As we head into the later months of autumn and get closer to winter, our minds are filled with thoughts of a Thanksgiving feast, Christmas trees and New Year’s celebrations. Perhaps the last thing we think about is our garden or landscape, since most of us tend to put these on autopilot during the cooler months. While our gardens and landscape can survive the cold winter months without much assistance, our equipment needs some tending to prior to taking a long winter’s nap.
Any gas-powered equipment that will lay idle for several months during the winter should be prepped prior to storage. This includes the fuel, air and fire system of the motor.
As every gardener knows, nothing is more frustrating in the spring than to pull out your lawnmower your tiller, or other motorized equipment and can’t get it started. It has happened to me before, until I learned the importance of winterizing my equipment. Winterizing simply means preparing your equipment, particularly motorized tools, for long term storage during idle times. The greatest threat to your motorized equipment these days is the gasoline that is now being sold at the pumps containing ethanol. Ethanol is a plant byproduct, usually from corn, that is added to petroleum to stretch our fuel supply. While on one hand this is a good thing, our motors do not like it when it sits in our gas tanks for any period of time. Ethanol is now the number one reason we have trouble cranking our small motors after they have sat for the winter untreated or even for a period as little as three or four weeks. Ethanol is not a very stable compound, and begins to congeal shortly after it lies idle in the fuel tank. Left untreated for a period of time, ethanol can easily clog the jets and ports of carburetors and fuel injection systems. When this occurs, it will make motors either run roughly or, in many cases, not run at all. You are then looking at some pretty detailed do-it-yourself repair work or paying a competent shop to resurrect your motor for you. Fortunately, there are some definite things you can do to prevent this nightmare from even happening.
The first line of defense in counteracting ethanol is to treat your fuel the moment you purchase it at the pump. I always keep a bottle of ethanol fuel stabilizer in my truck for when I go to fill up my gas cans for my motorized equipment. Follow the label directions, and mix in the proper amount of fuel stabilizer into the can as you fill it with gas at the pump. This gives you treated, stable fuel that should now have a shelf life of at least three months. You can add fuel stabilizer to each individual gas tank on your motorized equipment, but it’s easier for me just to treat the whole five gallon gas can from the start.
The best way to winterize your motorized tools is to actually empty all of the fuel out of each individual equipment tank. After you have carefully siphoned or poured out all of the fuel out of your equipment’s tank, crank the motor to run the excess gas out of the carburetor. At this point, there should be no fuel left in the motor at all. If you choose to leave the fuel in the tank for the winter, make sure it has been treated with the fuel stabilizer as mentioned earlier. With the fuel issue taken care of, I now pull the spark plug out and inspect it for damage and wear. The spark plug is part of the fire mechanism for the engine, so you want it to be in good shape when you go to crank again in the spring. The spark plugs end, or electrode, should have a light gray color to it and not be covered in oil or rust. When in doubt, spark plugs are cheap and should be replaced to assure good ignition. It doesn’t hurt, at this point, to check the gap-set of the spark plug, as well, according to manufacturer specifications. While the spark plug is out, I always spray a light coating of WD-40, or a similar product, into the spark plug port-hole to help prevent any rust in the cylinder. In addition to this, it’s not a bad idea to check your air filter element by removing the cover and inspecting it. Some air filters can be washed with soap and water and reinstalled, while most paper elements should be disposed of when very dirty and replaced with a new one. As a final touch, if I’m dealing with a lawnmower, chainsaw or other implement designed to cut, I like to sharpen the blades so that they’re ready for the spring. It’s a little bit more trouble, but it’s nice to know that when you need to fire it up in the spring, it’s ready to go. Be sure to select the proper file and sharpen all blades with the file moving in one direction, following the same angle as it was manufactured.
While it’s easy to forget about the power equipment we may not need at this time of the year, you will thank yourself come spring, if you winterize it properly. Equipment shops make a living on fixing improperly stored equipment in the spring when folks can’t get their motors cranked. By doing a few simple tasks now, you will be able to fire up and go the first time you need it in the warmer weather.
Photography courtesy of Bob Westerfield.