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Maintenance Shop: How to keep your fleet mowing

May 14, 2021 -  By
Man on Grasshopper mower (Photo: Grasshopper Co.)

Keep it clean Routine maintenance helps ensure crews experience less downtime in the field. (Photo: Grasshopper Co.)

Spring is in full swing, and crews may wonder if it’s important to take the time to perform routine maintenance on zero-turn mowers while they’re so busy.

The answer is yes.

“A lot of people will wait until something turns up before they fix it, and that’s downtime,” says Darren Terry, owner of Nolin Lawn Service in Clarkson, Ky. “I like to get something fixed as soon as something’s worn out. If you tear something up, it’s a day’s downtime for somebody.”

LM talked with Terry; Brian Schoenthaler, marketing coordinator for The Grasshopper Co.; Brad Unruh, director of new product development for Hustler Turf Equipment, and Sean Dwyer, North America professional wheeled product manager for Husqvarna, to get the rundown on zero-turn maintenance.

In season

It’s a good idea to start the day with a quick check of the mower, Unruh says, to make sure gas and oil levels look good, the decks are clear, air filters are clean, blades are sharp and tire pressure is good to go.

“This not only guarantees a productive day, but it also adds to the longevity of the mower,” he says.

Terry, whose operation provides mowing services for residential clients, says he rotates mowers once a week among his three part-time employees.

“If I’m riding my mower all day every day, and if anything starts to go out slowly, I can’t tell it because I’m on it all the time,” he says. “If you get on my mower, you’ll be able to tell if something’s wrong with it real quick if you get on it.”

Terry also makes it a point to have his crew keep mower decks and radiators clean. Every night, he’ll also inspect his company’s four mowers and wash them on the weekend. He says this attention to detail is how his mowers, which range from 900 hours to 3,000 hours, keep running smoothly.

Dwyer encourages operators to keep an ear out for “strange noises” or “weird operation” that can help address any mower maintenance issues sooner than later. Schoenthaler advises contractors to stay on top of regular maintenance intervals, following manufacturers’ recommendations.

“Every 100 hours, change the engine oil and filter,” he says. “In severe conditions, change them every 50 hours. Check and clean spark plugs and inspect belts for proper tension. Adjust the tension and/or replace belts as necessary.”

Schoenthaler also suggests operators avoid high-pressure water or steam when cleaning the mower’s drive and engine components because pressure washing can cause water to bypass seals and cause rust.

“Mowers are working in a dirty, dusty and hostile environment,” he says. “Heat is your enemy. Keeping the mower clean will extend the life expectancy of your mower.”

Don’t forget

Dwyer says one thing contractors may miss checking is the cutting deck level and pitch.

“Most cutting decks require a forward pitch of 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch to ensure efficient operation and best cut quality,” he says. “Over time, the deck pitch and level can go out of alignment. If the deck ends up in a reverse pitch situation (higher in front), the cutting deck is doing twice the work, so you are adding more stress to the engine, belts and clutch.”

Unruh says it’s important to ensure that a mower’s hydrostatic transmission system runs properly.

Schoenthaler adds that operators should scout for unsafe areas before mowing for safety’s sake. He also encourages contractors to use the original equipment manufacturer’s parts when servicing zero-turn mowers.

“Don’t cut corners on quality,” he says. “Saving a few dollars here and there on aftermarket parts may shorten the life of your mower and, in some cases, void your warranty. Original equipment parts are manufactured to the manufacturer’s precise engineering specifications to help maximize your mower’s performance and significantly extend the life of your mower.”

Christina Herrick

About the Author:

Christina Herrick is the editor of Landscape Management magazine. Known for her immersive approach to travel from coast to coast in her previous stint as senior editor of American Fruit Grower Magazine, she uses social media (Twitter/Instagram @EditorHerrick) to share her experiences on the road with her audience. Herrick has a degree in journalism from Ohio Northern University. She can be reached at

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