Sunday, May 20, 2012

Just Don't Lose a Finger

They say you should have your lawn mower serviced annually.  So, small engine service was recently placed on our list of DIY projects.  Many people, including myself until recently, never give it much thought beyond scheduling an appointment with a professional.  But that can get expensive, and expensive isn’t our thing.

I had never worked on an engine of any kind; not a car, not a lawn mower, nothing.  Growing up, if something needed to be fixed, we hired a professional.  That’s not a bad thing, just the way it was.  We lived in a small home in the city without room for many tools and no garage for a work space (it was converted into a bedroom because we needed the space).  So, we hired professionals.

I’m not going to lie, servicing a lawn mower was a little intimidating since I had never done it before and didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.  But, I decided to try my luck anyway.

First problem: no operator's manual.  Since we bought our mower used it didn’t come with a manual.  No worries, I was able to find it online and print a copy. 

Next, I needed to learn what, exactly, needed to be serviced on a lawn mower.  I mean, I had an idea; new air filter and an oil change.  But, what else? 

I started by watching YouTube videos on “How to service a lawn mower”.  There is an endless supply out there but I tried to find ones from reputable sources.  Of course, it was impossible to find one on the exact brand and model of mower we have but I figured they couldn’t be all that different.  The videos were great because they gave some details and helpful tips that the operations manual didn’t provide; things that you would know if you had already done this a hundred times.  I think the operator's manual assumes you have done this a hundred times and if you haven’t, it basically tells you not to touch a damn thing except your phone as you call to make an appointment with your local dealer.  Well, not me.

So once I had an idea of what I needed to do, I stopped at our local hardware store to pick up parts and supplies.  I picked up some SAE 30 oil, a spark plug, a fuel filter and some fuel stabilizer (not needed for servicing but I was out).  They didn’t have an air filter but everything I watched and read said it could be cleaned and reused. 

I searched for parts by part number according to the operator's manual.  I found the right brand of fuel filter but wasn’t able to find the spark plug.  But, there was a book at the store that listed all the different engine brands and models and what spark plug was suitable for each.  So, I followed that and felt pretty good about my choice until I tried to put in the new spark plug.  Turns out, the book was wrong.  How do I know?  Because the brand of spark plug already in the mower is the same brand I bought yet the part number is completely different.  Maybe I looked at the book wrong but, knowing I was unsure, I checked the book about a dozen times.  I’m fairly certain I read it correctly.

Anyway, once home, I got to work.  I started by running the mower for a minute to warm up the oil.  After removing the spark plug cable, I drained the remaining fuel from the tank.  I also drained and replaced the oil.  

Next, I cleaned the air filter and left it out to dry.  The next step was replacing the fuel filter.  I checked the lines for cracks and they were in good shape.  

Once I had the fuel lines and new filter put back together I flipped the mower on its side and removed the blade.  Using a bench grinder that I found for $3 at a yard sale years ago, I sharpened the blade.  ($3 for a bench grinder that was in great condition?  I couldn’t pass that up even if I didn’t have a place or a reason to use it at the time). 

While I had the blade off I scraped off all the grass that was caked on the underside of the mower deck.  I noticed some of the paint was peeling and it was getting just slightly rusty so I wire brushed the underside and painted it.  That should keep the deck in good shape long after the motor goes.  

Once I had the blade and air filter back on I filled it with fuel and… it was time for dinner, shoot.  It was killing me too because I wanted to see if my little project was a success or a complete failure. 

After dinner I headed right back out to the garage, primed it a few times and… it started on the first pull of the cord.  Success!  My only mishap was spilling some of the used oil after a neighborhood kid came up and started playing 20 questions with me like Dennis the Menace.  I got distracted.  Oh well, it was on the cardboard I put down anyway so no big deal.  The only thing left to replace is the spark plug once I find the right size.  And, I can set the gap using a feeler gauge that I found in Maine a few years ago and thought I would never have a use for.  I’ll tell you more about the tool store in Maine later this summer.  It’s every man’s dream – even this city boy.

I should say that I was surprised at how easy it was to complete this project.  It’s just nuts and bolts and a few rubber fuel lines.  Pretty simple really.  That’s not to say that I could completely deconstruct the motor and do tune up work.  Baby steps.  And, to that point, the operations manual was very clear about NOT TOUCHING THE CARBURETOR.  So, I left that alone.

So, the service project was a success as measured by the fact that the mower still works.  Awesome.  But, did it actually save money?  Well, Tara and I were curious about that as well so I called the local dealer where we bought the mower to find out.  They charge $38 for labor, plus parts.  Also, their service doesn’t include changing the fuel filter, sharpening/replacing the blade or painting the underside of the deck to help it last longer.  To have all that done, plus parts, would bring the price to around $100 - $120.  Considering I spent $15 on parts and supplies, I’d say we made out pretty well.  Especially if you throw in the fact that we had $15 worth of coupons for the hardware store which brought our total project cost to FREE.  Besides my time – which some might say is worth very little though I tend to disagree.  Not bad for a novice.  Oh, and I still have both my hands and all nine fingers.  Wait, nine?  Oh man!  Just kidding.

1 comment:

  1. yup, I think we paid around $86 for a spring tune-up.



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