Many contractors and homeowners alike have several pieces of outdoor power equipment sitting in storage. Some of the units are scrap, others are parts, and then you have solid pieces of equipment to prepare for spring use. How do you ensure they’re ready to roll when the grass turns green?
Most manufacturers recommend performing preventive maintenance prior to storage, which is always a good practice. Some manufacturers also recommend running the equipment dry of fuel before putting it away for the winter. While it sounds like a good idea, it could actually harm your engine and make it harder to hit the ground running when taking items out of storage.
The Three Basic Elements
Engines big and small need three basic elements to work—air, spark and fuel. If you don’t have all three, your engine will not run. Clean air will always be available if you take the time to clean or replace your air filter. A clean, properly gapped spark plug usually takes care of the spark. But what about fuel? If you don’t maintain the components that help to properly distribute fuel at the right time and in the right amount, your equipment might not perform or run at all.
Think about one of the most important organs in your body—your heart. The carburetor is in some ways your engine’s “heart”. A carburetor blends air and fuel and regulates the flow (think circulation) of these elements into an engine’s cylinders. Every time you drain the gas tank of your equipment for storage you inadvertently put stress on this critical part. Here are three reasons why:
1. Draining the carburetor of fuel allows oxygen into the carburetor. You never get all of the gasoline out, and this oxygen attacks the small fuel droplets causing gum and varnish. If this debris happens in the wrong place, such as a needle valve tip, the carburetor will need cleaning to work properly.
2. Where there is air; there is water. Allowing your gas tank to sit empty leaves a huge area inside for water vapor to condense like sweat on the outside of a cold glass. This water collects on the bottom of the tank and can cause corrosion in the tank, fuel lines, carburetor and cylinder. It can even cause catastrophic engine failure if a big “gulp” is taken into the engine all at once. If your mechanic says there is “white rust” in the carburetor, this is the reason why.
3. Fuel system plastics and rubbers are designed to live in fuel. These parts can become brittle and crack when they are exposed to air.
Avoid risks with additives
Some people may get away with draining their gas tank and not experience any problems. But draining fuel is like Russian roulette. You may not have a problem today, but if you get in the habit of doing it every year, you’re increasing your chances of creating a problem and shortening the lifespan of your equipment. A carburetor rebuild costs between $75-$150 and the time wasted getting it fixed. Most of us have very little of both to spare.
The reason manufacturers recommend running the engine dry is because the absolute worst thing you can do is to leave old fuel in the engine during storage. To avoid the damages mentioned earlier, you can use a quality fuel stabilizer with fresh fuel before you store equipment for the season, and here’s how to do it right.
1. Put quality fuel stabilizer like Sta-bil in every gas can, starting one month before the end of the season. It’s hard to gauge exactly when you’ll put your equipment away. This is an easy way to provide some protection for your engine even if you forget to do the next three steps.
2. Store equipment with the newest, freshest fuel. Adding fuel stabilizer to old fuel will stop it from degrading further, but the fuel may already have broken down. Buy and stabilize fresh fuel to provide maximum protection.
3. Fill the tank 95% full with fresh, stabilized fuel. Did I mention fresh again? Just wanted to make sure you were paying attention. Leaving a small amount of room in the tank prevents the fuel from expanding in warmer weather and spilling out of the tank. This small open area reduces the amount of the tank where water vapor can condense and contaminate the fuel.
4. Run the engine for a couple of minutes. Running the engine gets the stabilized fuel into the carburetor and fuel lines.
Storing your equipment properly is as easy as that. Spending a couple of minutes on each piece of yard equipment can save you hours when the grass starts growing and the season kicks off in spring.
Consult your equipment dealer for information on specific manufacturer-suggested equipment and engine maintenance.