The Rototiller is probably the most neglected piece of power equipment in your shed. Chances are, when you put it away last summer, it was still covered in mud and weeds from the spring tillage. It may have even been left out in the rain for a few days. And then, one sunny spring morning, it is hauled out from the deepest, darkest corner of the shed and expected to start on the first pull.
But, as is usually the case in my world, it doesn’t start on the first pull. Or the second pull. Or the third…
Tillers rank somewhere between booster cables and stationary bikes in terms of sex appeal. There’s no smooth ride to be offered, no neighbours looking longingly across the back fence. They’re noisy, shaky and will lop off any part of you that gets in the way of those razor sharp tines. If you can get the thing to run when you want it to.
If I were to take my own advice, a little routine maintenance and care would go a long way. Maintenance that should start not in the minutes before my gardening season begins, but actually right after the annual earth churning comes to an end.
Start off by disconnecting the spark plug, to avoid any unexpected return to life. Then get the garden hose. Taking care not to douse the engine, try to wash away the excess dirt and roots from the tines and metalwork. An old screwdriver or even a utility knife can be really helpful at digging away vines, roots and strings. While you’re there, check the tines for bends, chips or broken mounting bolts. For an excellent job, take a file or a small electric grinder to the tines to put a fine edge on them.
Now move up to the engine. It might only run for a short time every year, but it does its job in a hot, very dirty environment. An annual oil change will help clear out any dirt and grit that gets into the inner workings. And considering that most tillers take about a litre of oil, it’s a pretty cheap bit of maintenance.
Next up is the air filter. Once again, the same logic applies: Hot, dirty, dusty environment, so change the air filter. If use is really occasional, change it every other year. And at the same time change the spark plug. Once again, these are inexpensive to replace, and will save you in both money and frustration in the long run.
Drive belts are usually good for several years, but need to be checked for cracks and fraying. Once again, better to find out now than next spring, when the urge to garden suddenly strikes and the small motor mechanic in town is closed for the weekend.
Finally, time to drain the fuel tank. If it is equipped with a drain, great. If not, get a bottle of fuel stabilizer and follow the directions. It will keep the gas from breaking down over the winter. Engines don’t like stale gas, and when you start hauling on the pull cord, you won’t either.
I could have done all this, but I didn’t. Last spring I put my old Toro out to the side of the road and within the hour a neighbour had picked it up, saying he wanted to fix it up. I really hope he did, so I can borrow it.
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