Mowers, Chainsaws, And High-Ethanol Gas

Photos Courtesy of Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI)

Keeping outdoor power- and small-engine equipment running and reliable is important for park rangers and staff at national parks. Maintenance staff relies on chainsaws to clear roads and trails so campers and hikers can reach their destinations. Utility task vehicles (UTVs) are used to haul debris and supplies, and generators provide electricity for lights and other equipment when the power fails. The staff relies on trimmers and leaf blowers to help remove debris from walkways and signage. Fueling outdoor power equipment is especially important in ensuring it is reliable and lasts for a long time. Consider the following tips:

Know The Finer Points Of Fueling

Drain gasoline from the tank and replace it before starting equipment that has been sitting for a while. Untreated gasoline left in a tank for more than 30 days can destabilize and deteriorate, causing problems starting or running equipment. If this situation occurs, be sure to drain the old fuel from the tank.

Turn off the fuel valve . After using outdoor power equipment, switch the fuel valve off, and leave it that way until the equipment will be used again.

Minimize air in the tank for mowers. Fill a mower’s tank between uses to minimize the amount of air in the tank.

Store the fuel properly. Store gasoline in a clean, sealed plastic container specifically intended and designed for fuel storage. Keep fuel away from direct sunlight.

Use the right type of fuel for the equipment. When it is time to refuel equipment, know what type of gasoline is needed and double-check before pumping. The gas put into one’s car may not be suitable for a mower, chainsaw, or generator.

Avoid using greater-than-10-percent ethanol-gasoline blends in any outdoor power equipment or in a small engine. These fuels are now commonly available at gas stations throughout the country and may be lower in price, but these fuels can be harmful to small engines.

Know what blender pumps look like. These fuel pumps dispense higher ethanol fuels such as E15, E30, and E85 blends. To learn more about appropriate fuel use in smaller engines, visit the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute’s educational site .

Be careful when starting an engine after fueling. Move the chainsaw or other outdoor power equipment at least 10 feet (3m) from the fueling point before starting the engine.

Maintain Equipment Well

Read and understand the owner’s manual. This contains the manufacturer’s instructions for taking care of a small engine, including fueling instructions. If the manual is lost, look online to find a replacement (remember to match the manufacturer and model number to the equipment), or request a new manual from the manufacturer.

Inspect equipment for any problems. Make sure belts and hoses are not loose. Also check for loose bolts and screws on machines that experience vibration during use. Check the line regularly on trimmers and have replacement line or a new spool ready when needed. O-rings and hose connections on pressure washers should be reviewed before their first seasonal use.

Sharpen those blades. Start each cutting season with a new or newly sharpened chainsaw blade. For a clean look and the promotion of healthy grass, sharpen the blades on push and riding mowers prior to mowing season.

Keep the spark alive and the oil flowing. Change spark plugs regularly as directed by the product manufacturer. See the owner’s manual for a recommendation. Check oil level before each use in all small engines.

Ensure air flow is occurring. Clean or replace air filters in outdoor power equipment prior to first use and throughout the season as needed.

Think Safety First

Lawn mower safety requires diligence. Be careful that others, especially children and pets, are not close by while the mower is started. A riding mower should be started while the operator is in the driver’s seat, never while standing beside the mower. Always slow down when operating any mower on a difficult curve or slope.

Common sense is the key when using a chainsaw. Wear protective gear such as safety footwear, gloves, chaps, safety goggles, and hearing protection. Never carry a running chainsaw when it isn’t being used, and be sure the work area is clear of debris and tripping hazards. When cutting down a tree, plan a retreat route for when the tree falls. Be aware of “kickback,” which can happen when the nose or tip of the guide bar touches an object, or when the wood that is being cut pinches the saw chain in the cut. These scenarios may result in the guide bar kicking back toward the user.

Give portable electric generators plenty of ventilation. Generators produce carbon monoxide—an odorless, colorless, and poisonous gas. Generators should never be used in an enclosed area, even if the windows or doors are open. The muffler on a generator can become extremely hot, so any combustible materials (leaves, grass, brush, etc.) must be cleared away before turning on this equipment. Remember to drain the old fuel from the tank and the carburetor bowl to avoid engine problems, such as starting issues and rough running.

Think safety first when using an edger or trimmer. Take measures such as wearing protective gear and ensure that the work area is clear of any stones or debris. Stop the motor when moving from one location to another and never put one’s hands or feet near the cutting area.

Drive UTVs with care. They can be useful for hauling debris, particularly in rural settings or on large properties. When the vehicle is loaded, the center of gravity is higher, and so is the risk of overturning. To keep the vehicle stable, drive slowly and do not turn “mid-slope” or on a hill, as this may increase the likelihood of overturning.

Keep a firm footing when using pole saws and pole pruners, which are effective in selectively removing dead or damaged limbs. Observe the safety zone, keeping bystanders and power lines (those above the ground and any that may have fallen) at least 50 feet away from the work area.

Pay attention to other people who might venture into a work area. While cutting down a tree, keep other people out of the area by blocking it off with temporary signage or rope.

Dress for the job. Wear the proper attire for the work being done, including substantial shoes (no sandals or flip-flops), long pants, and snug-fitting clothes. Protective glasses, chaps, eye or hearing protection, reflective clothing, head gear, or gloves may be needed when operating certain types of outdoor power equipment.

Taking precautions to ensure that outdoor power equipment is fueled, maintained properly, and used sensibly, will help keep the operator safe and the equipment in good shape throughout all seasons. For more safety tips for outdoor power equipment, visit

Kris Kiser is president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), an international trade association representing small engine, utility vehicle and outdoor power equipment manufacturers and suppliers.