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Proper maintenance and storage keeps your riding mower running efficiently and prolongs its life. Learn how to keep your mowing machine in top operating condition.
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Maintenance may differ depending on your mower model. There are some general steps below, but read your mower documentation before beginning work and follow the instructions for use, maintenance and safety. If you need to replace parts, use manufacturer-approved replacements. Note your mower make and model number and take this information with you when shopping for replacement parts.
Perform the maintenance in a well-ventilated area and on a hard, flat surface. Spread a drop cloth over the work area.
Park the mower with the parking brake on. Before performing any maintenance, cleaning or inspections on your mower, turn it off, remove the ignition key and disconnect the battery or unplug the spark plug wires according to the manufacturer's instructions. Make sure all blades and moving parts have come to a stop. Complete any pre-maintenance procedures the documentation specifies.
Don't run the mower in an area that doesn't have proper ventilation.
Before you begin mowing, disconnect the battery or spark plug wires as described above and inspect the mower. Tighten any loose fasteners.
Check to make sure all shields and deflectors are in place and undamaged. Replace any damaged or worn parts before use.
Make sure the tires are properly inflated.
Clean off dirt and debris, particularly around the fuel-fill and oil-fill areas.
Don't use a vacuum near gasoline.
Check the oil and fuel levels.
After completing maintenance, cleaning and inspections, reconnect the battery or spark plugs according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Once you finish mowing, disconnect the battery or spark plug wires as described above and brush off the mower engine and deck. If you have a grass catcher, brush off debris and check for damage.
The mower may be hot.
In addition to the maintenance you perform each time you mow, there are some procedures to follow at least twice each season.
Follow the procedures above for disconnecting the battery or spark plug wires.
Lubricate the mower spindles and pivot points with grease or spray lubricant as specified in the manual.
Check the air cleaner system. Brush away debris. Check the air filter. If it's dirty or damaged, replace it. Your mower may have a pre-cleaner that you can wash and reuse. Wash it with detergent and water and dry it.
If you mow in dusty conditions, you may need to clean the pre-cleaner and change the air filter more often.
Inspect the blades. If they're bent or broken, replace them. See "Maintaining the Mower Blades" below for instructions.
You'll need to either raise or remove the mower deck to inspect and remove the blades.
Move the mower outside and run it for about a minute — warm oil will drain more easily. Turn the mower off and move back to the work area.
Follow the procedures above for disconnecting the battery or spark plug wires.
The mower and oil may be hot.
Clean dirt and debris from the oil drain area.
Different mowers have different methods for draining used oil from the engine. Follow the instructions for your mower and drain the oil into a used-oil container.
Place the used-oil container under the oil filter. Clean away dirt from around the filter and remove it.
Lightly coat the gasket of the new filter with fresh oil. Install the filter, tightening it until the gasket contacts the engine. Twist the filter one additional half-turn.
Contact your local recycling center for oil disposal instructions and dispose of the oil and filter properly.
Clean up any spills.
Replace the oil drain cap or close the drain valve and add new oil, checking the level periodically. Don't overfill — excess oil can damage the engine.
Check your manual for the correct type of engine oil for your mower.
Reconnect the battery or spark plugs according to the manufacturer's instructions and move the mower outdoors. Run it for a minute and check for leaks. Turn off the mower and check the oil level, adding oil if necessary.
Once the season is over, take some time to make sure your mower is ready for spring.
Disconnect the battery or spark plug wires as instructed above.
Brush off or use an air compressor to blow debris off the engine, including the cooling fans.
Check to make sure the muffler and spark arrestor aren't damaged, rusted or loose.
Allow the engine to cool. Remove the spark plugs and install new ones.
You may need to gap new spark plugs before installing them. Check the gap with a spark plug gap tool and adjust the outer electrode according to the mower manufacturer's specifications.
Position a drain pan below the fuel filter.
The fuel tank should be empty when changing the fuel filter. See your mower manual for safe fuel-handling procedures.
Hose clamps secure the fuel hoses to the filter. Use pliers to move the clamps away from the filter.
Remove the filter from the hoses and point the hoses upward to minimize fuel leakage.
Connect the new filter to the hoses, making sure the arrow on the fuel filter points in the direction of the fuel flow.
Replace the clamps and inspect for leaks around the fuel filter.
Contact your local recycling center for fuel disposal instructions and dispose of the used fuel and filter properly.
Remove the mower deck. The process varies by mower model, so refer to your documentation for steps specific to your machine.
Wear work gloves when handling a mower blade.
Clean clippings and debris from the mower deck. Scrape away accumulated clippings from under the deck.
Check the condition of the drive belts. Replace them if they're cracked or worn.
Turn the deck over and place a wood block between the mower deck housing and each blade to hold the blade in place as you remove the blade bolt or nut. As an alternative, you can use a blade removal tool to immobilize the blade.
Remove the blades and attachment hardware. Check the hardware for damage and replace parts as needed.
If the blades are undamaged but dull, you may be able to sharpen them. Some manufacturers do not recommend this, so check the instructions for your mower. If your blades can be sharpened, have a professional do it for you or purchase a sharpener and balancer to do it yourself:
If you sharpen the blades, wear eye protection, work gloves and — if using a grinder — hearing protection.
Install the blades and associated parts, making sure to align them properly.
With the blades immobilized, tighten each blade bolt or nut to the torque your manual specifies.
Remove the wood block or blade removal tool.
Reinstall the deck and verify that it's level.
Prepare the fuel system on the mower for storage. Follow the instructions for your mower and engine. 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. See Fueling Outdoor Power Equipment for more information on fuel and fuel additives.
If you store the mower with fuel in the tank, don't store it where fumes can reach an open flame or a spark.
Lubricate the engine cylinders. Remove the spark plugs and squirt about an ounce of oil into each spark plug socket. Reinstall the plugs but leave the plug wires disconnected. Crank the mower five or six times to distribute the oil.
Follow the manufacturer's instructions for battery care and charging, as well as disconnecting and reinstalling the battery.
The battery may need charging before the start of next year's mowing season.
Make sure the mower is cool and dry before storing it. Pay special attention to the underside of the mower deck to make sure it's free of moisture.
Store your mower away from children in an area that's clean, dry and not near fertilizer and other corrosive material.
With the mower clean and ready for storage, you may want to touch up any scratches or chipped paint.