A Beginner’s Guide to Riding Lawn Mower Maintenance: Tips and Tricks for a Long-Lasting Machine
If you want a reliable mower all season, who doesn’t? Then your Riding mower will need a tune-up at least once a year, preferably in the spring before the season starts. If you want a reliable mower all season, then your Riding mower will need a tune-up at least once a year, preferably in the spring before the season starts.
So what is riding mower maintenance? To maintain a riding mower, the following components need attention:
At the very minimum, the oil should be changed at the start of the season. If your mower is new, change the oil after the first 5 hours of use. Some mowers will have a useful tune-up interval chart stuck under the hood or under the seat.
Topping Up Oil
Checking and topping up the oil is good practice, but it’s not a substitute for an oil change. If your mower has an oil filter, change it when changing the oil, this is where all the contaminants are trapped.
Info Sticker – Helpful charts are fitted to some mowers showing intervals and part numbers; however, I’ve found the Husqvarna belt labeling to be wrong; just saying!
About Your Gas Engine
All tractor-mower engines are very durable, failures, in my experience, are rare, and when they happen, it’s usually associated with poor or low oil. That’s why checking your oil regularly and oil changes are so important.
When To Tune-up Your Gas Engine?
When should I service? I advise my customers to service their mowers at the start of the season, not at the end. Mowers that overwinter without being prepared usually suffer from gummed carburetor issues. You can avoid gumming by adding a gas stabilizer to the fuel system.
What Is Gas Stabilizer?
Gumming of small engine carburetors is a real problem. Over the winter months, the old gas eats away at the inside of the carburetor. This is so common, and it’s so simple to prevent. Use a gas stabilizer at the season’s end; dump a few drops into a full tank of gas, and run the engine for a short while. See the video here about mixing and adding gas stabilizers.
If your mower is running rough, changing the oil, plugs, air, and fuel filter may not fix it. Gas mowers that run rough usually require carburetor cleaning. Check out “Carburetor troubleshooting.”
What Tools Are Needed?
A tune-up isn’t technical, and no special tools are needed. Like many tasks, it’s about the right knowledge and good preparation.
When it comes to tools, you don’t need top of a line kit but do buy good quality tools because good tools, well cared for, will last a lifetime.
What Tune-up Parts Needed?
All engines have a model code and date stamped somewhere. Briggs Stratton stamp their codes into the metal valve cover at the front of the engine. Kohler has a tag, and Honda has a sticker on the body.
Tune-Up Kits – Tune-up kits will include plug(s); oil; oil filter (if fitted); air filter; fuel filter – everything you need.
If you’re having trouble identifying your engine type, you can usually identify the right tune-up kit by the shape of the air filter.
Check out your engine maker specs:
In this guide, we will tune up a single-cylinder engine. In addition to a tune-up, doing an overall visual inspection is good practice. Mowers create a lot of vibration, so look for any loose or damaged components, check rear axle oil, belts, pulleys, deck spindles, deck arms, battery connections, cables, etc. Finding problems now is usually cheaper than them finding you later.
Your mower may not be the same as the demo model, but that’s not important; the process will be close to identical no matter what model you have.
There are many different makes of mowers, and many are fitted with the very reliable Briggs Stratton single-cylinder engine. Kohler, Kawasaki, and Honda are also quite popular engines. All these engines are simple and easy to work on.
Tune-up Stepped Process
We’ll begin the tune-up process by starting and running the engine for a while, just long enough to warm the engine oil. Warm oil flows more freely, which helps remove more contaminants from the engine.
1 Wire – Remove the plug wire and leave it off until you are ready to start the engine later in the process.
2 Plug – Remove the old spark plug. To avoid cross-threading, thread the new plug in by hand before using the plug tool.
Snug the plug down and give it a little tighten…. not too tight! Don’t fit the plug wire just yet.
3 Drain – Drain the oil while the engine is still warm; this helps the draining process.
4 Remove – If you can’t find your oil filter, then you don’t have one, so you can go ahead and skip this part.
Remove the old filter, you may need an oil filter tool, but they’re usually not that tight.
