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You may be breathing a sigh of relief that you’ll have a few months off before you have to pull out your lawnmower, string trimmer, and edger. Homeowners and landscapers alike can help their outdoor power equipment last many years with some basic maintenance and care, but if you don’t do a little preparation now, you could be in for major troubles when you try to crank your equipment next spring. Take a minute to learn about some best practices from experts in the outdoor power equipment industry.

Is Ethanol to blame?

You may or may not know that most regular unleaded gasoline sold at pumps today has ethanol in it. You might have seen the stickers on the pump that say E10, which basically means that there should be a blend of 10% ethanol with the gasoline. The blending of ethanol into gasoline is due to EPA mandates, which are attempts to improve air quality and reduce air pollution. Ethanol has definitely left a negative impression on most people. Ethanol is being blamed for loss of mileage efficiency, but perhaps greater, it is being associated with major problems; specifically failing carburetors and damaged valves.

Ethanol draws moisture out of the air. Moisture becomes water. Water accumulation in gas can destroy carburetors and other fuel system parts. The ethanol/moisture problem can wreak havoc on rubber and plastic seals, fuel lines, and primer bulbs, and can cause corrosion on any number of engine components.

Consumers are frequently coming into our service centers and are all saying the same thing: ‘I used to be able to leave the gas in my equipment and didn’t have a problem. What changed?’ Unfortunately, to fix the problem at that point, our customers may be looking at replacement parts that are so expensive that purchasing a new machine is a better alternative.

Draining or Stabilizing the Fuel is Critical

So what can you do? There are two best practices that have been embraced in recent years. Some people believe that you should run your equipment to empty or drain all fuel from the tank. The problem with this is that you could open yourself up to the chance of getting more condensation in the tank. You could also dry out some important seals, which would then need to be replaced. If you do choose to drain the tank, make sure that your gas cap is in proper working shape and that it seals tightly. Also, make sure that you store your equipment far from moisture. Store your machines indoors if possible. If not, use a tight cover or tarp to protect the machine.

More people are being proactive with adding fuel stabilizer to their gasoline. In the past, it was known that any fuel that sits for 60 days or more should have stabilizer added to it. Fuel stabilizers keep the gas fresh until spring. We offer several brands of fuel stabilizer that we can match to your need. Not all fuel stabilizers are equal. Make sure that the stabilizer you purchase is for Ethanol based fuel. On 2-cycle engines the oil that is mixed with the fuel already has fuel stabilizer in it, so you don’t want to add it again.

One thing to remember is that after you add the stabilizer to the engine, you should run it for at least 5 minutes so that the stabilizer gets into the carburetor. Next you need to go ahead and make sure to fill the tank full. Fuel stabilizers will not end the problems with fuel but it can help minimize the fuel breakdown process. If you keep the tank full you should minimize the amount of condensation that can form in your tank.

With either solution, you should probably consider fresh gasoline in the spring. That may mean that you fill your car (as long as it isn’t treated) or be a good neighbor and use up your remaining fuel to cut their yard. You should also go ahead and change out your fuel filter, if necessary, when the machine is drained.

Is there anywhere to get ethanol-free unleaded fuel?

This is a question we hear often. Unfortunately if you are in the metro Atlanta area, the answer is not easily. Even if you get outside the metro area into areas like Athens or Gainesville, often times, you’re still going to strike out. There are few gas stations that sell ethanal free unleaded fuel. BUT, there is a solution though.

VP Racing Fuels has developed SEF94, which is an ethanol-free fuel for small engines. It is perfect for easy and quick starts on lawn mowers, chain saws, generators, leaf blowers, and any type of portable gasoline powered equipment. It has a five-year shelf life unopened and can last up to two years in the machine. It is very dependable and can eliminate frustration when you need to start your engine.

What else should I consider in winterizing my equipment?

Once you decide what you’re going to do with your fuel, there are still some other simple tasks that you can perform now that will ensure a longer life on your outdoor power equipment and will set you up for success next spring.

  1. Take some time now to clean the equipment. A full season of dirt, oil and grass are likely stuck to various places on your equipment. Use some soap, water and elbow grease and get the equipment clean.
  2. Inspect all surfaces. Check out the deck, belts, blades and all bolts and fasteners. Check out the tires and wheels. Now would be the time to order any replacement parts that you may need so that you don’t have to worry about it in the spring.
  3. Now is the perfect time to sharpen or replace any blades, stringer line or edger blades. Starting off next spring with a well-sharpened blade can actually help the health of your lawn. In fact, you may want to consider buying new blades and having the old ones sharpened so that you already have spares ready if and when you need them next spring. Most folks should sharpen their lawnmower blades 2 or 3 times a season. Landscapers need to do it even more frequently.
  4. Lubrication needs to happen now for several reasons. It will keep important parts from getting dried out during the winter, but often we see problems come into our shop due to improper lubrication.
  5. Change the oil and oil filters. Make sure you’re using the correct oil that is recommended for your machine.
  6. Change out air filters. This is typically a simple task that most people just fail to do. Changing them regularly will increase the life of your machine and make it run much better.
  7. Replace the spark plug. Consider replacing the plug with a new one. Before you put the new one in, add a couple drops of engine oil into the hole, and then replace the plug. Crank the engine a couple times to move the oil into the cylinder.
  8. Remove the battery. Store the battery in a warm spot and, if possible,you can hook it up to a battery charger.

Doing just a bit of maintenance now will make you a much happier person next spring when you are ready to start working in the yard again. Of course, our service department is available for winterizing check-ups now. It is always better to do preventative wellness checkups now instead of major repairs later due to lack of preparation.