Another (unwanted) lawnmower adventure

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.

4 thoughts on “Another (unwanted) lawnmower adventure

  • July 19, 2011 at 10:16 pm
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    Two words. “Push mower.” Better exercise, little or no operating expense, no pollution. Or you could take my next step, xerophytic landscaping – no mower at all.

  • July 20, 2011 at 9:11 am
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    I have a push mower, which is great for flat yards, but you do need to mow more often because they aren’t so great at really tall grass.

    I have also bought a rechargeable electric, which is FANTASTIC. I can mow my back yard (smallish lawn, 40’x45′) six times before recharging. It’s not self propelled so you get the same exercise, still make little noise, and no pollution. There is additional expense for the electricity, but it is rated for 375 kilowatts per year based on a lawn three times the size. It certainly isn’t going to be expensive to run.

    My front yard is xeroscape (as we call it in Canada) and so far this year I haven’t even needed to water it at all. The only grass are ornamental and I cut them once in the early Spring with shears.

    • July 20, 2011 at 6:32 pm
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      I use a reel (human-powered) mower at the house we live in. It takes about 45-60 minutes to cut the yard, vs 30-40 minutes with a powered mower. At our other property, the yard is larger and it takes 2-2.5 hours to cut with a powered mower, so it’s not realistic to try doing that solely under human power. Especially not in July and with nowhere to cool off, since the property lacks air conditioning (which is why it isn’t rented out right now).

      Hopefully now that the county finally decreed this week that we can put an air conditioner in there, we’ll be able to get that property rented out and the problem will go away.

      If it was going to look like I couldn’t get the mower fixed quickly, I was considering a rechargeable electric for over there. Since fixing the mower I have is the cheaper route, I have to take that option. When the thing dies for good, I’ll go electric.

  • July 20, 2011 at 10:34 pm
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    Ah, the devils in the details, I take your points.

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