How to Winterize a Riding Lawn Mower (or Zero Turn)

It’s that time of year again, the cutting season is coming to an end, and the cooler weather is closing in. Your lawnmower must be stored away for winter as soon as the grass stops growing. This means it’s time to winterize your riding mower. I want to share with you my step-by-step process for correctly winterizing your mower so that it’s protected over the cold months and ready for the first cut in spring.

Equipment List for Winterizing a Ride Mower

Before the end of the cutting season, it’s best to prepare yourself for the winterizing process. This means you’ll need to gather some tools and parts to be ready when the time comes. Let’s take a look at what you’ll need.

  • Fuel Stabilizer
  • Oil Filter
  • Oil
  • Air Filter
  • Pre-Air Filter
  • Fuel Filter
  • Spark Plug
  • Silicone Spray
  • Cleaning Equipment & Power Washer
  • Equipment for Sharpening Blades
  • Grease Gun Fitting with Zurk
  • Socket wrench set
  • Oil Filter Wrench
  • Spring Puller
  • Blade Brace
  • WD-40
  • Oil Catch Pan
  • Battery Tender
  • Mower Cover
  • Protective gloves

Step by step guide on how to winterize a riding mower

To comprehensively winterize your riding mower, whether it be a riding mower, lawn tractor, or zero-turn, you’ll need to carry out the following tasks.

  • Add Fuel Stabilizer
  • Oil Change
  • Air Filter Repair
  • Fuel Filter Change
  • Replacement Spark Plug
  • Sharpen Blades
  • Cleaning
  • Belt Removal
  • Cover & Store

Fuel Stabilizer

Make sure that the fuel is not deteriorating before you store your mower for winter. A fuel stabilizer will be the best and most efficient choice. Alternately you can drain the fuel system. This leaves the mower open to possible rust issues.

Follow these instructions to add a stabiliser to your fuel. Once it is mixed in, you can continue with your normal routine. Before turning off your riding mower, make sure that you have added the stabilizer. To allow the stabilizer to enter the fuel system, the engine should be turned on for approximately five minutes.

Oil Change

Next, change the oil filter. This will prevent any damage from occurring over the winter because of old, used oil still in the engine. Here’s what you’ll need to do.

Locate the Drain Plug

Locate the drain hose at the bottom your engine. The sump can be found at the bottom of your engine. This is where all oil is trapped.

Get the Plug & Dipstick

To remove the plug, place your oil catchpan underneath the drain plug location. The socket wrench should allow you to remove the plug. To increase oil flow, you can remove or replace the oil filter cap/dipstick. You can proceed to the next step once the oil has stopped drippng.

You should remove the oil filter

Next, remove the oil filters using an oil filter wrench. Once it’s loose, you can unscrew it by hand and remove it. Place the oil catch pan under the filter.

Install the new filter

After you have installed the filter, oil your rubber washer. This will stop the washer from binding up when it’s installed. Next, attach the filter and tighten it.

Clean the Drain Plug, and then install it

Next, clean out the drain plug. These plugs are magnetic and trap any metal filings from your engine. Make sure you have removed all metal filings from the engine. Once it’s clean, you can reinstall it into the engine and tighten it using your socket wrench. Finally, clean any oil from the cloth using a clean cloth.

Oil the Engine

After you have changed the filter and removed oil, it’s time to change your engine’s oil. A 5W-30 engine oil is recommended, but it is possible to use something else depending on where you live and what your mower uses.

Start the Engine

Finally, once the oil change is complete, it’s best to run the engine for a minute. This allows the oil flow through the engine and fills the filter. After about a minute, turn off your engine and let the oil settle inside the engine. Next, check the oil level using the dipstick. If necessary, top it up.

Replacing the filter

Let’s move on to the air filter. You’ll likely find that your riding mower has more than one air filter. Larger engines may have both a pre-filter or a filter. Here’s what you’ll need to do.

Remove the filter cover

The first thing you’ll want to do is remove the air filter cover. Two metal clips are sufficient to remove the cover from larger mowers. The clips can be removed to remove the cover.

Take out the filter

Next, remove the outer filter. Next, take out the inner filter. To release the filters, you can pull on them. It’s always a good idea to replace the filters at the end of the season as cleaning them can only do so much. To save money on new filters, you can blow them out with an airline if they are in good condition.

