A spot of lawn tractor maintenance for Spring is essential if you want to have a problem free start to the lawn care season.
My advice is to start this early. Once the sun starts warming the soil and the hours of daylight increase, those little grass roots and rhizomes literally burst out of hibernation and start reaching for the sky in their eternal quest to set seed.
At that time, you need to start your eternal quest to stop them. In other words, be ready to start mowing. Otherwise the grass gets a head start that makes it a tough job for you to recover the upper hand.
Apart from it being harder to cut the grass when it’s long, you’ll probably know from experience that your lawn doesn’t look too good when you’ve had to cut longer grass back hard.
This is mainly because the leaves of long grass shade out the bottom of the stems, so those parts don’t receive enough sunlight to photo-synthesise adequately. Because of that, they don’t have enough chlorophyll (which is what makes grass green). So when you expose those stems after cutting the top of the long grass off, you’re left with a yellowish lawn which takes a bit of time to recover.
Anyway, enough of the theory, what do you need to do?
1. Clean your machine
Now this is something you really should have done before you put your lawn tractor for its winter rest. I’m not trying to make you feel guilty, it’s just that it’s a much harder job once the mud is caked on hard. Why clean? Well, apart from making your machine look nicer, you’re trying to make sure that there is no mud, grass or other debris that might interfere with the moving parts, especially around the cutting deck and belts.
You also need to check that there is no rust starting to appear beneath any caked-on mud. Be careful not to scrape metal surfaces so hard that you take off any surface paint or you’ll be in danger of starting a rust problem even as you try to find out if you’ve got one. One of the best ways to clean up, especially when the mud has dried hard, is by using a pressure washer, although you should be careful not to spray it into any places that water should not be going.
This AR North America 1,900 PSI 1.5 GPM 11 Amp Electric Pressure Washer is pretty good value at around $150.
Otherwise, this Briggs & Stratton 2,700 PSI 2.3 GPM 175cc Briggs & Stratton Gas Powered Pressure Washer With 30-Foot Hose, at around $350, is a good choice if you’re looking for something a bit tougher.
You could also try this Karcher KARNK3-450 1,800 PSI 1.5 GPM Electric Pressure Washer from CPO Outlets, who also sell reconditioned units – so you could pick up a bit of a bargain if you check out their range.
2. Check your engine and lubricate
From time to time, in accordance with the operators’ manual, you’ll need to have a professional service on your engine. But, if it isn’t that time now, there are a few simple engine related tasks you can do as part of your spring lawn tractor maintenance.
First, clean the engine of grease and debris. Then check for any oil or other fluid leaks.
Assuming no leaks, it’s time to change the oil. Make sure you place newspapers under the sump and a suitable tray or other receptacle to catch the oil. Run the engine for a short time first to thin the oil out. Stop the engine, remove the oil filler cap and then remove the drain plug. Allow all the oil to drain out, remember to replace the drain plug and then refill with fresh engine oil of the kind recommended in your owners’ manual. Replace the oil filler cap.
Now is also the time to clean, or preferably replace, your oil filter (if one is fitted) and to do the same to your air filter.
Next, check and adjust the points (if fitted) and replace the spark plug. You could clean and adjust the existing plug, but there is nothing like a fresh spark for a fresh season.
Finally, in this section, take this opportunity to lubricate all axles etc in accordance with the details in your operating manual.
3. Check your battery
Maybe this should have been first in the list because if you have a problem with your battery, you’re not going anywhere. First off, measure the voltage if you can. You may need to replace the battery completely if the reading is low. Otherwise, to get the season off to a good start, charge the battery with a decent battery charger.
Finally make sure the connection leads are sound and the connections themseves are tight. Also, check to ensure the battery is seated safely and firmly in position.
4. Check your tires
The upkeep of your lawn tractor tires is a vital part of getting a good cut and a good ride. Check your tires carefully at this time of year for any splits or cracks that could give you a problem in the future. If you think you may need replacement tires get them now, so that you ‘re not in the middle of a cutting job when they give out on you.
If you do need to replace your tires, then my advice is to get the best tires you can afford; you’ll be thankful later when you find you’re managing to hold your course even when conditions are wet and sticky.
If the condition of your tires is fine then make sure they are inflated to the right pressure. Just as in a car, tire pressure can make a real difference to handling, fuel efficiency and ride comfort. But with a lawn tractor or riding mower, tire pressure can also affect how well the machine actually cuts your grass.
If you need something to do the job of inflating your tires, this 12Volt Viair 00073 70P Heavy Duty Portable Compressor comes highly recommended.
For a well respected 120V inflator, consider this Bon-Aire i8000 Goodyear model.
5. Check your belts
Next, check all your belts for signs of wear. If you see any signs of damage at all, replace your belts now. Again, it’s better to head off throuble before it starts. Even if you see no signs of wear, you should really think about replacing any belts that are more than 3 or 4 seasons old.
At the same time, check that all belts are adjusted properly in accordance with the instructions in your operators’ manual and that there are no loose pullies, bearings or other parts in and around the mower deck.
6. Check your blades
Again, this may just be a good time to replace your lawn tractor blades if they’ve seen a lot of service.
Check for any gouges or cuts in the blade edges that would make the blades ineffective. Also check that there is no excessive movement at the spindle. If there are no major issues, it will almost certainly be worth your while taking the blades off and sharpening them up in any case.
7. Check your brakes
Once your tractor is up and running, check (carefully) that the brakes are functioning effectively and operating smoothly. Make sure there are no hydraulic leaks (if appropriate) and adjust if necessary accoring to your manual’s instructions.
Finally, I would add that if you have any attachments or accessories that you use frequently, given them some careful attention now as well.
So with that lot out of the way, you should be ready for a trouble free season of mowing. When you’re out there in the fresh air with the sun on your back and everything running smoothly, you’ll be glad you took a little time now to do your lawn tractor maintenance so as to make it happen.
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