If you have been around motorcycles very long, chances are you have come across an article, forum post, or a random person talking about setting the sag on a bike. The problem is, no one really talks about WHY you should care about the sag on your bike. So if you are like me (and lots of other people) you most likely have never adjusted and probably won't since the bike handles good anyway. The truth of the matter is your bike probably does handle pretty well for the most part, but chances are with a little adjusting it could handle much better and allow you more control in those situations that gets your heart pumping in your ears.
First things first, what is sag? The simple answer; sag is distance that your rear shock compresses when you are sitting or standing on the bike in a stationary position. I know not really very useful, but here is the interesting part. That amount of rear shock compression has a huge impact on how much pressure is on the front wheel. Which in turn has a big impact on whether or not your front wheel is going head West while you are turning East, causing your head to go South right into the ground (lovingly known as "washing out the front end"). It also effects how your bike handles in a straight line. If you are getting a "death wobble" going straight it may have to do with a sag adjustment (but don't assume that's the issue, check the wheel and stem bearings before your next ride). Another way to look at sag is how level your bike sits with you (and your gear) on it.
Now that you have an idea what sag is, the next question is how do you adjust it? The process is pretty similar for most modern bikes. The specifics can vary quite a bike from one bike to the next, so keep that in mind as you read. To start with, a rear shock on a motorcycle is not the same as a shock on your average car or truck. A motorcycle shock has two parts, an adjustable shock absorber and a coil spring. The coil spring is the part we want to take a look at, the rest of the shock is for another blog. The coil spring is usually held in place by some sort of ring that can be screwed up or down to adjust the amount of pressure being put on the spring (known as the pre-load). That ring often has another ring above it which is known as the lock-ring. The lock-ring's only job is to keep the adjusting ring in place once it has been set. For sake of time, we are going to pretend the lock-ring doesn't exist once it has been loosened and moved out of the way.
The first thing you need to know before you begin is how much sag you want. This is the tricky part. Your owner's manual will have a number, when you start reading forums you will see other numbers. Often people refer to this as "race sag". On most modern dirt-bikes that number is somewhere around 100 mm. This is a good place to start, but by no means the golden ticket for everyone. Once you have a number in mind, it's time to find, rent or steal a friend; get your handy tape measure and put on your riding gear (including your backpack if you use one). You also need to find a hard, level place and something you can lightly lean your handlebars against while you are on the bike.
Once you have everything in place (BTW this is not the part where you start drinking beer with your buddy); put the bike on a stand and measure from the rear axle to the fender (keeping the tape measure vertical) and record that number (this is call the "unloaded dimension"). Next take the bike off the stand and hold it upright, pull up on the rear fender and let go (don't bounce the bike), measure from the rear axle bolt to the finder, making sure the tape measure is vertical. I typically put a small mark on the fender so I know I am measuring to the same spot each time. Once you have that measurement, write that number down. Subtract small number from the big number; this is known as your "Static Sag".
Next get on the bike, with your gear on; keeping the bike upright and standing on the pegs (or sitting slightly forward) have your buddy (assuming he took my advice about the beer) measure from the rear axle to the same spot on the fender; record that number, this is the "loaded sag". Subtract the loaded sag from the unloaded dimension and that will give you your "race sag".
Now that you have your race sag and your static sag you can start the adjustment process. In very general terms, your static sag should be 30-40 mm. Your first step is to adjust your race sag by turning the lock ring either tightening or loosening the pre-load depending on which direction you need to go. It will most likely take a few tries before you get the number you are looking for. Once you have your race sag set check your static sag again. If your static sag is way off it's an indicator that you need a different shock spring. Most bikes are designed for 180 pound riders with minimal gear. They are not generally setup out of the box for a rider with gear or if you are like me a heavier rider with gear.
