The term "Annual Service" is one of those important sounding, but vague descriptions for getting work done on your equipment. But, have you ever wondered what it really means or what is involved? If so, you're in the right place and keep reading.
The first thing to keep in mind is an annual service varies quite a bit from one piece of equipment to another. Two stroke engines (like chainsaws and string trimmers) have different needs than four-stroke engines (like lawn mowers and motorcycles). For simplicity we will start with two-stroke powered equipment. A two-stroke engine is a relatively simple compared to a four-stroke. Generally speaking a two-stroke engine does not have a oil in the crankcase that needs to be changed since the lubricating oil is mixed with the gas. However, if your two stroke engine has a transmission, the transmission will have oil that needs to be changed periodically. The service parts on most of these engines include the spark plug, air filter and fuel filter (most of these fuel filters are located in the fuel tank). Many string trimmers have a transmission that needs to be greased. Of course carefully cleaning the body and engine is important to make sure the engine is getting appropriate air flow. Chainsaws in particular need to be cleaned since the combination of bar oil, saw dust and dirt tend to build-up and can lead to overheating.
Four-stroke engines need similar servicing but generally have more fluids. On a typical four stroke engine the big thing to remember is making sure your engine oil is clean and at an appropriate level. Engine oil is one of those things that if changed regularly will keep your engine healthy for many years. Always refer to your owner's manual for specifics on your equipment. But a general rule of thumb for lawn equipment is engine oil should be changed every 50 hours and/or at least once a year even if you have less than 50 hours on the engine. Keep in mind, even if you don't use your equipment much, your oil will collect the condensation that forms on the inside of the engine. In addition to oil, the air filter, fuel filter and spark plugs should be serviced on a routine basis. On equipment with a hydro-static drive that is serviceable the transmission should be serviced approximately every 500 hours (again refer to your owner's manual for your specific machine).
In addition to your engine, you need to consider a few other parts on your mower. blades should be checked at least once a year (more often depending on how much you use your mower). If your blades are not bent then they should be sharpened and balanced. If your blades have been sharpened several times or are bent then they should be replaced. Pay close attention the tips of the blades. If they are showing signs of cracks or chunks missing the blade should be replaced.
Blade mandrels should be greased (if possible) and the bearings checked for play. Mandrel bearings wear out quicker than you think since they are spinning very fast and are exposed to water and abuse. If you catch a bearing failure early it is a fairly simple and inexpensive repair, but if left too long the entire mandrel will need to be replaced.
Most riding mowers have at least two belts (more in some cases). Your mower has one belt that goes from the engine to the transmission and another that drives the mower deck. The mower deck belt is fairly easy to check, but the transmission belt can be hard to see and may require removing the mower deck to inspect. If your riding mower is having a hard time going up-hill it's probably time for a new belt.
Your mower deck should also be cleaned (and scraped if needed). Compressed air is better to clean the excess grass and debris followed by water. If you don't have access to compressed air use your hands and pull out as much grass as you can before trying to use a hose. Water will only make the job harder. If equipped, remove the covers from the pulleys so you can get all the debris cleaned out. Leaving grass on the deck will lead to premature belt failure and rust. The bottom of the deck should be scraped and washed at least once a year. If you are cutting wet grass it should be done more often. All that wet grass sticks to the deck and promotes rust. Once your deck is clean, the deck level should be checked and adjusted if needed.
Your engine and chassis should be cleaned and degreased. Excess dirt and grease on your engine will cause the engine to run hot and can lead to premature failure. It is also important to clean any excess grass and debris from under the hood and around the linkage for the mower deck. Grass can build up and cause premature belt failure, transmission slippage, etc.
Finally, steering components should be cleaned and greased, tire pressures checked and tires inspected for cracks.
Like any piece of machinery, regular maintenance is important to keep your equipment reliable for years. Feel free to give us a call if your equipment is ready for some attention!
One of the things that seems to get ignored the most on many vehicles and equipment is greasing the bearings and axles. For most of us this is one of those maintenance tasks that's right up there with cleaning the bathroom. But, if ignored, can lead to very expensive repairs. Grease is a funny substance that can't seem to make up it's mind. Over time, if a bearing or shaft is used regularly the grease begins to break down and gets runny, eventually losing it's ability to do it's job. If it's a left to sit and not moved regularly it gets hard and again stops doing it's job. So that means if you want to keep your equipment healthy and happy the old grease needs to be cleaned out and replaced.
You may or may not realize it but your wheel bearings, steering components and linkage parts are all greased to provide lubrication. Without grease the bearings will wear out prematurely or worse...rust. If you wait too long between servicing you may find that you can't get things apart without a large hammer and propane torch or maybe the jaws of life. So the real question is how do you make sure this doesn't happen? Believe it or not, it's easier than you think.
