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5 Tips for Preventative Maintenance Exclusive to Zero-Turn Mowers

7 Oct 2021  •  James Rogholt

Story written for Green Industry Pros and first appeared in August 2021

A good preventative maintenance program can be the difference between reliable, hassle-free equipment and machines that aren’t ready to go when the workday is underway.

Zero-turn commercial mowers (ZTRs) are among the most important tools professional landscapers have in their toolbox. Additionally, many homeowners with large properties find the ZTR to be a fast, efficient tool for maintaining their acreage. When it comes to preventative maintenance for zero-turn mowers, there are a few key areas that are consistent across all commercial lawn mowers, along with tasks that are unique to this type of mower.

Before proceeding with maintenance, always consult the operator’s manual, wear appropriate safety gear, park the mower on a flat surface, and ensure the engine is off and cool. Then, proceed with these five important areas to build a basic zero-turn mower maintenance program.  

1. Air Filter
A clean air filter can be a game-changer in a zero-turn mower’s performance. Dirty air filters are often a culprit of inefficient operation. They can result in wasted fuel. Perhaps most concerning of all, a dirty filter cannot do its job. If it allows dirt and other debris to enter the engine, the result can be permanent damage.

Professionals should check the air filter at least monthly to assess its condition, while a homeowner may only need to check a few times a year. Those who work in dry, dusty, dirtier conditions may want to do this step more frequently, as well as those who are at the height of their busy season and are logging more daily hours on their ZTRs.

Furthermore, consider seasonality when establishing expectations for the air filter’s lifespan. Fall especially can be a drier time of year, with added tasks like bagging leaves putting greater stress on the filter. It is not uncommon for professionals to check the air filter weekly, even daily, during these peak times. 

When it is time to change the filter (or filters, as some ZTRs have dual elements), first clear away any debris from the air intake area. A paper air filter can be gently tapped to remove excess debris, but never blow air on or attempt to clean a paper air filter. Instead, change the air filter as needed. Insert a new, clean air filter, and take care to ensure no debris enters the engine.

2. Fuel Filter and Stabilizer
The fuel filter has a job that is similar to the air filter. A clean fuel filter keeps harmful particles from entering and damaging the engine and aids in efficient fuel consumption. The best time to change a fuel filter varies by ZTR. Use the operator’s manual as a guide, then check regularly, as appropriate.

Another factor that again affects the timing of filter changes is how much fuel is consumed, or how much the mower runs. The fuel filter may need to be changed often for companies or individuals that put a lot of hours on their ZTRs, but it may be a task that does not need as frequent attention for fleets that have other mowers sharing the workload or homeowners who do not mow as often as commercial users.

When changing a fuel filter, begin by placing a drain pan under it. Pay attention to the arrow on the existing fuel filter and the direction it is pointing. The new filter must be attached so that the arrow is pointing in the same direction.

Inspect the fuel filter and connecting hoses, looking for cracks or signs of excessive wear. Next, loosen the hose clamps and move them away from the filter. Disconnect the hoses from the old filter, then quickly reattach the new filter, making sure it is facing the correct way. Finally, reposition the hose clamps to ensure the filter is secure. Start the mower and let the engine run for a few minutes while checking for any leaks.

Do not neglect this important step when replacing a fuel filter: dispose of it in an environmentally responsible way. Most filters need to drain for a day, then disposal will vary according to local laws. Also, any spilled fuel and fuel-soaked towels should also be discarded in a proper manner.

Also fuel-related, it is a good practice to add fuel stabilizer at certain times during the year. For cold-weather climates, stabilizer is common just ahead of winter months, in prep for ZTRs to sit idle for longer periods of time. However, this practice is smart for hot-weather climates as well, as stabilizer can prevent fuel from going bad any time it is expected that the mower will not be running for a while.

3. Engine Oil
A staple of any equipment preventative maintenance is a daily oil check. This is another step that, while crucial for all users, will vary based on homeowner use vs. heavy commercial use.