It's a good practice to check your sag periodically throughout the year. If you are racing it's a good idea to check it before every race. This also a good time to take a close look at the bearings in the rear-end and shock. Once you have done all that, go ahead and grab a beer, relax and tell each other lies about that monster hill you climbed or just barely avoided an agonizing death on that cliff-edge.
Some final thoughts on sag. Your race sag is an important adjustment that shouldn't be ignored. It's not a bad idea to ask around and see what other people are running on their bikes. Most articles that give a specific numbers are written with track riding in mind. Depending on if primarily sit or stand while riding, what type of riding you do (trail riding, hare scrambles, etc.) and what type of terrain you ride can have an impact on your best race sag number. You may find that 90 mm race sag makes your bike handle much better than 100. Don't be afraid to experiment. Finally, if you haven't had your rear shock serviced recently it's probably time, not enough pressure in the shock can throw your sag numbers off and cause poor handling.
One of the routine questions we get here in the shop is whether or not old equipment is worth fixing or just replacing? The answer to that age old question is "it depends". Very helpful, I know. But, here are some things you can use to determine on your own to make that decision. For the sake of simplicity, I am going to refer to everything as a lawn tractor. These suggestions apply to most, if not all equipment. So when you read "lawn tractor" just envision whatever piece of equipment you are contemplating replacing.
The first, and maybe the most important, question is why are you thinking of replacing your "lawn tractor"? Even though this seems like a pretty simple question it is actually more involved than you might think. If you are considering a replacement because something is not working then read on. But, if you are considering replacing simply because you are ready for something new and you really have your heart set on a particular something or other then you should probably pull the trigger. No matter what you do to your old machine, chances are you won't be happy with it, and you may spend the rest of the season regretting having put money into it.
Now that we have that out of the way, it's time to start assessing what you have going on. One of the big misconceptions is that newer is better. Unlike your car, truck or motorcycle, most equipment hasn't significantly changed in the last 20 years or so. New equipment tends to look sleeker, but that's about it. So when a customer asks me if I think something is worth fixing I generally start with asking them about the engine. Does your engine start? Is it blowing blue smoke out the exhaust? Does it sound like someone is banging metal garbage cans together when it's running? If your answers to those three questions goes something like "yes, no and no" then most likely your engine is worth fixing.
The next question is about the transmission (assuming it has one). Does it move under it's own power? This one is little trickier because yes or no doesn't actually mean as much as you might think. Something as simple as a worn or broken drive belt can make your transmission seem to be failing, when in reality it could just be a $40.00 belt that has gone bad. In this case you have to take a leap of faith and replace the belt to know for sure if that is your problem.
Finally, the cutting deck; at least on things that have a cutting deck. If the cutting deck has rust holes in it, or holes of any sort you should not use it. The possibility of something coming through one of those holes and taking you out, or worse someone else, is enough to not take the chance. Depending on the machine, replacing the cutting deck is not always a death sentence, but it is costly enough that you should find out the price to replace it and then go from there. Blades, mandrels, pulleys, etc. aren't particularly cheap, but may not be as expensive as you think.
At the end of the day the cost of repairing an older piece of equipment is generally much less than buying new. As always, it usually comes down to what you actually want. And how much you want to spend. So before you make a decision take some time and price out a replacement, then you at least have an idea of what you might be willing to spend for a repair. Paying a shop $150.00 to fix an old push-mower doesn't make much sense if you can buy a new one for $160. But paying $400 to fix a lawn tractor does make sense it a replacement is $2000.00.
One final thought, when you are comparing the price of a replacement verse repair; make sure you are comparing apples to apples. If you have a lawn tractor with a 54" cutting deck with a 24 HP engine, don't look at the tractor with a 12 HP engine and 42" cutting deck for comparison, unless of course you are thinking of down-sizing.
Taking a little time to know your own mind will make the trip to the repair shop or the store a little less painful. Always keep in mind, you are the one that will have to live with your decision. The person behind the counter at the store or the repair shop has their own reasons for recommending new or a replacement.