Install the new filter

Place your filters in the same way you removed them. This time, however, reverse the process.

Reinstall the cover

Finally, place the air filter cover in its original place and reattach it using the clips.

Replacing your Fuel Filter

For a zero-turn mower, you may need two fuel filters. If you have two tanks, one for each tank. It’s the same process to change any fuel filter on a riding mower. If you have dual tanks, you’ll want to look to see if you have a second filter.

Turn off the fuel

First, you’ll need to turn off the fuel by using the fuel-cutting off valve. After you have removed your filter, the fuel will no longer flow.

Take out the spring clips

Next, take a pair pliers and pinch down the spring clips. Slide them along the fuel line until they don’t touch the filter. You’ll need to do this on each end of the filter and all of your fuel filters.

The fuel filter should be removed

Now you can remove the spring clips. If the fuel lines get stuck, twist the filters to free the fuel line. Next, remove the fuel line from your filter.

Install the new filter

Install the filter on the fuel lines. When installing the filter, ensure that it faces the correct direction. The direction of flow will be indicated by an arrow at its end.

Replace the clips

Next, use your fingers and thumbs to move the spring clip so that it is in line with the fuel lines and filter.

Open the Fuel Valve & Test

Finally, turn the engine on by opening the fuel cutoff valve. It’s going to take a minute or two to get the fuel through the system as it will be full of air. With a few cranks of the starter, the fuel pump will pull the fuel through and start the engine. Turn off the fuel.

Replacement Spark Plug

Depending on the configuration and size of your mower, you might need multiple sparkplugs as it may have more than one piston. If you do, then you’ll just repeat the process for each spark plug and cylinder head.

Take out the Ignition Cable

Locate the sparkplug on your lawnmower. Then, remove the ignition cord.

Get the Old Spark Plug

Next, remove the old plug using your sparkplug wrench.

Install the New Spark Plug

Attach the spark plug to your engine using the package. Spark plugs can snap easily if you tighten them too much.

Replace the Ignition Cable

Attach the ignition cable once more and make sure the engine turns on.

Sharpen/Replace the Blades

It’s always a good idea to sharpen the mower blades before you put the mower away for winter. This is something no one likes to do after they have pulled their mower out for the first time in spring. So here’s what you’ll need to do.

Get the Spark Plugs

Before you reach below the deck, you need to disconnect the spark plug’s ignition cable. This is to prevent the engine from accidentally starting up.

Raise the cutting deck

Most people need to lie down on their backs to remove the blade from the ride on mower. So, if this is your situation, you’ll want to make sure the deck is lifted into its highest position and locked into place.

Brace the Blades

Once you are under the mower, you will need to brace the blade so that it doesn’t spin when you remove the center bolt holding the blade on. For this, I use an old piece of 4×2 wood wedged up inside the deck.

Mounting Bolt

Next, remove the bolt which holds the blade in its place with your socket wrench. Protective gloves might be necessary if your blades have sharp edges. You’ll need to repeat this process for each of the blades.

Sharpen/Replace the Blades

I always try to replace the blades at year’s end. If your blade has some life left, sharpen it. To avoid potential problems, ensure that you are sharpening your blades at an appropriate angle.

Reinstall the Blades

Finally, you will need the blades to be reinstalled in the same manner as you removed them. This time it is reversed. Make sure you don’t forget any spacers and put the blade on the correct way. It wouldn’t be the first time blades have been installed upside down. You can also spray WD-40 on the bolt hole. This will make it easier to remove the bolts the next time.

Final Cleaning of Mower

Before it can be put away, it must be thoroughly cleaned. This is going to remove any dirt and grass that could potentially corrode the mower’s metal. Here’s what I find to be the best way to clean down my riding mower.

Lift the cutting deck

Raise the deck to make riding lawnmowers easier to reach. Raise the deck and lock it into place so it can’t fall during cleaning.

Use a degreaser to spray the engine

Spray WD-40 cleaner, which is a degreaser on any areas where oil and fuel have been spilled. Let it sit for five minutes.

Any Guards should be removed

Next, take out any guards that may be blocking your access to the mower.

