By Jeremy Wishart
Whether winter is a welcome break from a long, busy mowing season, or a lucrative season of snow removal, it is inevitable. Fall leaves soon give way to plummeting temperatures and a blanket of snow. Before storing and forgetting about landscaping equipment until springtime though, it’s essential to winterize it properly. Thorough winterization will ensure all equipment functions properly for the next mowing season and many more after that.
All operators of commercial mowing equipment need to store extra fuel safely in the winter — whether it’s propane, gasoline, or diesel.
A key benefit of propane is that it doesn’t degrade or go bad like other fuels. Even so, extra propane cylinders not attached to equipment should be stored secured in a storage cage or other protected area away from ignition sources.
Contractors with permanent propane infrastructure should mark their propane tank with a flag, pole or stake higher than the average snowfall depth for their area. Marking tanks will ensure snow isn’t plowed into or shoveled on top of them.
Propane tanks should also be filled adequately before winter begins. In the event of a storm or excessive snowfall, roads may be inaccessible. Calling for a propane delivery when the tank is 30 percent full is advised at any time of the year, but especially in the winter.
Gasoline and diesel also need to be stored safely in marked containers specifically intended to hold fuel, said Joe Hyler, service technician for Exmark. “Unlike propane, fuel stabilizers must be added to gas and diesel for long-term storage. Store tanks in a clean, cool place away from anything that could spark or ignite. Keep the tanks as airtight as possible to reduce the chances of spoilage.”
Winterizing and maintaining mowers and other lawn care equipment will alleviate any headaches come spring and save time when everything needs to be ready for the busiest green industry season.
The first thing Hyler recommends contractors do is clean their machines. “Remove all debris from the engine and cutting decks, and around the blades. If machines need to be washed, make sure to dry them thoroughly with a blower or using compressed air to prevent any rusting.”
After machines are clean, contractors should change the oil and replace the oil filter and air filter. Mowers with a hydraulic drive system need to have the hydraulic oil and filters changed, as well.
“Machines are machines,” Hyler emphasizes. “It’s no different than your car. They require routine maintenance to function properly and last for several years.”
After machines are clean and all oil and filters are changed, the engine type dictates the next steps.
“Propane mowers are pretty simple when it comes to winterizing the engine,” said Hyler. “Contractors should shut off tanks and run the machine until hoses are completely empty of fuel. They can keep the propane still left in a cylinder.”
Gasoline and diesel engines require more attention. Just as stored gasoline and diesel needs a fuel stabilizer, so does fuel left in the machine’s gas tank. “Gasoline and diesel left in a tank might go bad, which can damage some engine components. It can be avoided by adding a stabilizer to the gas tank before storing the machine for winter,” explains Hyler. “For it to work, you have to run the stabilizer though the system. Another option is to siphon the remaining fuel from the tank, and restart the mower until it stops on its own. That’ll also make sure the stabilizer is evenly distributed throughout the fuel system.”
To finalize the winterization process, Hyler recommends the following tips for all types of mowers and landscape equipment:
- Remove mower blades and examine them for damage. Sharpen and replace them as necessary.
- Lubricate and grease idler arms, pivot points and cutter housing. Also, tighten screws and bolts and replace any damaged parts. Make sure electrical connectors are disconnected and clean, as well.
- Remove batteries from electric mowers and equipment and charge them completely. “If it’s a long winter season, it might be necessary to charge the battery a few times throughout, because a full battery is less likely to freeze up. Also, never leave a battery on top of a concrete floor. It’ll get too cold and the chemicals inside will react to the extreme temperature,” said Hyler.
After equipment has been fully prepped for storage, Hyler suggests keeping machines in a dry, covered area away from the elements. A garage would be best, but a tarp can provide protection if a building isn’t available.
Ultimately, the risks of not winterizing aren’t worth the trade off. “Not winterizing equipment can shorten the life of an engine, and — worst case scenario — cause engine corrosion,” said Hyler. “If contractors take these routine steps, they should be ready to go in the spring. Really, it’s just common sense to protect the investment of expensive equipment and save the hassle and headache of scrambling to do these things when winter is over.”
Jeremy Wishart is deputy director of business development, Propane Education & Research Council (PERC).