Start Your Engines: 3 Easy Steps for Longer Engine Life

How to Start and Break-In a Small Engine

Dale, the Gas Engine Expert
By Dale Vogelsanger |   Gas Engine Expert

Rules? Who needs rules?

All you want to do is fire up that shiny new piece of equipment, right?

If this sounds like you, then take a deep breath and read this article because a surefire way to shorten the life of an engine is to not properly break it in.

Whether you bought an emergency gas generator (4-stroke engine), a gas string trimmer (2-stroke engine), or a new replacement engine, the three following steps will ensure that the engine keeps working hard for you instead of you working hard on your engine!

  • Fill
  • Start
  • Store

First Things FirstRead Instruction Manual
No matter what kind of engine you're breaking in, the first thing you should do is read the owner's manual. In it you'll find valuable advice on break-in procedures that differ from one manufacturer to the next.

Treating every piece of equipment the same is a mistake!
Considering how many new advances come out every year, engines today have tighter tolerances, more controls, and safety features that may prevent you from easily starting the equipment without following specific procedures. Many manufacturers may have advanced features like electric starters and automatic chokes that allow for easy start up, but require the engine to cool down after stopping. Others like Briggs and Stratton for example, just released a new "check and fill" engine where you only need to add oil without ever having to change it.

3 Steps to Start Your Engine Right
  1. Fill Gasoline Can
    With any new piece of equipment you are going to want to know the right gas and oil it will need. By far the most important to know about gasoline is that it must be fresh! No matter the type of equipment, you will want to use a gasoline containing the least amount of ethanol (corn alcohol) because it attracts moisture and easily separates from the gasoline over time. To combat this, you will want to add a fuel stabilizer (especially if your gas sits longer than a week). Filling procedures are different for 2-stroke and 4-stroke engines.

    In 4-Stroke Engines, you do not mix oil in with the gasoline. Instead fill it up with fresh fuel preferably from a top-tier gas station. The jury is still out if using high-octane gas is better, but if you're using fresh gas, chances are the only difference will be felt in your wallet rather than by the engine.

    New Engine OilUsing the wrong kind of oil is like issuing your engine a death-sentence before it's had a chance to live. Never assume the engine comes pre-filled with oil!

    As far as what type of oil you should use, the best thing to do is to continue to use the oil with which the equipment originally came. Otherwise, consult the manual for the proper viscosity (weight), type (conventional or synthetic), and API service rating that is specified.

    Pro Tip: Remember to always change the "break-in" oil within the first 10 - 20 hours of use (refer to your owner's manual for specifics).

    With a 2-Stroke Engine you WILL need to mix the gas and oil together. Be sure to get the right kind of 2-cycle oil and mix it to the proper dilution. Common gas to oil mixtures are 40:1 and 50:1 ratios. Many people use a separate gas can just for this purpose, just make sure to clearly label "2-Cycle Only" on the can so it's not accidentally used in place of regular gas. If mixing oil and gas sounds like too much of a pain, you'll love TruFuel 2-Cycle premixed fuel because it eliminates the guesswork and has a longer shelf life.

  2. Start
    Depending on the type of engine and the instructions in the owner's manual, starting and break-in procedures vary greatly from one machine to the next. As tempting as it may be to start working right away, letting the engine run for several minutes without performing work, is highly advised. It'll give the new engine's pistons a chance to properly seat and let the engine oil a chance to lubricate critical components before being stressed.

    You'll notice that newer 4-stroke engines are easier to start. For one thing, the gasoline isn't mixed with oil, so the gas compresses and ignites easier. With electric starters and automatic chokes, these engines are nearly foolproof to start.

    Equipment with 2-stroke engines are less advanced and a bit more of a chore to start, but once you get the hang of it, they're not all that bad either. To start a 2-stroke engine, you'll need to:
    1. First, turn the stop-switch to the "on" position
    2. Next, pump the primer bulb no more than 4 times
    3. Turn the choke on and hold the throttle wide open
    4. Pull the cord quickly until the engine "pops"
    5. Finally, turn the choke off, hold the throttle open and pull the cord until the stubborn beast roars to life... ugh!
    Or, you can just watch this great example of how it's done:

  3. Storage Best PracticesCheck Oil Dipstick

    • Short-Term (1 - 2 Weeks)
    • For short periods in between uses, all that is needed for most power equipment is a good cleaning and a full tank of fresh gas. However, since you don't always know the next time you'll need your equipment (like a winter without snow or a summer drought), we recommend making a habit of following the mid-term storage procedures.

    • Mid-Term (3 - 5 Weeks)
    • Adhering to the mid-term storage guidelines, is easy enough so that you can make a habit out of them and it's cheap insurance to making the engine last longer. After cleaning the equipment, check the fuel level. Make sure the tank is full, add a fuel stabilizer, close the petcock and let the engine run until the carburetor is out of gas. Or, if you're almost out of gas, simply add a little stabilizer and run the engine until it stops.

      Next, check the air filter condition and knock off any loose debris. Last, lubricate all the necessary cables, pulleys, and check the condition of the pull cord and condition and level of the engine oil.

    • Long-Term (6 Weeks or Longer)
    • At the end of the season, don't make the mistake of putting equipment away even if you promised yourself you'd prep it for storage next weekend! Since you've already made a good habit out of storing your equipment "mid-term", the next step is easy.

      All you have to do now is make sure the gas tank is dry and inspect the condition of vital components so that you can make your pre-season tune-up that much easier. It's also a good idea to remove the spark plug and add a few drops of oil to lubricate the cylinder by pulling the chord a few times.

      Now is the perfect time to take note of any damage to levers, pulleys and wearable items like mower blades, snow blower shave plates, shear bolts, spark plugs, filters, etc. To make things really easy next season, order those new parts that way you won't be stuck waiting for them once the season starts or when you need them most. The last thing to do is to protect your equipment from the elements by covering it up and storing it in a dry environment.

    Now that you know how to make your engine last longer and properly store equipment, you'll enjoy many years of service while your neighbors will soon be looking for replacements.

    Your neighbors will want to know what your secret is! In that case, you'll know where they can find a replacement engine.


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