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In the book  Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,  Robert Pirsig philosophizes on the meaning of life, comes to terms with a troubled relationship with his son and seeks to understand the inner workings of his motorcycle, while mastering its maintenance. Pirsig s friend John Sutherland gets frustrated when he has problems with his motorcycle and always takes it to professional mechanics to repair it. Pirsig, on the other hand, uses deductive reasoning to diagnose problems and repair his old Harley to keep it functioning better than a lot of far newer models, including Sutherland s pristine new machine.

The book shows that tasks like motorcycle maintenance can be perceived as a horrible inconvenience and a drudgery, or a pleasurable, meditative activity that helps us understand technology while engaging in the therapeutic activity of keeping an old machine healthy or nursing a sick one back to health.

Lawnmower maintenance, while not as glamorous perhaps as motorcycle maintenance, can take a similar tack. You can become frustrated when things go wrong and immediately throw it into the back of the truck to take into the shop. Or you can enjoy the enlightened feeling of figuring out what is wrong and fixing it. While occasionally taking your lawnmower in for professional tune-ups is a good idea, performing routine maintenance on your mower will relieve pent-up angst and add to the longevity of your mower. Routine maintenance is something every lawnmower owner should participate in.

Five Maintenance Tasks

Here are five routine gas lawn mower maintenance tasks which will keep your walk-behind mower going strong and give you a Zen-like feeling of satisfaction:

1. Check and change the oil regularly: It s not a bad idea to check the oil level each time you use the mower. Add more oil if it s below the line. If the oil is black, drain the old oil out and replace it with new oil. Consult your user manual to make sure you get the right oil type for your mower.

2. Clean out under the deck: Keeping the undercarriage of the mower free of grass clippings and other muck is a good way to increase the longevity of your mower. Built-up grass clippings can clog the discharge chute and create all kinds of problems. If it s been a while since you cleaned it, scrape off the old clippings with a wire brush. Some gas mowers, like the Troy-Bilt TB200, have a convenient wash port where you can hook up a hose and easily clean out the grass clippings each time you mow.

3. Only use new gas: When you pump gas into your canister put just enough to last you a month or two and try to time it so you use up every drop by the end of the mowing season. You should empty old gas out of the tank and replace it with fresh gas at the beginning of each season.

4. Change the spark plug: If your lawn mower won t start, the culprits are often a dirty spark plug or dated gas. Once you ve removed the wire, use a socket or spark plug wrench to remove the old spark plug and replace it with a new one.

5. Replace the air filter: A dirty filter can also create problems with starting your mower. Fuel will burn less efficiently and add stress to the mower. Replacing the filter is easy and inexpensive. The position of the filter is slightly different with each mower, so consult the user manual for instructions on how to change it. It s a good idea to change the filter every year.

These are easy tasks that, if performed regularly, will keep your lawn mower going for many years. You should start each mowing season performing each of these routine maintenance tasks. Cleaning out under the deck is something that should be done at least a few times in the course of a season. While it s a good idea to take your mower in for a professional tune-up from time to time, if you perform regular maintenance that will decrease your visits to the shop.

As with any mechanical device, even if you perform routine maintenance things may occasionally break down. If, for instance, the wheels aren t turning when you switch it into self-propel mode, it could mean the traction cable has broken or come loose. A careful inspection of the machine should reveal what is causing the problem. As you get better at diagnosing the problem, running to the shop will become something you do as a last resort. You will come to find that maintaining your lawn mower is both therapeutic and becomes increasingly intuitive over time.

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