By Mark Meyers
The key to optimal zero-turn mower performance is maintenance…period. Those mundane tasks that are often put off until another day, which never seems to come, will save time and money in the long run. These little things are crucial to mower maintenance to keep your equipment running its best, and your customers’ lawns looking great.
When it comes to zero-turn mower maintenance (or any other piece of power equipment), the first and best piece of advice is to read through the owner’s/operator’s manual. Although no one ever wants to read it, this book has all the information you need to maximize the performance of your mower. The manual contains general guidelines that can apply to most mowers on the turf, but it also includes specific intervals and items that apply to each machine, depending on its intended use. For example, a heavy-duty industrial machine, such as Dixie Chopper’s Xcaliber, has different maintenance items and intervals than a light commercial unit, such as a Magnum, which is also different than a residential unit, such as a Zee 1.
Despite these differences in maintenance requirements, here are some general maintenance procedures to follow, regardless of the type of mower.
Before each use, visually inspect your mower for fluid leaks and loose, damaged or missing parts. Also, check for build-up of clippings and/or debris around the engine, muffler and belts. These simple steps can help prevent a costly breakdown and avoid serious safety risks.
Speaking of safety, check all safety features to make sure they are in good working order. Guards or screens around hot or moving parts should be securely in place, and the parking brake should function freely. Also, the seat safety switch should shut the engine off if the operator leaves the seat while the blades are engaged and/or the parking brake is disengaged.
Next, check the engine and drive system fluid levels, as well as the tire pressure and wear. Then inspect belts for wear and proper tension, and ensure the blades are sharp and free from damage. Replace any parts as needed before operating the mower.
One of the most overlooked maintenance requirements is keeping the underside of the deck clean. The condition of the turf typically dictates the frequency of deck cleaning, but it’s a good idea to inspect the deck for build-up after each use. Thick, wet, early spring turf may clog the deck after one use, or even during use. Whereas drier, late summer turf may not create much build-up at all. A deck with heavy build-up can leave streaks in the turf, drop clumps of grass instead of an even discharge, and also cause the deck to rust faster.
Every now and then
Less frequent maintenance procedures depend greatly on the mowing conditions and the number of hours a mower is used. These procedures include inspecting and replacing the air filter; replacing or sharpening the blades; and greasing all bearings, pivots and other fittings. A homeowner may only need to do these things once or twice a year, while commercial cutters need to do them as frequently as once a month.
Every year, both homeowners and commercial cutters (depending on the number of hours the mower is used per year) should change the drive system fluids and filters, the fuel filters and the spark plugs. Engine oil change intervals vary by manufacturer, but typically range between 25 hours and 100 hours. Again, operators should refer to their owner’s manuals for model-specific maintenance procedures and intervals.
Every spring and fall
The last point to consider for complete mower care is pre- and post-season maintenance. Prior to storing the mower for the winter months, perform a complete cleaning from the underside of the deck to the top of the engine. This is also a good time to change the engine oil and oil filter. If equipped, turn the fuel valve to the off position, start the mower and allow it to run out of fuel. This will prevent any varnishing or harmful build-up in the fuel system. Next, empty the mower’s fuel tanks or add a fuel stabilizer to the fuel.
It is also recommended that an adequate cover be used, depending on your storage area, to protect the mower while in storage. It is not recommended that a mower be left out in the elements, as this will cause accelerated wear on rubber and plastic components, as well as increase the risk of contaminants entering the fuel tanks, engine, and drive systems.
Prior to using your mower at the beginning of a new mowing season, start the engine and let it run for five minutes. Turn the engine off and check fluid levels in the engine and drive system. Then check and inflate tires to proper pressures, and walk around the mower to visually inspect it. After following all of the proper maintenance procedures, you will be ready to mow, and the mower will be ready to operate at peak performance.
Even though these tasks may seem like a burden at times, the end result will be well worth the effort.
Mark Meyers is marketing manager at Dixie Chopper www.dixiechopper.com