Okay, I have to admit the title was a "fake it until you make it" thing. But, in spite of the fact that there is still a foot or more of snow on the ground and continuing cold weather I am confident that Spring is almost here. Thankfully it's not just the calendar that tells me that; there are some tell tale signs from Mother Nature that we are almost there. The days are noticeably longer, trees are starting to bud and I have heard rumors of Robbins in the area (though I can't confirm that last one). In the mean-time, while we patiently wait for the thaw, there are some things you can be doing to be ready for the warmer weather.
If you are like me you may tend to forget that you own outdoor equipment over the winter. Now is a good time to take a look at anything you have with a gas engine and get it started. Most people don't realize how bad modern gas is for your equipment. The idea of gas being bad is strange but true. Most gas stations only sell gasoline that has a fair amount of ethanol added. Unfortunately it only takes a couple of weeks for the fuel to start breaking down. Once this process begins the fuel is less combustible, eventually the fuel will not ignite at all. From there it only gets worse; over time it will start causing damage to your carburetor and even engine components.
The burning question is what can you do to prevent this? There are several things that can help minimize fuel related problems. The most obvious is to drain the fuel from your equipment at the end of the season. This is better than nothing, but can cause it's own problems in the form of dried out seals. The alternative is to leave the fuel in the system and add a fuel stabilizer. Unfortunately that is still not enough. The best solution is to use non-ethanol fuel, a fuel stabilizer and start and run the engine long enough to reach operating temperature on a monthly basis.
Since we are at the end of winter there is a good chance that you haven't done as much as you would have liked. That's why I recommend taking a good look at your equipment now, before you need it. If your equipment was running fine when you parked it but won't start now the first step is to drain the fuel from both the tank and the carburetor and then fill it with fresh. If it still won't start you can try a new spark plug. However if you still aren't making progress it might be time to get it into the shop. There is a high probability that the carburetor is plugged and needs to be either be cleaned or replaced.
Don't wait until you are ready to use your equipment. Once the season gets started there are many people doing the same thing. Which means longer wait times for repairs, and if parts are not readily available it could be several weeks before you see your equipment running again. It very frustrating when you are ready to ride your bike or mow the lawn and all you can do is wait.
It's that time of year again; the weather is getting a little better, the days are slightly longer, but it's still cold outside. We are just about into February, which for me is the worst month of the winter. Here in Sunny Central Washington we typically get the full range of weather in February. It can go from 50+ degrees to 0 in the blink of an eye. This about the time I start feeling a little stir crazy and need to get out. So, I go riding as much as possible. Believe it or not, there are quite a few places in Washington to ride during the winter. In fact, many are better to ride in the winter than they are any other time of year. But the big problem is how do you do it, and keep your toes from freezing off? Here are some suggestions and things that we have figured out over the years to help.
One of the biggest things that I have found to make a cold day adventure a little more comfortable is to have a warm-ish place to change, eat lunch or just take a break. The ideal would be to have a nice toy-hauler or some other type RV. But, let's be honest those things are expensive and add quite a bit of complication and expense to a day ride. Right now we use a cargo trailer for our winter riding. The bikes are hauled inside, then once we get there and unload we have a nice open space. With a few lights, an indoor/outdoor carpet that rolls up and a tank mounted propane heater we have a cozy place to get out of the wind and get warm if needed. Not to mention it makes a great little shop if someone has mechanical problems.
At this point, you might be thinking that a cargo trailer would be great, but you don't have a truck to pull one or the extra money laying around to go buy one. Or, you simply don't want to mess with a trailer, then what?. This doesn't mean you'are out of luck. Before we had a trailer we used an a pop-up canopy with walls and a propane heater. All of which are fairly inexpensive and don't take a huge amount of room when stored. Throw a tarp down, and wa-la you have a cozy little place out of the weather that you can stand-up in. A word of warning though, if you do go the canopy route, be sure you secure it to something. Many of the places we ride in the winter can be windy, and those canopies make great sails if the wind catches it. You can tie the canopy to your truck or trailer, then use your gas cans and straps as anchors, works like a charm.
