Is your small engine ready to go?
I woke up this morning to a foot of new snow on the ground. Set the alarm a little early so I could get the trusty snow thrower out and clear the drive and walks before the wife and I needed to head to work. Wow, it’s cold out here…the first real snow of the year is beautiful even though it is a little deeper than expected. No problem…the snow thrower will make short work of it.
My small engine snowblower
It took me a minute to find it, I haven’t looked at it for a couple months. I pull it out from the back corner. Open the fuel cap to make sure there is fuel. I notice the pungent smell of varnish. That is when it hits me…it has been over 6 months since I parked it! Should be fine. Right? Was running perfectly when I last used it! I turn on the button to on, set the choke and pull the rope. Nothing. I didn’t really expect it to start on the first pull of the season. I let the recoil return the rope and pull again. Nothing! Again. Nothing! I verify the choke is closed and the engine is set to run, add a little ‘fresh’ (3 months ago) fuel to it. I pull again. Nothing. Must not be pulling it fast enough or hard enough. I pull harder. Faster. Repeat.
After 267 pulls the rope breaks, the wife is mad because she can’t get her car out, I am late for work and I start looking for the snow shovel. Now I am in a hurry! As I start to clear the drive, I keep wondering why my trusty snow blower won’t start. Ran great all last winter! The snow is deep, the drive is long and my breath and my temper are getting short! Haven’t been to the gym since Covid-19 and am starting to feel it! The next shovel full and I REALLLLY feel it! I just threw my back out. At least the snow broke my fall! Of course, the wife can’t lift me up and even if she could, we can’t get her car out of the driveway. Gives me time to think about why the small engine on my snow thrower didn’t start as I waited for the ambulance to pick me up. Maybe I should have let Warehouse Supply check out the snow blower before I needed it. Would have been a lot less expensive than this ambulance ride!
Never a good time
Why do small engines break down at the worst time? Simple. That is when we need them! There is never a good time for your small engine to break down. When the river is rising, we NEED the pump to run! When the blizzard knocked out the power for several days…we NEED the generator to keep the house warm. Small engines are the tools we count on to perform critical tasks at critical times. The problem? When we don’t NEED them, we don’t even think about them. The only time you remember how important your small engine is to your life is when it fails!
Do you start the lawn mower in December just to listen to it run? Maybe you just love that visceral sound of the chainsaw? Fire up the old snow thrower in July because it looked bored? Of course not! You need your small engine to perform exactly when you need it to perform. Now I don’t claim to have the secret to make sure your small engine is always ready to run…but I do have some suggestions!
Small engine maintenance
My best suggestion is to bring your small engines into Warehouse Supply for regular maintenance and before extended storage time. We can service and prepare your small engine for whatever demands you have for it. If you prefer to perform those tasks yourself, here are a few tips for ensuring your small engine is ready when you NEED it to be!
Let’s start with the lifeblood of your small engine and the one item that seems to cause the most problems. The fuel. Before I give you my recommendation, I want to advise you to follow the small engine manufactures recommendations and your experience.
Small engines and fuel
There are a lot of arguments about whether you should drain the fuel or treat the fuel in your small engine before extended storage. What there is no argument about is that you should not expect to leave the standard fuel in your small engine fuel tank for extended storage. When fuel is left for extended periods of time (even just 30 days) the fuel breaks down and over time the volatile components in the fuel will evaporate leaving a coating of ‘gunk/varnish’ on the internal surface of the carburetor, fuel filters and tank. This can gum up filters, floats, needle valves and more. Even if you run your tank dry before extended storage, you will never get all the fuel residue out of the system. What remains can still create problems for your small engine fuel system.
This is where my ideas divert from some manufacturer’s recommendations. I prefer to keep my small engine tank ¾ or slightly fuller. I will also treat the fuel with a product like ‘Sta-bil’ or ‘Sea Foam’ fuel additives before long term storage and I make sure I run the small engine enough to get the stabilized fuel all the way through the system. Full fuel tanks will reduce the amount of open space (air) in the small engine fuel system. This reduces the amount of condensation that can happen (there is moisture in the air!) and to keep the gaskets and seals in the system from drying out. If you decide to (like some manufacturers recommend) drain your small engine fuel system, I would still recommend the last tank of fuel you run through the system be stabilized/treated fuel before you drain and store your equipment.
