You can avoid the silent treatment from your power tools in the spring by providing some tender loving care before storing them in the fall.
Gasoline-powered garden gear isn't guaranteed to start when it's left idle for extended periods of time, say 30 days or more. A thorough cleaning is essential.
"The first thing you want to do is take a blower and clean everything off — the leaves and debris that have built up over the growing season," said Mike Ballou, a product manager with John Deere. "This is the time for maintenance."
Don't delay taking equipment to a dealer if you don't have the time or inclination to do the work yourself, Ballou said. Not only will that extend its working life but it also will save you time and money.
"What a lot of dealers do is have service specials in the wintertime to attract customers," he said. "Otherwise, there's a two-week backup in the spring because everyone tends to put things off."
Some steps you can take now to ensure your tools are ready when the weather warms up again:
— Change the oil and spark plugs in gasoline-powered equipment before storing it away.
— Dump leftover fuel into your vehicles. The shelf life for gasoline generally is 30 to 60 days, Ballou said. "Run your equipment until all the old fuel is gone, and then add fresh along with some fuel stabilizer. Let that run five minutes or so, giving it enough time to cycle through the carburetor. That prevents sludge from forming and gumming up the fuel system."
— Disconnect the batteries. "Every two months, put them on a charger and charge them back to full," Ballou said. "At that point, you've done what you need to ensure they'll start again in the spring."
Here are some additional tips to ease seasonal garden chores:
— Buy an extra set of lawnmower blades and another chain for your chainsaw. "That way you'll always have one on hand while the dull blades are being balanced and sharpened," Ballou said.
— Clean or replace air filters to aid engine combustion.
— Store your equipment and fuel in a clean, dry place, said Randy Scully, national service manager for STIHL Inc., a manufacturer of chainsaws and other handheld equipment. "That helps prevent rust and corrosion."
— Lubricate and tighten moving parts. That includes wheel bearings and throttle cables. Tillers, mowers, string-cutters and chain saws take terrible beatings and tend to loosen up over time. "Anything that's not quite right or broken, get it repaired," Scully said. "Clean away oil that's dripped onto handles or working surfaces for safety."
— Get to know your product instruction manual, Scully said. "It has complete listings of things in there about what should be checked and how often."
John Deere, STIHL and many other manufacturers have begun emphasizing easier-to-maintain designs for do-it-yourself equipment operators.
"For example, no tools are needed for changing the oil in our newer garden tractors," Ballou said. "We're trying to make things simple to extend their working life."
For more about winterizing power tools and garden gear, see this University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service fact sheet:
You can contact Dean Fosdick at deanfosdick(at)netscape.net.