No matter what, the best way to beat the winter blues in on a bike. It's great exercise, gets you out of the house and lowers the chances of being pillowed in your sleep by your spouse.
With the weather getting to that point where it makes it very hard, if not impossible, to convince yourself to get out and ride, it might be time to take care of some of the maintenance tasks that you have been putting off. One of the most common things we run into around the shop is bad bearings, particularly suspension bearings. Most modern bikes and many ATV's don't have good old fashion grease fittings that can be used to keep the bearings greased. On top of that, bearings in the swing arm, suspension linkages and lower shock are constantly being exposed to water, dirt, mud, sand, etc. Which means they are the most likely to need service regularly.
You might be thinking, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". The reality is it may be broke, you just haven't noticed. Catching failed bearings early can and is, the difference between a huge repair cost and one that is only mildly painful. I say mildly painful because replacement bearings are not cheap (if you are buying half-way decent parts) and there is a fair amount of labor involved, assuming you are taking it to a shop for the work. However if you let it go too long, swing arms, linkages and shocks are really expensive.
Assuming that your bearings are not completely rusted and can be saved here are some tips for taking care of them. First thing you need to do is determine what parts need attention. On most motorcycles and ATV's there are bearings where the swing arm meets the frame. While you are looking at your swing arm, be sure to inspect the chain slider, if the plastic is worn it should be replaced. If it is worn completely through you need to make sure the chain hasn't worn through the swing-arm and into the bearing. Motorcycles typically use needle type bearings, where many ATV's use either a bushing or a cone bearing. The next place to tackle is where the shock connects to the swing arm. How this area is designed can vary quite bit from one manufacturer to the next. Most Japanese bikes use some sort of linkage between the shock and the swing arm. On many bikes, but not all there is a needle bearing in the shock as well. While you have bearings on the brain, don't forget both wheels have bearings that are prone to go bad, and even though most of the time they are a "sealed" bearing you can pop the plastic seal off and re-pack the bearings. The problem with doing this is there is really no good way to clean the bearing while it is in the wheel; if you pull the bearing out of the wheel it should be replaced since the process of pulling it out usually damages the bearing.
Once you have identified all the bearings that need to be serviced it's time to take them apart. Do yourself a favor and only do one set of bearings at a time. They look very similar and can be easy to mix up. However once a bearing has been used it should only be put back into the same location, otherwise it will fail earlier than it should.
In most cases needle bearings are used, be very careful that you don't lose any of the bearing rollers. They are very small and missing just one means it's time to buy a new bearing. You will not be removing the race (the part that is pressed in). Once you have the bolt(s), seals and the rollers out inspect everything very carefully. If the seal is damaged, looks ragged or egg-shaped, replace it. If there is surface rust on the rollers or race spray it down with some sort of oil like PB Blaster or WD-40 and clean with a wire brush. Inspect the surfaces carefully for pitting. If there is pitting, the bearing should be replaced. Assuming that everything looks good make sure clean everything thoroughly with clean solvent. I recommend non-chlorinated brake cleaner. Once everything is squeaky clean it's time grease and re-assemble.
Choosing the correct grease is very important. You should use a product that is resistant to water fouling. A marine grease is cheap and easy to find, there are many other products that work well also, but that is a topic for another post. Keep in mind, these are precision manufactured machines (sort of), which means you don't need grease coming out of everywhere. Make sure wipe off any excess, not only does it look better but it reduces the amount of dirt and assorted debris from collecting on or around the bearings. Be sure when re-installing that you put any spacers back in that came out, ignoring the spacers can cause some pretty serious damage when you torque things back down. Follow the manufactures torque specifications for bolts and nuts. Once you have things tightened back up check to be sure everything moves freely, a slight resistance is good; but if anything doesn't move freely you probably missed something and need to go back and find it. Don't fool yourself, if anything is binding it won't get better with time. Ignore you inner redneck. If it involves duct tape, bailing wire or hoping it will better if you just force it a little more, you are going to be sorry later.
