if applicable, and replace them if clogged or dirty – or at least once a year.

Now let’s say that you’ve done all the standard maintenance and one of your machines still isn’t running. Well, then, it’s time to call on the experts. The “off-season” is a great time to take your machine in for repair, when business at repair shops tends to be slow. Whatever you do, don’t wait until the first day of spring, when repair dealers are up to their eyeballs in broken-down lawn mowers and weed eaters. It’s first-come, first-served – and then you might have to wait weeks before your machine is fixed. (Meanwhile, your grass will keep growing…and growing!) Most places have a minimal charge just to diagnose the problem, so you might find it more cost-effective just to buy a new machine. (By the way, the end of lawn mowing season is a great time to find closeout deals on older models!)

So before you get settled into your winter routine (and start the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations), pull out those lawn machines one more time. Believe me, on that first gorgeous spring day when the birds are chirping and the butterflies are fluttering, your lawn will call you – and your machines will be ready to go. I guarantee, you’ll be glad you made time in fall to care for your equipment so you can get out there and enjoy spring from the start!