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.