Mowing 101

Filed in Landscaping by on May 30, 2014

mowingSpring is here, and that large patch of white surround your house has turned green. Yes, it’s time to start thinking about your lawn. For a lot of people that means they’ll soon be investing in some seat time on a lawn tractor – also referred to as a riding lawn mower – at least once per week.

With so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Here’s a quick breakdown of how to choose, maintain and store your lawn tractor so it can provide many years of reliable service.

Where To Buy

When it comes to lawn tractors, perhaps the most important decision you’ll make is not which model to choose, but where you buy it. Since prices range from just around $1,000 to well over $5,000 or $6,000, most people may just go to the local big-box store and walk out (okay, trailer out) with their new toy.

Think hard about where to buy your lawn tractor, thought. If you aren’t comfortable doing the maintenance and small repairs to your tractor, you might be better off buying from a dealer who carries the right parts and service plans and has the trained technicians to look after your investment. Just as with any vehicle, dealer support can be crucial.

What To Look For

Power, drive train and cutting diameter are the three key criteria. You don’t necessarily need the model with the most horsepower, but it does need to have enough to drive, cut, mulch, bag, and, if equipped, run attachments such as graders, trailers and seeders. Horsepower for most residential lawn mowers is typically in the 17-25 horsepower range.

Drive train types include belt-driven, gear-driven or hydrostatic transmissions. Tractors with belt- or gear-driven systems are the simplest and cheapest, while models with hydrostatic transmissions are priced at the higher end of the spectrum. A hydrostatic transmission is akin to an automatic transmission in a car and is smoother and more robust than a belt-driven system.

A 42-inch cutting diameter is by far the most popular size of deck. Of course, the larger the cutting diameter, the quicker you’ll be done. Models are available with 50-, 54- and even 60-inch decks. Just remember that it takes more power – and more fuel – to drive the larger blades.

Don’t Neglect Regular Maintenance

Like all machines, lawn tractors need regular maintenance to keep them running in tip-top shape. Spring is the perfect time to have your lawn tractor serviced by a dealer. Many dealers offer spring tune-up packages that take the guesswork out of maintenance.

Changing the engine oil and filter every year is a given. Even though a lawn tractor’s engine gets used relatively little (compared to, say, your car), the engine oil must be changed. Oil that sits in an engine without use for six months out of the year holds moisture, contaminants and corrosive acids, all very bad for the engine. Start your season with fresh oil and keep that engine happy.

Fresh fuel and a new fuel filter are also a must. Not only does fuel absorb water like oil does, but it also degrades over time – sometimes in just a couple of months. A water-logged fuel filter full of debris will only cause you problems.

Lawn tractors with drive belts need periodic adjustment, and spring is the best time to have the belts checked. Belts should last several seasons before needing replacement, but they do stretch. Since belts are used as clutches and propulsion for not only driving the tractor but also the cutting blades, having the proper belt tension is paramount.

And just as with anything else in life, you get what you pay for. Skip the temptation to buy the cheapest belts and shell out the few extra dollars for the top-of-the-line ones. They will stretch less and last much longer.

You’ve heard it many times: A sharp bland is a safe blade. Well, in our case, it’s also an efficient blade. Or blades. Lawn tractors blades take a lot of abuse. Grass, weeds, stones and small fallen tree branches all try to put those blades out of commission.

Dull blades cut slowly, rip and tear grass (instead of cleanly cutting it) and put extra stress on the engine and drive system. Have your blades professionally sharpened yearly and avoid those logs and garden gnomes.

End of the Season Storage

All to soon, mowing season comes to a close, and you’ll need to do a little more than just yanking the adult beverage from the cup holder, driving it into your shed and locking the door. To avoid potential problems, it is a good idea to drain the fuel out of the tank. At the very least, pour some fuel preservative such as Sea Foam into the tank and run it through the engine. It will prevent water absorption and stabilize the fuel for winter storage.

Those of you with motorcycles know the importance of maintaining the battery during the winter. Remove the battery and hook it up to a motorcycle-style trickle-charger. These chargers have “smart” technology and keep your battery fuel charged throughout the dead of winter. Next spring you’ll hear the rumble of an engine rather than a frustrating “click” when you turn your key.

And finally, keep it clean. Clumps of grass and mud are much easier to clean off before they dry into rock-hard, impenetrable masses that you’ll only need to deal with next season.

by Emrah Oruc, a freelance writer from Chaska and owner of E&C Construction Services LLP. 


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