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Men and the Art of Lawnmower Maintenance

lawnmower maintenanceDid you ever read the instructions for your lawnmower? How often do you think it needs maintenance? Apparently, I thought that the answer was every ten years. Or, perhaps not.

Most of my life I have avoided diving too deeply into things mechanical, at least when it comes to household chores. Mowing the lawn is such a chore. When I bought my first house, I was given a hand-me-down push mower. It was very hard to push and did not cut very well. In hindsight, I think the previous owner had also followed the ten year maintenance rule of thumb. Since then, I have had a series of lawnmowers that each ran for 8-10 years with no maintenance.

No surprise, then, when my ten year old gas mower failed to start last week. My first thought was to buy a replacement. But it is still early in the summer and hard to find a good sale. Perhaps, I thought, I can fix this thing and at least use it for a few more months. I dug out the manual.

It turns out that my normal maintenance regime of checking the oil level every spring may have not been sufficient. First, I cleaned the air filter (which was clogged with dirt) but that made no immediate difference. Second, I replaced the spark plug. Voila, the motor started on the third pull. But it was sputtering and making rude noises. Third, I drained the oil and replaced it with some 10W40 that was sitting in the garage. The mower then started on the first pull and ran fairly smoothly. I also added 30 mL of “Mechanic in a Bottle” to the tank of gas. After mowing the lawn, the machine felt and sounded like new. Total maintenance time: 30 minutes including the drive to Home Depot for a spark plug and revitalizer. Total maintenance cost: about $8. Effect on my self-esteem: huge. I can do these things.

On the other hand, the fact that this Briggs and Stratton motor ran for ten years without proper maintenance is pretty amazing. I wonder how long it will run with some tender loving care?

The moral of the story is that when you are retired, you actually have the time to pay attention to little things like lawnmower maintenance. Or, at least, fewer excuses not to. I have probably done more DIY things around the house in the past year than the previous forty. And, most of the time, it has been fun.

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