Finally, keep a couple things in mind through the process; take your time, be very very clean and avoid drinking beer until you are finished. However, you can always bring it to us and then you can drink all the beer you want and we'll call you when it finished!
When was the last time you thought about the oil in your suspension? How about the gas charge in your shock? It's easy to forget about maintaining your suspension, but a little maintenance can save lots of money, not to mention improve handling.
Over time the oil in both your forks and shocks starts to break down, losing viscosity and gets fouled with debris as the piston slides wear. In addition, believe it or not, you can get rust forming inside from condensation. Your shock is filled with high pressure nitrogen that will slowly leak out over time. All of these things add up to a decrease in performance and can lead to expensive repairs if not addressed.
How often should you have your suspension serviced? It really depends on your riding habits and your budget. In a perfect world you would have your suspension serviced annually. But, like many things that is not a hard and fast rule. The real question is has it ever been done? If so, do you remember who was the president at the time? If not, or if it's been a while it's time to get your machine into the shop.
The next big question that comes to mind is the cost. Most of us don't have buckets of money stashed around the house. The simple, and very un-helpful answer is--it depends. Cost often depends on how much you can do yourself. Your least expensive route, if you plan to have a professional do the suspension work, is to pull the forks and/or shock yourself and bring them into the shop. But if you don't have the tools, place or skills then you will need to take the entire machine to your favorite mechanic to have the work completed. It also largely depends on what your machine actually needs, and the quality of the parts used. Having said all that, here is a very rough idea of what you can expect to pay. Assuming you can pull your forks and/or shock, labor on a set of forks is probably going to run you somewhere between $100-$150 depending on your forks and how much your mechanic charges. Most forks will require a little over a quart of oil (for both) so that means you get to buy 2 quarts, so you can figure around $30 for oil. Again, keep in mind the type oil you use can vary in price considerably. A set of seals will run you somewhere around $40. Now before you start thinking about buying a cheap set of seals for $20, remember you get what you pay for and if the cheap seals fail (and they do) it will not only cost you for another set of seals but the oil and labor as well. My personal preference when it comes to seals; OEM is your friend. But, that a discussion for another post! So for a service on a set of forks you are going to be somewhere around $200.00 assuming you don't need parts replaced besides seals. Your rear shock will probably be about half that since there is only one. This seems like allot at first blush, but like all things mechanical if you let it go too long it will cost much more later.
Another thing to consider when it comes to having any work done is timing. Many shops offer discounts in the off-season when business is slow. So the best time to get your work done is when you really want to go ride, but the weather is terrible. If you wait until the season starts you will most likely pay more and have to wait, sometimes quite a while, before the work is completed. You don't want to be the guy that is watching Youtube videos of riding when everyone else is actually out riding. Finally, resist the temptation to have the neighbor kid do it since he is always "tinkering". Suspensions are actually quite delicate when it comes foreign material (aka dirt) and parts left over. You should only have a qualified mechanic touch your suspension. It could mean the difference between a great day of riding or ending up in crumpled pile on the side of the trail.
If you have spent any time around off-road enthusiast you probably have noticed that whatever someone has done to their machine that person thinks everyone should do it. Of course, upgrades tend to be expensive and you can never really tell if the guy trying to convince you or himself.
Over the years I have struggled with that particular problem; if I buy that part or pay for that service is it really going to be that great. In most cases the answer comes back to you, the rider. Here in Sunny Central Washington there are some things that I feel are important for a dirt bike in terms of performance and control of your machine. I have ridden with many different types of people over the years. Everything from guys in work boots, jeans and the cheapest helmet they could find to people in $1000 boots and every other piece of gear you can imagine. So whenever someone tries to tell me I need a particular upgrade I always take it with at least 2 grains of salt.
