Now is the time to prepare commercial walk-behind mowers for the spring mowing season. Spending a few hours inspecting equipment and getting ready for the busy season will assure you of having mowers that are ready to cut grass instead of head back to the maintenance shop.
Begin by checking the fuel tank. The addition of gas stabilizer to the fuel tank is the single, most important maintenance task to prepare a mower that will be put back in service after a winter in storage. Gas stabilizer prevents low-octane gas from deteriorating. Running the engine to mix the additive with the fuel gives the stabilizer time to circulate through the carburetor.
Next, it is important to visually inspect the mower. Thoroughly cleaning or power-washing the unit will make the job easier and help you identify areas of concern. Before looking at the machine too closely, disconnect the spark plug wire to prevent accidental start-up while inspecting belts and blades. Look at the tires for any unusual wear spots, and replace the tires if they are worn.
Inspect the drive, transmission and deck drive belts, checking for glazing and cracks. Glazed areas will keep the belt from maintaining steady movement and tension. While checking the belts, also inspect the pulleys for excessive wear. If the pulleys or belts are worn, replace them.
Once you are assured that the belts and pulleys are in good condition, check the belts' tension. The standard is ½-inch deflection with a 12-pound pull. You can use a belt-tension gauge or a simple fish scale to test tension.
On the deck of the mower, check the blade spindle bearings for loose play or rough bearings by giving them a turn. Maintenance-free blade spindles used by some mower manufacturers have eliminated most of the concern with this step. Maintenance-free or not, you should check them because the spindle bearings and shaft might be worn.
Take a good look at the underside of the deck, searching for bent baffles between the blades and looking for any rust under the deck. Both conditions disrupt grass handling. Bend, pound-out or replace the baffles as needed. Clean the deck thoroughly, then sand down rust spots to bare metal. Repaint the newly cleaned and sanded areas. Working on the underside of the deck will extend the life of the mower and assure smooth air flow and proper grass discharge.
Check the front casters by making sure the bearings are still tight. The wheels should have minimal side-to-side and front-to-back movement. You should also inspect the caster supports for free play. If there is too much movement, remove the caster assembly and inspect the pin and bushings for wear. If the pin is not worn, inspect the bushing. If the bushing is worn, drive it out and replace it. Refer to the operator's manual regarding replacing the bushing; on some models, the inside of the support tube should be etched to prevent the new bushing from slipping.
Inspect all safety switches on the traction unit to make sure they are functioning properly. You can do this by referencing the owner's manual and going through the proper start-up procedure for the machine. Usually, mowers have switches for blade engagement, transmission and a master switch for the OPC. Inspect wiring for cracks and wear spots, and check all the junctions. Apply liquid electric tape to hold out moisture wherever there is wear or damage.
Take the time now to replace oil, filters and spark plugs. Thoroughly clean the engine. Blow out the dead grass and debris under the shroud, making sure the engine fins are clean for proper cooling. Grease all zerks on the machine.
On a hydrostatic mower, check all the hydraulic lines — both flexible and rigid — for oil leaks, and inspect the oil level in the reservoir. The oil should not smell burnt or appear discolored. If the oil smells and looks fine and is not due for a change, it is still a good idea to change the reservoir filter. If the oil does not pass inspection, change the oil and filter. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's recommendation regarding the proper hydraulic filter if replacement is necessary. All filters have a certain micron rating, and you must correctly match the filter to the amount of oil the system can generate. If you install the wrong filter, it can negatively affect the performance of the mower.
Finally, install new blades or sharpen the old blades. When you're sharpening old blades, it is important to inspect the lift fin to be sure it is not excessively worn. A worn lift fin will cause poor lifting of the grass blade and poor discharge of the grass clippings. When sharpening the blade, always cut the bevel of the blade back to the original degree (25 degrees is the standard). After sharpening, make sure the blades are balanced before you reinstall them on the mower.
FOR THE RECORD
Before starting a new mowing season, organize maintenance records, making sure all entries and receipts are up-to-date and checking the status of equipment warranties. Having equipment and the equipment records in order will save time and frustration during the busiest times of year.
Billy Harms is the national service manager for Encore Mfg. (Beatrice, Neb.).
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