5 Fit Filter – When fitting the new filter, apply some oil to the O-ring; it prevents distorting the seal when fitting. Only tighten the filter – hand tight.
6 Add Oil – If your mower has an oil filter, then check the oil level again after your test run of the engine. This can be done at the end of the tune-up.
7 Check Levels – Add oil a little at a time, and check the level. Overfilling is not good for the engine. It will cause oil leaks, misfiring, and lots of smoke.
8 Check – Check the rear axle oil level. The front Axle has greasing points; for this, you’ll need a grease gun.
9 Air – Remove the air filter and clean the airbox being careful not to allow dirt into the carburetor. Refit the new filter or clean the old filter, by tapping it on a hard surface or better-compressed air, but never wash a paper filter.
10 Remove – Gas filters are found on the gas line between the gas tank and the carburetor. If you have a gas tap fitted, it’s useful to turn it off before removing the old filter.
Gas filters may be directional, and if so will have an arrow that points to the carburetor.
11 Clean – Gas tank grit is common, I use a suction bottle and tube to remove it, and sometimes I have to remove the tank to clean it.
12 Jack – Be sure to use an axle stand or block of wood to secure the mower, as you’ll be working under it.
Don’t take any chances. Check out the tools on the blade maintenance page.
Deck – If you are not comfortable working under your mower, then remove the deck. Most decks will be pretty simple to remove.
Balance – Removing deck blades for sharpening and balancing is the best practice. Inspect the blades for damage, and replace them if bent, cracked, or worn. If the blades are in good condition, you can sharpen them in place.
13 Sharpen – Sharpening your blade is done with a good quality flat metal file.
Flat – Begin by dressing the face of the blade to remove any small nicks.
Bevel – Now we will file at the same angle as the bevel; some blades will have the bevel facing the other way.
Dress – Now dress on the opposite side to remove the burrs. A sharp blade is the secret to a beautiful, healthy lawn, and it extends the life of your mower.
14 Check – Check the condition of the belts. Most mowers have at least two belts, one for driving the mower and one for driving the blades. Some mowers will have more.
Flat Spot – These belts have a difficult job and can be the cause of various issues. Regular inspection will tell you if your belt is at the end of its life.
Blistering – Things to look for are flat-spotting, glazing, cracking, and fraying.
Glazing – Worn or damaged belts cause slip, which in turn will cause vibration. The vibration can, if ignored, go on to cause lots of other issues.
Cracking – Better to take care of this now; waiting for it to break can cause other damage.
15 Pump – Check tire pressure and set it to 1bar/15psi. Some customers like a lower pressure, and that’s okay; what’s important is that they’re all the same.
16 Level – Decks tend to drop at the front over time. Place the mower on level ground.
Measure the height of the four corners of your cutting deck.
Measure – Let your deck down approx. halfway. Now measure the height of the four corners of your cutting deck.
Note the highest corner, and adjust all other corners up, so they match.
Adjust – You’ll find adjusters at each corner; they’ll have a lock nut that will need to be released first.
Turning these bolts adjusts the deck up and down. Spray with WD40 – makes life a little easier.
Clean Cut – Decks that sag will impact your lawn, causing damage to your blades and your lawn. Keep your deck level and blades sharp; you’ll be rewarded with a healthy lawn and a healthy mower.
Diesel Engine Difference
Some manufacturers offer small diesel engines in their mowers; the main advantages are fuel efficiency and lots of torque. Mostly they’re fitted to the commercial range. Diesel engines tend to be very reliable. However, they cost a lot more than a gas engine to repair when they fail.
Service to a diesel engine will include oil; oil filter; fuel filter; air filter. Doing an oil and filter change is just as important on a diesel. Note, if you’re changing a fuel filter on a diesel engine, the air must be purged from the system before starting the engine.
Purging Diesel Fuel System
Fill the new filter with fresh diesel before fitting. Then pump the primer, if installed on the machine. If you don’t have a primer – open the fuel lines at the injectors by about two turns, and now crank over the engine until fuel spills from the fuel lines. Tighten up the lines, and your good to go. If your diesel still doesn’t start after purging, it must be purged again.
