As the warm summer sun fades into the cooler days of fall, lawns and their caretakers -- that's you -- will face the chore of getting ready for winter and, not too long after that, preparing for spring.
In much of the country, lawn care is almost a year-round task, which puts a strain not only on the homeowner but also the lawn mowers and other tools essential to maintaining a healthy and attractive lawn.
Here are a few tips and suggestions to help keep everything -- your back included -- in working order.
The most important step in insuring the longevity of your walk-behind mower is to store it in a dry place. Bori Kim, an employee of Park Oaks Mower Service in Thousand Oaks, CA, insists, 9 out 10 complaints I receive are from moisture build up within the carburetor or gasoline tank. High moisture levels will plug up the mower, requiring a trip to the shop to get things running again. In order to save an unnecessary repair bill, Bori suggests a simple fix -- store the mower and gas in a dry area and there shouldnt be any problems.
Albert Garcia, an employee of Home Depot in Camarillo, CA, offers a few tips for the maintenance of your walk-behind mowers blades. He suggests using a broom to brush down the blades after use in order to minimize rust build up as well as wear and tear. Albert also recommends periodically checking the mower blade and bolts for any abnormalities.
If the mower looks asymmetrical or unbalanced, its a good idea to take it in for either a sharpening or even a repair if necessary.
The air filter in your lawn mower should be serviced regularly. Saedi, an employee of the Do-It Center in Agoura Hills, CA, recommends that, with casual usage, cleaning the air filter every three months is necessary for keeping the mower engine running properly. Another tip: cleaning the mower body after use can reduce the intake of debris into the air filter.
Park Oaks Mower Service advises draining and replacing the engine oil every three months. An easy way to time this is at the beginning of each season, or at the same time you service your air filter.
Spark plugs should be replaced after every 100 or so hours of operation, according to Bori Kim. Ask your local lawn mower service center for help with your particular model or consult the instructions that came with it if you are unsure how to do this.
Changing the wheels on your particular brand of mower may not be an option, but Albert explains that he receives less complaints regarding mowers with bigger wheels, which keep the mower body higher off the ground and farther from debris.
Make sure you are using the correct type of fuel if you have a gas-powered lawn mower. Do not put two-cycle gas into a four-cycle engine for example, or the gas may ruin the spark plug.
Home Depot sells a range of maintenance kits that include air filters and spark plugs, enabling lawn mower owners to do virtually all the general upkeep required to keep their mower running in top shape for years to come. Albert suggests a lawn mower repair kit to all his customers.
Park Oaks Mower Services recommends the Honda line. The mowers are well-designed, reliable, and user-friendly. Furthermore, Bori insists he sees the least amount of Honda mowers in for repair.
General Tips for Buyers
Fall is a good time to buy a new mower because most stores are moving them out to make way for winter merchandise. But, whatever the time of year, its important to consider a few extra factors that may affect longevity before buying a new lawn mower.
Degree of usage
In terms of scale, a walk-behind lawn mower can, according to Park Oaks Mower Services, comfortably service around an acre of land. If you have a 2 or 3-acre parcel, it may be a better choice to purchase a ride-on mower, otherwise it could be physically taxing to both you and your mower.
Remotely started mowers are becoming increasingly popular, but the added complexity means more difficult repairs. Albert Garcia praises the novelty of the new technology, but insists, remote starters are still relatively new, and it may be a safer bet to stick with pull or button starts until they work out all the kinks.
Electric vs. Gas Powered
This is a matter of both personal choice and, if using a corded electric, property layout. Gas powered mowers are more powerful and portable, but significantly louder to use and more expensive to maintain, Saedi explains. He believes that electric mowers may be more appropriate for a residential user with easy access to an electrical outlet, while gas is reserved for larger or commercial-scale mowing.
The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized a new emission control program that will effect lawn mowers and weed-whackers. This new law will come into effect next year, potentially impacting the brand lines.
If you are in a particularly wet or humid area, purchasing a protection plan on your mower may be a good way to ensure your lawn stays groomed for years to come. Home Depot offers a plan on all of its lawn mower product lines.
As a general guideline, the same rules apply to maintaining your weed-whacker as your mower, minus blade maintenance. One quick tip: Albert Garcia recommends making sure you are aware of how to rewind the line before you purchase a new weed-whacker.
For users who have opted for a ride-on mower, Cal Coast Machinerys sales representative John JT Tarascio offers a few pointers:
JT affirms the best way to make your ride-on mower last is to follow the maintenance guidelines. From his experiences, the number one cause of failures is from poor oil and air filter maintenance. He suggests checking the air filter and fluid levels more rather than less to insure the best possible performance out of your machine.
Cal Coast Machinery deals with John Deere tractors and mowers, and JT recommends only using the companys parts on John Deere mowers. His mantra regarding repairs is quality over the cheapest stuff out there.
Using the recommended fuel grade will keep you mower running as smoothly as possible.
The idlers on the mower deck are greasable, explains JT. Keeping those bearings well greased is an important step for giving your mower a longer life span. Any sealed bearings on the mower do not need to be greased, and should have a ten or more year lifespan.
Keeping the deck level
Ensuring an even cut is essential for any lawn mower. In order to maintain an even level for the mower deck, manual adjustments will occasionally be required. JT explains, the deck should remain level as long as you dont hit anything significant, like a curb for example. If you do need to change the mower deck level, there are (on the John Deere models) threaded rods on each side which allow for easy adjustment.
JT recommends John Deeres X series. The X series is a commercial/residential line that is geared slightly more towards the commercial end. It features thicker steel and a more solid front axel than the LA (formerly L) line, as well as the Kawasaki engine. This added comfort and convenience starts at around $4,000 compared to the LA lines $2400, but JT thinks the price is well worth it.
These tips should help keep your mower running in top shape for years to come, meaning your lawn will be looking its best no matter what Nature throws its way.
But be forewarned -- not everyone shares JT's high evaluation of John Deere equipment.
"We bought our first (and last) Deere 4 years ago. We mow once a week during the summer and have logged 175 hours on the 1700 machine. The transmission is shot. Upon internet investigation, this seems to be a common and costly problem. What a disappointment," said Bob of St. Charles, Mo., one of more than 300 John Deere owners who've submitted complaints to ConsumerAffairs.com.
Nearly every other brand gets the same -- or worse -- treatment, though Honda comes out better than most.
Fall is a good time to buy, but be sure to get a mower that suits your needs...