A homeowner likely needs to change their mower engine oil annually. Professionals should check and change their commercial lawn mower's oil more often, with the environment a leading factor in how often oil changes are required. Just like with the air filter, dry, dusty, and dirty conditions will mean more frequent changes.

An oil change is quick and easy for most equipment owners and operators. However, for those who are newer to the process or need a simple refresher, here is a quick step-by-step for how to change engine oil.

First, place a drain pan under the oil plug, along with a few towels down near the filter, and loosen the dipstick. Next, drain the oil. Many ZTRs have quick-drain valves. Replace the oil plug, then wipe down and clean the area. Give then engine a fresh oil fill then replace the dipstick.

Before this job can be checked off the list, there are a few final to-dos. First, run the engine for a minute, then shut it off and allow ample cool-down time. While the engine is cooling off, take the time to clean any spilled oil. Collect the old oil and any oil-soaked towels, then dispose them in a proper manner. Check with local regulations and, ideally, look for recycling options.

After the engine has cooled to a level that is safe for working on, check the oil level again. Over-filling can damage the spark plug and lead to engine start issues.

4. Transmission Times Two
One may think that all lawn mowers, especially commercial lawn mowers have virtually the same maintenance requirements. That is not far off from true. However, one thing that sets ZTRs apart from other commercial mowers is its dual transmissions. Therefore, extra care to address the transmissions warrants one more step on the maintenance checklist.

Two of the first three tasks noted above – air filter and oil – are essentially the same process on the transmission as they are on the engine. Be diligent about checking the transmission’s filters and oil, and changing when needed.

5. Daily and Regular To-Dos
A zero-turn mower maintenance routine would not be complete without a few miscellaneous tasks. Some of these should be done daily, while others can be done less frequently.

At the start of each day, check the ZTR’s tires and tire pressure. This is an important step, as low tire pressure on one side can throw off the transmissions and cause the mower to drift or pull to one side. Inadequate tire pressure also affects the quality of cut. Noting a low tire at the start of the day can uncover a bigger problem, like a puncture, that can be taken care of immediately.

Another check to complete when the day begins is of the bagger, if one is being used. As mentioned earlier, fall is a particularly important time to check certain things more often, the bagger being one item to add to that list. Look for rips, holes, or other damage that would warrant replacement. Professionals who are covering a lot of acreage may even want to check the bagger multiple times a day, such as after every large job.

When starting up the mower each day, stop for a moment to listen. Every operator, whether veteran or newer to the job, can hear when something does not sound right. This can signal it is time to check the idlers or bearings.

Three things contribute to good airflow and quality of cut: a clean mower deck, good-condition belts, and sharp blades.

At the end of each day, inspect the mower deck for excess debris to clean. As needed, remove the mower deck as instructed in the owner’s manual and clean the bottom side of the deck.

Once a week, inspect the drive belt for worn or cracked areas and replace the belt, if needed.

Also, remove and check the blade, looking for any signs of damage or excessive wear. Depending on the condition, a blade can be replaced or may just need to be sharpened. Many professionals find the blade to be one of the most important areas to check and will clean and sharpen on a weekly schedule.

Finally, give the ZTR a quick cleaning at the end of each day. This does not mean a full wash and dry, getting into every nook and cranny, and polishing it up to look shiny and new. Simply blow off the machine with a handheld blower or compressor. Pay extra attention to the transmission area to prevent excess debris build-up.

Basic maintenance is often overlooked or a “we’ll do that tomorrow,” kind of task but it is one of the easiest and low-cost ways to invest in a zero-turn mower. Start with a few minutes each day and these five basic areas to build a preventative maintenance program for a zero-turn mower.

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Whether zero-turn mower or residential lawn tractor, find the best lawn mower for your needs. See more options and learn about preventative maintenance, parts, and full service at your local RDO Equipment Co. store .


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