So the Toro died Sunday, with maybe 100-150 square feet of unmowed lawn left. I coaxed it into running again by adding oil–it looked low–and that was enough to mow what was left. The gray smoke bellowing out the side, the horrible noise, and the vibrating as if it would fall apart just added character. Yeah, character.

Against my better judgment, I finished cutting the lawn, then killed the engine and dragged the beast back into the garage. Then I got on the Internet to weigh my options.

Not being the most mechanically inclined of guys, I didn’t make a lot of sense of what was going on with the mower. Maybe it was burning oil. Maybe it was just time for a new one. Or anything in between. I decided to cool it and discuss the symptoms with some of my more mechanically inclined coworkers.

After taking their suggestions, I checked for excess oil. It was a few ounces high. It sure didn’t look that high when I was adding a little at a time yesterday. You’re not supposed to check the oil hot, but I didn’t have a lot of options yesterday. I poured off the excess and did my best not to leave a mess on the garage floor.

Then I checked the air filter. Whoa, Nelly! I thought I’d checked the thing at the start of the mowing season, but, well, either I didn’t or this has been one filthy year. One of my coworkers found advice online saying you should check the filter every 3 cuts or so. Needless to say, I certainly haven’t been doing that. So I cleared the filter out as best I could, pounded it on the floor a few times to knock some more debris out, and wiped away the crud around the carburetor for good measure. I’ll have to buy another filter this week at the hardware store, but I cleared it–I hoped–enough to do a test.

So I replaced the filter, double-checked my work, then primed the mower. Time for the moment of truth. Pull! Silence. Pull! Sputter. Yay, progress! Pull! Life! Well, feeble life, but life. Plus, it sounded better than yesterday, there wasn’t any smoke, and the vibrations were normal enough that I stood a chance of being able to run the thing in a straight line.

So I ran it around back and forth for a few minutes. It didn’t sound great, but it still had the world’s second-worst air filter in it so it was probably still starved for oxygen.

Next up for my to-do list: an air filter and an oil change. The oil I drained off was filthy too, so an oil change would do a world of good. It should run me about $11 and take less than 15 minutes, which is a lot better than a trip to the mechanic. Maybe I’ll even run some Marvel Mystery Oil through it.

And I learned two valuable things. One is that you can run automotive oil in a lawnmower, which is cheaper and, most likely, higher quality. Even Mobil 1 full synthetic is cheaper than what hardware stores sell as lawnmower oil. And Marvel Mystery Oil works as a fuel stabilizer, which is far, far less expensive than the fuel stabilizers they sell at hardware stores.

Maybe I even know enough now to keep this from happening again.