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5 Top Riding Lawn Mower Maintenance Tips

Blown Engine

5 Top Riding Lawn Mower Maintenance Tips

Regular riding lawn mower maintenance is key to keeping your investment in tip top shape. You have spent thousands of dollars on your riding lawn mower, and it is important to do routine maintenance to ensure you get the best return on your investment. 

Matt’s Small Engine Repair provides 5 top riding lawn mower maintenance tips to help ensure you are taking the proper care of your equipment. 

Perfect Example of Why It's Important to Properly Maintain Your Riding Lawn Mower

Recently I received in my shop a beautiful riding lawn mower which was not starting. It would turn over, but wouldn’t fire. I went through a series of diagnostics to find out that the piston wasn’t moving. It was at the top of the cylinder, and when I used a tool to find out if it would move, it slid all the way down with ease. 

Not a good sign at all. Something like this means that there was internal damage to the engine, most likely the crank arm broke. 

After discussing cost to fix this, the customer decided to forgo the fix for his $3000 riding mower, and donated it to me for parts. 

I took it in, and it sat for the winter, but I finally had an opportunity to open up the engine to find out what was wrong. Low and behold, there she was. Broken connecting rod, shredded crankshaft journal, and a shredded mess of aluminum everywhere within the engine. 

Why did this happen? Low oil level. 

Blown Engine

1. Check Your Oil Frequently

Oil is the lifeblood of your engine. It lubricates all of the components inside your engine. These parts heat up. They cause friction. They wear and tear. 

Without proper lubrication, they will fail, and you will be looking at hundreds of dollars repair or a complete replacement of the engine. 

So check your oil level to make sure that you have enough oil and look to see how dirty the oil is. Here is a general rule of thumb:

Oil Filter? – Oil Change Every 100 Hours Of Use

No Oil Filter? – Oil Change Every 25 Hours Of Use

Most riding lawn mowers have engines that have oil filters on them, but some don’t. So look to see. 

It is also important to note that each engine manufacturer has their own recommendations on oil change frequency, type of oil, and weight of oil depending on the ambient air temp that they are going to be used in. So read the engine manufacturer’s manual or the manual that came with the machine. 

Don’t want to worry about it? Then have a professional small engine shop like Matt’s take care of it for you. While they are doing the oil change, they may catch other things like rodent nests, warn belts, etc. that will save you in the future.  

2. Keep Your Engine Clean!

It is important to do riding lawn mower maintenance to ensure that your machine last a long time, but this one is often overlooked and can cause a lot of headache for you in the future. 

Most riding lawn mowers are powered by air cooled engines. The top of the engine and the housing is designed to force air through the cooling veins of the cylinder heads, and other parts of the engine that need to stay cool. 


Rodent Nest

Most often when I get an engine in the shop that has a blown head gasket, there will also be a nice little rodent nest, dirt, grime, or caked on debris with it (as in the picture above). 

Anything that is stuck to the sides or inside the engine housing acts like a wool blanket. Imagine running a marathon in a wool jumpsuit on a 95 degree day. I bet you would break down too! 

So inspect your engine for dirt and get it out of there. Brush it off. Use a toothbrush. Do an engine degreasing. Use compressed air. 

If you are not comfortable removing housings, and stuff like that, call a professional. Matt’s offers complete engine cleaning service. Just give Matt’s a call! 

3. Use Great Gas!

Yikes! What the heck is that?! 

That’s the inside of a carburetor bowl that has built up sludge from using the wrong type of gas. 

I admit, this is an extreme example, and using bad gas won’t always get this result, but it’s important to understand what using the wrong gas will do. 

The stuff we put in our cars. 87 octane. From “Tim’s Pump and Go” isn’t necessarily the best gas to use. 

You see, today’s gas most likely contains ethanol. It’s mixed in with our unleaded gas to help keep costs down, and is totally fine to put in our vehicles. But today’s autos are all fuel injected systems. Our lawn mowers, and other small engines are carbureted. They deliver fuel to the engine differently than fuel injected systems. 

Carburetor Bowl

What happens with ethanol is that it attracts moisture. If it gets enough moisture, it turns it into this gummy mess that clogs up tiny holes within your carburetor that stop it from doing it’s job. Gas will also varnish after time, so it’s important to use nice fresh gas. 

