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Keeping mower in tune makes for a sharp lawn

It’s that time of year. Drive through your neighborhood on heavy trash pickup day in early spring, and you’ll likely see them: lawnmowers sitting forlornly at the end of driveways, worn but otherwise seemingly intact, cast aside because they no longer function as they should.

“Usually in the springtime, about now, people try to start their mower and it won’t run, so they’ll want to throw it out,” said James Feehan of Treasure Valley Premier Services, which offers lawnmower service and repair in Boise, Idaho. “Instead they spend $500 on a new mower. People don’t call when a problem exists. They just throw the mower away.”

Having your mower serviced before you need it can help avoid inopportune breakdowns and extend its life. A professional lawn mower tuneup should include having the blade sharpened, cleaning under the mower, replacing spark plugs and air filters, changing the oil, replacing old fuel if necessary and inspecting the carburetor, cables and belts.

A spring tuneup should cost between $50 and $150, depending on the mower and what needs to be done. Feehan picks up and drops off the mowers he services, charging about $90 on average for a full service. Jeff Breton, of Precision Outdoor Power Equipment in Raleigh, N.C., charges $47 for a tuneup, plus the cost of parts like spark plugs, oil and filters. Both professionals recommend an annual inspection and tuneup.

“First off, it makes the grass look prettier,” Breton said. “A dull blade just tears the grass, whereas a sharp blade will cut the grass and give you an even cut. Plus, we can see anything that might potentially go wrong [before] they might have to end up having to replace it.”

Warning signs that your mower needs maintenance can include difficulty in starting, a smoking engine and reduced horsepower.

The most common issue both pros say they see is trouble with carburetors, especially in mowers where fuel has sat in the gas tank for an extended period of time.

“It typically will start up, run for few seconds and then die,” Feehan said. “Once the fuel starts to gel, it will clog up right away. That’s 90 percent of the repairs I get.”

Feehan recommends using a fuel stabilizer throughout the season to minimize potential issues.

“It will extend the life of the gas and keeps it from gelling up when it sits,” Feehan said, adding that the No. 1 thing homeowners can do to keep their mowers working well is to drain fuel from the mower before storing it during the months when it’s not being used.

Feehan, who studied turf grass management at the University of Maryland and combined his knowledge of lawn care with a lifetime of experience working on small engines to form his company, said neglecting your mower will ultimately lead to neglect of your lawn.

“When you don’t maintain your lawnmower, it’s going to break down,” Feehan said. “When it breaks down, you can’t mow your lawn regularly. Regularly cutting the lawn is very important for its health. If you miss a week, it grows taller. When you come back to cut it, you’re ripping a lot of the moisture out of the lawn. You’re causing a lot of problems by not doing it regularly.”