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Consumer Reports

A mower that’s still working in 15 years

Whatever kind of lawn mower you have, proper maintenance should help keep it going a decade or more. Consumer Reports, working to improve the lives of consumers by driving marketplace change, offers the most common ways to have your machine humming.

FUEL MATTERS MOST. Gasoline degrades and gums up over time. Ethanol in the gas can compound the problem by degrading rubber and plastic parts and coating linkages.

— Add stabilizer, particularly one designed for ethanol, to gas before fueling.

— Siphon extra fuel out of a walk mower, and run it dry at the end of the season.

— For a tractor or rider, either run it dry or top off the gas tank so that there’s no room for condensation — but be sure to add stabilizer to gas first.

CHANGE THE OIL. Having sufficient, clean oil is what keeps your mower or tractor engine from overheating and failing prematurely, Consumer Reports notes. For all lawn gear, consult your manual for how often to change the oil and what grade to use.

— With a walk mower, change oil when the fuel tank is empty to help prevent gas spills.

— To change oil: Position an automotive-style drain pan beside the mower on the side of the dipstick cap. Remove the cap and tip the mower over the pan to drain the oil. Refill.

— For a tractor or rider, the manual gives the oil-change schedule by the number of hours it’s in use, which the machine’s hour meter will provide.

— Most riding mowers have an easy-access drain plug. Drain the oil and replace the oil filter. Refill to the “full” mark.

MIND THE DECK. Built-up clippings in your mower or tractor deck will obstruct airflow, leading to uneven cutting and corrosion. Dull blades make the machine rip, not slice, the grass.

— Many walk and riding mowers have a washout port for a hose; use it after every mowing, and let it dry before stowing. If you have to wash out a riding mower manually, drive the front of the tractor onto a set of automotive ramps to elevate it for easier access.

— If you’ve neglected the washouts, scrape clumps off with a plastic putty knife.

— Sharpen the blade three times per year. For a walk mower, having a spare lets you replace a dull blade with a sharpened one at the same time. To avoid injury when removing the blade, wear heavy leather gloves, remove the spark plug wire and jam in a short two-by-four to keep the blade from turning.

KEEP UP CONTACTS. A spark plug needs changing about every 100 hours of operation; otherwise, engine startup and overall performance will be affected. Even electric mowers need attention to maximize battery life.

— With the mower off, remove the spark plug cap and use a socket wrench with a spark plug socket to remove the old plug. Take it to an auto-parts store or outdoor-gear dealer and get a new one.

— If you have an electric mower, Consumer Reports recommends periodically charging the battery throughout the winter. Otherwise, its ability to fully recharge will diminish gradually before failing altogether — sooner than you expected. Mowers should be brought indoors over the winter.

— For lawn tractors or riders, keep your battery fully charged, or at least periodically recharge it when it’s not in use.

— Even if you have to store the tractor outdoors, buy a trickle charger for this type of machine and keep just the battery indoors.

DON’T FORGET FILTERS. You’ll also need to replace your air filters to protect the engine. In addition to the oil filter, riding mowers have fuel filters.

— On most walk mowers, the air filter is paper and can be removed in seconds. Not sure which to get? Take the old one to your dealer.

— On riding mowers, if the air filter is paper, replace it. If it’s foam, wash it in soap and water. Rinse and squeeze dry.

Happiness is a 3-year lease

Leasing a car used to be just for the wealthy — or for those who wanted to look the part, according to Consumer Reports. Now it has gone mainstream.

Indeed, 23 percent of all vehicle transactions last year were leases, according to the most recent industry data. More car shoppers are discovering that leasing works for satisfying Mercedes tastes on a Mazda budget.

And people who lease seem generally pleased with their decision, according to Consumer Reports’ latest Annual Auto Survey, tallying more than 46,845 leased new 2011-15 model year vehicles driven by its subscribers.

Consumer Reports also found, in a follow-up survey regarding 11,215 leased vehicles, that more than half of drivers who are currently leasing also had leased their previous vehicle.

What’s more, experienced lessees are far more brand-loyal than other drivers. About 65 percent of lessees in the survey stayed with the same brand when they signed their current lease. “That’s double the amount of those who financed or bought their last car,” said Simon Slater, Ph.D., Consumer Reports senior research associate.

Leasing is gaining in allure because shoppers can get a more expensive vehicle for their money. The reason: Monthly payments are tied only to the car’s depreciation rather than to its entire value. And lease-return programs lend themselves to drivers retaining the same brand because the lessee will need new wheels when the term expires. Also, automakers often offer great incentives.

But does leasing deliver more owner satisfaction than ownership or financing?

When asked a question about value, survey takers who lease are almost as satisfied as those who buy or finance their car.

“Seventy-one percent of those who paid in full were very satisfied with the value of their cars, compared with 69 percent of those who financed and 66 percent of those who leased,” Slater said.

As for value, only Ram customers felt their lease was a better value than financing or paying in full. Still, it was a slim difference between lease and purchase customers who felt they got a good deal.

Regardless of whether they bought, financed or leased their car, BMW and Land Rover drivers are the least satisfied with the value they get with their car. In addition, less than half of Land Rover lessees were very satisfied with the value they get from their car, the only brand to have such a low rating.

Although most automakers offer leases as long as 48 months, 81 percent of survey takers opted for a three-year lease term. Twelve percent opted for 24-month leases, and only 6 percent went for a 48-month term.

Automakers also have done a strong job of using their own captive finance companies to structure lease deals, with 83 percent arranged through the car company’s finance arm.

Among lessees whose lease term has ended, 70 percent simply completed their term, 2 percent transferred their lease to another owner and 28 percent terminated their lease for other reasons. Buying the car outright and trading for a newer or more upscale model were cited as two of the most common “other” reasons.

Another trend: A lot of paid-for miles are going to waste. Only 10 percent of those whose lease ended on time say their car surpassed the mileage limit detailed in their agreement. But 71 percent came in below the limit — in effect, those drivers paid too much per mile for their leases.

So which brands satisfy the most? According to Consumer Reports’ survey, 51 percent of Lincoln lessees say they’ll also lease their next vehicle. To be clear, that’s to lease any car, not necessarily another Lincoln. Dodge, Chrysler, BMW, Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz lessees all follow closely at or near 47 percent.

Given the past history of brand loyalty of lessees, automakers that make their customers happy in a lease stand a strong chance of retaining those folks the next time around.

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