Many pieces of equipment and vehicles have a thing called a "zerk" fitting. These little fittings are designed so that the tip of grease gun "snaps" into place, a couple of pumps of grease and your finished. The old grease is pushed aside and the new grease is in place. Some things to remember about zerk fittings; first you need to make sure there is no old grease and dirt covering the fitting before you attach the grease gun. Second, the tip of the grease gun needs to be held firmly in place. When you pump the handle, if the grease comes out around the tip, it's not going into the fitting. Third, if you can't get the grease to go into the fitting it may be time to pull things apart and clean out the old grease. If the grease gets too hard a grease gun won't work.
What if it's a bearing that doesn't have a zerk fitting? Unfortunately many bearings do not have zerk fittings, these include things like wheel bearings, linkage bearings and more. Linkage bearings and lower shock bearings on dirt bikes are particularly prone to failing. If you think about it, every time you ride, those bearings are working. Every mud puddle, stream or washing is exposing those wear surfaces to water. These bearings should be inspected, cleaned and greased annually. Once these bearings lose grease they rust and deteriorate very quickly and can lead to serious damage.
Even though servicing bearings is no fun, it's not a difficult task generally, unless of course you have waited to long. When servicing your bearings you should use a low flash solvent to clean the old grease and dirt out. Once you have the bearing clean you can inspect it for damage. Assuming there are no issues, use a good quality grease; preferably something water proof. Once you put things back together make sure the excess grease is removed. Leaving blobs of grease outside the bearing or axle is pretty much a dirt magnet.
Some final thoughts, if you are greasing axles, make sure to clean all the old grease off, if there is any rust completely remove it with a wire brush or a very fine abrasive. WD-40 and Scotch-brite works well, do not use a grinder, file or heavy sand paper. On these particular parts, a little grease goes a long way so don't get crazy with it. Also keep in mind that grease is a petroleum distillate, which means it's no bueno for you. Wear gloves, eye protection and appropriate safety equipment for the task.
If all of this sounds like a little too much fun, don't worry, we will take care of it, just give us a call.
The New Year is here! It seems like Winter is okay right up to New Year's Day. With all the planning and excitement of the Holidays it's easy to forget how cold it is outside (unless of course you are reading this from the East Coast this year). But it seems like once January hits, time slows down. In fact, my theory is that January and February are actually twice as long as any other month but we tell ourselves they are the same, just to get through. If you are a winter sports fan you may be shaking your head as you read this and wondering what I am whining about. Well, if you are one of those people, all I can say is ....uh-huh....
As you stare longingly out the window at the snow and ice; day dreaming about summer you still should give your equipment some thought. Chances are most of your equipment hasn't been started in 2-3 months, the battery is dead or dying on your lawn mower, motorcycle, generator, etc. If you forgot to run non-ethanol gasoline and a fuel stabilizer the gas in your carburetor bowl has started going to the dark-side (and I don't mean in a Jedi sort of way). So, there is no time like the present to get out there and get those things started and run them for a while. Chances are nothing is going to want to start, so prepare your mind for that, do some deep breathing, chant a little if you need to in order to stay calm. You will thank yourself in the Spring for taking a few minutes now to run things through a cycle or two.
Some things to keep in mind when you head out to the shed. If you have equipment with low or dead batteries, starting and running them is important, but you won't charge the battery completely just running at an idle. Most small engine charging systems are designed to charge at full throttle over a long period of time. So with that in mind your best bet is to charge your batteries with a charger for several hours. Remember though, small batteries can only handle small charging current. Doing a high amp "fast charge" is a bad idea for a small battery and can damage it. Many batteries have recommended charge rate on the battery somewhere, but a general rule of thumb for small batteries is 1 to 3 amps. Personally, I recommend charging the battery completely before trying to start your equipment, this reduces the strain on the battery and starter. After you have started the engine and let it warm-up, charge the battery one more time before putting the charger away.
Once you do get the engine running let it completely warm-up before shutting down. Not letting the engine achieve full operating temperature is actually worse than just leaving it sitting. The reason for this is condensation. Think back to high school science class; what happens when cold air meets warm air? You guessed it condensation forms (you know like on the outside of a cold drink on a warm day), the same is also true for the inside of your engine. You need to let everything warm-up enough to evaporate the moisture that is already inside the crankcase. This is also the reason that you should change your engine oil annually, even if you don't have many hours on it.
Last but not least is fuel. This is one topic I can't seem to stress enough. The other day my son called me the "Ethanol Cop". Even if you have been buying "non-ethanol" you still need to run a fuel stabilizer and run the engine occasionally to get fresh fuel into the carburetor bowl. The fuel in the carburetor bowl is the first to go bad, so if your equipment won't start, but the cussing has, drain the fuel bowl and try it again. Bad gas simply will not burn, so dumping fuel down the carburetor throat or using starting fluid may get the engine started, but chances are it won't run for long. Most carburetors have some sort of a drain screw on the bottom. If you open that screw and nothing comes out either you are out of gas or you waited too long and it's time to get your machine into the shop for a carburetor service.
Just a little bit of attention now could save you a whole lot of headache later. Chances are if you wait until you actually need your equipment it may be too late. Spring is the busiest time for small engine repair shops, many are 2-3 weeks out before they can even look at your equipment. Late Winter is the best time to get those repairs and annual service done so when the snow melts and wind starts blowing you are ready to get out there.