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Start Your Engines — Spring 2010 | Out Here Magazine

It might be a good idea to start the lawn and garden season with a fresh spark plug, to keep your small engines starting up quickly and easily.

A little maintenance can keep your power equipment running

By Noble Sprayberry
Photography by Jeff Fraizer

The cough, cough and fatal chug of a misbehaving gas-powered motor can turn spring lawn work into hours of frustrating troubleshooting. Is the problem the spark plug? Maybe a clogged air filter? Is another culprit to blame?

Fortunately, avoiding problems all together is often as easy as a bit of forethought and a perusal of the owner's manual.

"If you follow the maintenance procedures outlined by the manufacturer, your power equipment will last for years and give you trouble-free service," says Mike Barnett, service marketing manager for Briggs & Stratton in Milwaukee.

Isolating a problem with the first crank of the season should take one focus: fuel.

If you've ever wondered why your lawn mower is difficult to start the first time you use it in the spring mowing season, chances are the fuel in your gas tank is stale, Barnett says. Over time, untreated gasoline breaks down and no longer does its job.

Pouring a measured amount of a fuel stabilizer into the gasoline mix can keep the fuel from going bad. The cost for stabilizer can be a low as 50 cents per tank treated, saving a pricey visit to a repair shop, Barnett says.

Some people, however, do choose to drain the gas from the tank. This might solve one problem — stale fuel in the tank — but it doesn't remove fuel left in the carburetor bowl. This fuel can go stale and cause hard starting, Barnett says.

"The best option is to add the correct amount of fuel stabilizer to the fuel tank before storing your equipment in the fall," he says.

A handful of other preventive measures will help keep your engine running at peak performance and extend the life of the equipment.

Change the air filter according to the recommended schedule, Barnett says. Also, replace the oil, a chore that should be completed at least once a season or for every 25 hours of use.


Engine manufacturers sell maintenance kits complete with the correct oil for each tool — Briggs & Stratton, for example, sells tune-up kits containing fuel stabilizer, spark plug, filter, and oil — although oil can be purchased separately. Also, be sure to recycle used oil at a licensed oil collection location, such as your local Tractor Supply store.


Finally, remember to change the spark plug, one of the easiest solutions for hitch-free starts. Like oil, a spark plug should be changed once every season, Barnett says.


Remember, the gap in the end of the spark plug — the space where the spark forms — must be adjusted to each engine's specifications. Manufacturers' maintenance kits generally include "pre-gapped" plugs for a specific model.


As a bonus, proper engine maintenance reduces engine emission, which is good for the environment. But don't let pre-chore maintenance create new problems for you or your lawn mower.


When servicing the underside of a mower deck, for example, always position the mower with the air-filter side up. Otherwise, oil might drain into the filter, preventing the engine from starting. And always detach the spark plug to keep the engine from starting accidentally.


"By you spending a half-hour of your time," Barnett says, "you're going to save money, have better performance, and it's going to be good for the environment."


Noble Sprayberry is a Phoenix writer.