Fall equipment maintenance tips

September 12, 2012 -  By
Logo: Grasshopper

Logo: Grasshopper

The first frost signals an approaching end to the mowing season in most areas. Whether your mowing equipment will go into storage for the winter, or whether the power unit will be used in conjunction with snow removal, The Grasshopper Co. provides the following pointers for preparing equipment for colder weather.

Cleaning and lubrication
Cleaning your mowing equipment with low-pressure compressed air is the least you can do before putting it away for the winter. Never use water for cleaning, as water precipitates rust and corrosion, and many washer soaps contain corrosive agents. Blow out engine and transmission cooling fins. Wipe off grease from other areas with a lightly oiled shop towel, using a mild cleaner if necessary.

In the process, you will take note of worn belts, hoses, or other parts that need replacement or adjustment. Physically examine each wear part, and replace as needed with OEM parts, which are engineered specifically for your machine and which help prevent premature equipment failures down the road.

It is critical to maintain a written log of all maintenance performed on your mower, including oil changes and greasings. After you have cleaned and lubricated your mower for storage, be sure to note this maintenance in your log so that you donʼt repeat the process and over-grease your mower in the spring. Too much grease puts an excessive load on bearings and attracts unwanted particles.

Wear items
Many aspects of fall maintenance prior to long-term storage are identical to the periodic maintenance you perform regularly in-season. This includes checking belt tensions, wiring and connections, steering linkage, clamps and hoses. Use any protective gear recommended by the manufacturer.

Rubber hoses will deteriorate over time, and a worn hose can sometimes escape visual inspection. Replace hoses at intervals recommended by the engine shop manual.

On air-cooled units, check the air filter, and wash and oil the precleaner. On liquid-cooled units, do not remove the filter except to replace at 100-hour intervals. Keep the entire area around the breather clean before removing filters, for ingesting as little as 1 or 2 grams of dirt can cause worn rings and liners.

Also on liquid-cooled units, the radiator should be drained and flushed twice with clean, mineral-free water, thoroughly draining after each flush. Do not remove the radiator cap while engine is hot, and remove the cap slowly to release any excess pressure. Check for deposits built up inside the radiator core, which should be visible after cap is removed. Use a commercial radiator cleaner if necessary to remove the deposits.

A solution of 50% anti-freeze and 50% distilled or deionized water (freezing point about –340° F) is normally recommended (consult engine manual) and must be premixed before pouring into the radiator. Do not use tap water or softened water. Allow the engine to run several minutes until the fresh mixture has had time to fully circulate.

Note that any antifreeze and water mixture that contains more than 68% antifreeze actually reduces freezing protection. With regard to antifreeze, more is not necessarily better.

The mower deck
While deck leveling and tire pressures will need to be checked in the spring, blade sharpening can be completed in the fall. Donʼt try to straighten bent blades or add weight to blade tips—simply discard damaged blades and replace.

Thoroughly clean and lubricate the deck, including the cutting chambers, which might require some scraping with a dull, plastic object such as an ice scraper.

Fuel concerns
If the mower engine will sit idle for several weeks or months, it is best to top it off with fuel, as water condensation occurs when tanks are less than full. Fuel stabilizer should be added to gasoline, and the engine should be allowed to run long enough to let the stabilized mixture reach the carburetor.

If the power unit will be used as part of a snow removal system, itʼs best to use fresh winter-grade fuel rather than starting with leftover summer-grade fuel.

 Some engine manufacturers recommend more in-depth engine maintenance periodically. A trained engine mechanic should perform this type of maintenance.

The engine
While your primary obligation is to follow the engine manufacturerʼs recommendation on oil changes and periodic maintenance, it is generally best to drain the oil at the seasonʼs end and replace it with fresh oil. This gives your engine one last clean “bath” before winter storage. Even so, it is highly recommended that you plan to repeat this oil change before mowing again in the spring.

It is a good practice to change the oil filter with each oil change. Use the API oil index rating suggested by your engine manufacturer. SH is the highest rating and is also recommended.

If your mowing equipment is transformed into snow removal systems for winter use, all of the above maintenance procedures should still be performed. However, consult your engine manual for proper oil viscosity for winter use.

Spark plugs and fuel filters should also be changed at this time. Some engine manufacturers recommend squirting a small amount of oil into each cylinder head and cranking the engine for about 15 seconds to make sure this area is properly coated with oil during its extended storage. This can be done prior to removing battery.

Battery storage
Once the power unit is parked in its final winter resting place, the battery should be carefully removed, cleaned and recharged. Top off with clean water to 1/8-in. below the bottom of the fill tube. This is a good time to clean battery cables and terminals.

Replace cables that show excessive corrosion.

Store the battery in a dry, cool location, but not where it will freeze. Recharge the battery every 60 days, which keeps electrolytes fresh and reduces internal sulfation.

The best storage precaution you can take concerning tires is to air them up to proper inflation and, if there is leak, fix it right away. If the leak is not fixed and the tire goes flat, you will probably have to replace the tire next spring.

Where to store
A properly ventilated, climate-controlled building is the best place to store your equipment after fall maintenance. A heated building will be a valuable resource if the power unit is to be used for snow removal, as the warmer setting will allow for faster and easier engine starting, as well as quicker evaporation of snow and ice moisture that can cling to the power unit.

Where heating is not possible, any kind of shelter, including an all-weather tarp, will provide some protection from the elements. It is most important to protect the equipment from moisture.

Thorough cleaning and inspection of your mower is the first step in winter storage preparation. Replacing worn parts, changing fluids and having an engine mechanic inspect the motor will ensure that when itʼs time to clear snow, or when the grass takes off in spring, your equipment will be ready for the task.

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LM Staff

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