Small Engine Care and Storage Tips
DEAR TIM: Spring has finally arrived in the high country here. It's time to cut the grass, but the small gasoline engine on my lawn mower refuses to start. I use the same gasoline that goes in my truck, and my truck always starts. My guess is that you work with small engines all the time and know what the problem might be and how to prevent it. What's the best way to store a small engine for months so when it's time to use it you can depend on it starting? Don G., Baker, NV
DEAR DON: I used to have hard-start issues with small engines. I've also had small engines that refused to start no matter how much starting fluid you squirt in the air filter. However, years ago I discovered a trick that ensures my small engines start within a few pulls each time I take them out of winter or summer storage.
Your truck starts all the time because you drive it frequently and the gasoline in the tank and fuel system are almost always fresh. If you add gasoline to your truck every 30 days, you'll rarely have problems. People that don't drive their cars much should absolutely continue reading because they need to do what I do with my small engines.
I decided that I'd blend my years of personal experience with the vast knowledge base of Briggs & Stratton's Wayne Rassel to shed some light on how to store small engines. I have small engines in snow blowers, a lawn mower, a hydraulic log splitter and a standby generator. All the engines sit idle for months at a time, so it's important that they respond when I need them.
I discovered a simple trick years ago that allows my engines to start each time I pull the starting cord. But information I got from Wayne has caused me to modify my approach to storing small gasoline engines.
The gasoline you and I purchase contains 10-percent ethanol. Using gasoline that contains more than 10-percent ethanol can cause significant damage to small engines, so avoid it at all costs. There is a web site called pure-gas.org that has a list of over 10,000 locations, broken down by states or provinces, that sell pure, ethanol-free gas.
Gasoline begins do degrade about 30 days after it's pumped. If you've not used all the gasoline in your gas cans within that time frame, pour it into your truck's fuel tank and drive to the gas station to get fresh fuel for your small engines. That's what I do. I never put gasoline in my small engines that's older than 30 days.
Understand that ethanol-based fuels tend to attract water. Water is heavier than gasoline. If you don't operate your engines on a frequent basis, a layer of ethanol-enriched water can settle to the bottom of the tank and be drawn up into the carburetor and engine. This water-ethanol blend is highly corrosive to small engine parts.
Gum and varnish, chemical compounds in the gasoline, form as the fuel degrades. This gum and varnish can lead to stuck intake valves, clogged fuel lines and jets in the carburetor. This could be why your engine is refusing to start. It could be clogged with this gunk.
I keep my small engines in great shape by only filling them with enough gasoline to do what I want them to do each time. That keeps fresh gasoline in the tank, fuel lines and carburetor.
At the end of each season, I discovered that if I ran the engine completely out of gas right before storing it for months, I'd be able to restart the engine with no issues. However, after talking with Wayne, I've decided that state-of-the-art fuel treatments and stabilizers are probably the best way to protect my small engines throughout the entire year.
Some modern fuel additives have a triple anti-oxidant formulation that slows down the fuel degradation issue. The chemicals in the additives react with the gasoline preventing outside water vapor from causing the gasoline to deteriorate.
The additives protect the entire fuel system and all engine parts exposed to the gasoline. Metal parts receive a protective coating that prevent rust and corrosion. Metal deactivators in the additives stop aggressive chemical reactions caused by dissolved metal ions in the fuel. Detergents in the additives help prevent the formation of the gum and varnishes that cause hard or no-starting issues.
You can get long-lasting results if you decide to use the advanced formula fuel stabilizers. If you want two years of protection, just add one-half ounce to each 2.5 gallons of gasoline. Double the amount of stabilizer and you can protect gasoline up to three years.
Since I take a conservative approach to small engine care and maintenance, I'm going to start to add the fuel stabilizer to all my gasoline. I want to protect the metal parts in my engine. The fuel stabilizers are not expensive, and one 8-ounce bottle treats up to 40 gallons of gasoline. Believe me, I can blow lots of snow and cut lots of grass with 40 gallons of gasoline!