Photo of a dirty spark plug
Photo copyright ©2019 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Have you lost your spark? Is it a struggle to keep your engine running?

I have long had a love/hate relationship with gas fueled lawn tools. Specifically, those that have 2-cycle engines. Leaf blowers, edge trimmers (aka weed whackers), etc.

I love these tools when they are new. They fire right up when you pull the starter cord, run smoothly, and do their jobs. It’s easy to feel like Tim the tool man Taylor as you wield these things around the property.

After a while, though, they start to bog down. It gets harder to start them. They bog down when you pull the trigger to rev the engine. They conk out mid task and refuse to restart again until they’ve sat for a while.

Do you ever feel like that?

You start a new job, or even just a new project. At the beginning, it is exciting. You are jazzed. Each day is a new thrill. You happily go about your days and power through whatever lies before you. Bring it on!

Then, after a while, you start to bog down. It gets harder to get started in the morning. Some days you give up half way through the day and just can’t get going again.

Maybe you need a tune-up. Maybe you just need some fresh fuel.

At a friend’s encouraging, I spent some time this spring doing more maintenance than usual on my collection of gas-powered lawn tools. Each one got fitted with a new spark plug, a new air filter, and a new fuel filter.

As I replaced these on each of the tools, they showed a range of wear and tear. One was clearly way overdue for this tune-up. Another could have gone another year at least. Still another was somewhere in between. I replaced the parts across the board regardless.

Oddly enough, the visible signs of wear on the tool was not a good indicator of how well it ran at the end of last season. They had all reached a pretty consistent level of (un)reliability.

I expected this maintenance work to be complicated. It wasn’t. And the parts were cheap. It didn’t even take all that long to do.

If you’ve ever dealt with 2-cycle engines, you know that these tools require a special blend of gasoline and oil. You have to get the ratio right. Some are 40:1 and some are 50:1. It’s not hard. You start with one gallon of gas and add in the appropriate container of oil, which comes pre-sized for the blend.

The biggest challenge with this blended fuel is that it has a relatively short shelf life. Most manufacturers recommend using the fuel within 1 month. I don’t know of any homeowner who goes through a full gallon of this blended fuel in that short of time. Most of us don’t go through a gallon in a whole season.

From all I have read and heard, continuing to use the blended fuel beyond its recommended shelf life causes the most issues with these tools. Check it out yourself. What you’ll find is that the very first step people recommend for getting 2-cycle engines working again is to empty out the tool’s gas tank and add fresh fuel. Actually fresh fuel that you have just mixed, not the stuff left over from last year.

The other predominant advice from people who work on small engines is that ethanol is really bad for these tools. They all recommend using gasoline that does not contain any ethanol. That is difficult to find at the pumps.

So, having made the effort to do this maintenance, I also decided to spring for fresh fuel. And not just any old gasoline, I sprang for the premixed version that is now readily available anywhere they sell these power tools. No ethanol. And a rated shelf life of two years.

The result of all of this effort? My lawn tools are running great. They fire right up and keep running.

How about you? What can you do to give yourself a spring tune-up? Maybe all you need is some fresh fuel.

Remember the joy of new school supplies? Remember the excitement that came with a fresh package of pencils and erasers, a new notebook, a brand new lunch bag?

Maintenance doesn’t need to be difficult. I was amazed how easy it was to replace the spark plugs in my tools. What are some simple things you can do to generate a fresh spark in your work and life?

Start with something easy. Start with fresh fuel.