Should I run my lawnmower out of gas for winter? Using a gas stabilizer is better than running a mower out of gas. The stabilizer will keep gas fresh and protect the fuel system over the winter months. Running the gas out of the mower doesn’t prevent gumming of the carburetor.
Can you store a lawnmower vertically? A lawnmower should be stored on its wheels; however, if you drain the oil and gas from the engine you can store it in any position you like.
About the Author
John Cunningham is a Red Seal Qualified automotive technician with over twenty-five years experience working on all types of equipment, grass machinery, ATVs, Dirt bikes, cars, and trucks. When not writing how-to articles, he may be found in his happy place – Restoring classic machinery.
You may find the following links helpful:
Hey, I’m John, and I’m a Red Seal Qualified Service Technician with over twenty-five years experience.
I’ve worked on all types of mechanical equipment, from cars to grass machinery, and this site is where I share fluff-free hacks, tips, and insider know-how.
And the best part. it’s free!
How to tune up a lawn mower video
You can help the engine on your walk-behind lawn mower run better and last longer by giving it a tune-up at least once a year. A tune-up takes about half an hour and involves changing the oil, air filter and spark plug, along with cleaning the exhaust, controls and engine cooling system. This video walks you through the process so you can keep your engine performing its best.
For additional repair help, including common symptoms and troubleshooting tips, step-by-step lawn mower repair guides and articles, check out our repair help section. In addition, find the lawn mower parts you need to fix your mower.
Hi, Wayne here from Sears PartsDirect. Did you know that tuning up the engine on your lawn mower at least once a year helps it last longer and perform better? It doesn’t take that long either—we’ll show you how in this video.
Supplies you may need
When buying supplies, make sure to get the spark plug and air filter that fit your engine. You also need motor oil, a drain pan, a spark plug wrench, a wrench or nut driver set, shop rags, a cleaning brush, work gloves and safety goggles.
Before you begin
Look up the engine oil capacity in the engine owner’s manual so you know how much to add when changing the oil.
In a well-ventilated area, check fuel level in the gas tank. The tank should be nearly empty before starting the tune-up so fuel doesn’t spill when you tip the mower.
If the tank has fuel, run the mower to empty most of the fuel or drain most of it out of the tank.
Just before beginning the oil change, run the engine for 5 minutes to warm the oil so it drains faster. If you ran the engine to empty the fuel tank, let the engine cool for about 20 minutes. The oil will still be warm enough.
Put the mower on a level surface.
Wearing safety goggles and work gloves, remove the fuel tank cap. Place a plastic bag over the fuel tank opening and put the fuel tank cap back on to prevent gasoline from leaking out through the fuel tank cap vent.
Remove the spark plug wire; be careful because the engine is hot.
Change the oil
Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean with a shop rag.
Put the drain pan next to the mower.
Tip the mower to drain the oil from the dipstick tube and into the drain pan.
After the oil drains, set the mower upright and wipe up any spilled oil.
Carefully pour new oil into the dipstick tube. Start by pouring in three quarters of the amount of your engine’s oil capacity, because some oil might be left in the mower.
Wait a minute for the oil to settle in the engine sump.
To check the oil level, push the dipstick all the way into the dipstick opening and lock it.
Then unlock and pull out the dipstick. If the oil doesn’t reach the top of the full mark on the dipstick, add a little more oil, wait a minute and check again.
Repeat until oil reaches the top of the full mark. Reinsert the dipstick.
Take off the fuel tank cap, remove the plastic bag and reinstall the cap.
Replace the air filter and change the spark plug
Next, we’ll change the air filter. Release the locking tab and pull off the air filter cover. Remove the old air filter and install the new filter. Reinstall the air filter cover.
To replace the spark plug, use a spark plug wrench to remove the old plug from the engine cylinder. Using a gap tool and feeler gauge, set the gap on the new spark plug to the specifications in your engine owner’s manual. For this engine, the gap is 0.02 inches. Thread the new spark plug into the engine and tighten it with the wrench. Don’t reconnect the spark plug wire yet.
