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Basic Power Tiller Maintenance

A power tiller is a hardworking implement that makes short order of turning over the soil in your garden. But because its primary work environment is extremely dirty, rocky and muddy, a power tiller requires a few basic maintenance steps to keep it running at its best.

Keep It Clean and Sharp

First, and most important, keep your power tiller clean. After every use, hose off the tiller and inspect it, giving special attention to the tines. If any stones have become lodged between the tines, remove them. Over time, the tines themselves will become dull and need sharpening—you'll know it's time to sharpen if the tiller does not easily cut through soil. If you own a lighter mini-tiller or a small front-tine tiller, flip it onto its side with the gas tank facing up and use either a mill bastard file or a home-and-garden file to sharpen the blades. If you have a large tiller, don't attempt to turn it over; instead, remove the blades and clamp them in a vice before sharpening them with a file. If vines or roots are wound around the axle, cut them off.

Change the Oil and Air Filter

The oil and air filter need to be changed on a regular basis. To change the oil (which should be done every 50 hours of operation or at least every spring), look for the drain plug near the bottom of the oil reservoir. (Different engine manufacturers place the drain plug in different locations.) While the engine is warm but not hot to the touch, remove the drain plug and drain the old oil into a container (dispose of the oil in an environmentally acceptable manner). Replace the drain plug and fill the tiller's oil reservoir with the appropriate amount of the recommended grade of oil, as specified in the tiller's manual. Start the engine and let it idle for 30 seconds. Stop the engine, wait another 30 seconds, and recheck the oil level. If the level is still a bit low, add additional oil in small increments until the oil reaches the full mark on the dipstick.

To replace the air filter (which should be done after 18 to 20 hours of operation or at least once a year), first consult the power tiller's owner's manual to see what model of filter is required. Most air filters are enclosed in an easy-to-remove metal or plastic housing. Simply remove any screws that hold the housing in place and swap the new air filter for the old one.

Shut It Down for the Season

At the end of the gardening season, run the gas tank dry before you store the tiller. If you can't run it dry, add fuel stabilizer to the remaining gasoline and run the engine for approximately 30 seconds before shutting the power tiller down for storage. And remember to always store your power tiller in a dry, shady area such as a garage or shed, as sunlight can break down rubber parts like tires and fuel lines, and moisture will lead to rust on any metal parts. Properly cared for, a power tiller will provide years of reliable service.