Power Wash Mower

A power washer is my favorite tool to clean a riding mower. It makes it easier to reach difficult-to-reach areas, such as the underside my cutting deck. Be careful around the fuel tank, oil cap, and air intake, as well as dipsticks or other electrical items. You don’t want to damage the electrical system or inject water into your engine.

Dry the Mower

Once I’ve finished washing the mower, I use my leafblower to dry out the mower. A blower is able to reach the crevices and dry the water.

Silicone Coat for Metal

After the mower has dried, spray all metal with a silicone solution. This includes the engine as well as the deck. Silicone spray is a product that I have used over time to protect metal from rust. It prevents the deck from becoming clogged with grass in summer.

Grease Pulleys

Grease fittings are common on riding mowers. These special fittings allow you to connect a grease gun and inject grease into the pulley’s bearing. Check your pulleys for zerk fittings. If you do, then you’ll need to do the following.

Attach the gun

Attach the grease gun’s end to the lawn mower and press it on the zerk fitting. You should feel it click on when it’s in the correct position.

Continue to inject the grease until it dries

Fill the pulleys until you can’t squeeze the gun anymore or until the grease oozes out of the sides. You’ll know you have injected enough grease when you get to this stage.

Belt Removal & Dressing

As the mower isn’t going to be used during the winter, there is no need to keep the deck delt under tension. I always take my belt off of the tensioner and pulleys so that it doesn’t get stretched. Once it’s off, I like to give it a coating of dressing to keep it supple.

Tension Spring: Take Tension

Depending on how you take the belt off and on you may be able just to roll it off. If it’s difficult, a spring-pulling tool will help you remove the tension spring instead. Next, attach the spring puller and lift the spring from its mounting point.

Remove the Belt

This is for those who are able remove the mower’s drive belt. For those who have other belts in the way, like the drive belt, you’ll have to leave it where it is.

Dress the Belt & Store

Finally, cover your belt in belt dressing. For you guys who took your belt completely off, then wrap it up and slide it into a drawer, so it’s safe and ready for next season.

Tire Protection

Rider mowers have inflated tires that require extra care, unlike other lawn mower designs. Here’s how I like to protect my mower’s tires for the winter.

Spray with Silicone Spray

To give your tire a good coat of silicone spray, apply it to the tire. Apply the silicone spray to the rubber using a cloth. It is important to spray the tires several times so that enough of it gets in.

Battery Tender

Your lawn mower’s electric system runs on a battery. It powers lights and clutches as well as the starter motor. In the past, I’ve always disconnected my lawn mower’s battery before putting it away for the winter.

Simply disconnect the cable from its terminals by using a socket wrench. With the new batteries, there isn’t much need to completely remove it unless you want to sit it on a bench to charge in the spring.

Depending on your mower’s model, you may find a plug to connect your battery tender. If you do, then you’re probably already familiar with the process. Just read the manual to ensure it’s safe to cover the mower when it’s charging. Lots of manufacturers say that you shouldn’t cover when tendering.

Cover & Store

The last thing you’ll need to do with your riding mower is to store it in a place where it’s safe and protected. This should be protected from the elements and away from water. My mower is kept in the corner of my garage to keep it dry. If possible, cover your mower. Most manufacturers offer covers for their mowers. You should be able to find the right cover for your mower. To cover the mower you can use a tarp or blanket.

A zero turn mower is unique in that it can change its oil fluid. This isn’t really of concern for winterizing as the oil works differently from what engine oil does. Make sure your hydro’s oil reservoir is at the correct level throughout the year. The oil in the hydro shouldn’t have a problem lasting at least five years.

Proper winterization can help you avoid problems

You could have several problems if you don’t winterize your riding mower for even one season. Winterizing a riding lawn mower can take some time to complete, but it’s far less than the time required to repair a mower that missed the process.

Here are some problems that can be caused by not winterizing a riding-lawn mower in the autumn.

  • Rusting of the mower deck/structure
  • Rusting of internal parts of the engine
  • Fuel gumming is a problem in the fuel system or carburetor
  • Oil sludge can cause overheating and poor performance.
  • Stretching the deckbelt
  • Tires that are rotten or have dried to their core
  • Seizing pulleys
  • Dead battery

How to Winterize a Riding Lawn Mower (or Zero Turn)

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