Over the years I have repaired countless pieces of outdoor power equipment including lawnmowers, snowblowers, chainsaws, leaf blowers and more. While a few of these machines have suffered from some very unique and interesting problems, the vast majority have shared just a few common and easily-prevented problems. In this article I'll cover the most common causes of equipment failure and discuss how they can be avoided.
By far the most common problem is the fuel that equipment owners put into their tanks. Gasoline has a surprisingly short shelf life and can degrade in as little as thirty days. Gasoline that has been left in your lawnmower's fuel tank over the winter will have lost a good deal of its "kick" and can make starting the engine difficult or impossible. Even fuel that has been properly stored will degrade over time. Using a gasoline stabilizer and storing your fuel in a proper container will help to keep your fuel fresh. Fresh fuel helps engines start more easily, increases their power and improves performance. Always read and follow the instructions that came with your equipment, and never store gasoline near sources of heat, sparks or open flames.
Another common cause of problems is also fuel-related. Many small hand-held machines such as trimmers, chainsaws and leaf blowers use two-stroke engines. Most two-stroke engines require that a special oil be mixed in with the fuel. This fuel/oil mixture provides lubrication to the critical moving parts of the engine. Unless the mixture is prepared according to the manufacturer's specifications, severe engine damage can result and is often not covered by the equipment's warranty. Always read and follow the instructions in your equipment's owner's manual.
Larger equipment such as lawnmowers and tractors usually have four-stroke engines. Four-stroke engines also require lubrication, but the oil is not mixed with the fuel. Instead the oil is contained in a reservoir separate from the fuel tank. Just like with your car, the engine oil (and filter if present) should be replaced at the intervals suggested by the manufacturer. It is very important to use the correct type of oil for your engine and to maintain the proper oil level. Just as with two-stroke engines, failure to provide proper lubrication will result in catastrophic damage to your engine.
Air cleaners and spark plugs can also be a source of trouble. Both have a finite life span and should be replaced according to the manufacturer's instructions. Air cleaners keep harmful dust and debris out of the engine while allowing in the air that's needed to burn the fuel. It should be noted that most snowblowers do not have air filters. Spark plugs are a critical component of the ignition system and also require periodic replacement. Air filters and spark plugs cost just a few dollars and are usually very easy to replace.
The final common cause of failure is improper operation or abuse. Hitting a stump with your lawnmower or running over the dog's chain with a snowblower for example can cause serious damage. Power equipment can be dangerous. Using common sense and being safety conscious will help to prevent injury to you and to others.
By simply following the above advice and the instructions that come with your equipment, you can avoid the most common causes of outdoor power equipment failure.
Dan Batrams is a professional equipment mechanic at M&D Mower and Appliance. He is certified to perform factory-authorized warranty service for many popular brands of outdoor power equipment and power tools.