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Homework: How to store and care for small engines

Gas can with Lawn Mower

Gas can with Lawn Mower Credit: iStockphoto image / unknown

Degree of Difficulty: One hammer out of five.

I'm willing to bet at one point in your life you've had a few choice words when trying to start your gasoline-powered lawn mower, weed trimmer, snowblower or any other machine that's powered by a small engine. Not only have I said nasty things, but I've also nearly worn out my shoulder rotator cuff pulling the starting cord.

At the end of the day I'll bet you didn't know that you've had the deck stacked against you for quite some time. You can thank the person or group who thought of putting ethanol in gas for most of your woes.

Ethanol in gasoline is a good idea for farmers and those companies that repair and service small engines. Just about everyone else, including you and me, suffer because of the alcohol that's blended into the fuel.

Step One: If you recall your high school chemistry class, you might remember that ethanol attracts water. It's not a good idea to put water into the fuel tank of a small engine, yet you set yourself up for this bad experience each time you fill your small engine fuel tank with gasoline that contains ethanol.

Step Two: Water accelerates corrosion of metal parts in small engines. Rust is not a good thing to have inside small engines. Not ever. The ethanol can dissolve built-up gum and varnish deposits in older small engines. If this happens and a clot of this gunk gets stuck in an orifice, you'll only start the engine once it's been taken apart and deep cleaned.

Step Three: Realize that gasoline can oxidize just like bare steel rusts. When gasoline oxidizes, it creates the gum and varnish that will clog your engine. You can stop the oxidation of gasoline by using the fuel stabilizers sold at any auto parts store. The fuel stabilizers are chemicals that love oxygen and grab it before it can gum up the works.

Step Four: Don't use gasoline that's been stored in your small gasoline can in your garage or shed for months. Pour that old gasoline into your car or truck gas tank and burn it up when you drive to the gas station to get fresh gasoline. Do this every two months unless you start to treat the gasoline with the stabilizer chemical.

Step Five: Minimize the amount of oxygen in your small engine. As soon as you turn off your small engine, allow it to cool for a few moments. Once cool, fill the tank with fresh gasoline that contains the fuel stabilizer before you push it back into the corner of your garage or shed. With the fuel tank filled, there's no space for air.

This is especially important in hot, humid weather. As your engine consumes fuel, the space inside the tank fills with humid air. Untreated gasoline will suck this water out of the air inside the fuel tank. If the weather gets cooler, the water in the air inside the tank will condense to liquid water on the sides and top of the fuel tank.

Be sure the fuel stabilizer you buy says it offers vapor technology. This means the stabilizer will grab the oxygen out of the air in the fuel tank if you forget to fill it.

Step Six: Avoid the entire issue of the problems caused by ethanol and purchase gasoline that doesn't contain the pesky additive. You can get ethanol-free gasoline at quite a few locations. Some gas stations in your area might sell it. Some boat marinas might offer ethanol-free gasoline as well. Small airports sell higher octane ethanol-free gasoline. You can also purchase ethanol-free gasoline at auto parts stores or online.

Step Seven: If you've never used fuel stabilizer before, you have to make sure this new fuel gets all the way up inside your small engine. You can't just pour it into a partially filled gas tank and expect miracles. You need to start the engine. Running it for three minutes allows this new fuel to travel up into the carburetor and into the piston.

Step Eight: Don't forget your oil and air filters. The No. 1 cause of small engine failure is dirty oil. The dirt originates from the air brought into the engine that's needed to combust the gasoline. Change your air filter or clean it regularly. Read your owner's manual to discover the best way to clean a reusable air filter. Change the oil before you store a small engine for several months.

Summary: Understand that ethanol and small engines don't like one another. At the very minimum, use a great fuel stabilizer in gasoline. To make your small engine happy, use gasoline that doesn't contain any ethanol. Keep your air filter squeaky clean and your small engine will start on the first or second pull every time.

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