Most people use the same fuel in the small engines that they use in their automobile. These fuels contain ethanol that creates a myriad of problems especially in small engines. Yes, it will work, but a little research will quickly show you the problems that arise from ethanol in fuels. There are products that can ‘help’ reduce the problems from ethanol in your small engine fuel system. However, a better option may be to source your small engine fuel with no ethanol. You can find these fuels at Warehouse Supply or you could also try a local marina. Most marinas only use non ethanol-based fuels for inboard/outboard boat use. If all else fails you can go to Buy Real Gas to find a source close to you.
Keep up with the oil in your small engine
Your small engine oil serves many different functions. It helps to reduce friction, help remove heat from the cylinder wall, sealing, cleaning and protecting moving parts. It is critical that you maintain your oil and oil levels in your small engine. Too little oil and it cannot cool the engine properly and will not lubricate the internal components leading to excessive wear and even complete failure. Too much oil can be equally as bad. Oil can foam up, losing the ability to lubricate properly, it can be pushed into the cylinder causing white smoke, make the engine hard to start and can even push oil/fuel out of the engine to create a fire hazard. Always make sure your oil is at the proper level and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on the oil to use.
Before storing your mower for extended periods, it is also a wise idea to give it an oil change. As your engine runs and performs its tasks of lubricating and cleaning it begins to break down. In addition, all the foreign materials it cleaned will be held in the oil until it is replaced. Long periods of setting will cause those materials to settle and can ‘cake’ in the oil pan. You may not be able to get them back into suspension again and they will quickly contaminate your new oil. If your engine is equipped with an oil filter, now is the time to change that as well.
- Filters work to remove materials from the air and oil to prevent excess wear on the engine. Your air filter is the primary path for fresh combustible air to enter your engine. If it is plugged it can restrict air flow causing hard starting, reduced power and poor operations. A reduced air/fuel mixture can also lead to the fouling of spark plugs and reduced engine life. Take care when changing the air filter. Remove any debris from around the cover before removing it and if you’re cleaning it, take care not to damage the filter element. Replace the old filter with a new filter when necessary. Never run your engine without the proper air filter in place.
- Keep it clean. Most small engines are air cooled. They rely on air circulating around the raised fins on the small engine case to pull excess heat away from the engine. When the cooling fins become caked with debris, the ability of the engine to cool is reduced leading to excessive heat buildup, reduced engine life, and in extreme cases engine failure. Take the time to make sure you keep the engine clean after each use. You can use an air compressor to blow debris out of the cooling fins and in most cases, you can use your garden hose to clean the engine (check the small engine manufactures recommendations.). Just be sure to let it cool completely before your start. This is another activity that should happen before you put your equipment away for extended storage. It is always easier before the debris has been baked to the cooling fins.
- Refer to your owner’s manual for other steps that may be required on the equipment you are servicing. Sharpen the blades on the mower, lubricate/grease moving components, repair/replace worn components etc.
Small engines maintenance takes time
In the end I cannot promise you will never have problems with your small engine. When they do fail, it will again be when you NEED them. But, with proper care and planning you can greatly reduce that occurrence. The only real question is…do you have the time, desire and skills to perform these tasks? Even if you do, do you want to? If you drain your fuel, where will you dispose of the old fuel? Do you want to haul the old oil to the recycler? Do you have the proper tools to sharpen the blades, lubricate the system, clean the filter and perform all the other maintenance required?
The easiest way to take care of your equipment is to have those tasks performed by a skilled technician. Warehouse Supply can help with your small engine maintenance and repair. We even offer pick-up and delivery service for your convenience. We also offer most of the products and tools you will require if you choose to perform the work yourself.
Closing thoughts: John F Kennedy would have been a good and keeping his small engines operating! He said “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” The time to make sure the snow thrower is ready is before the first snow fall!