Suspension is one of those expensive upgrades that I really questioned for years. I do not consider myself a great rider, I am not all that fast and let's face it, I'm getting old. Not to mention, modern bikes have great suspension out of the box. If you have ever ridden something from the 70's and 80's you can really appreciate how good stock suspension is, so why would I spend the money having it tuned for me? The answer is simple; control and the ability to ride longer distances, minimizing fatigue.
Most modern bikes come from the factory setup for racing on tracks with an average 180 pound rider. The spring rates, the dampening, etc. is tuned for high speed, jumps and plowing through soft dirt. On the other hand, some bikes come from the factory with the suspension set for nothing more challenging than a gravel road with the occasional wash-board section. The problem lies in the fact that most of us are somewhere in between those two extremes. Which means that your suspension is actually working against you over the course of the day.
Having the correct springs for your weight means that the springs are bouncing at the correct time with the appropriate amount of force. Not trying to bounce you off the trail or bottoming out on that whoops section. Having upgraded valves takes most of that harshness out the bumps and hits that is coming through your handlebars. Having your sag set for your style means that bike will handle predictably. All of these things translate into you, the rider, having more control over your machine with less effort and hopefully allowing you to enjoy the ride more.
Like I said before I am pretty skeptical of upgrades and I also fully aware that self-delusion is a real possibility when it comes to convincing myself I made the right decision. So I decided to put it to the test. I currently have to dirt-bikes, both Yamaha; a 2014 WR450f and a 2010 YZ250f; very similar bikes except the engine. The 450 was my first new bike so I decided I was going to spend the money and get it setup for me. I can honestly say I love riding that bike. Every time I start thinking it's time to upgrade I go for a ride and that thought leaves my head. The 250 is fairly new to me, it was a bike in a box that I bought and rebuilt. It had very low hours on it when the previous owner decided to "up-grade" the engine. I decided to keep the 250 mostly stock with the exception of some cosmetic up-grades and better exhaust. Since I enjoy riding my 450 so much the 250 mostly sits. This past summer I decided that 250 needed to be ridden so my son and I decided to ride a trail that we know very well but is also fairly challenging. In the interest of not dragging this story out, let's just say I was exhausted by the half-way point and the bike is getting the suspension done.
Suspension tuning tends to be expensive, parts are expensive and you really need to have someone do it that has been trained and understands the type of riding you do. But in the long run you won't be disappointed, you will find yourself going up hills easier, riding longer distances and actually going faster without feeling like you are about to wad up and break everyone bone in your body.
As much as I hate to admit it, Summer is finished, Fall is here and Winter is just around the corner. Those of us that live the in Pacific Northwest are just about at the end of the yard work season. Which means it's almost time to put away that yard equipment for the winter. Once upon a time you could get away with just sticking your equipment in the shed and forgetting about it until Spring. Unfortunately, thanks to ethanol mixed in your fuel this is a very bad idea; at least if you want your things to start in the Spring. Here are some tips that will hopefully save you some tears and money.
Ethanol free fuel is your best bet. Finish the season using non-ethanol fuel (2-3 tanks if possible). For your last use of the season add a fuel stabilizer. We recommend Sea Foam , but there are other good products out there. When you are finished, top off your fuel tank and add a bit more stabilizer. Keep in mind, too much stabilizer will not hurt your machine, it may not run very well until you get it out of the system in the Spring, but that's about it. Not using enough can mean a trip to the shop. It's important to fill the tank completely, this will reduce the amount of oxygen your fuel is exposed to and slow the oxidation process.
If you don't have access to ethanol free fuel you can dump all the fuel in the tank and drain the carburetor (or run the engine until it uses up the fuel). Then add straight Sea Foam to the tank, enough to fill the carburetor and at least coat the bottom of the fuel tank. Keep in mind, however, that Sea Foam does not burn very well so in the spring you will most likely need to drain it out of the carburetor in order to start the engine. Even though is seems like alot of work, in the long-run it will protect your fuel system over the course of the winter.
