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As leaves fall and the air turns crisp, it's a good time to start thinking about any winter tools that got pushed to the back of the shed over summer. That is, unless you enjoy the line up at your local small equipment shop after the first snow or windstorm. To each his own. If that's not really your scene, here's a few reminders to get you started:
Spark - Starting will be easier with a fresh spark plug, which ignites the air/fuel mixture easily. Pull the plug to check its condition. Take note of the part number if it needs to be replaced.
Motor Oil - Contaminants build up in motor oil regardless of how often the engine is used, resulting in increased wear of internal parts. Change the oil in 4-cycle models every year – either prior to winter use or before summer storage.
Gasoline - Gas has a shelf life. Over time, additives break down and form sediment, while octane boosters evaporate leaving the gas less combustible. Deterioration can start in as little as 30 days, though with a fuel stabilizer you can extend the life cycle by 3-5 months. Use an octane rating of 87 – higher octane fuels offer no benefit to residential small engines.
Never use gasoline with more than 10% ethanol. While E10 fuels are technically approved for small engine usage, its not recommended. In 2 stroke engines, gas with ethanol separates from oil, leaving part of your oil/fuel mixture without lubrication. E10 absorbs up to 50 times more water than standard gasoline, leading to poor engine performance over time. Ethanol fuel has a shelf life of 2-3 weeks.
Gasoline is blended to suit the season so wait until the weather turns cold - winter-grade fuel makes cold weather starts easier.