(ARA) - The fundamentals of getting outdoor handheld power equipment ready for another season are simple and straightforward: a new spark plug, new fuel and air filters. Fill the tank with fresh fuel/oil premix and go to work. Equipment manufacturers make it even easier by providing the correct parts in a single kit, available from any dealer.
There is a return on this investment of dollars, time and attention. "Owners who observe the proper preventive maintenance and servicing procedures routinely get 10 and 15 years out of their engines," says Brian Chick, service manager at Golden Eagle Distributing in Rocklin, Calif., distributor for ECHO Outdoor Power Equipment. "Those who neglect their equipment get two or three years from it and then blame the product."
There's been a quiet revolution in the industry over the past decade as manufacturers seek to lower engine emissions. Modern handheld equipment runs cleaner than older models. Today's engines also have more power, greater reliability, and lower operating costs. But the key to maintaining these benefits is that equipment owners must sweat the small stuff. Take spark plugs, for example. Today's engines run hotter and leaner (more air and less fuel in each combustion cycle), so spark plugs must have the correct heat range to reduce the risk of engine damage.
Fuel and air filters are similarly sophisticated, despite their mundane appearance. It's not just the physical size and shape that matter. The filter media and substrate are designed for specific applications. The wrong filter may collapse in use, it may clog up prematurely, or it may allow particles into the engine where they can cause damage.
Getting the right parts isn't as simple as knowing the manufacturer and model. Technology is advancing so quickly that many engines experience "running changes," where specifications are altered in the midst of production. Add the serial number to the list of data your dealer will need in providing you with the right parts for your equipment.
Even with today's high-tech engines, many traditional procedures should still be observed. Motor mounts have small elastomer "doughnuts" to isolate vibration. These must be inspected for cracks and to ensure that they're still soft and pliable. Periodic lubrication of the gearbox, driveshaft, and other components is still required. These services are usually best left to a dealer's service department.
One traditional procedure homeowners can perform is cleaning grass, dirt, wasp nests and other debris from the engine's cooling fans. Another is to use only quality oil that meets the manufacturer's specifications as stated in the owner's manual. That oil should be mixed with fresh gas of 89 or higher octane that has no more than 10 percent ethanol. Never use fuel that's more than 60 days old in a small engine. "The two biggest problems with small engines are that owners try to run them with old fuel in them, and they don't keep them clean," says Chick.
Homeowners should also be attuned to their machine's performance. Poor performance of the cutter attachment and an overheating clutch indicate worn clutch shoes, which must then be replaced. Hard starting, a rough idle, a reluctance to accelerate or a tendency to die can indicate fuel system problems. Carbon deposits on the spark arrestor screen indicate stale gas or other problems. Again, the equipment should be brought to the dealer for complete diagnostics and repair.
Safety is one tradition worth preserving, says Andy Sadlon, service manager of Florida Outdoor Equipment in Orlando, Fla., who trains dealers to service ECHO equipment. "Stop using the equipment immediately if you see or smell fuel. Make sure the safety devices, such as chain brakes on chainsaws, are in working order. Make sure the attachments, string heads or blades are properly secured. Use personal protective equipment, such as goggles, gloves, and hearing protectors. Don't wear loose-fitting clothing. Consult the list of safety precautions in your owner's manual."
Al Herron, service education director at Texas Outdoor Power Distributing in Austin, Texas, who also trains dealers for ECHO, adds two more safety considerations. "If the unit has been running until it's good and hot, let it run at idle for a minute or so before shutting it off. This helps cool the engine, and it helps clear and cool the exhaust system. "Also, operators should pause periodically to rest. Being tired and fatigued can cause errors and injury."