There is one more option that I don't recommend and that is simply draining the fuel system and calling it good. The reason I don't think this is a good idea is the fact that all of your fuel system parts have essentially been washed in alcohol which means once you take away the fuel they will dry out and possibly need to be replaced in the spring.
Some other things that you should consider are things like cleaning the machine before storing it for the winter. Grass, dirt and debris build up left over the winter is a great place to catch and hold moisture which will cause rust to form on the steel parts and possibly lead to pre-mature failure. Grass seems to turn to concrete if left dry any place it has built up. This can cause problems with your transmission linkages not working, belts slipping, etc.
If you have tires that are losing air you should consider getting them repaired or putting the machine on stands of some sort. Tires left flat with weight on them, particularly in cold weather, will cause cracks in the sidewalls which cannot be repaired.
Consider where you are storing your equipment. Keeping the rain and snow off is important. Having a shed of some sort is best, but even a simple tarp will get the job doe. If water gets into your exhaust (and there is really nothing stopping that from happening) or your intake can ruin your engine. Not to mention protecting the paint, etc. If you are doing the tarp method I recommend doubling the tarp (unless you have one that is very heavy duty) and make sure to secure it well.
Finally, if your machine has battery, you should take some precautions to protect it. The best thing to do is to pull it out of the machine and store it somewhere where it won't freeze. If that's not an option, at least disconnect the negative terminal to prevent any sort of parasitic draw; electronic hour meters and other electronics pull a very small amount of current from your battery. Over time, these will drain the battery completely. No matter which way you store your battery it should be re-charged occasionally. I don't recommend "battery tenders", in my experience these seem to cause pre-mature battery failure. Rather I prefer to simply charge the battery when needed then leave it alone. It is very important that you don't let the battery go completely dead or freeze, these will most likely ruin your battery. On our equipment I try to make a point of at least starting the engines once a month so, then let it run until it is completely warmed up. This allows you to assess the battery and it will help get rid of any condensation that may have built up in the engine. However, keep in mind that if you do start the engine you need to make sure it runs long enough. Shutting it off too soon will only increase the condensation inside the crankcase.
There is an old saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" there is no place this axiom is more true than in the realm of machinery. If you need help getting your equipment ready for the winter give us a call!
One of the big questions all of us ask when it's time for a new piece of equipment is should I get something new, or take a chance and buy used? Like most things you have to weigh the pro's and con's. If you buy new, you know that it has not been abused (yet) and in most cases it comes with a warranty if you do have problems. If you buy used, the cost is generally much lower, but you don't always know what you are getting.
The cost of equipment can be very discouraging, particularly if you are on a budget. So for many people used is the best option. If you are looking at used equipment here are some tips to help avoid buying someone's problem.
The first step in the buying process is to get your own thinking straight. Not everyone has the same perception of "good shape" or "barely used". So when you are looking at something always take what the owner is saying with at least two grains of salt. Don't be fooled if what you are looking at is shiny and clean. It's amazing what can be done with a pressure washer and some Armor-all.
I always start by looking at the tires (if it has tires that is). Tires and wheels will tell you allot about how something has been used. Bald tires is a dead give away that the equipment has been through the ringer. Believe it or not, weather checked tires (with lots of tread) can indicate that the thing has been sitting not been used much. Brand new tires on an old machine should set off a red flag. If the tires pass the sniff test move on to the engine. Check the oil; not only are you looking to make sure it actually has oil, but you are also checking the color of the oil. It never ceases to amaze me how many people simply do not change the oil on their equipment. We often get customers that will tell me they have never changed their oil or done any maintenance but are proud of how good their equipment still works. If the oil is significantly low (like not showing on the dip-stick) run the other way. Chances are the engine has already suffered internal damage and premature wear. If it does have sufficient oil then you should be looking at the color of the oil. Most motor oils are a honey color when they go in. Depending on the brand that color can range from a very light, almost clear, amber to a darker raw honey color. If the oil on the dipstick is in this range then it's fairly new. But, if the oil is very black that means it is old and probably has not been changed in a very long time. Unless you are getting a really good deal, you should probably walk away and find something better. If the oil color is somewhere in between rub a little between your fingers it should still feel slippery and not gritty. Smell the oil (I know sounds weird) if it smells like gasoline there is a problem, most likely the carburetor needs some attention. Any grit in the oil means that you should be moving on to something else.