Clean the engine
The next step is to clean the engine when the engine and muffler are completely cool. Release the starter rope from the lawn mower handle. Remove the screws from the blower housing and pull the housing off the engine.
Clean the muffler and engine cooling fins using the cleaning brush and shop rags. Also clean the choke and throttle rods, springs and linkages. Use the brush to remove debris from the rewind starter grill.
You can also blow debris and dirt off the engine and controls using compressed air.
When you’re done, reinstall the blower housing and connect the spark plug wire.
Re-check the oil level
Now that we have everything installed, let’s start the engine and re-check the oil level. In a well-ventilated area, run the engine for a few minutes to move the oil through the engine. Then shut the mower off. Allow a minute for the oil to settle in the engine sump. Remove the dipstick and check oil level.
Add oil if needed to hit the full mark on the dipstick.
That’s it, the tune-up’s complete and you’re ready to start another season of mowing.
I hope this video helps you out today. You can find links to the parts and products we talked about in the video description below. Check out our other videos here on the Sears PartsDirect YouTube channel. Subscribe, and we’ll let you know when we post new videos.
Extend the lifespan of your lawn mower with these minor repair and regular maintenance tips.
By Timothy Dale | Updated Aug 16, 2021 11:14 PM
We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.
A lawn is a great place for kids to play, pets to run, and adults to host family and friends, but the grass must be regularly cut in order to ensure that it grows healthy and doesn’t become overgrown. Overgrown lawns can often attract harmful pests like ticks, which are known to live in grass that is more than 4 inches in tall. So, it’s important to make sure that you can keep a healthy trimmed lawn by performing minor repairs and ongoing maintenance on your lawn mower.
While some issues are better dealt with by professionals, lawn mower repair and maintenance isn’t necessarily complicated. By establishing and adhering to a maintenance schedule, most issues can be resolved with minor inspections and repairs, including simple tasks like sharpening the blade, using the appropriate fuel, replacing the oil, or changing the air filter. Continue reading for tips on what to do and what not to do in order to properly repair and maintain a lawn mower.
DO sharpen the blade.
This may seem like an obvious task to some, but others may use their lawn mower season after season without paying any attention to the blades. Not only should the blades be regularly inspected for warping, rusting, and other damage, but they also need to be sharpened about twice per season or every 25 hours of use to help extend the life of the blades and the mower.
Sharp blades don’t just help the mower cut the grass better, they also make clean cuts through the grass, which reduces the likelihood of the lawn developing a disease. Inspect the mower blade for dents or nicks, and take note if the grass height is uneven after cutting, the edges of the grass look brown, or if the grass blades are torn instead of sliced clean through. Each of these signs is a symptom of dull blades that need to be sharpened.
DON’T choose a fuel with an octane rating lower than 87.
As with any gas-powered machine, the type of gas that is used can impact the grass-cutting ability of the mower and the longevity of the engine. Gas is rated based on the amount of filler that is included in the gasoline formula, so octane 91 gas, which is often referred to as premium, has less filler than octane 87 gas that is called regular.
The minimum octane level that lawn mower gas should have is 87. This ensures that the gasoline meets the requirements for use in standard motor vehicles, reducing the chance that the engine will be damaged while burning the gas.
Some users may prefer to fill their lawn mowers with premium-grade gasoline, though this isn’t typically required. The best gas for your mower is the type that is suggested by the owner’s manual. However, switching to a premium grade gas during cooler weather, like early spring and late fall, is a good idea to help maintain the health of the engine.
DO check the spark plugs every two months.
Spark plugs in a lawn mower serve the same purpose as they do in a car or truck. These little parts of the engine serve as an ignition source for the gasoline. When they start to fail, it becomes immediately obvious. It’s important to inspect the spark plugs about every 2 months during regular use.
Signs that the spark plug on the mower may be failing include hard starts, poor engine performance, unreasonable fuel consumption, and a worn, cracked, or chipped physical appearance of the spark plug. If the engine is difficult to start up or it tends to die out immediately after the engine finally does start, then the issue may be the spark plug.