For riding mowers, who have big tanks (sometimes two tanks), that means you have a lot of gas in there. If you have the wrong type of gas, then you may end up with problems, which usually lead to expensive repairs. 

So you need to find gas that contains now ethanol. There are many different terms for it. In Minnesota, we use the terms; Non-oxygenated, non-ethanol, recreational gas, etc. 

Here’s a great resource for you: PureGas.Org

You can also call around or Google for non-oxygenated gas near me. But call the gas station to confirm it. 

4. Clean The Rest Of It!

There are a lot of things that can go wrong with your riding lawn mower. Doing the proper routine riding lawn mower maintenance will help from break downs. One of the worst feelings is half mowing your 10 acres and have a belt snap, or worse. So keeping certain areas clean can help ensure a successful mow. Below we will quickly talk about the areas that you should keep an eye on for cleanliness. 

Mower Deck – The top and bottom of the mower deck (aka, blade deck) should be cleaned of debris every time you mow. If your mower deck has the garden hose attachment, use it! Grass clippings get caught against the walls and build up, inhibiting the best cut your blades can do! On the top where the belt is, it is important to keep that area clean as well. Belts will wear faster when debris is around, and the blade spindles will heat up and the bearings inside will wear faster if they are covered with dirt and debris (remember the wool blanket for engines? This applies here too)

Transaxle – Most riding mowers have a transaxle that has a fan on it to keep it cool. The problem is gravity here. grass clippings and other debris build up on the top and sides of transaxles, which makes them heat up and fail. Some of these transaxles are plastic now and too much heat will warp or crack them, and the oil inside will seep out. 

Battery and Electrical Components – Batteries are a common issue with riding lawn mowers. They freeze in the winter and lose power because of this. The best thing to do is to remove your battery and place it in a safe, dry space with ventilation in your house. Basements would be fine.  As for electrical components, wires, wiring harnesses, etc., it is a good idea to keep them dry. If they get wet for some reason, blow them off with compressed air or at least wipe them dry. Water and wires cause corrosion and can damper voltage and amperage to important parts like your starter and ignition switch. 

5. Storage

Proper storage for your riding lawn mower is also bery important! Leaving your mower outside is NOT a good idea and I guarantee after a couple years you will have no start issues, or worse. 

For us small engine mechanics, electrical diagnostic is sometimes more difficult to diagnose and we may find that you have more than one electrical issue now because of corrosion, or failure of safety switches. 

Personally, my advice is to store your mower in your garage. If you dont have the space, make room or you may end up with a $$$ bill next year. 

Sheds are ok, but also understand that sheds dont offer a barrier of protection from heat and humidity fluctuations like your garage does. 

If you store your mower outside, DO NOT cover it with a tarp. That is just going to create a humidity bubble for the corrosion monsters to wreak havoc on your wires and battery. 

In fact, dont put a tarp over your mower anywhere you store it. You want it to stay dry so corrosion is limited. 

Other storage considerations is treating your gas with a fuel stabilizer, and disconnecting your battery (and bringing it inside). 

If you have a fuel shut off valve, treat your gas with a fuel stabilizer, start your engine, shut off the fuel shut off valve, and let your engine run until all the fuel in your carburetor is used by your engine. Your carburetor always has gas in the bowl unless you stop fuel flow. 

Lastly, if you come to your mower in the spring and see that the tires are now flat, fill them up without moving your mower! Moving your mower can potentially unseat the tire from the rim and then you will definitely be calling me! 

6. Bonus Tip - Get a Comprehensive Tune Up

Riding Lawn Mower maintenance is a lot to take on, and if you are not comfortable with doing this stuff, call a professional. Oil change, new spark plugs, new air filter, grease points lubricated, blades sharpened, belts checked, and more. 

Having a comprehensive tune up will give your small engine expert the opportunity to spot future problems that can be taken care of before you break down. 

Matt’s Small Engine Repair fixes and maintains all makes and models of riding mowers, zero turns, walk behinds, and more. Matt’s provides pick up and delivery, and is a resource to all his customers to help them keep their equipment in the best shape it can be! 

To schedule an appointment or learn more, visit