Once you have satisfied yourself that this particular machine may be the one, start it up and listen. This can be a little tough if you don't know what you are listening for, but give it a try. A worn engine will often make rattling/knocking noises at first that go away after a few seconds as the engine warms up. This is not automatically a deal breaker, but it should be something that you note when negotiating price. If the knocking does not clear up on it's own the engine may not be long for this world. Along with listening you should also be looking when the engine first starts. Keep an eye out for smoke coming from the exhaust. Blue smoke indicates oil, black smoke fuel and white is coolant. A little blue smoke at start-up is generally nothing to get excited about, but if it lasts more than one or two seconds that's an indicator of engine wear. Continuous black smoke means there is a fuel related issue. White smoke that doesn't go away (assuming it's not 10 degrees) can mean it's had serious cooling system failure.
Once you feel somewhat confident about the general health of the engine and machine make sure to test it. Not just for a few seconds; make sure to run it long enough to get it completely warmed up. If possible, use it for it's intended purpose for several minutes. Make sure everything works. Remember you are paying for this thing and it doesn't come with a warranty. If the owner is not willing to let you run it for a few minutes you should be concerned. If someone is selling a piece of equipment they are not doing you a favor by letting you test it out. Once the money changes hands you own whatever problems the machine has.
Finally, once you get your new purchase home I always recommend doing a full service. Change all the fluids, filters, etc. Routine maintenance is the key to machine longevity. By servicing it right away you know when it's due for it's next service and you know that it has the proper fluids and filters. The bottom line is maintenance will always be cheaper than fixing. By doing a service before you use it you know where you stand and you decrease the chance of premature failure from neglect.
As the temperatures start to creep up (finally!) it's important to make sure your equipment is ready. High temperatures tend to be very hard on small engines. By taking a few precautions and performing some maintenance you can keep your engine healthy during the hottest part of summer.
One of the most important things to do is make sure your engine has clean oil and filled to the proper level. We often get customers that rarely or never change their oil. Clean oil is cheap insurance. Oil tends to break down over time and loses it's ability to lubricate. High temperatures speed up this process. Once oil starts losing viscosity, engine wear and possible serious failure are not far behind. In addition, oil will collect the fine grit and dust that gets past the air filter, which of course leads to premature wear. Also, be sure to routinely check your oil levels. Particularly in hot weather your engine may burn oil without your even realizing.
Speaking of air filters, how does yours look? Don't know? It might be time to check. Keeping a clean filter in your machine is very important. As the filter catches dirt and debris it restricts air flow into the engine. Over time, restricted air flow leads to poor performance and fouled spark plugs. If that's not enough, the dirtier your filter, the more likely it is that dirt is getting into your enine.
Last but not least is your cooling system. Even if you don't have a radiator, your engine still has a cooling system. On air cooled engines those little fins do more than just look cool; they are dissipating heat. No matter if your engine is air or water cooled, if it is covered in dirt, oil or something in between it is most likely running hot. It's important to make sure your engine is clean. If your engine is covered with plastic cowling you should pull those off at least once a year and make sure you don't have grass, dirt or mice under them (yes we have found mice, mice nests and even a bird under a cowling).
A little maintenance can go a long way to prevent big problems. Don't wait until your equipment decides stop working to give it some TLC.