DON’T neglect cleaning the deck.
It’s never a bad idea to clean the deck of a lawn mower. Some people say to clean the deck once a month, others insist that it be cleaned after each use. It’s helpful to check the underside of the mower after every use to remove any stuck-on grass, dirt, weeds, or other debris. While keeping the deck clean will reduce the chance that the lawn mower will begin to rust or corrode from the inside, this isn’t the only reason to clean it.
As the deck of the lawn mower slowly fills with grass clippings, weeds, and dirt, the accumulation creates a barrier that prevents the grass from standing up straight while underneath the mower. This results in a poorly cut lawn and this build-up can even start to hinder the rotation of the blades, putting undue stress on the engine, blades, and component parts of the mower. So, after mowing the lawn, just take 5 minutes to flip the machine over and clean out the deck, saving the hassle of future lawn mower repairs.
DO inspect the flywheel.
A flywheel is a part within the engine of the lawn mower that stores the momentum from the combustion process in order to keep the crankshaft turning between the power strokes of the engine. It also helps cool the engine by blowing air around the engine block. Without a functional flywheel, the engine could quickly become overheated or it may not even start.
Some signs that a flywheel is damaged or failing include the inability to start the engine, the engine constantly stalling, and a burning odor from the engine. It’s advised to inspect the flywheel at the beginning and end of every lawn maintenance season to check for cracks, broken fins, slight burrs, shearing, and crankshaft damage. Just make sure to disconnect the spark plug lead before opening the engine to check the flywheel.
DON’T neglect oil changes.
Similar to sharpening the lawn mower blades, changing the oil in the lawn mower is a task that can either be almost entirely ignored or regularly performed with strict adherence to a maintenance schedule, depending on the user. If you don’t know exactly how it benefits the lawn mower, then it may seem like changing the oil does a lot. However, without this lubrication on the moving parts of the mower, the engine begins to seize and break down prematurely. Many people think of oil as the lifeblood of the engine, so it makes sense that the engine cannot function without it.
Check the oil level with the lawn mower dipstick before each use and change the oil when it becomes murky. For regular maintenance throughout the year, it’s advised to change the oil about once every 25 hours of use or at least twice per mowing season to ensure that the lawn mower engine is properly lubricated with clean oil.
DO change the air filter.
The air filter in the lawn mower is designed to protect the engine by trapping dust, dirt, and other debris, but the filter can only hold so much dirt and debris before it becomes dirty and clogged. Some lawn mowers have reusable air filters that can be removed and washed, but this is a rare feature. Generally, a lawn mower filter should be replaced about once every year to help maintain a healthy engine.
Symptoms of a dirty or clogged air filter include a dirty physical appearance, engine misfires, a reduction in the horsepower or power output of the engine, concerning engine noises, strong fuel smells, and in serious situations, flames or black smoke can be produced by the engine. If you detect any of these signs, stop mowing and go get a replacement air filter. They are inexpensive and relatively easy to replace if you follow the lawn mower manufacturer’s guidelines for air filter replacement.
Midseason Lawn Mower Tune-Up Tips
By midsummer, you’ve likely worked yourself into a steady mowing routine – you know what day of week, what time of day and how often you need to mow, and you may even rotate when you bag clippings or not. However, with regular mowing comes added wear and tear on your mower, which can lead to maintenance problems and hinder the overall performance of your mower – not to mention leave you with a lackluster cut. With some light, quick maintenance, though, you can help prevent such issues from surfacing. Consider these four midsummer lawn mower tune-up tips to help your walk-behind or riding lawn mower run at peak efficiency, plus keep your lawn looking fresh mow after mow. As with any repair or tune-up, always remove the spark plug wire and review your operator’s manual before performing maintenance. Always wear the necessary personal protective equipment.
Change the Oil
Knowing how to change the oil in your walk-behind mower or riding mower is one of the single most important steps to help maintain its longevity because it will help keep your engine running smoothly. How often you should change lawn mower oil depends on your frequency of use because this maintenance activity is recommended after every 50 operating hours. For those with an average mowing time of about one hour or averaging four hours of mowing per month, oil changes are recommended to occur once or twice each year as a pre- or post-season activity. Changing the oil should only take about 15 minutes and costs just a few dollars.
