Make sure you store your riding lawn mower the right way so you don’t develop problems that could have been prevented. Take time to reduce moisture buildup in your fuel system to prevent gumming and blockages. Remove debris to keep your mower from prematurely corroding the riding lawn mower’s components.
Prepare a riding mower for winter storage by performing maintenance on your mower including an engine oil change; removing dirt and debris; stabilizing your fuel, fully charging your battery; and storing in a cool dry place.
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Follow all safety instructions provided in your equipment operator’s manual prior to diagnosing, repairing or operating. Consult a professional if you don’t have the skills, knowledge or are not in the condition to perform the repair safely.
Steps to Winterize Your Riding Mower for Storage
Gather Your Materials
- Tools (socket or spanner wrenches, filter wrench)
- Engine oil filter
- Engine oil
- Spark plugs
- Inner & outer air filter
- Fuel filter
- Rubber gloves, work gloves and safety glasses
- Plastic funnel
- Rags or paper towel
- Deck scraper or wire brush
- Mower blades
- Fuel stabilizer
Prepare Your Riding Mower to Be Worked On
Park your mower on a flat level surface. Place cardboard or newspaper under your riding mower to collect any oil drips. Set your parking brake. Take precautions when working around your mower as the engine can be hot and the mower blades can be sharp.
Change Your Engine Oil and Filter on Your Riding Mower
Before you begin changing your engine oil, run your riding lawn mower for a few minutes to warm the oil so the it flows better when draining. Shut off your mower. Remove the ignition key and remove the spark plug wire so your mower doesn’t start while you are working on it.
- Clean around your engine oil fill area, drain plug and oil filter to remove dirt and debris to avoid contaminating the engine while changing the oil.
- Place your oil drain pan under the drain plug or hose.
- Remove your drain plug and allow your oil to drain into the pan.
- Remove your dipstick so your oil will drain faster.
- Reinstall the drain plug once all oil has drained out of the crankcase.
- Remove your engine oil filter with a filter wrench. Lightly coat the seal on your new oil filter with fresh oil. Spin the filter onto your riding mower.
- Add new oil to your engine until the oil level registers as full on the dipstick. Always fill with oil up to the oil fill line on your dipstick, but do not overfill or you may cause internal engine damage. If you do overfill your engine, you will need to remove a little oil.
- Wipe off any oil that may have spilled on your riding mower. Securely store the used oil to dispose at your local recycling center. You can check with your local automotive store to see if it accepts used oil as well.
Check Your Spark Plug & Gap
Replace your spark plug(s) and make sure they are properly gapped so you don’t run into intermittent running and starting issues. Do not plug in your spark plug wires until you are done servicing your mower.
Remove Dirt & Debris from Your Engine and Transmission Areas
Clean the dirt and debris around your cooling fan and engine. You’ll also want to clean around your transmission and fans.
Clean Your Battery Terminals
If you find corrosion on your battery terminals, clean them using a baking soda and water solution containing 2 cups of water and 3 heaping tablespoons of baking soda. Use a wire brush to remove corrosion.
Make sure terminals are making good connection. Using a thin coating of dielectric grease on your terminals and your electrical components can help reduce corrosion.
Fully Charge or Remove Your Battery
When preparing your riding mower battery for storage, you need to either remove your battery or fully charge your battery. I choose to store my mower with a fully charged battery. A fully charged battery will not freeze. Read more about preparing your battery for winter storage here.
You may choose to remove your battery so you don’t have to take the chance of your battery freezing when your battery isn’t correctly charged. If you choose to do this, store your battery in a cool dry place away from any combustible products.
Remove Debris Around Your Electrical Wiring & Components
Removing debris from your wiring and electrical components will help prevent corrosion and damage to your electrical system.
Clean or Replace Your Air Filter
Because I know the damage running a bad air filter can do to a mower’s engine, I choose to replace it with a new filter once a year. You may have to replace your filter more often if you are running in extremely dusty conditions or you run your mower more than the average homeowner.
In addition to replacing the air filter, you should regularly check your filter and clean it in between changes. If you choose to clean your air filter at this time, follow these steps for your air filter:
- Carefully remove your air filter from the air filter housing so dirt doesn’t fall into the air intake. Wipe out any dirt remaining in the housing.
- Tap your air filter against a solid surface to loosen and remove as much dirt as you can.
- Hold your filter up to a light source. If you can see light shine through the filter paper, you can reuse your filter. If not, replace with a new air filter.
- Install your filter and reinstall the filter cover.
Replace Your Riding Mower Fuel Filter
Remove and replace your fuel filter with a new filter. You will find an arrow on your plastic inline filter. Install the fuel filter with the arrow pointing in the direction of your fuel flow.
Check Fuel System for Leaks
Inspect your fuel system to check for fuel leaks so harmful fuel fumes don’t fill your storage area. Check all components of your fuel system including the carburetor, fuel pump, fuel lines and fuel valve. Read this article for full list of items to check for a fuel leak on your riding mower.
