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.