Gas-Powered Tiller Tune-Ups

Gas-Powered Tiller Tune-Ups

How to Tune Up & Prep Your Rototiller for Springtime

Dale, the Lawn Mower Expert
Lawn Mower Expert

Springtime is just around the corner, and you're ready to turn over some fresh soil and start planting. But is your garden tiller ready?

If you didn't clean up your rototiller before putting it into storage last fall, you might have your work cut out for you.


But don't worry. Below you'll find a maintenance checklist of steps you can take to tune up your tiller and make sure it's in tip-top shape before you first use it in the spring or at any other time of the year.


Tiller Spark Plug1. Check the Spark Plug

Before you check anything else, disconnect your spark plug wire and remove the spark plug.

To clean it off for inspection, simply scrub deposits away with a wire brush. You can use a little fuel injector cleaner to help loosen and remove any more stubborn deposits.

If that spark plug is in great shape, you can set it aside and reinsert it later. However, you might see some telltale signs of trouble: signs that your spark plug needs to be replaced:

  • Cracks along the surface
  • Caked-on deposits that can't be removed
  • Electrodes that have been burned away

If you notice any of these signs, you'll need a new spark plug. Luckily, spark plugs are quite affordable and easily replaced. 


Tiller Oil2. Change the Oil

You should change your tiller oil at least every spring, but ideally after every 50 hours of operation.

Between oil changes, check your oil level before each use to ensure there's enough oil present. Small amounts of oil may burn off during use, so you may need to occasionally top it off.

The steps to change your tiller's oil are simple and similar to the steps for any other gas engine:

  • Find the drain plug at or near the bottom of your tiller's oil reservoir
  • Place an old pan or bowl under the drain plug, and remove the plug
  • Hold on to the plug, or set it aside where you won't lose it
  • Fully drain all of the old oil
  • Wipe the plug clean and reinsert it in the oil reservoir
  • Using the grade and amount of oil recommended by the user manual, refill the reservoir to the fill line

Add a little oil at a time until the reservoir is full. When you think you're close, let the settle for a minute, then wipe the dipstick and check the oil level. Don't overfill it, though. Otherwise, you'll have some foul exhaust to deal with.


Tiller Filters3. Change the Filters (Air, Gas, Oil)

The filters in your tiller are responsible for keeping out dirt, dust, and debris. Without them, your tiller wouldn't last long. Each type of filter helps in a different way:

  • A clogged, dirty air filter will choke out your engine, preventing optimal air flow
  • A dirty fuel filter will cause hard starts and poor running performance
  • An old, dirty oil filter will prevent fresh oil from lubricating the engine's components, leading to wear and tear

Change your filters according to the manufacturer's specifications in the product manual. Promptly changing these filters on time is one of the best ways to ensure longevity and performance quality of your tiller.


Tiller Grease and Lubrication4. Grease the Moving Parts

Tillers often have grease ports, or grease fittings, for the many moving parts found inside the machine:

  • The drive unit
  • Shafts
  • Belts

These grease fittings should be pumped full of grease until it overflows from the shaft. This will ensure that there's enough lubrication present and the old grease and dirt have been purged from the machine.

You can pick up a grease gun and tube of grease at any local hardware store, where they'll generally be inexpensive.

Adding plenty of fresh lubrication will help keep your tiller running better and protect it from unnecessary wear and tear.


Tiller Wheels5. Tighten the Wheels

When you run and operate your tiller, it's no secret that there's a lot of vibration that shakes the wheels.

Your tiller's wheels play a major part in supporting the weight of the machine and providing stability. Throughout a full season of use, they might loosen a bit from all of the movement.

Take a moment to check the wheels and ensure that they're fully tightened. Making sure your wheels are tight will help ensure proper balance and control during operation.


Tiller Tire Pressure6. Check Tire Pressure

After you've tightened the wheels, you have a related feature to check, because many large garden tillers now come with air-filled tires.

With such tires, the volume of air they contain can decrease quite a bit during the off-season. Before using your tiller, you need to be certain that they're filled with the correct amount of air.

Air pressure is measured in PSI (pounds per square inch). Using a tire gauge, check that the tire pressure matches what's specified on the sidewall of the tire itself. Matching the PSI value will help preserve each tire's condition in several ways:

  • Ensures a minimal amount of wear
  • Improves balance
  • Promotes traction

Maintaining proper pressure in your tiller's tires will improve the tires' safety, operation, and longevity. 


Tiller Drive Belts7. Inspect and Adjust All Drive Belts

Your tiller's drive belts are necessary for rotating the tines and, in some cases, assisting in moving the tiller forward and backward during operation.

Check the belts for cracking or slipping to determine in advance if one of them needs to be replaced. A cracked or slipping belt is ready to break, and once it does, you won't be tilling until a new one has been put in place.

Refer to your tiller product's manual for specific information about the type of belt to use and how to change it.


Tiller Tines8. Inspect the Tines

The tines are the parts that make contact with the ground and churn the earth into garden soil. As a result, these simple yet highly important metal pieces take quite a beating.

If you cleaned and checked your tines at the end of the last season, you might need to do nothing more than brush them off and go at the start of the following spring.

However, if you placed your tiller into storage immediately after its last use, you might need to do a little more work:

  • Never place your hands near the tines while the tiller is running
  • Cut away and remove any tangled roots or clumps of foliage 
  • Brush the tines clean of hardened chunks of dirt
  • Make sure the tines aren't bent or damaged

Clean tines are effective tines, and checking them regularly is a simple way to make sure that your tiller does its job as efficiently as possible.


Tiller Fuel9. Add Fresh Fuel

Finally, before starting your tiller, make sure to fill the fuel tank with fresh gasoline.

After thirty days in storage, gas gets reduced to a thick, syrupy liquid that provides less power to your engine. If you left gasoline in the tank throughout the off-season, we recommend that you drain the old gasoline and replace it with fresh fuel. If your tiller has a 2-cycle engine, be sure to choose a mixture of fuel and oil.

Another option to prevent stored fuel from going bad is to add fuel stabilizer prior to off-season storage.

With fresh, stable fuel in your tiller's gas tank, you run less risk of clogging your carburetor and preventing your tiller from starting.


Troubleshooting Your Tiller

Even if you take great care to maintain your tiller, you still might run into trouble getting it to start in the spring.

It's important to follow the advice in your tiller's product manual for maintaining your tiller, but if it still doesn't start, you can contact the manufacturer or a local service center for further advice on troubleshooting hard starting problems.

But by following a few quick steps and performing a little due diligence every spring, you'll be able to keep your tiller turning and churning soil for years to come.

NEXT: How to Safely Operate a Tiller or Cultivator

Dale, the Lawn Mower Expert
Lawn Mower Expert
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