Proper Engine Maintenance


Keeping track of maintenance and avoiding common mistakes

Engine maintenance is essential for any equipment, from lawn equipment to concrete cutters and edgers. Every engine owner should know what service features to look for when buying an engine that can make maintaining the equipment more convenient. Knowing the common mistakes can help you avoid common problems with engine performance and keep the engine in top condition, extending the life of the engine and minimizing heavy servicing.

Key features in an engine

Depending on what size engine you need, there are several features that will help with ease of use and maintenance to ensure a longer life and help minimize common problems. Of course, different engines feature different components, but looking for these features when purchasing an engine can help you in your decision.

Photo courtesy of Kohler Engines.
This Kohler Command PRO 38 hp engine has a unique oil filter configuration for easy maintenance.

Large capacity air, oil and fuel filters will lengthen the amount of time between maintenance checks and extend overall engine life. Some engines have conveniently included maintenance intervals on the air cleaner cover if your service manual is not handy. Other engines easily identify yellow service points, such as the oil fill cap and dipstick, to call out the areas for easy maintenance.

  • Hydraulic lifters

Most engine valves should be adjusted every 200 hours, but engines with hydraulic lifters use an automotive technology requiring no scheduled valve adjustment. The hydraulics also help the engine run more quietly and keep it working at its optimum performance.

  • Canister air system

A heavy-duty canister air cleaner system extends the air filter maintenance interval from 100 hours to up to 250 hours, and can lengthen the overall life of an engine. These canisters are easy to remove and feature an inner safety filter to provide additional filtration in extreme conditions, such as sandy soil and dust-prone areas. It is important to remember to tap out the air filter or replace it, and never use compressed air to clean it.

  • Oil filters

Larger capacity oil filters can extend maintenance intervals up to 200 hours. Some engines have oil filters that are placed on top of the engine for easy access and spin on filters to contribute to ease of use and maintenance. Some engines now also feature drainage systems that allow oil to drain into the engine crankcase to minimize spills and drips. Be sure to use the best type of oil recommended for your particular engine.

  • Electronic fuel injection

An automotive-style electronic fuel injection system that adapts to changing conditions—such as load weight, temperature and altitude—will have an improved fuel economy over carbureted engines. This type of system also reduces emissions, is easier to start and has a better throttle response.

Extend engine and maximize performance

Regular maintenance of your engine is essential for optimum performance. It is especially important to perform seasonal maintenance and maintenance after an extended period of storage to maintain the quality of the engine. To keep track of engine care and maintenance intervals, it is helpful to create a checklist or upkeep calendar for quick reference. Keeping record of when each task was performed will help you monitor the condition of the engine.

The two most common offenses found in engine maintenance are not preparing the engine properly for storage and not replacing air filters consistently. Overlooking these two factors can cause damage to the engine and reduce its lifespan.

  • Use a stabilizer

Stabilizer should be added to the fuel to prevent fuel degradation when an engine is stored. If stabilizer is not used, it is recommended that fuel be drained when the engine will be stored for over 30 days.

  • Use the correct fuel

Check to make sure what type of fuel is recommended for your particular engine and if there are any restrictions. Using a fuel that is composed of a large amount of alcohol, such as E-85, will corrode small engines and lessen performance. An inexpensive fuel tester can determine the alcohol content of the fuel.

  • Change the oil

The life of the engine can be extended simply by changing the oil on a regular basis. Oil should be changed at 100 hours for engines up to 30 hp and at 150 hours for larger engines, and the oil filter should be replaced every 200 hours. Oil should be changed more often under extreme conditions or it can become vapor locked.

  • Replace air filters

Air filters should always be replaced when they are dirty. Never use compressed air to blow off dirt and debris because it can puncture paper filter media and allow larger dirt particles to pass through. Allowing dirt to get inside can prematurely wear down the engine.

  • Clean the cooling fins

Be sure to regularly inspect and clean the cooling fins. If they are not cleaned regularly, you risk the engine overheating and reduce the overall lifespan of the engine.

  • Operate for peak performance

For peak efficiency and long engine life, always operate engines at 3,300 to 3,600 RPM. At this rate you will find you get the best power and fuel economy. Running the engine at a slower rate may save fuel, but the engine will become hot without enough air.

Paying attention to an engine’s features and taking the time to perform these maintenance steps will make engine upkeep easier and help your engine run in top shape.

Scott Mack is senior training specialist at Kohler Engines. For more engine maintenance tips, troubleshooting and frequently asked questions, visit