Q&A / 

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.

Gum and varnish build-up inside a small engine carburator will eventually lead to problems. Photo Credit: Briggs & Stratton.

Gum and varnish build-up inside a small engine carburetor will eventually lead to problems. Photo Credit: Briggs & Stratton.

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.

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!

Column 992

SPONSORS / 

22 Responses to Small Engine Care and Storage Tips

  1. Tim-
    I have had the same problems as Don and while your advice is good, a more immediate solution that I have used is to: empty the tank; empty, clean and /or replace the fuel filter; add an additive called "Start" from Sta-Bil to new gasoline per instructions, then fill it up and start it up. Always started right up,first or second pull. Good Luck!

  2. Tim-
    2 more things:
    The actual name for this is " Start Your Engines!" And always replace the spark plug for the new season.

  3. Hey Tim, I used to own a Kawasaki dealership and we made really good money on people not prepping their small engines. We always added stabil to the fuel and let the machine run to get it into the carb. We also always topp off the fuel tank so no moisture can get in there. If you have a metal tank they can rust over one season. If we had a two stroke motor we removed the spark plugs and fogged the cylinders then put the plugs back in. Just google engine foggers. Also you can spray the engine with the fogger as well this will keep condensation off the metal parts in a hot/cold garage area. This always works. Hope it helps.

  4. I constantly had these same problems with my push mower, weed eater and chain saw. I now use Marine Grade Stabil. I put it in my 5 gallon container every time I get fuel and I have not had a problem since.

  5. So I am assuming that you don't have to be concerned about the 30 day time frame after the gas is pumped because you are using the fuel stabilizers?

  6. At the last mowing of the season I start my lawn tractor run my it until the tank is bone dry. This spring I added gasoline to start my first mowing and it started on a dime. I only add enough gasoline for one mowing at a time. I am a 76 year old lady and a friend told me about old gas becoming shellac if not used within 30 days.

  7. Tim,
    My small engine repair shop told me the same thing that your recent column did. He recommended the Sta-Bil with "ethanol treatment." I have stopped cursing my string trimmer manufacturer. My BMW dealer recommended that I pore a BMW product periodically in the gas tank to deal with the ethanol issue to forestall any potential power problems.

  8. Hi Tim,
    Good article about fuel stabilizers - been using them for years. But two things I never could understand... I just have one small lawn mower and use the gas out of a 1 gallon container, so it's a pain figuring out those formulas for just 1 gallon. OH..... and unless things have changed, the fuel stabilizer itself will go bad on you after about a couple of seasons :-) More wasted of money..... earlier I tossed out about 4 ounces.... Yes, hard at times finding those smaller bottles

    Dan

    • ROGER, THE BEST ADDITIVE I HAVE FOUND IS SEA FOAM IT COST AROUND 6TO 7 DOLLARS AND IT WORKS. ALSO START YOUR ENGINE MADE BY STA-BIL I DO ALOT OF MOWING SO IF YOU GET THIS E-MAIL THEN TRY IT.

    • Some people swear by Stabil, but, my small engine shop swears by Seafoam. At their suggestion, I have used it in all of my equipment for engines that use straight gas and for the ones that use a gas/oil mix. I have not had a starting problem since I started using it. It runs about $8 to $9 per container and that treats a lot of fuel.

  9. I too have had problems with gas - usually in 2-stroke engines. I took the advice of our local Fire Chief who was in charge of equipment with small engines (fans, generators, chain saws, etc). that are used infrequently. USE ONLY NON-OXYGENATED FUEL, It costs a little more but can be stored in engines for months at a time.

  10. The local consumer guy says go to wwwpuregas.com. It has a locator to find stations that sell no ethanol gas. Luckily there was one right down the road. It may be $4/ gal, but I feel better already

  11. Yes, Roger's is my question, too.

    How do we know which fuel stabilizers have advanced formulae?
    What brands/models of stabilizers work well?

    Craig

  12. Tim. I have gas in my generator since hurricane Sandy. Should I dump it out, run it until its empty or add stabilizer? Also should you add stabilizer then run the engine so the fuel goes throughout the system ? Thank You Frank Russo Staten Island N.Y.

  13. I've used stabilizers for a long time. Sometimes you forget,etc. There is a great product called Seafoam that you can add to the gas to get it started. My snowblower stubbornly wouldn't start just added a little to the gas tank, several pulls it starter. Also sold in spray for directly into carburetor. Put 2 oz in gas can.

  14. I have used sta-bil for years now, I use to run dry my engines the problem was next season the gumming of the carb would freeze the float in place. The sta-bil works fine but if you using in a engine like a snow blower run the engine each year. we had a few years with no snow and when I started it there was a concentration of sta-bil in the carb and it started but the black smoke was intense and left a oily residue were ever it hit.

  15. I take the spark plug out and spray some WD-40 in to help lub and make the start easier. I also change the oil at the start of each season.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>