Check Tire Pressures on Your Riding Lawn Mower
Your tire pressures should be fully inflated to the tire pressure shown on the sidewall of the tire. You can even fill your tie a couple psi higher than what is recommended because tires lose pressure in cold temperatures. When storing your riding mower for a long time, your tires can develop flat spots, especially if you store your tires with under inflated tires.
These flat spots can cause you to feel vibration when you go to use your mower. Many times, your tires will work fine after using for a bit, while other times the flat spotting isn’t able to be corrected and your tire must be replaced.
Remove Your Riding Mower Deck to Gain Access to Top and Underside of Deck
To fully access the components on top of your mower deck or on the bottom of your mower deck, you will most likely have to remove your mower deck. Refer to your owner’s manual for instructions on your model riding mower.
Remove Dirt and Debris from Top of Deck
If you have belt covers on your mower deck, remove them so you have full access to your belt and pulleys. Clean the top of your deck removing debris that is stuck under your pulleys and brackets.
Check Your Riding Mower Pulleys and Deck Belt
Check for wearing on your mower deck belt and pulley. If you belt is worn, stretched or shredded you need to replace it so you have a good belt come next mowing season. Additionally, when you find a shredded belt, check your brackets and belt keepers to identify the item your belt is touching causing it to shred.
Next, check the condition of your pulleys. Clean rust from pulleys or replace them if they are excessively covered in rust. Make sure the bearings are in good condition. To do this, slowly turn each pulley by hand. If you feel resistance or hear bearing noise, you need to replace it as these are signs your bearing is going bad.
Sharpen or Replace Your Mower Blades. Scrape the Deck.
Now access the underside of your mower deck. Before you remove your mower blades, check for bearing damage in your spindle housings by grabbing a hold of each end of your mower blade. Rock your blade up and down. Feeling any movement or hearing noise from your bearing means you need to remove your spindle housing and repair any damage found.
After checking for spindle damage, remove your mower blades. I always replace my blades with a new set so I start out each season with a fresh set of blades. If your blades are in good condition with a dull edge on them, you can sharpen, balance, and replace them.
Never reuse a mower blade that is bent, worn on the sail or gouged as it can cause you to have a bad cut.
Reinstall the Mower Deck & Check the Deck Level
Reinstall your riding mower deck in the opposite order you removed it. Check your deck level from side-to-side and the rake from front-to-rear. Refer to your owner’s manual for specific instructions for your make and model riding mower.
Grease Lubrication Points on Your Riding Mower
Use a high performance grease to lubricate all grease zerks on your deck and mower. Your riding mower may have grease zerks on the rims, front axle, deck wheels and tensioner brackets. Lubricate your cables and linkages using a spray lubricant so they continue to move freely.
Stabilize Your Fuel or Remove Fuel from Your Gas Tank
Prepare your fuel system for winter storage to minimize moisture buildup and clogging of your fuel system. You have two options to prepare your fuel system for storage: Add fuel stabilizer or drain your fuel tank. I choose to stabilize my fuel.
Drain Your Fuel Tank: Remove fuel from your tank. Start your riding mower and let run until it stops running to remove all fuel out of the system.
Stabilizer Your Fuel: Add a fuel additive to the fuel in your tank. I use Sea Foam Motor Treatment to stabilize the gasoline and reduce moisture buildup in the system. Start your mower and let it run a few minutes to work the stabilized fuel through your mower before shutting off.
Find out more about the advantages of using Sea Foam in my article here.
Wash & Completely Dry Your Riding Mower
Remove any remaining dirt on your riding mower with a garden hose. If you are using a pressure washer, do not use high pressure on your mower as this can damage any sealed bearings.
Allow your mower to completely dry before you store it. Moisture left on your mower or in your components can cause premature rusting and corrosion. You can use a leaf blower to help speed up the drying process. I like placing my mower outside on a nice sunny day so moisture evaporates from around my electrical components and other areas of my mower.
Store Your Riding Mower in a Dry Location
It is best to store your winterized riding mower in a garage or storage shed where it can remain dry. Keep it out of the rain, snow and other outdoor elements. Store it away from flammable sources.
Use a Rodent Prevention Method
Over my years of working with lawn mowers, I have seen many mowers where mice have built nests under a the hood and chewed through the wire harness. Using a product like Grandpa Gus’s Mouse Repellent will help deter mice and save you from a large repair bill.
Can You Store a Riding Mower Outside?
You can store your mower outside when an indoor location is not available. While storing your mower outside isn’t the most ideal storage solution, it may be your only option. When storing your mower outside, keep it elevated off the ground. Use a marine grade cover to keep your mower dry.
A lawn mower stored outdoors may attract rodents which find it the perfect home for a nest. I have had several customers bring their lawn mower to the dealership with wire harness and filter housing damage from mice and other rodents.
To protect your mower against this, use a rodent deterrent. I use this on my mower and other equipment. I love that it comes in packets and spray form. I place the packets around my mower and spray the wires.
Is it Safe to Store a Riding Mower in the House or Basement?
It is not safe to store a riding mower in the house or basement. A mower can release harmful fumes that are flammable and dangerous if inhaled. Store it away from your living area and sources that can cause gas fumes to ignite including wood stoves, hot water heaters, ranges and clothes dryers.