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Fall Maintenance for Riding Mowers

Riding Mower

As the mowing season draws to a close, it's time to start thinking about preparing your riding mower for next spring. Proper maintenance and storage prolong the mower's life and protects your investment. And when spring arrives, you'll be ready.

Tools & Materials

Use this checklist when you go to the store and purchase your items.


Before Maintenance

Maintenance may differ depending on your riding mower model. Below are some general steps, but read your mower documentation before beginning work and always follow the manufacturer's instructions for use, maintenance and safety.

Perform the maintenance in a well-ventilated area. Before you begin, spread a drop cloth over the work area. You'll be changing the oil, so you may want to run the mower for a minute to get the oil warm. Run the mower outdoors and be sure it is off of the drop cloth. Letting the mower run will make draining the oil easier, but be careful of hot surfaces on the engine and muffler and be careful of oil that may still be hot. Turn the mower off and move it back onto the drop cloth.

Park the mower safely with the parking brake on. Before performing any maintenance, cleaning or inspections on your mower, turn it off, remove the ignition key and unplug the spark plug wire(s) as instructed in the manual. Make sure all blades and moving parts have come to a stop. Follow any pre-maintenance procedures the manufacturer specifies.

Do not run a mower indoors or in an area that does not have proper ventilation.


Clean the Mower

You should clean off any dirt, grass clippings or other debris before storing your mower. Remember to never use a vacuum near gasoline.


Step 1

With the mower off and the ignition key removed, make sure all blades and moving parts are stopped. Make sure the spark plug wire(s) are unplugged as instructed in the manual. Follow any pre-maintenance procedures the manufacturer specifies.


Step 2

Clean the mower with a brush or cloth.


Step 3

If you have a grass catcher, brush off debris and check it for damage.


Cleanout Fixture

Some mowers have a fixture that allows you to connect a garden hose to the deck and wash out the underside. Follow the instructions for use and make sure you keep water out of the electrical system, muffler, carburetor and air filter. Don't use a hose to clean your mower unless it's recommended by the mower manufacturer.



Take Care of the Mower Blade(s)

You may need to sharpen or replace your mower blade(s) after a season of grass cutting. Your manual may also instruct you to check the blade(s) for damage.

When handling a mower blade, wrap it in a heavy cloth or wear work gloves.

Step 1

With the mower off and the ignition key removed, make sure all blades and moving parts are stopped. Make sure the spark plug wire(s) are unplugged as instructed in the manual. Follow any pre-maintenance procedures the manufacturer specifies.


Step 2

You will need to either raise or remove the mower deck to inspect and remove the blade(s). This procedure varies by model, so follow the instructions in your mower documentation.


Step 3

Attach a blade removal tool to the mower to keep the blade from turning as you remove it. As an alternative, you can place a wood block between the mower deck housing and the blade to hold the blade in place.


Step 4

Blade assemblies may vary by model, so remove the blade(s) and attachment hardware according to the manufacturer's instructions.


Step 5

While you have the blade(s) off, clean and scrape underneath the deck to remove accumulated grass clippings.


Step 6

Inspect the blade(s) and associated parts. Swap any damaged parts with approved replacements.


Step 7

Some manufacturers may not recommend sharpening your mower blade(s). Follow the manufacturer's instructions for your blade. If your blade(s) can be sharpened, you can have a professional do it for you or you can purchase a sharpener and balancer to do it yourself:

  • Sharpen the cutting edges equally, according to the instructions in your mower documentation and the sharpener kit.
  • Make sure each blade is balanced. Check the balance of each blade, making adjustments as needed.
Wear eye protection and work gloves when sharpening a mower blade.

Step 8

If you need to install a new blade, use only manufacturer-approved replacements. Note your mower make and model number and take this information with you when shopping.


Step 9

Install the blade(s) and associated parts according to the instructions for your mower, making sure you place and align them properly.


Step 10

Tighten the blade bolt(s) to the torque your manual specifies.


Step 11

Remove the blade-removal tool or wood block.


Step 12

If you removed the mower deck to access the blades, reinstall the deck.



Change the Mower Oil

The engine oil lubricates, cools and cleans the mower engine. You need to replace the old oil with fresh oil to keep the engine running properly.


Step 1

With the mower off and the ignition key removed, make sure all blades and moving parts are stopped. Make sure the spark plug wire(s) are unplugged as instructed in the manual. Follow any pre-maintenance procedures the manufacturer specifies.


Step 2

Clean dirt and debris from the oil fill area.


Step 3

Different mowers may have different methods for draining old oil from the engine. Follow the instructions for your mower and drain the oil into a used-oil container.

Contact your local recycling center for oil disposal instructions and dispose of the oil properly.

Step 4

Replace the oil filter with a new one, following the mower or engine manufacturer's instructions.


Step 5

Add new oil according to the manufacturer's specifications.


Step 6

Move the mower outdoors, off the drop cloth, and run it for a minute to let the new oil lubricate the internal parts.


Step 7

Turn off the mower.


Step 9

Clean up any spills.



Other Mower Maintenance

Your mower documentation may recommend other maintenance procedures. If you have other maintenance to perform, remember to unplug the spark plug wire(s) as instructed in the mower manual and follow any pre-maintenance procedures the manufacturer specifies. Make sure the mower is off with the ignition key removed and make sure all blades and moving parts have come to a stop. Other maintenance may include:

  • Checking tire pressure
  • Replacing the fuel filter
  • Making sure all fasteners are tight
  • Lubricating the mower
  • Inspecting and replacing belts as necessary
  • Checking the air filter element and replacing as necessary
  • Cleaning and re-oiling the air filter's foam pre-cleaner
  • Inspecting, cleaning and checking the gap on the spark plug(s), replacing them when necessary


Storing a Riding Mower

Store your mower so it will be ready when you need it again. Follow the instructions for your specific model. Here are some general procedures:

  • Prepare the fuel system for storage. Manufacturers may instruct you to run the fuel system dry or to store the mower with the tank full of fuel mixed with a fuel stabilizer. Follow the instructions for your mower and engine.
  • If storing the mower with fuel in the tank, do not store it in a building where fumes can reach an open flame or a spark.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions for battery care and charging, as well as disconnecting and reinstalling the battery.
  • Let the mower cool before storing.
  • Store your mower away from children in an area that's clean, dry and not near fertilizer and other corrosive material.
  • If you cover your mower, use a cover that will not hold in moisture. Do not cover the mower if the engine and exhaust areas are warm.
With the mower clean and ready for storage, you may want to touch up any scratches or chipped paint.

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