Replace the Air Filter
A clean air filter helps keep dust and other particles from entering your engine and also helps maintain a proper fuel-to-air ratio, allowing your mower to burn less gas. With consistent pollen, dirt and debris, your air filter can easily get clogged throughout the summer or after a few months of use. Many wonder how often you should change your lawn mower’s air filter. We recommend replacing the mower filter every three months, or at the end or beginning of the season, to help keep your lawn mower engine and parts running smoothly.
To change the air filter on a riding mower, start by loosening the air filter cover screw and removing the cover. Once the cover is removed, simply pull out the old air filter and press in the new one, with the filter pleats facing outward. Finally, replace the cover and firmly tighten the cover screw.
Sharpen the Blade
A sharp mower blade helps provide a clean, even cut and prevents your mower from ripping grass from the roots, which can make entire areas of your lawn more susceptible to disease and damage. Learn how to sharpen the blade of your walk-behind mower or your riding lawn mower.
Replace the Spark Plug
People often wonder how often to change a lawn mower spark plug. Spark plugs are often replaced on an annual basis, so if you replaced yours in the spring, don’t sweat it this time – if you skipped out at the start of the season, then you could probably use a fresh one. New spark plugs should make a noticeable improvement in the way your engine starts and runs, particularly in older mowers. Here is how to replace the spark plug on a self-propelled mower or riding mower: To start, simply pull off the spark plug wire and remove the old plug, using either a spark plug wrench or a deep socket wrench (usually 13/16 inch in size). If the plug is rusted tight, then spray it with a penetrating lubricant, and let that soak in for 10 minutes before trying to loosen the plug once more. When inserting the new plug, hand-turn it until the threads catch, then use your socket to fasten the plug down until it stops on its own – don’t force it. Once the plug has stopped, turn it one more quarter turn. Tightening the plug too much can damage it or make it very difficult to remove when it comes time for replacement.
Rochester Lawn Mower Repair and Tune-Up
Rochester’s top-rated lawn mower repair and tune-up service. We drive to you. Industry-leading, expert technicians. Google 5-Star rating.
Lawn Mower Repairs and Tune-Ups Direct-To-Your-Door
Mowers and Blowers specializes in mobile, on-site (at your home) maintenance and repair of all small engine equipment. We provide on-site service for all makes and models of lawn mowers, snow blowers, tillers, and generators. We also work on hand held equipment (trimmers, chain saws, and leaf blowers). All work is performed by qualified technicians.
Our Customers are Our Priority
We take great pride in responding quickly and efficiently to our customer’s needs. Visit our Google Business Listing and Angie’s List to see why Mowers and Blowers is rated as Southeastern Wisconsin’s #1 lawn mower and snow blower tune-up and repair company.
Why Choose Us?
Our industry-proven technicians have a passion for customer service. We ask the right questions in order to correctly and efficiently diagnose and repair your machine. Contact us today to find out how Mowers and Blowers is taking small engine repair and customer service to the next level.
Customer service and satisfaction is our top priority, so it only makes sense for us to bring our state-of-the-art maintenance and repair facility right to your front door.
Find out for yourself how convenient our on-site service really is by scheduling your appointment today! Customer satisfaction is guaranteed.
Mowers and Blowers prides itself in being able to maintain and repair small engine equipment of all makes and models. be it riding lawn mowers, walk behind mowers (self-propelled and push), single stage snow blowers, two stage snow blowers, tillers, generators. you name it. Contact us today to service your machine.
MAINTENANCE (TUNE-UP) VS. REPAIR
Maintenance (tune-up) is something you should do annually regardless of how your machine is running. This will extend the life of your machine and ensure proper performance throughout the season. Click/tap here for pricing.
If your machine is not performing as well as it should be, chances are your machine needs a repair. It is important to recognize the difference between maintenance and repair work. Click/tap here for pricing.
Contact us today to find out which service is best for you.