September 2009
Howle's Hints

Avoid Mechanics with On-the-Go Maintenance

It’s a satisfying experience to pour sweat managing your land with equipment. But you shouldn’t have to pour out your wallet for costly repairs. With a little on-the-go maintenance, your equipment will last for years.



Loosen the two nuts on the sprocket cover to adjust the chainsaw’s tension screw in the middle of the nuts.

Basically, we want two things from a chainsaw. We want it to crank and we want it to cut. If your chainsaw only gets used three or four times per year, it’s important to make sure the fuel is fresh. If the fuel will be in the tank for more than 30 days, add fuel stabilizer to the gas/oil mix. Also, crank the unit every month allowing it to run so varnish-like buildup doesn’t damage the delicate check valves in the carburetor.

After each use, clean the entire chainsaw to show any leaks and prevent debris from entering the bar chain oil or the fuel tank. Check the air filter periodically to see if it needs cleaning or replacing. Finally, check the spark plug for fouling and correct gap.

If the chain is new, you may have to re-tension the chain a few times after cuttings. A loose chain can jump out of the bar track causing severe injury. To tension the chain, loosen the nuts on the chain sprocket cover. This will allow the chain bar to move freely.


Sand and mud need to be removed from an ATV after each use


Hold the end of the chain bar up with one hand and turn the tensioning screw until the chain fits snugly against the underside of the bar. Finally, tighten the nuts on the chain sprocket cover. While wearing thick, leather gloves, you should be able to pull the chain along the bar by hand.

If your chainsaw is emitting sawdust instead of small chips of wood, the chain is dull. Sharpening the saw chain requires skilled practice. A few quick strokes on each cutter with a file guide every second or third tank of fuel is the best way to keep the chain sharp. After several cuttings, the chain should be sharpened professionally at a dealer.


Water, sand and dirt combine to create exciting traveling conditions, but these materials are the biggest enemies of the ATV. This sandy mud creates a powerful abrasive on internal and external working parts. If you cross many creeks, the water can seep in and damage the gears.

Check the fluid in the front and rear differentials. If you remove the check plug for the gear oil, and the lubricant looks milky, this is an indication water is getting into the lubricant, and the fluid should be changed. Air and oil filters as well as the oil and transmission fluid should be changed based on the owner’s manual recommended intervals.


Visually inspect the tractor’s air filter before each use.

For ATVs that will see storage time, drain the old gas and dispose of properly, or turn off the fuel valve and let the engine idle until the fuel in the line is gone. Another option is adding fuel stabilizer to the tank. Generally, use one ounce of stabilizer for one gallon of fuel. Finally, only use the choke long enough to get the unit cranked because "overchoking" can foul the plug due to extra carbon buildup. Keep an extra spark plug on hand.

Remove and charge the battery once a month. Finally, completely clean the unit from top to bottom after each use in muddy, sandy or watery conditions or before storage to reveal any leaks in the engine, drive train or seals of moving parts. This will show any mechanical damage or fluid leaks.

To take care of the engine during storage, change the oil and filter. Old oil in the engine can deteriorate seals and gaskets. Once you’ve filled the unit with new oil, run the engine for a few minutes to bathe the internal components.


Most modern tractors are fueled by diesel, which is a big advantage. Diesel is more stable and lasts longer than gas whether in a storage tank or in the tractor. Basically, if you keep the air and fuel clean, you’ll have productive, long-term use. The engine, however, should never be allowed to run out of fuel, because "bleeding" the fuel lines or purging air from the lines is a time-consuming affair that may require a dealer mechanic.


Grease service points to ensure long life of working parts.


It is important to remove and visually inspect the air filter since a diesel requires so much air to operate. Also, keep the radiator cleaned out and free of debris because this can overheat the engine quickly causing long-term damage and ultimately void the warranty.

Engine belts and hoses should be checked, and service points should be lubricated. In addition, tires should be checked for proper air pressure and any damage to the rubber or valve stems. If you plan to add fluid to the tires for extra pulling weight, have this completed by a reputable technician because antifreeze or calcium chloride levels need to be accurate to prevent winter freezing and tire damage.

Remove and fully charge the battery with a trickle charger. Refreshing engine oil before storage will remove contaminants from the system, and fogged oil can also be sprayed into the intake to lubricate the valves; then immediately shut the engine down to preserve the oil protection.


A mower operated by the power take off (PTO) of your tractor is a relatively problem-free piece of machinery if it is maintained. You need to look at three things: grease fittings in the implement’s PTO shaft, gearbox lubricant and the cutter blades. Check all working parts for smooth revolutions of the blade, and replace damaged or bent blades.


Add fuel stabilizer to the gas if the unit will not be run regularly.


Since a tiller may see more storage time than work time, make sure fuel stabilizer is always in the tank. Remove all wrapped vines and grass from the tines and clean the unit thoroughly.

Make sure the unit is greased properly before each use. Clean or replace the air filter regularly because dusty conditions involved with plowing quickly clog up the air filter causing poor performance.

Don’t pay the mechanic. Spend time on maintenance and save money.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.