It’s still winter — but not for too much longer. Which means not too long from now, many of us will be pulling cords to lawnmowers and firing up motorcycles (and classic cars) that have been in hibernation for the past several months.
Will they start?
It’s the annual challenge.
You’ve probably read about adding fuel stabilizer to the tank of any machine that’s going to sit for a while and this is definitely sound policy. But if you really want to improve the odds of that machine starting on the first or second pull if it’s a lawnmower — and without having to use ether if it’s an old car or bike — the thing to do is start it once or twice a month during the off season.
And let it run for 15 minutes each time you do.
What this will do is burn the fuel that’s sitting in the carburetor, filling it with fresh (or at least, fresher) fuel that hasn’t been sitting for weeks/months in the carburetor. Even with fuel stabilizer, today’s ethanol-laced gas sometimes reacts with the plastic and rubber parts inside carburetors. The gunk that results is what leads to hard (or no) starting come spring.
Running the engine will also run fuel through internal passages (jets, fuel circuits, etc.) within the carb, and since gas is a solvent this will help keep those often tiny orifices clear. A partially clogged pilot jet is the cause of many hard (and no-start) problems.
And even if the carburetor is clean, running the engine once or twice a month during the off season has other benefits as well. It helps keep the battery charged (if the machine has one) and the heat of normal operation will help burn off any condensation within the engine while also circulating fresh oil to all the moving parts.
The heat — and noise — serves another worthy purpose, too:
It will alarm any rodent that has decided to make your machine its winter home. Mice love the nooks and crannies that lawnmower/motorcycle and old car engines often offer. For this reason, it’s good policy to look in the air cleaner housing and all around the engine generally prior to starting it. If a mouse has built a nest in the air box, you don’t want the straw, chewed-up newspaper and other bedding going down the throat of your carb. You also don’t want that stuff to catch fire, either.
Be sure to run the engine for at least 15 minutes, too. This is so that it reaches normal operating temperature. You want everything to get good and hot. If you only run it for a couple of minutes — not long enough for everything to get good and hot — you may do more harm than good. In older stuff with carburetors, unburned fuel can dilute the oil, wash away the protective film of oil on wear critical parts — and so on. Also, if the machine has a battery, running it for just a few minutes won’t give the alternator time enough to restore full charge (a trickle charger/tender remedies this, but the point remains).
If it’s a classic car or a motorcycle, it’s even better to take it for a 15 minute drive or ride. This will let you run the engine and the transmission — as well as other moving parts.
Speaking of that, even if you can’t drive/ride whatever it is, try to move it around a little — so that the weight of the vehicle isn’t sitting on the same spot on the tires for weeks/months at a time.
Weather/conditions may make it hard to drive/ride . . . outside of your garage. But you can go for a drive without leaving your garage. If you have an old car — which is probably a rear-drive car — jack (and support) the rear axle, leaving both rear wheels a couple inches off the ground. Be sure the rear of the car is thoroughly supported, a jack stand on either side of the differential and a floor jack under the axle.
Now you can go for a drive in your garage. Warm the engine up, put it in Drive (or shift into first) and off you go. Keep your “speed” low — to reduce vibrations — and just pretend you’re cruising through the neighborhood. Apply the brakes every now and then — this will burn off rust forming on the discs and help keep caliper pistons (and wheel cylinders) limber.
You can do the same with a bike, too — just get the rear wheel off the ground enough to allow free movement and make sure the bike is stable while you do it.
Do this stuff and your stuff will start right up a few weeks from now!