Getting mowers ready to mow

June 26, 2019 -  By
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Mower image (Photo: iStock.com/danymages)

Check it out Thorough mower maintenance checks can save you from costly repairs. (Photo: iStock.com/danymages)

“Mowers cost a lot of money, and it costs a lot to maintain them,” says Len Groom, technical product manager for Amsoil. “But, you can help extend the life of the equipment and reduce maintenance costs if you use the right products.”

Groom says that in the northern part of the U.S., the terrain is rougher with more rocks and roots. This type of turf can cause spindle and deck wheel damage.

In the South, the conditions might be a little smoother, but thicker grass can cause operators to exert more wear on the mower’s blade spindles, and warmer temperatures raise the engine’s temperatures.

According to Geoff Barham, the east division fleet manager for LandCare, daily maintenance processes check mostly for dirt ingestion and overheating — eliminating blockages so the engine can cool, ensuring oil level is optimal and clearing the air filter of large debris.

A 30-year fleet management veteran of Brickman (now BrightView), Barham oversees LandCare’s equipment fleet for the eastern half of the U.S.

“If you go through these big-ticket items, you won’t have many problems in the first 1,500 hours of service,” says Barham. Here are a few other factors these experts watch out for.

Motor oil, transmission fluid + grease

When you look at your standard commercial zero-turn mower, the products you need to consider are 10W-30 and 10W-40 small-engine motor oil, some form of hydrostatic transmission fluid and grease, Groom says.

Because typical preventive maintenance is performed every 50 or 100 hours, sometimes (contractors) will say, “I can use a cheaper conventional product because I’m changing it often.”

The problem is, over those 50 hours, the mower is seeing extreme use.

“Using an inferior product that can’t handle heat, you’ll start to see premature wear on the engine, and it will shorten the life of the mower,” Groom says.

Motor oils and transmission fluids should be formulated to stand up to high engine temperatures that climb into the mid-to-upper 200s. Oil oxidation can be a problem at these temperatures, and when oil oxidizes, it loses its ability to lubricate — and then you start to see wear on the mower, Groom explains.

When hydrostatic transmission fluid heats up, it thins out. The thinner the oil gets, the slower the mower goes. Groom recommends a high-quality synthetic transmission fluid because the product won’t thin out as much under heat.

“The hydraulic controls will stay nice and responsive, and the mower won’t get sluggish,” he says.

Another issue, Groom adds, is many operator manuals call for a standard 20W-50 passenger car motor oil, which is an OK fit, but specialty oils with higher zinc levels (which help reduce wear inside the transmission) and the ability to hold viscosity are a better option.

Choosing the right grease is also important. Since it’s lubricating deck wheels and blade spindles, you’ll need grease that isn’t going to melt out right away and end up on the lawn.

“You want a robust grease that will stay in place and resist ‘pound out,’” Groom says. “When you’re hitting rough terrain, banging on the deck and wheels, shocking the mower deck, ‘pound out’ is when that grease is squeezed right out — and the grease can’t lubricate if it’s not in place.”

Grease also should have good resistance to water to protect against crews washing down the equipment or operating in wet conditions.

Finally, Groom advises that when it comes to oils and fluids for your fleet, resist the urge to go with the cheapest product. He says, “If an oil has a low price, the performance probably isn’t going to be there either.”

Blades

Like the engine and the transmission, the type of terrain makes a difference in how often you have to sharpen and replace your mower blades. For example, sandier soils in the South generally require blade sharpening and replacement more often, about two or three times a week, Barham says. LandCare branches use a Magna-Matic sharpening system for sharpening its blades.

Tires

For mower tires, it’s important not to overinflate. “Overinflated tires do two things,” Barham says. “They’ll wear in the middle, where the center of the tire will wear out, and you lose too much ground pressure with too much air pressure.”

He says most mower tires will indicate a 25 psi max inflation, but be wary, since the mower won’t hold a slope properly at that psi, which could be a safety issue. The ideal inflation is generally 15 psi on walk-behinds and 13 on zero-turns, he says.

For antiscalp wheels, Barham says that when the smaller wheels on the front of the mower deck go, you can buy cheaper aftermarket ones that aren’t original, but they tend to not last as long.

Deal(er) or no deal(er)

An operation like LandCare goes through a dealer network for replacement parts. For smaller companies,

Barham says it’s best to carefully consider whether you’re really saving by going through a wholesaler and buying aftermarket parts instead.

“You’ve got to balance that out with your dealer — and buy what you can, as long as it’s not crazy expensive, because you want them to service your equipment,” he says. “Online purchasing in bulk is cheaper than going through the dealer, but you also have to balance out having that relationship with your dealer.”

Barham draws the line on aftermarket parts in one specific instance: “I would not buy aftermarket in a hydraulic system — if I were to use an aftermarket hydraulic filter or didn’t use what the brand specified for hydraulic oils, that’s a $2,000 repair, easily,” he says.

Overall, according to Groom, high-quality products and parts designed for the mower tend to be the best bet: “Make sure you’re doing right by the mower.”

This article is tagged with , and posted in 0619, Current Issue, Mowing+Maintenance
Abby Hart

About the Author:

Abby Hart is the managing editor of Landscape Management. A native Clevelander, she spent 10 years in Chicago, where she was operations manager of a global hospitality consultancy. She also worked as managing editor of Illumine, a health and wellness magazine; and a marketing specialist for B2B publications. Abby has a degree in journalism from Boston University’s College of Communication.

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